§ Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific, important and, above all, urgent matter.
For 900 years, a ferry has plied between Tilbury in Essex and Gravesend in Kent. For many years, it was run by British Rail before the ferry was privatised. At 9 am tomorrow, that ferry will cease. It will stop not because of under-use but because of the precipitate and unreasonable instruction of the Crown Estate Commissioners who control the ancient rights of ferry. That decision by the Crown Estate Commissioners, who are unelected, unaccountable and highly favoured establishment figures, jeopardises that ancient ferry and puts at a substantial disadvantage the good people of Essex and of Kent, and it raises a number of urgent issues.
The Minister has been aware for some days that the ferry is in jeopardy, but he has declined to take any action in safeguarding that public service. That is reprehensible and an example of double standards. The ferry is used daily by 300-odd passengers, and it is important to workers, industry and commerce and shops at Gravesend. They now face serious disadvantage, because the alternative will be a 45-minute trip by road instead of a five-minute trip by ferry.
The Minister should reconsider his action and use the remaining hours until 9 o'clock, perhaps with the support of the House, to intervene and use his good offices to persuade the feudal barons who run the Crown Estate to think again.
If British Airways were to decide, or was instructed, to halt the shuttle between London and Belfast or Edinburgh, there would be an almighty row in this House, and the Minister would intervene. But because we are dealing here with Essex, and because the passenger-carrying capacity is relatively small, he has shown a marked disinterest in this ferry and in the passengers it carries between Essex and Kent. I believe that that is not abdication by the Crown but abdication by the Minister in the face of the Crown, because the Crown is involved here. I hope that people will decide—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman will understand that his time is now up. All the same, I have listened very carefully to what he has said. As he knows, I have to give my decision without giving a reason. I am afraid that I do not consider the matter that he has raised to be appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. Unfortunately, therefore, I cannot submit the application to the House at this stage.