HC Deb 10 March 1982 vol 19 cc835-6
12. Mr. John Townend

Secretary of State for Transport what is his policy towards the future of Sealink.

Mr. Eyre

It is the agreed policy of the Government and the British Railways Board that Sealink UK Limited should be transferred to the private sector at the earliest suitable opportunity.

Mr. Townend

I am sure that my hon. Friend will realise that that reply will be appreciated by Conservative Members, many of whom would like to see Sealink sold lock, stock and barrel, as it is inefficient and overmanned. Is my hon. Friend aware that the head office staff of Sealink is approximately five times as large as the head office staff of European Ferries, which is no smaller than Sealink?

Mr. Eyre

The British Railways Board is in the lead with regard to privatisation. The Government await its proposals. The board has had to take account of the fact that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission decided that Sealink should not be transferred to European Ferries. Therefore, we know that the board is giving urgent consideration to further proposals in that respect.

Mr Snape

Having failed to peddle Sealink's assets to Townsend Thoresen, despite the blandishments of the hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden), will the Minister bear in mind and make it a condition of any future sale that a prospective buyer should not only pay British income tax but sail British-built ships?

Mr. Eyre

I shall bear in mind the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I emphasise that at present Sealink is not valuable to British Rail. It is a net drain on the board's resources.

Mr. Best

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new post. Is he aware that passenger traffic in Holyhead is at a standstill owing to the damaging dispute over the introduction of a B & I Line ship into the port of Holyhead? Will he keep a close watch on events? Is he further aware that the dispute could have a damaging effect on the long-term future of the port? If at any stage this becomes a matter of negotiation between the British and Irish Governments, will my hon. Friend ensure that everything possible is done to enable Holyhead to continue as a viable port?

Mr. Eyre

I know that my hon. Friend has made great efforts to bring together the parties in this sad dispute. I emphasise that Sealink must conduct its own industrial relations. It is not possible for the Government to intervene in any way.

Mr. Dobson

Does the Minister accept that if he goes ahead with the sale of Sealink he will be exporting jobs from the shipyards? Will he confirm that heither P & O nor European Ferries has bought a British vessel in the last decade?

Mr. Eyre

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can justify that assumption. If Sealink were transferred to the private sector, it would have access to private investment, which would be desirable for its future.

Mr. Hoyle

How many vessels?

Mr. Eyre

In the public sector there would be the great advantage that British Rail would not have the problem of finding funds for Sealink. Therefore, British Rail could concentrate on the investment needs of the railways.