§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the proposed sale of the Tees and Hartlepool port to a consortium that includes Humberside Holdings Ltd., with consequences for the local communities of Tees and Hartlepool, and the sale of British ports in general.
The matter is specific in that the Tees and Hartlepool board yesterday announced its recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport to sell the port to a consortium that includes Humberside Holdings Ltd. The board does not appear to have taken into account the fact that Humberside Holdings Ltd. saw two of its associated companies, Lindsey Dock Services Ltd. and John Sutcliffe Stevedores Ltd., go into liquidation with outstanding liabilities to dockers on the abolition of the dock labour scheme of £3,034,001 in the case of Lindsey Dock Services Ltd. and £3,598,314 in the case of John Sutcliffe Stevedores Ltd. Humberside Holdings Ltd. set up a third company, East Coast Port Services, to make it the largest stevedore group in Grimsby and Immingham, providing the same services as those companies that went into liquidation. John Sutcliffe Stevedores also left on its books, by way of non-preferential claims, £142,247 to 43 small firms.
The matter is important as not only is Humberside Holdings Ltd. not a fit and proper bidder for the port of Tees and Hartlepool, but the Government, during the passage of the Ports Act 1991, stated that preference would be given to worker-management buy-out schemes and gave assurances, both to the consortium of Tees and Hartlepool—consisting of managers and workers alike—and to the other trust ports throughout the land, that such schemes would be favoured. As a consequence, there are management-employee buy-outs on the table for the ports of Tilbury, Medway and Clyde, all of which are likely to be affected by the decision of the Secretary of State for Transport to ignore the bid of the local Tees and Hartlepool consortium.
The matter is urgent because the Secretary of State cannot even entertain the recommendation of the Tees and Hartlepool board because Parliament has not empowered him to do so. The requisite statutory instrument dealing with the clawback of funds from the sale of land owned by 148 port authorities has not completed its passage through Parliament, so it cannot be right to announce what the Secretary of State is minded to do until the Ports Act 1991 is perfected. If that were to happen, what would have happened to the will of Parliament?
A full debate on the Floor of the House would give all Members who served on the Ports Bill, and other Members with constituency interests, a chance to give their views on what constitutes an abdication of Government responsibility, a reneging of promises given and undertakings entered into.
Therefore, I call for a debate because what we see in Humberside Holdings Ltd. is the ugly and unacceptable face of capitalism.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,the proposed sale of the Tees and Hartlepool port to Humberside Holdings Ltd., with consequences for the local community of Tees and Hartlepool.
I have listened with concern to what the hon. Gentleman had to say on this matter, but, as he knows, I have to decide whether to give his application precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I must rule in this case that it does not meet the criteria of the order and I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.
§ Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may remember that I raised this matter with you by way of a request for a private notice question on Tuesday—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Order."]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. That is not a matter that we discuss in the Chamber. Had the hon. Gentleman raised it under Standing Order No. 20, that would have been different.
§ Mr. Devlin
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I asked the Leader of the House on Thursday for a statement on this subject. It is a matter of grave concern to the people of Teesside and there should be some opportunity for the Government to set out their views on it before the end of this Session.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) has raised the matter under Standing Order No. 20, and I have ruled. I have nothing to add. I hope that there will be other opportunities to raise this matter.