HC Deb 03 June 1991 vol 192 cc7-8
6. Mr. Viggers

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the level of efficiency of the ports industry.

The Minister for Shipping (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)

There has been a marked increase in productivity at many ports since the abolition of the dock labour scheme, with increased scope for investment. I expect further advances as a result of the privatisation of leading trust ports under the Ports Bill which is now before Parliament.

Mr. Viggers

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Does he agree that since the abolition of the national dock labour scheme there have been dramatic improvements in efficiency and productivity in the docks? That must have substantially benefited our export trade. Bearing in mind that some people regarded the national dock labour scheme as the jewel in the crown of the special relationship between the Labour party and the trade union movement, has my hon. Friend had many demands for the reintroduction of the national dock labour scheme?

Mr. McLoughlin

We have had no demands from the industry or from the people who work in the docks, although I understand that the Opposition are considering whether they should reimpose such a scheme, which would only damage the port industry.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Why do the Government support the European Community's proposals to downgrade the port of Stranraer, not to proceed with making the railway line in western Scotland more efficient, and to divert cross-Irish sea transport to Fishguard?

Mr. McLoughlin

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made a speech about the importance that the Government attach to freight and to attempting to move freight by rail. I will ensure that the right hon. Gentleman receives a full reply about Northern Ireland ports.

Ms. Walley

Why does there continue to be so little reference to the role of ports and shipping in an integrated transport infrastructure? Why do the Government measure everything in terms of efficiency rather than dovetailing our ports into the transport policy that we should have? Does the Minister accept that the trust ports already compete with the private sector? Why has he forced through reserve powers to sell off trust ports? Is not the Government's treatment of trust ports proof that neither the nation's health nor its transport is safe in their hands?

Mr. McLoughlin

What we have just heard from the Opposition is that they will pay no attention to efficiency but will be concerned only with bureaucratic planning of transport. We do not feel that that is the most appropriate way in which to develop transport policy. We shall concentrate on efficiency because we believe that that will bring greater opportunities to our ports industry. It has been pointed out that the powers for privatisation are reserve powers and will be used only after consultation with the ports. We believe that the trust ports will be far better served in the private sector. Indeed, a number of ports eagerly await the passage of the Bill so that they can move into the private sector.