HC Deb 14 February 1991 vol 185 cc983-4
2. Mr. Janman

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to privatise Belfast and other trust ports; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Needham

I intend bringing forward a draft Order in Council that will have regard to the provisions of the Ports Bill. This will provide the necessary powers to enable any of Northern Ireland's trust ports—Belfast, Coleraine, Londonderry and Warrenpoint—to come forward with privatisation schemes.

Mr. Janman

I am very pleased with my hon. Friend's answer and 1 congratulate him on his clear commitment to allow those ports to go into the private sector. May I suggest, however, that both he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have discussions with our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on whether privatisation of those trust ports can be included in the Ports Bill. That would send a clear signal to the IRA, Sinn Fein and others that Ulster is part of the United Kingdom and that there is no need for separate legislation for Ulster. When Ulster is affected by legislation, it should be debated fully on the Floor of the House, as debate of the Ports Bill on Report would allow it to be.

Mr. Needham

Of course Ulster is part of the United Kingdom and will remain so as long as the majority so wish. However, this is a transferred matter and the view of many is that such matters should, if it is possible at some time, be capable of being decided by the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. I repeat however, that we intend to introduce an Order in Council early in 1992 and to have it on the statute book by the end of that year. Then we shall consider what ports can be privatised. In the meantime, a substantial investment programme in those ports is taking place and I am delighted to say that most of them are expanding rapidly.

Mr. Beggs

I have much sympathy with the observations of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman). I regret that the Minister has announced today that this is to be done by means of another Order in Council. Does the Minister agree that the unparalleled record of growth and development of Larne harbour and the excellent working relationships there suggest clearly the opportunities that will arise for Belfast port and the other trust ports after privatisation?

Mr. Needham

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. A large percentage of Larne's business comes from the south. The amount of business at Warrenpoint has doubled in the past five years and business has increased by 40 per cent. at Belfast. Larne is an example to any port of how to be efficient, productive, competitive and successful.

Mr. Barry Field

Will my hon. Friend go a little further and give an undertaking that when the Order in Council is introduced it will allow management and employees to opt for a management-employee buy-out?

Mr. Needham

We shall consider that question most carefully. We are already following what my hon. Friend and his colleagues are suggesting here.

Mr. Stott

It is clear from the questions to the Minister that there is a great deal of interest in the proposal. The Ports Bill is in Standing Committee, where Members of Parliament can table amendments, scrutinise the Bill and interrogate Ministers. How do the Government propose to allow Members of Parliament from the Province and others to give equal consideration to these very important Government proposals? Does he not think that it is unacceptable to privatise a major sector of Northern Ireland's economy by means an Order in Council, which allows debate for only an hour?

Mr. Needham

I repeat that it is a transferred matter. The Government are constantly looking for ways to create systems that have the agreement of the whole House on how Northern Ireland affairs can be conducted. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) never misses an opportunity to criticise, but he has not yet put forward a proposal that is acceptable to the majority of hon. Members.

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