§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the terms of the disposal of Sealink, as announced by the Secretary of State for Transport earlier this afternoon.I think that I would be failing in my duty to my constituents if I did not raise this matter with you, Mr. Speaker. I have been a Member of this place for 10 years and this is the first time that I have proposed the Adjournment of the House under this Standing Order.
About an hour ago, the Secretary of State for Transport announced the terms of the disposal of the largest ferry operator in the United Kingdom. It operates about 36 ships — admittedly, some are not totally owned — over 20 routes from about seven ports. This operation has been sold for £66 million. We were told fairly recently that £80 million to £120 million was confidently anticipated and we read in our Sunday newspapers — especially in the business section of The Observer—that an offer of about £80 million was supposed to be made by Friday of this week by Common Brothers of Newcastle.
A fact that was not revealed this afternoon was that last year Sealink made good profits of about £9 million. As it has been part of the public sector, Sealink has had most of its ships built in British yards. That is something that European Ferries has not done. The last ships that it ordered were built at the Robb Caledon yard for the Isle of Wight service at a cost of about £14 million. Before that, orders had been placed with Harland and Wolff at a time when that organisation was facing great problems. Those orders enabled Harland and Wolff to move into a much more favourable position.
No real assurances have been given today about work force participation and no assurances have been given to my constituents about the special concessionary fares that will be available to those who register their cars on the Isle of Wight. The concessions are sizeable—I raised this matter during an Adjournment debate last Thursday, which finally started at about 15 minutes to 12 o'clock—for they range between 25 per cent. and 35 per cent. That represents big money to my constituents, because the fares are about £30 a time.
The man who is buying the company, Mr. James Sherwood, has not been to the Isle of Wight to see my constituents. The Isle of Wight county council, which is the transport authority for the island, has not been consulted, and surely it should have been. It was not even allowed to have a copy of the prospectus when it applied for one.
If the work force is not worried, it should be. Statements have been made in the House by the Secretary of State for Transport and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport that great consideration would be given to the participation of the work force. We know that one of the other bidders — probably the National Freight Consortium—was prepared to give at least 20 per cent. of the shareholding to its work force. We have merely been told that in future there may be a flotation of the company and that at that time favourable consideration would be 351 given to the participation of the work force. It has been said that schemes are being prepared that will introduce some form of profit sharing, but that is not good enough.
The economy of the Isle of Wight depends on the operations of the Sealink ships. Between 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. of all the goods that come to and from the Isle of Wight are carried on Sealink boats. We have been sold down the river because we have not received assurances from the Secretary of State or from any other Minister that the price is satisfactory. The Government should have withdrawn the sale and waited for a year or two until the profits became more substantial. Undoubtedly they were advised to take the course by their financial advisers a year ago. They have not done that because they cannot get rid of Sealink quickly enough. A traditional ferry service which has always been in the ownership of the railways——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not advance arguments that he would deploy if his application were granted.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has sought leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 to discuss a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the terms of the disposal of Sealink, as announced by the Secretary of State for Transport earlier this afternoon.The hon. Gentleman knows that the only decision that I have to take is whether the matter that he has raised should have precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman and I regret that I do not consider the matter that he has raised to be appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10. I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.