HC Deb 28 June 1994 vol 245 cc743-86 7.24 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tim Smith)

I beg to move, That the draft Ports (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 19th January, be approved. I understand that it will be convenient for the House also to discuss the second motion: That the draft Ports (Northern Ireland Consequential Provisions) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 19th January, be approved. The orders reflect provisions already enacted in Great Britain under the Ports Act 1991. It is primarily an enabling measure, designed to offer a more efficient mechanism than currently exists for ports to privatise themselves.

The order would empower any relevant Northern Ireland port authority to submit a privatisation scheme to the Department for approval. The scheme would transfer all the property, rights, liabilities and functions of the port's undertaking to a successor company formed under the Companies (Northern Ireland) Order 1986.

The order would provide powers for the Department to initiate a privatisation scheme for a port with an annual turnover of £5 million, index-linked, which has not itself submitted such a scheme within two years of enactment of the order.

It would require the port authority to pay the Government a 50 per cent. levy on the sales proceeds and it would empower the Department to vary the levy percentages on any gains from the disposal of land within 10 years of privatisation.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Reverting to the point the Minister made earlier, why is such a scheme not subject to an affirmative order in the House, as it is for the privatisation of trusts in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Smith

Because it would conflict with the constitutional position of the Assembly. It would create a difficult constitutional precedent. It requires an affirmative resolution of the Assembly, but here it would have to be subject to a negative resolution. In practice, if the Opposition were to pray against it at the appropriate time, there would be a debate in the House.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

The Opposition spokesman has raised a fairly crucial point. Perhaps we could return to it on Thursday, when we debate the renewal of direct rule. We shall be debating and voting on the renewal of the Northern Ireland Act 1974. I hope that it is the ambition of the House to get rid of the 1974 Act as soon as possible.

Mr. Smith

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that I have described the current position accurately.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

I apologise for interrupting the Minister so early, but could he help the blissfully naive? He referred to 50 per cent. of the proceeds being clawed back by the Government. Who gets the other 50 per cent.?

Mr. Smith

The other 50 per cent. goes to the company. That follows the position in Great Britain, so that half the proceeds would go to the Treasury and, subject to any costs which would be deducted first, and subject to any possible capital gains tax, half the proceeds would go to the company. That would be one incentive for privatisation.

Mr. Robinson

Is the Minister telling us that, if a company bids £50 million, or whatever the going rate for a port may be, they would have to pay only £25 million to the Government?

Mr. Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman repeat his question, as I did not understand it?

Mr. Robinson

If only 50 per cent. of the money from a private company purchasing the port goes to the Government, the other 50 per cent. effectively goes into the company's coffers. If a company bid £50 million, it would pay only £25 million to the Government.

Mr. Smith

Because there is no beneficial owner of the trust ports—the Trustee Savings bank is in the same position—the proceeds would go to the company, which would take that into account in deciding its bid. The position of trust ports in Northern Ireland is the same as it is for trust ports in the whole United Kingdom; there is absolutely no difference.

Finally, the order would provide powers to reimburse the costs incurred by a management-employee buy-out team in mounting a bid for the port undertaking.

The Department would issue guidelines for voluntary privatisation under the order. Those guidelines would provide that, in framing their objectives, ports should have regard to the desirability of encouraging the disposal of the whole or a substantial part of the equity share capital of the successor company to managers or other persons employed by the company. While the guidelines will be concerned primarily with privatisation by trade sale, other methods are not ruled out. However, any such proposals must be agreed by the Department.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned functions to be carried out by the successor companies that are now carried out by the authorities. On the important activity of dredging, will a statutory obligation be placed on the successor companies to continue that function?

Mr. Smith

I shall check on that point. I think that the successor companies will inherit the responsibilities of the trust boards. I shall give the hon. Gentleman a full reply at the end of the debate.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I thank my hon. Friend for being so courteous in giving way to so many interventions. I assure him that the issue I am about to raise is the only one that concerns me, so I shall not trouble him further.

All the ports in southern Ireland are being stuffed with EC funding and subsidies. Does my hon. Friend believe that a private port company would have the same eligibility for EC funding as a public authority? That is an important issue in terms of competition between the north and the south.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important point. Currently, trust ports qualify for up to a maximum of 75 per cent. European regional development fund funding. In the private sector, that entitlement would be reduced to 50 per cent. It is an extremely important issue when considering the benefits of privatisation. [AN HON MEMBER: "Which the Government will ignore."] I shall deal with that sedentary intervention, although I have been quite good at giving way to those hon. Members who have taken the trouble to stand up. We shall consider all the factors at the relevant time. As I have made clear, it is an extremely important consideration.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Is it not amazing that, because the EC has been prepared to give a larger grant to a company controlled by the Government, it is now prepared to give those larger grants to Government-controlled operations in the south? The south is moving towards Government-controlled companies just to get EC money, whereas our Government are moving away from that. In doing so, they will prevent money that we pay into Europe from being returned to us.

Surely, as a Conservative believing in private enterprise, the Minister should realise that the EC is actually opposing competition and the very philosophy in which he believes. Rather than doing what he proposes tonight, he should keep the ports as they are in order to get back our money from Europe.

Mr. Smith

I have some sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. I do not see any rationale in distinguishing between businesses that happen to be publicly owned—and giving them a larger grant—and those that happen to be privately owned. I repeat the point that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). He identified what is undoubtedly an extremely important consideration. Obviously, I believe that considerable benefits would accrue from privatisation. However, he raised an important factor that must be considered at the relevant time.

As in Great Britain, the underlying policy of the order is essentially one of voluntary privatisation, although it does provide the Department with compulsory powers to require ports with a turnover limit of £5 million index-linked to bring forward privatisation schemes if they have not done so within two years of enactment. As I am sure the House appreciates, at present the only relevant Northern Ireland port in that category is Belfast.

I can inform the House that I received more than 50 formal responses during the consultation process, none of which has necessitated any change to the order. Some concern was expressed about the possible impact of the privatisation of the port of Belfast. I must again emphasise that this order is purely enabling legislation and does not implement the privatisation of Belfast or, indeed, any other port in Northern Ireland.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

I am interested in the Minister's point about the order being enabling. Did not the hon. Gentleman say this morning that this was a privatisation Bill? Therefore, his remarks now about it being an enabling measure conflict with the point he made this morning. Will he now clarify the position?

Mr. Smith

If I remember rightly, what I said on television this morning was that this is a privatisation measure, which it clearly is because it facilitates the privatisation of the trust ports. It will enable privatisation to take place. Within the next two years it will be open to the Belfast harbour commissioners, if they so decide, to put forward a scheme for privatisation. Only after two years had elapsed would the Department consider the possibility of compulsory privatisation. That is the position. The measure does not give us the authority to compel the privatisation of the port of Belfast.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I appreciate the Minister giving way to so many interventions. He has compared this order with the 1991 legislation for Great Britain. How many ports have operated under that legislation? What steps have the Government taken to try to compel those who have not turned to privatisation to do so?

Mr. Smith

I am not sure of the exact position in Great Britain. I do not know whether the Department of Transport has required any particular privatisation scheme. I shall investigate and answer the point at the end of the debate. We may have reached the point where it would be open to the Department to do so, but I shall find out and provide the hon. Gentleman with that information. I think that the answer will be none.

As I explained, no such decision could be taken until two years after enactment of the order, and only then following consultation with both the port authority and interested parties, and detailed consideration of the implications of privatisation. If, after two years, and after consultation with the port authority, the Department decides not to use its compulsory powers, those powers will cease to be exercisable for a further period of five years.

I commend both the orders to the House.

7.36 pm
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I do not think that I have ever heard such a short speech justifying such an arrant bank robbery of the people of Northern Ireland as the one we have just heard from the Minister. Because the order has remained below the line for such a long time, I had hoped that the Government would retreat from such a foolish and senseless course. Such a retreat would have been welcomed by all who are concerned with or work in the port. The Government have united opposition from those who work in Belfast harbour, from all the main political parties in Northern Ireland and from the vast majority of people living and working in Belfast and across the region.

Hon. Members have already pointed out the unsatisfactory way in which the measure is being introduced—as compared with what is happening in the remainder of the United Kingdom. Although the problems of an Assembly may be real, they should not take away from the Government the onus on them to introduce and justify their proposals. They should leave it to the Opposition to pray against the order. The Government should find a way of introducing their proposal in their own time.

The undemocratic nature of compulsory privatisation without debate, as exemplified by this procedure, is typical of the Government's cavalier attitude to this matter.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

The hon. Gentleman has rightly criticised the undemocratic nature of the procedure that is being used. Will he therefore vote against the interim period extension order on Thursday? That would cure the problem because, if the provision were not extended, we should again have democratic procedures in Northern Ireland.

Mr. McNamara

The hon. Gentleman tempts me too much. I should be delighted if the powers went to a devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland—when that is agreed among all the parties and both Governments with a strong internal settlement and even stronger cross-border institutions.

One of the senior executives of Belfast harbour commission described the procedures thus: Overall, one has to view privatisation as Tory dogma. If we assume that privatisation is not a good thing, the next thing you would bump into would be that the Government has a power compulsorily to privatise you. If the harbour commissioners do not volunteer to commit suicide, they will be put down painlessly two years later.

At a time when the Government are rightly encouraging inward investment in Northern Ireland, there is a real possibility that one of Northern Ireland's indigenous profit-making organisations will be sold—possibly taken out of Ireland's control, and possibly even sold to a foreign purchaser, unless the Government say that they will prevent it.

Let me explain the broader significance of the port of Belfast to Northern Ireland's economy. Fifty-five per cent. of all imports and exports to and from Northern Ireland pass through the port of Belfast. The port thus provides not only employment and a degree of economic stability for the Greater Belfast area but a central focus for investment and employment throughout the region. Given the peripheral nature of Northern Ireland in relation to the United Kingdom, its ports provide a vital trade and tourism link between the island of Ireland and the rest of the European Community.

Northern Ireland, however, is in a unique position. Individual ports in the region not only compete with each other but face severe competition from ports in the Republic. It is against what is already a fiercely competitive background that the Government seek to privatise the port of Belfast—and, in doing so, have again decided to apply ideological dogma rigidly rather than following economic common sense.

The Government claim that the aim of the order is to improve effectiveness and efficiency, but they do not propose to privatise the most inefficient and ineffective ports in Northern Ireland; instead, they are forcing the sell-off of the most profitable of those ports, which has a turnover of at least £5 million. There could be no clearer illustration of the Government's real motives. They are not interested in the future of the region's dock industry, but they are eager to get their hands on substantial returns from the port of Belfast to cut the Treasury's deficit and put fat profits into the hands of their political and industrial friends.

That was brought out brilliantly by an intervention from the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who asked what would happen to the other 50 per cent. It is a case of "Bid us a price, and we will give you half your money back": it is a Dutch auction. The money is going back to a company, and thence to private shareholders—money that has been raised by the harbour commissioners, and by the effort and integrity of a non-profit-making organisation to bring about the most efficient port in the north of Ireland. By "non-profit-making" I mean that it does not distribute its profits, but reinvests them in its own industry. All that money will be lost.

It would be ironic if, for example, one of Northern Ireland's main competitors in the Republic successfully took over the port of Belfast. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) drew attention to the position of ports in the Republic. Northern Ireland's ports have drawn considerably away from those in the republic, but in the event of privatisation and the consequential increase in charges, that traffic will almost certainly be lost back to ports in the south.

At present, about a third of traffic going through the port of Belfast comes from the Republic. Ports in the Republic receive full support from the European Community, and—as has been pointed out—as a result of the decision to give them semi-state body status, that aid looks set to continue. Because of the cohesion fund, it is likely to amount to up to 75 per cent., and may rise even further.

The Government are deliberately, specifically and directly forcing the port of Belfast to face increased competition from the Republic—from ports that will be increasingly subsidised to enable them to make their affairs more efficient and invest more in their own infrastructure. They propose to sell off a profitable, efficient port that is gaining traffic from all over Ireland: they are prepared to see that traffic lost.

Sir Teddy Taylor

As a respected democrat, is the hon. Gentleman not genuinely worried about the EC sabotaging the Conservative principle of privatisation by exercising such discrimination in regard to grants? I accept that, as always, his views are sincere; does he not think it ridiculous that the EC should have a policy that discriminates wholly against Conservative policy, and may prevent us from doing what we wish to do?

Mr. McNamara

I have no problems with discrimination against Conservative policy—and if I am not worried about it, I do not see why the Community should be. I am prepared to see more and more money going into public infrastructure: that is why I want to keep the port of Belfast in the public sector. It works efficiently and effectively as it is.

Mr. Tim Smith

The hon. Gentleman says that, if the port is privatised, charges will immediately rise and a great deal of business will be lost to the Republic. How does he account for the success of the port of Lame, which is already privately owned?

Mr. McNamara

Regular fast catamarans carry people to and fro across a 16-mile strip of water, but the port of Larne cannot take the shipping that the port of Belfast can take.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

As the Member of Parliament representing the port of Lame, I assure the hon. Gentleman that as yet we have no catamarans running; but we have a very efficient ferry service. It is easier to get a boat to Scotland than to get a bus to some of the outlying villages. It is the regularity and reliability of a competitively priced service that makes the port of Larne attractive.

Mr. McNamara

The hon. Gentleman forgot to mention that an effective road system is needed to increase the attraction still further. I was disappointed that he left that out.

The port of Belfast has enjoyed substantial financial assistance from the European regional development fund transport programme, which has enabled it to keep several steps ahead of its competition in the Republic. That, however, will be lost. During the past five years, a combination of substantial European funding and investment from its own funds has produced a £100 million port fund in Belfast, which has significantly improved the port's infrastructure and, consequently, its competitive edge. The facilities are new and modern; they are a testament to the sound management and astute business practice of the current Belfast harbour commissioners. However, the privatisation of the port—like the privatisation of Aldergrove airport—raises the question of the clawback of EC funds totalling approximately £60 million.

The Minister will recall that, at the time of the airports order, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) drew his attention to a letter from the European Commissioner, Bruce Millan. In effect, the letter stated that the question of clawback could arise in the event of the privatisation of the international airport. I must warn the Minister that the advice that we have received from the Commission about the privatisation of the port of Belfast is the same as that offered at the time of the Aldergrove sell-off. The EC may well decide to reclaim aid that was granted towards the development of the port's infrastructure in the ERDF programme; it may be especially encouraged to do that when told that half the purchase price is going back to the person who bought it.

Far from enhancing the port's effectiveness and competitiveness by privatising it, the Minister will prevent any further development of port infrastructure by means of EC funding. Meanwhile, the port's major competitors in the Republic will continue to enjoy all the benefits of European aid.

The order has a further worrying aspect, which is linked to infrastructure development and the ownership of the harbour estate. As a consequence of successful development across the estate, the port of Belfast now has a host of major and minor industrial tenants, including Shorts Bombadier, Harland and Wolff and many others. All the companies that located in the estate did so in the knowledge that the site had a good record for constantly developing and improving its infrastructure, and that the trust port arrangement ensured the existence of fair rents and leases. The Government's plans, however, leave the estate open to those who might seek to exploit the peripheral nature of the region.

The island of Ireland will be the only part of Europe that is wholly dependent on the use of ports for bulk import and export to and from the rest of the European Community. Consequently, if the new owners so wish, the estate can be left to run down on ever-increasing rents and leases. If short-term profit is the only motivating factor, why should the new owners make long-term costly investment. in the infrastructure of the port? Thanks to the European taxpayer, the new private owners of the port of Belfast will be presented with a highly profitable concern.

What will consequently become of the development plans following the building of the new £10 million link road on the County Down side? That link is helping to develop an additional 200 acres of estate and should bring an additional 5,000 new jobs, increasing the total Belfast harbour estate work force to about 22,000. In an area where jobs are desperately needed, the gamble that the Government are taking with that future investment is clearly unacceptable.

The plans contained within the order jeopardise significant future investments in the harbour estate and with them the possibility of getting some of Northern Ireland's jobless back to work. There is less chance of a harbour rail link if we have to depend on private investment in order to achieve it rather than having public investment, possibly backed up by EC funds.

Let me deal now with ownership and accountability. The Minister will know that the regulations under which trust ports operate currently place the responsibility of care on the various statutory authorities that control the ports on behalf of and in the interest of the people serviced by the port. The regulations ensure that the harbour operates in the broadest interests of the wider community who benefit from long-term employment and investment prospects. The regulations further ensure that businesses are encouraged into the harbour industrial estate with fair charging and equal treatment in the allocation of berths and other port facilities. In short, the current regulations under which trust ports operate ensure that the long-term interests of the port and the estate prevail.

That formula has proved to be successful in the outstanding performance of the port of Belfast. Consequently, the Government should ensure that predatory ownership, particularly by companies in other member states, is not possible. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government intend to retain a golden share in the port as they did with Belfast international airport? Would such a golden share be used to prevent investment by companies outside the United Kingdom?

Currently, all the profits made in the dock are reinvested in the estate. Money is raised in Ireland through the productivity of the people of Northern Ireland, and the profits are utilised for the benefit of the asset and the Northern Ireland economy. It is those very profits that are now to be used as an inducement to the potential purchaser. Those profits are all the incentive a predator needs to purchase the land bank. Thereafter, there is no incentive for any purchaser to improve on or invest in the infrastructure for the future. That is partly because the infrastructure is now very good and partly because purchasers can just sit there for 10 years, after which there is no levy and no clawback. Some of the richest land in Belfast, certainly some of that most ripe for development, will go to whoever purchases, at 50 per cent. of its face value, the new asset.

The people of Northern Ireland will have lost and the asset stripper will have gained a fast profitable return. Who might some of the predators be? Will it be the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, creating a monopoly in crossings to and from Liverpool? Will it be P and O, creating a monopoly with the port of Lame? Whoever else wishes to purchase the port of Belfast, will the Minister give an undertaking to the House today that the first option, if the Government go ahead with the sale, will be a management-employee buy-out and not a trade sale? Will he give an undertaking to the House that that will be the first thing that they will consider? That would at least ensure that a genuine commitment to the future of the port and to the Northern Ireland economy survived privatisation. That is very much a second best, however; things should be left as they are. As things stand now, there is a real danger of profit created in Northern Ireland being exported and creamed off; it could be just another example of absentee landlordism.

It seems that the success of the port of Belfast is not enough to curtail the Minister's zealous hunger for the notion of privatisation, even when the object of the Government's desire is operating competitively and efficiently. This debate, as with others on Northern Ireland Electric and Aldergrove airport, will expose the Government's privatisation plans in Northern Ireland for what they really are—plans to stuff the Treasury with money and to sell off assets to their friends.

The debate will show how belated, ill-judged and inappropriate attempts to keep pace with the discredited sell-off of assets throughout other parts of the United Kingdom during the 1980s are now being followed again in Northern Ireland. I very much regret the fact that Ministers feel that they must prove their ideological purity by indulging in this foolish measure.

Above all, we are seeing a trust established by the people of Belfast—the users of the port—pass out of the control of Northern Ireland. The trust has been developed by the people of Northern Ireland. It has developed an infrastructure and a going concern of considerable efficiency, but now the moneys generated by it are likely to be passed out of Northern Ireland. There is a real chance that charges will be increased and that the port will lose its competitive edge against the improved infrastructure within the Republic. Is that really what the Government think is sound economic sense? The Government are engaged in a foolish process. They are playing dangerously with the jobs and opportunities of people who work within the dock estate, and with the whole basis of Northern Ireland's economy.

7.55 pm
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

I cannot recall how long it has been since I followed a speech by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) with my blood pressure as settled as it is now. I am pleased that we shall be fighting in the same corner this evening.

On the face of it, the draft statutory instrument appears simply to place upon the port the ability, if it so wishes, to consider putting forward a proposal for privatisation. In reality, when the order becomes law it will pave the way for privatisation and will put Belfast port, to which the order essentially applies, on the slips to be sold off—some might say sold out.

Before I deal with the content of the order, I should like to raise two issues. The Minister referred to the consultation process. He told the House that he had received more than 50 responses. I very much regret the unhealthy arrogance that he showed by saying that the 50-plus responses did not require the slightest change in the measure. That is in effect what he told a number of hon. Members at the beginning of January when he said that he did not consider that any changes were required to the order.

Will the Minister tell us how many of the 54 responses that he received—I believe that that is the correct number—supported the Government's action? Does he consider those most directly involved in the port to be among the supporters of the measure? Do the harbour commissioners support him? Are they cheering him on? Does he have the support of all the trade unions in the port? Does he have the support of the shipping agencies in the port? Does he have the support of all the other users of the land site of the port? It is worth providing a breakdown of the 54 responses so that we know how many support the Minister and how many oppose the order.

The second issue is a procedural matter about which I spoke earlier. The Minister will recognise that when similar legislation was proposed for the mainland under the Ports Act 1991 the same provision applied to ports on the mainland. If within a two-year period they wished to put forward a proposal for privatisation to the Department, the measure could be dealt with directly on their suggestion. If they failed to make a proposal within two years, the Government could proceed to privatise the port, but in those circumstances the Government were required to table an affirmative resolution in the House. In the case of Northern Ireland, however, the Government will have to table not an affirmative resolution but a negative resolution. If the wisdom of the harbour commissioners is such that, after two years, they recognise that privatisation is not in the interests of Belfast and Northern Ireland, the Department can step in and determine that the port should be privatised. The House will have no opportunity to debate the matter.

I wrote to the Minister on the issue, and he replied: If…the Belfast Harbour Commissioners failed to come forward with a scheme within the first 2 years, the Government would at that stage have to decide whether it wished to invoke the reserve powers and enforce the privatisation of the Port. Of course, such a decision would only be taken after detailed consultations with the port authority and with all other interested parties". We are aware of the Minister's approach to detailed consultation, so I shall avoid making any comment about that. He does not believe that such consultation requires his attention, but his response suggested that there would be consultation with all other interested parties. Surely Parliament is an interested party. Surely it has the right to debate such matters. It is not good enough for the Minister to say in his letter that in the event of a prayer against such an order the Government would consider any request to have the matter debated on the floor of the House. I urge the Minister to go a little further and to give a firm undertaking that if a prayer is tabled he will ensure that the matter is considered by the House.

It is sleight of hand to refer to the order as enabling legislation. As it affects only Belfast port, the Minister will understand if I concentrate on the Belfast harbour commissioners. The Minister clearly intends to reduce the number of seats on the Belfast harbour commission and to retain the power to appoint future commissioners. If a commissioner does not toe the line and is not pro-privatisation, the Minister can turf him out and arrange for the right people to be appointed. The Government have decided to privatise Belfast port. Referring to the measure as enabling legislation is a con trick, a sleight of hand and an act of trickery to ensure that the order is passed.

I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North that this is not a trifling matter but a serious issue that is important to the Northern Ireland economy. Naturally, it most closely affects the Belfast constituencies and I trust that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) will join us before the end of the debate and vote against the order, which will seriously affect his and my constituents and other hon. Members who represent Belfast.

The Northern Ireland economy will be affected by the proposal. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said, more than half of the imports and exports to and from Northern Ireland come through Belfast port. When the channel tunnel becomes operational, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are the two parts of the European Community that will be isolated. Bulk imports and exports will be shipped to and from the main ports of Dublin and Belfast.

I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North that the draft order will result in poorer services and in dearer prices.

Mr. Tim Smith


Mr. Robinson

The Minister asks why. Less public finance—if one can call European Community funds public finance—will be allocated to Belfast port, so it will have to spend more money from its reserves. It will have to put up prices to meet the difference between what its competitors in Dublin receive in grants and what it receives. It will need more finance, and more finance through expenditure automatically requires higher prices.

Mr. Tim Smith

Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate that the current charges have been set in a highly competitive market, as everyone who has spoken in the debate has agreed? There is healthy competition among the ports in the island of Ireland and, in the face of that, no port would increase its prices. Prices are set by the market.

Mr. Robinson

I hope that the Minister has now got it. He is making Belfast port uncompetitive and leaving it in a competitive market. It will not be able to compete because its main competitor, the port of Dublin, will grab all the EC funding at a much higher rate and will be much more competitive. Belfast port has the choice of putting up its prices or going out of business, so what will it do? It will put up its charges, to the detriment of the Northern Ireland economy. Belfast port is in a unique position. It already faces considerably more competition than ports on the mainland not only from other Northern Ireland ports but from Republic of Ireland ports.

The proposal is based on the Government's philosophy of privatisation. I do not take a doctrinaire view for or against privatisation. I was involved in pushing competitive tendering and privatisation before Thatcherism was popular, although it did not end up being very popular. Privatisation worked where I applied it because it was recognised that it would not work in all circumstances. It was necessary, therefore, to consider how it would work in commercial terms, in terms of jobs and in terms of the economy. When one applies those terms to the port, one finds that privatisation brings no advantage to Belfast port.

The Government have argued that privatisation takes the weight off the taxpayer meeting the costs of failing industries, but Belfast port is a success. It does not require handouts from the Government to meet its running costs or capital investment programme. The usual Tory line that propped-up, failing industries require the breath of privatisation does not apply to Belfast port. In the House of Lords, the Government spokesman said: The Government have consistently taken the view that the privatisation of the larger trust ports is an important element of the long-term strategy of opening up the ports industry to market forces."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 July 1991; Vol. 531, c. 348.] The Northern Ireland trust ports, however, are already subject to market forces via competition either from Larne and elsewhere or from the Republic of Ireland. So that argument does not apply to the Northern Ireland ports.

It should be pointed out that the trade war—if such it may be called—between the ports of the Republic and those of Northern Ireland is being won by Northern Ireland. Between a quarter and one third of the imports and exports currently passing through Belfast port are for the Republic of Ireland, which shows that a significant slice of the Republic's trade passes in and out through Belfast.

Privatisation will not sharpen up a failing industry; the industry is already successful. I therefore ask: is it in the interests of the commerce of Northern Ireland that we lose the additional funding that would be available from Europe? Of course it is not. Is it in the interests of jobs? Everybody knows that the outcome of such privatisation processes is that jobs are lost, so there will be no advantage to Northern Ireland in the privatisation of its ports.

Only the Government's short-term interest is served by the order. It is a triumph of their ideology over the best interests of the community. The question must be asked, and answered: morally, if not legally, are the Government entitled to sell the Belfast port? I noticed that the explanatory document issued by the Department said: Trust ports are independent statutory authorities established under local legislation. They are not owned by anyone. They may not be owned by anyone, but the Government will sell them anyway. That puts them in the position of receivers of stolen goods. Anywhere else that would be seen as a criminal act. The ports in Northern Ireland, such as Belfast port, are the property of the people of Belfast and of the people of Northern Ireland. They are not the property of a Tory Government to sell so that they can make the public sector borrowing requirement look a little better at the end of the year.

As I have already said, I am concerned that there will be a reduction not only in the grant, and therefore the investment, that will go into the Belfast port, but that it will become less competitive. A significant investment has been made in the past, and a considerable amount of European grant has been received. Over the past five years the port of Belfast has invested about £100 million in a ports development programme. Of that, £40 million came from its own funds and the remaining money from EC grants. That has helped the port to modernise its facilities, and it has added new facilities such as a roll on/roll off terminal. There are also new cranes, and the port has a vastly improved infrastructure.

We wonder whether, in the present circumstances, the EC could claw back the funds that it has already given to what was a public company. The House deserves a response from the Minister on that issue. Could European funds already granted be clawed back if the port becomes a private concern? The Minister says that the present available grant for the port is up to 75 per cent., but many people in the House will doubt whether a privatised port would get anything like the maximum of 50 per cent. of an EC grant. Indeed, some will consider it questionable whether it would get anything at all.

We must deal with the issue of the assets of the port as they currently stand. The bill may be, say, £50 million a year. The Minister has not offered us any better guidance on what he expects to net for his 50 per cent. of the income from the sale of the port. If he wanted to give us further guidance, it might be useful to the House. Can he give us a figure that he feels might be achieved by the sale of Belfast port?

Anyone who examines the assets connected with the considerable land site can see immediately that there are significant assets that could be sold off to pay for the purchase that the company will already have made. It seems a remarkable bargain. First, the purchasers have to pay only half the price; then they can probably sell about a quarter of the goods to pay for it, and end up with the rest for nothing. That is the bargain that the Minister is offering as an inducement to privatise the port.

As I understand it, the House should give considerable approval to the position of the harbour commissioners. They have effectively said that their interest is not personal, because commissioners might do very well out of a programme such as that offered under the order. But the commissioners recognise that the interests of the Northern Ireland economy as a whole would not be advantaged by the reduction of European funding.

The considerable land assets can be sold off, with a fairly meagre pay-back to the Government should that occur. So far as I can recall off the top of my head, about 25 per cent. is payable if pieces are sold within the first five years, stepping down to about 10 per cent. for years nine and 10. After 10 years the purchasers are on their own; they can sell anything, and do not have to pay back any of the money at all. That seems a remarkable sell-off of a public asset that should not be the private possession of any company.

A further issue is the virtual monopoly that will be created by such a sale. So far, at least, the Government have not publicly addressed that problem. At present, the harbour commissioners use a high degree of judgment to ensure equality of treatment and fair charging at the port. However, if the purchaser should happen to be someone with a private interest within the port, the charging might be varied to the advantage of that private interest. So fair charging and equality of treatment may be changed, depending on who the purchaser is.

Considerable concern has been expressed by the Belfast Shipping Agents Association, which is worried that privatisation would create a monopoly. The association says: Our members are concerned, for themselves and for the other providers of services in the Port of Belfast, for importers and exporters of goods and for Northern Ireland consumers generally, that in this monopoly situation any excessive increase in port charges made by a Privatised Port Authority could have serious and detrimental effects on the Northern Ireland economy. The association asks: Will there be a safeguard, such as a Regulatory Authority, built in", so that any new privatised port arrangement will be monitored? The Minister should answer that question.

There is another question concerning the assets to which I want the Minister to respond. The Minister seems to be shaking his head. Just because he made a two-minute speech, it does not mean that everyone else in the House has to do the same. I want to point the Minister in the direction of some important aspects of the possessions of the harbour commission.

I am thinking in particular of buildings with significant historical interest, and also paintings, sculptures and maritime artefacts which belong to the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland. Will the Minister make provision to ensure that those will form part of a maritime museum, rather than becoming the possessions of a new privatised company? The port of Belfast trade union side has argued that point strongly and I think that it is a strong case.

In conclusion, it can be seen that Belfast port is substantially different from other ports in the United Kingdom, especially in view of the competition from ports in the Republic of Ireland. Privatisation would do considerable damage to the whole of the Northern Ireland economy. The Government should be repudiated for their attempt to benefit their own financial interests rather than the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. I urge the Government to take the sale off the counter. Indeed, I argue that the port is not theirs to sell. We are told that the Government's policy is to attempt to get Northern Ireland parties to agree. Here the Northern Ireland parties are in agreement about what we want, so what do the Government do? They form the obstacle to having those wishes fulfilled.

8.20 pm
Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)

I support the remarks made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). The Government know that the overwhelming response from the general public, community organisations, the trade unions, Belfast city council and the political parties was direct opposition to the proposals. What confidence can we have that the interests of Northern Ireland will be taken into account during any future consultation process? That question is especially pertinent given that we have not yet had a response to the points raised in the submission.

The Government say that they have no economic or selfish interests in Northern Ireland. That statement rings hollow when we see the way in which they are systematically stripping Northern Ireland of its assets, leaving the Province weak, vulnerable and open to exploitation by monetary interests whose sole purpose is to prey on our people's work ethic and thereby amass vast personal wealth.

The port of Belfast, as our principal sea port, is the latest to suffer from this macabre and irresponsible attitude. Belfast is not in competition with any British port. Its main competition comes from the southern Irish ports and, at present, it compares very favourably with them. As a result of the order, that competitiveness will be lost.

As has already been said, the Dublin Government have already decided that their ports will remain in public hands, thereby maintaining their eligibility, as public concerns, for up to 85 per cent. European grant money, whereas private businesses are eligible for only 50 per cent. That is not a calm fishing reach and it tips the equation the wrong way, at our expense. I am also informed that the Dublin Government extend favourable tax treatment to their ports and that new harbour legislation is under way further to extend those advantages.

We all know that the port of Belfast has benefited substantially from the European regional development fund to help it restructure and modernise in a down-river relocation. I am, therefore, concerned about the precise changes in ERDF status that the privatisation process may bring about. It is conceivable that the European Community could, rightly, demand a return of a proportion of the grants if it believed that, under privatisation, the general public might not have the benefits and uses that they enjoy under the present status.

I am apprehensive about the effects that privatisation would have on the site of special scientific interest, which is essential to the welfare of many forms of wildlife that are found in the location. It is widely recognised that the area is vital in the migratory pattern of water fowl. Although the private sector may not exploit an SSSI, it is most unlikely to invest in it and manage it to the same degree.

I am also concerned about safeguards against predatory ownership, especially by companies based in member states. Do the Government intend to follow the example of the sale of Belfast international airport and retain a golden share in the ports? Will there be a change of ownership structure? If there is, it will be essential that any purchaser can demonstrate a long-term commitment to the continuing success of the port so that customers and employees can be confident of a stable future under the new regime.

8.24 pm
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

I bring to this debate the experience of having represented, for the past 10 years, the port of Immingham. I recall that in my first Session of Parliament I had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee that considered the Transport Bill which brought into being Associated British Ports, the private company that runs many of the ports in the United Kingdom, including the port in Hull and the one in my constituency.

I reassure Ulster Members that my intervention in the debate will be brief. I intend to make two main points about the orders, which I very much welcome. If any Ulster Member has any concerns about the benefits that privatisation may or may not bring, I invite him to come to Immingham in my constituency.

Opposition Members who served on the Transport Bill Committee threatened that all the ports on the east coast of England would close. They said that Immingham and Grimsby would go into a decline and that Hull would go into even more of a decline. Now we have Associated British Ports, which is not answerable to the old British Transport Docks Board and the Treasury. There is competition not only among the ports within the group but with other ports.

Felixstowe used to be difficult to compete against. The arguments put by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) today were put when Associated British Ports was set up. People said, "How will it be possible for the newly privatised ports of Immingham, Grimsby and Hull to compete against Rotterdam and Felixstowe?" Rotterdarn had European money pouring into the Europort. People asked how it would be possible for the little ports out in the cold in the private sector, which had no access to capital and no access to the Treasury, to compete. The truth is that they compete on their own terms with Rotterdam and Felixstowe. I am sure that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) would testify to that. The blunt truth is that there is a renaissance in the docks industry on the east coast as a result of privatisation.

Mr. Trimble

The hon. Gentleman is right about the renaissance of docks on the east coast of Britain. That may not be due solely to competition, although I concede that competition is important. What does he say to the point made by Unionist Members here this evening—that under the new arrangements, Belfast will be handicapped in competition with Dublin? That is the essential point. We are not opposed to competition. We appreciate that competition has been successful in other areas and we know that our ports can compete successfully. However, the orders will handicap our ports in competition with their only and chief competitor. Will the hon. Gentleman address that issue?

Mr. Brown

I simply say that that is exactly the argument—I recall it well—used by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who also served on the Standing Committee in 1980–81. He made precisely that point about the relationship between Immingham, Grimsby, Hull and Rotterdam.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown

I have promised to be brief because I know that, as an intruder from England in a Northern Ireland debate, I must not take up too much time. However, I shall give way.

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Gentleman cannot be allowed to get away with that. The fact is that the Belfast port and the Dublin port are on the same island. Therefore, they are in competition with each other. Rotterdam is not on the mainland of the United Kingdom. It is not in competition. Those ports are in competition with each other, not with Rotterdam.

Mr. Brown

I am afraid that that is simply not true. It is the case that the success of Immingham docks in securing for itself trade that once upon a time used to come from all the world, including South Africa and South America, and go to Rotterdam, which served Europe, now comes to Immingham and to Hull. I have to tell the hon. Gentlemen that it is precisely because of privatisation in the early 1980s that we succeeded in bringing to the east coast of Britain, rather than to the mainland of Europe, much of the international docks traffic that is now available to the United Kingdom. I say to hon. Members from Northern Ireland that docks traffic is international. It does not know boundaries in the way that they have suggested.

I now want to get on to the main—

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brown

I shall not give way any more after this. I am anxious to press on to the main point of my speech.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I put to the hon. Gentleman the following case. Dublin is to receive money from the European Community. Remember, the south of Ireland is getting £6 million, when Northern Ireland has got nothing out of the European Community, and instead is paying up per head of its people—I have received those answers from the Treasury. If Dublin is to receive a £6 million kitty to build up the port and the new ports scheme, being a private scheme, is not to have the 85 per cent. grant—perhaps not even a 50 per cent. or a 30 per cent. grant—surely that would be unfair competition. The hon. Gentleman is talking about England in fair competition with others. I am talking of a situation that would be totally unfair.

Mr. Brown

I understand entirely the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. It is rather like the unfairness which Immingham, Grimsby and Hull had to put up with after they were privatised, to the extent that they were also handicapped by a thing on the mainland of the United Kingdom called the dock labour scheme. We had unfair practices, we had handicaps, we had unfairness against Felixstowe. Indeed, it was not until 1989 that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) finally abolished the scheme, after much pressure and lobbying from my hon. Friends, and we were able to get rid of an unfair handicap. So I understand entirely what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. He is talking of a relative unfairness on the island of Ireland. We also had a relative unfairness, yet never for one moment did I suggest that we should not go down the road of privatisation simply on the grounds of that unfair handicap.

Two years ago, the Government took a further step towards liberalising the ports industry by enabling trust ports to become privatised. To date, that process has proved a success and it is to be hoped that the remaining trust ports will follow the example of their colleagues. Of course, all of those ports have followed in the wake of the outstanding privatisation of ABP in 1983, which I have just described. I very much hope that the Belfast harbour commissioners and the trustees of other ports in Northern Ireland will give serious consideration to the advantages which privatisation may offer them.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)


Mr. Brown

I will not give way. I have been generous in giving way and I am acutely aware that we have less than two hours left. I hope that the remarks which I am about to make may find favour with the hon. Member for Belfast, East and a number of his hon. Friends. On the following point, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister not to reconsider, but to listen carefully to the points on the constitutional aspects of the order.

I have had the privilege of serving as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for one year. I was secretary of the Conservative parliamentary Northern Ireland committee for over six years, vice-chairman of that committee for two years and for one year the Government Whip with responsibility for Northern Ireland. I have always been acutely conscious of the arguments consistently advanced by hon. Members from all political parties in Northern Ireland about the manner in which our debates are conducted. On that, I agree that there may well be some merit in what they have to say.

My second point concerns the constitutional position on Northern Ireland ports should the Government, at some stage, decide to exercise their compulsory powers. I have no argument at all against the Government using those powers if they decide to do so. While I am absolutely in favour of the concept of privatisation and, perhaps one day, compulsory privatisation, it is a fact that, that under the terms of the order, Northern Ireland ports are put at a constitutional disadvantage. As the hon. Member for Belfast, East has already said, the statutory instrument would pass through Parliament under the negative resolution procedure, with no opportunity for parliamentary debate, whereas, for mainland British ports that are compelled to privatise—Aberdeen, Ipswich and Poole may fall into that category—a debate on the Floor of the House is automatically guaranteed.

I do not wish to be disrespectful to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, but it is only right and proper for Northern Ireland ports to be treated in exactly the same way as their mainland counterparts. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has received a number of representations on that issue and has already given some assurances about considering permitting a full debate. There is some merit in what hon. Members have said about getting the procedures for Northern Ireland on exactly the same basis as we have for the rest of the United Kingdom.

I hope that if hon. Members from Northern Ireland are not able accept my views and arguments in favour of privatisation, they will at least understand that I accept the case that they have put on the constitutional manner in which this order and consequent orders should be put to the House.

8.36 pm
Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)

I am grateful for an opportunity to make a few brief remarks on the orders, which I want to oppose on the same grounds as those on which my party opposed the Ports Act 1991. We have heard from the Minister that the order is an enabling measure. Were that so, we would have no difficulty with it, because the enabling characteristics of it are not ones with which we would wish to take issue, but lurking behind the enabling characteristics is the threat of coercion. That is where we would part company with the Government.

There has been mention of the need for competition between ports and we very much support that. We recognise that, in the past, some trust ports may have viewed the private Bill procedure in the House as so complicated that they would get bogged down in it, so we have no problem with the principle of freeing up that procedure. However, if some port trustees—the Belfast harbour commissioners or whoever—see that process simplified and serve out the two-year time period, which is already contained in the mainland legislation and is envisaged in the orders, and then decide not to proceed voluntarily with privatisation, there seems little justification for the Government stepping in over their heads and trying to do it on a compulsory basis.

The Government do not seem to have listened to, or learnt from, their earlier legislation. Few, if any, of the candidates on the mainland involved in that earlier legislation who have failed to come up with proposals in the two-year period want, at this stage, to change their status. That is why we shall again oppose the Government over the orders. We believe now, as before, that the Government should not ride over the heads of the commissioners who deal on a day-to-day basis with those matters and who have arrived at a considered decision that takes into account local factors. Different ports have different characteristics. In the case of Northern Ireland—as hon. Members have already said, Belfast is the only port which is threatened because it is the only port which falls into the criteria—the economic difficulties that it faces simply cannot be overlooked. One must ask whether the area would be better off as a result of compulsory privatisation of the Belfast port. Many hon. Members who have already spoken in the debate have persuasively put forward the argument that it would not.

The Government believe that privatisation is an attractive option because it will give access to capital for development, it will in some way make it easier to develop surplus land and there will be more diversification of development. They have even suggested that it will become more profitable. Some of those arguments may be true, but will they all be true?

The record of Belfast port shows that it has already enjoyed success by reinvesting the surpluses that it has made by raising money on its own account. It has shown resourcefulness and imagination. It has an impressive growth rate—an increase of more than 40 per cent. in the past five years. There has been modernisation, and much land has already been leased to relevant commercial interests. Belfast port is a vital and integral part of the Northern Ireland economy.

Reference has been made to the disadvantage in the European grant regime that would follow any privatisation. What the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) said earlier about competitiveness is right. The argument that Belfast would be at a sharp disadvantage, especially in terms of competing with Dublin, if it were on a completely different grant regime has not been satisfactorily answered by the Government.

Another point is accountability. The Belfast harbour commissioners draw on representation from various elements of the community in Northern Ireland. In the event of a compulsory sell-off, they would be replaced by an unaccountable—in any public sense—private body. That body could conceivably have directors who know little of the interests of Northern Ireland and, indeed, the port itself. Many of them may be anonymous and have little interest in it.

I hope that the Minister will give an unambiguous answer to the question put by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). Would the Government use any golden share that they might retain to block a foreign interest coming in and taking over? Would the community be better off as a result of a private sale? Would a company whose sole motive was to make a profit serve the community better than the current Belfast harbour commissioners? Surely, employment is the most important thing to the community at large. The Minister has suggested that the economic opportunities arising from privatisation will assist in that regard, but I believe that we should be concerned about the threats that have been identified by hon. Members in this debate.

Finally, on the constitutional point, it seems wrong that the procedures for Northern Ireland should be different from those for the rest of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said that the Minister referred to "considering" any request to have the matter debated on the Floor of the House. In a letter to Lord Holme, who speaks for us on these matters in another place, he went one step further and said that the Government would give "careful consideration" to any such request. That is not good enough. We must have an unequivocal commitment from the Government that any such move will be debated on the Floor of the House as a matter of course.

The bulk of the United Kingdom's trade still uses ports. The role of the ports in our economy is crucial. It is okay to set up enabling measures so that those who wish to privatise can take advantage of that. However, there can be no excuse whatever for forcing, over the heads of the commissioners, ports to privatise when they do not wish to do so, especially in the light of the unfair competition, in terms of European grant, that would result from privatisation.

8.43 pm
Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

While I, as the spokesman for my party on this subject, will be raising a number of concerns relating to these orders, it would be useful for me to give the House a little history lesson to highlight the changes that have taken place in electing or appointing harbour commissioners since the Origins of Port 1613.

In 1785, the corporation for preserving and improving the port and harbour of Belfast was set up by an Act of Parliament. That body was later to become known as the ballast board. The success of that board in expanding the ports operations led, in 1847, to a successor board—the Belfast harbour commissioners—being given authority and trust status further to develop the harbour under the Harbour, Docks and Piers Clauses Act 1847. The new board set about creating three main channels for ships and earned Belfast the name of the trident port.

The Belfast Harbour Commissioners Board still runs the port and its nine members are appointed by the Minister. That came about because the Belfast Harbour Acts Amendment (Northern Ireland) Order 1979 was passed by the House, giving the power of appointment to the Department of Commerce—a power which subsequently passed to the Department of Environment and the Minister.

Under the 1847 Act, one third of the commissioners stood down every year and an election was held to replace or re-elect them. That election was held on the first Thursday in February under the control of the secretary of the Belfast harbour commissioners. It is interesting to know that the candidates and electors had to reside in Belfast or within seven miles of it. That was measured from the town's commercial buildings. For at least six months prior to the election, they had to own a vessel of more than 100 tonnes registered in the port of Belfast, and they had to own property with an annual value of £500, or £300 if it was a holding or a freehold estate. They were also required to pay a police tax of £6 to Belfast town council.

Basically, we can assume that the commercial interests associated with the harbour elected those running the harbour—the Belfast harbour commissioners. Perhaps, these days, the narrowness of that electorate could be criticised but it was wider than the appointments made and the orders raised by one person—the Minister—who is unelected by anyone in Belfast harbour, Belfast city or even Northern Ireland. If we place on top of that the proposal under article 12 to introduce privatisation by negative resolution, we can truly say that democracy in Northern Ireland does not exist.

My views on quangos are well known. As it is presently appointed, the Belfast Harbour Commissioners Board is a quango.

Rev. Martin Smyth

My hon. Friend is referring to quangos and how they are appointed. Is he prepared to acknowledge that, according to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, there must be consultation with the Maryfield secretariat?

Mr. Forsythe

I understand that that is the case. Consultations can take place between the two Governments on the matter. The quango is similar to 150 other bodies in Northern Ireland. My friends among the Belfast harbour commissioners will not like me saying that. I object to the creation of that quango and will continue to object to it until we achieve some change.

I am fully aware of the excellent work carried out by the present board and other boards through the years. Their work has been on a par with that of commissioners in the past, who were elected under a different system. I am also aware of what the port means and of the high regard in which the commissioners are held by the citizens of Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland.

Leaving aside my views about the intentions of the order, I must put on record clearly, as other hon. Members have done, my strong objections to the method that is being used to pave the way to the removal of the port of Belfast from local control. It completely ignores the original intention of the Acts of Parliament, which were properly debated and amended or accepted by this mother of Parliaments. It represents a tremendous change for Belfast harbour in terms of democracy and so on.

Perhaps we should consider, for the benefit of those who do not have a Belfast background, what will be lost to local people if the control of the port is taken outside Northern Ireland under article 12 of the order. There is a 3,000 acre estate with 8,000 m of quayage. There are 70 berths, which include four roll on/roll off docks, six container docks, four dry docks and one shipbuilding dock. There are 58,000 sq m of transit storage sheds, and four grain silos which hold about 150,000 tonnes of grain.

As has already been mentioned, within that estate we have Shorts Bombardier, Harland and Wolff, the city airport and many other smaller firms, including Belfast West power station. I shall ask the Minister some questions at a later stage. Perhaps he will explain about the cross-harbour road and railway line which is being constructed. What will be the position of the road and rail network under the new arrangements for privatisation, if, indeed, privatisation takes place? I understand what the Minister said earlier about the order being a paving operation, but let us be honest: a paving operation is there to be used.

As others have said, the port accounts for 55 per cent. of all Northern Ireland's imports and exports. It has public user facilities for fuel oil, petroleum products, petroleum gas and aviation fuel. It has heavy lifting and general cranage. It has deep berths. All of those facilities are unavailable, at least to the same extent, in the rest of Northern Ireland.

As other hon. Members have said, the harbour commissioners' building contains many items of historical significance, many of which were gifts. The building is part of the history and culture of Northern Ireland. It is used for receptions. It plays a civic role. It hosts concerts and tours. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) said, many experts regard the estate as an area of scientific interest and are greatly worried about how they would deal with a commercial firm which had a profit motive.

Why is the successful port of Belfast being upset by a plan for privatisation? Belfast city council opposes it. The trade unions oppose it. Politicians have spoken against it. The people of Northern Ireland do not wish privatisation to happen. They would like the port to remain under local control. Perhaps the Minister will say that the port could remain under local control if a proposal were made. But that cannot be guaranteed if the port is privatised. Unfortunately, I have to consider what the Minister seems to have ignored—the views of most of those who responded to the consultation process. Unfortunately, it seems to me that the port is being privatised for ideological reasons and because it is the policy of the Conservative party.

I shall now ask the Minister some questions, having given a history lesson. The Minister may already have been aware of the history, but I thought that it was worth putting it on the record. What precisely will be the position of the Belfast harbour police? I know that one of my Labour colleagues will probably raise a similar point if he manages to catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker. No mention has been made of that force. The same applied to the airport privatisation order.

We all have great admiration for the fine Belfast harbour police force. It has given stalwart service to the harbour over many years. It has done so in Northern Ireland and Belfast terms in the most difficult circumstances. It is important that the Minister should put on record the exact position on future policing of this substantial area within the city of Belfast.

There are several questions which the Minister was probably aware that I might ask. I do not wish to take up a lot of time. If the port is privatised, will he produce ideas and proposals for the Belfast harbour police before the privatisation plan is fully implemented?

It has been said by others, and is worth repeating, that the privatisation of the port would lose Belfast its trust status. Under the present status, the harbour commissioners enjoy a healthy level of profitability and they pay full corporation tax, which is very useful to the Exchequer. They receive no assistance from the Government for port development expenditure, and their ability to keep profits has allowed port development to be carried out with the assistance only of grants from the European regional development fund. That has resulted in the harbour benefiting substantially from those funds.

Will the Minister put on record what changes he sees taking place in the European grant regime? Could he share with us the impact of such changes? For instance, when Belfast port is privatised, would there be any requirement—as others have asked—for the Government to reimburse the grants received in the past by the Belfast harbour commissioners?

In that context, does not the Minister think that it is ironic—I am sorry that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) is no longer here, as I would have liked him to have heard this—that the Government are laying an order to pave the way for the privatisation of Belfast harbour at a time when the cohesion fund status and aid through Intereg 2 is being applied to ports in the Republic of Ireland? Those ports are being offered grants of up to 85 per cent. because the Government of the Republic are reinforcing the trust status of the ports.

I need not repeat, but I reinforce, what been said about Belfast being treated differently under the order from ports in the rest of the United Kingdom with regard to article 10 of the Ports Act 1991. Will the Minister put on record how he intends to protect the port users, because a monopoly would be created if it were privatised? The port has public user facilities which other ports in Northern Ireland do not have. The only facilities for such products as aviation fuel, petroleum and low-pressure gas are in Belfast port and are not available anywhere else. A monopoly in Belfast port could be crucial to the charges of those products and to Northern Ireland.

Will the Minister consider setting up a regulatory authority to monitor port changes and to prevent excessive profits? I agree with what has been said about the risk to firms of long standing which have given great service to the port—such as stevedores and ship's agents—and they in no circumstances should be squeezed out by a monopoly. That would be very unfortunate.

Will the Minister tell the House, if we get to the stage where the port is privatised, what will be the position of the port's pension fund? Perhaps he could tell us the position of the pension fund now, but he cannot tell us what it will be like in two years' time, because he is not a prophet. I am interested in this matter, because there will be a lot to think about if the fund is either in surplus or in deficit. In the past we have had to ask the Minister to put on record his views on the pensions position of the workers and the staff of the port.

If the port is privatised, will the Minister give me a proper undertaking—not a superficial undertaking—about the position of the members employed in the port, the pensioners who are already receiving their pensions and deferred pensioners who no longer work in the port, or are working there but are deferred pensioners? Will a condition of sale for any new owner be to continue the fund in its present form to ensure that all members, pensioners and deferred pensioners do not lose out in the future?

The Minister will be aware that a new company could take over a facility such as the port of Belfast and close the pension fund. Will he assure me that, if the port is privatised, the position for members of the pension scheme would not change because they would receive any amount due to them up to a given time? Would that pension fund be allowed to continue under the same conditions and providing the same benefits, and would that be written into any contract or arrangement between the Government and a new company, if the port is privatised? In that context, will the Minister assure us that all the recommendations contained in the document on the future of pensions presented to the House last week will be closely followed in any negotiations concerning the pension fund?

The democracy that now exists in the election of Belfast harbour commissioners will disappear and a Minister will appoint the commissioners. Instead of being allowed to debate future privatisation matters in the House, the matter will be introduced by negative resolution. For those reasons and because the port is so important to Belfast, we are not happy with the prospect of it being privatised. My hon. Friends and I have no ideological views one way or the other on privatisation except on the merits of the case. The merits of this case do not take us into the same Lobby as Her Majesty's Government and we shall vote against the order.

9.6 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I am here tonight and have an interest in opposing the order not merely because I am a Labour Member of Parliament—although that is a good enough reason for being here—but because my constituents are angry about how badly my community in Tilbury was treated over the sale of its port and are concerned that similar circumstances should not befall the people of Belfast, who are also proud of their port.

It is worth trying to remind Tory Members that they are hearing me in the Chamber tonight partly because my predecessor, who lost the election, was a passionate advocate of the privatision of the port of Tilbury.

Mr. Tim Smith

A great man.

Mr. Mackinlay

The Minister says that my predecessor is a great man, but the good people of Thurrock did not think so. While I hope that I brought other qualities to the campaign, the fact remains that I am here partly because the people of Thurrock deeply resented the sale of their port, of which they were proud, and the fact that their Member of Parliament advocated that sale. Arguably, that is what cost Mr. Tim Janman the election and provided an extra seat for the Labour party.

Those facts give me a mandate not only to raise that matter but to say that I am proud to associate myself with the views expressed by Northern Ireland Members who on their constituents' behalf, strongly oppose Belfast's privatisation. The Government should reflect on this before making any attempt to trigger the sale of the port of Belfast: they have no mandate whatever for such a sale. The political parties in Northern Ireland demonstrably oppose such privatisation. The trade unions definitely oppose it, not only for employment reasons—although they are rightly worried about employment—but because the people of Belfast are proud of their history and of the harbour, which, to them, is a symbol of that history. That should not be minimised or dismissed: it is an important factor that the Government should take into account in considering the matter further.

I share the view of other hon. Members that this is a crazy and unacceptable way in which to treat Northern Ireland legislation. I do not care what happens or what is said elsewhere: as a Member of the House of Commons, I want the capacity and opportunity to scrutinise and probe the intentions of the Government and to examine all legislation in detail.

This order is equivalent to a major Act of Parliament, and in any normal and sensible circumstances would justify the full scrutiny of a parliamentary Committee. Why? Because we should be able to examine the Government's intentions. In the course of that legislative process, the Government would, almost as surely as night turns into day, discover that their measure was in some respects flawed. Even if they could not be persuaded by hon. Members that the provisions should be tempered, they would find that the draftsmen and their offices had overlooked some important factors. This legislative process and this order in particular are therefore bad from the point of view of scrutiny of our law-making process.

If we had had the opportunity to consider the legislation in Committee, many of the questions that have been posed by hon. Members tonight would have been answered. I suspect that many of those questions will not be answered when the Minister replies, but we shall see. Perhaps he will be understanding when some of us ask him to give way later: it would be reprehensible if he tried to plead shortage of time or to claim that he had not fully taken note of the point. He has a moral obligation to answer our questions tonight because the matter may well not come before the House of Commons again, in which case there will be no further scrutiny.

As the Minister would expect, and as the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) rightly said, let us use the future of the police at Belfast harbour as an example of a matter that we wish to probe. This important point would not only have a debate to itself: if we considered the legislation in Committee, it would probably be the subject of new clauses and amendments.

It is important that people who hold the office of constable should be protected from commercial considerations, which might well trespass on their work if the port were privatised. We do not know who the prospective purchasers might be. Some very undesirable outfits might purchase the port. For those purchasers to have access to and stewardship and ownership of a police force seems to me to be unacceptable.

In any event, I must declare that it is repugnant to me, as a matter of policy, that any police force should be in private ownership and control. I have said that many times. I may sound like a long-playing gramophone record but I say it once more. The Government are privatising police forces in Northern Ireland and in the port of Tilbury in my constituency. It is the thin end of the wedge. It is unacceptable. It is unfair to police officers, who are proud of their office, and it is unacceptable to other police forces that remain in the public sector.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Minister owes not only him but the people of Northern Ireland an explanation as to why he intends to proceed by means of an Order in Council rather than by means of a Bill, which would allow the hon. Gentleman and right hon. and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies the right to speak on the subject and amend the proposed legislation? The Minister owes the House an explanation as to why he has selected a procedure that gives the people of Northern Ireland, through their elected Members of Parliament and through friends such as the hon. Gentleman, no opportunity to amend the legislation.

Mr. Mackinlay

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. We shall see whether the Minister takes up that point when he replies.

I share a common interest with those who are protecting and promoting the interests of Belfast harbour and its people tonight. Unlike the rest of the trust ports that were subject to the Ports Act 1991, my port of Tilbury was privatised without further scrutiny being given to the proposals in the House. The matter was subject to examination during the Committee stage of the Ports Bill, so it received more scrutiny than-the possible privatisation of Belfast port. Once the Ports Bill was enacted, the port of Tilbury was treated extraordinarily and as distinct from the other trust ports. It was sold without any further reference, order or debate in this place. That is what will happen to the port of Belfast unless the Government can be persuaded to turn from their present course; there will be no further discussions in this place. We shall read in the financial pages one day that the port of Belfast has been disposed of. That is unacceptable and discriminates against Northern Ireland.

While provision exists for the compulsory sale of Aberdeen, Poole or Ipswich to be examined and voted on in the House, Belfast will not have that privilege. That is unacceptable. Let us ask the Minister for the true reason behind it. Is it not a fact that the Government know that there will be considerable resistance if they try to push through an order relating to Aberdeen, Poole or Ipswich because they will have to allow the order to be scrutinised? By a quirk, they can push through the order relating to Belfast without further scrutiny, which suits their purposes because they need to try to start promoting legislation and getting greenbacks for the Treasury—the order is, to a large extent, Treasury driven.

If we had a proper legislative process, we could pursue the reasonable point made by many hon. Members about the buildings and artefacts of the harbour commissioners. When we were debating the Railways Bill, we had discussions about the artefacts of the railways, and how they would be preserved, kept in public ownership and made available to the public. I attended the sittings of the Committee that considered the Ports Bill, although unfortunately I was not then a Member of the House, and there was then a general debate about the artefacts of the railways after privatisation.

The harbour commissioners at Belfast have great artefacts and antiquities of which they are proud and which, it is felt, belong to the people of Belfast. I recall an enjoyable and interesting day when the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) took me to visit the harbour commissioners. I saw their buildings and learnt about the history mentioned by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe). I am grateful that he related that history to the House as it should be placed on record. That history is inextricably bound up with the pride that the people of Belfast have in their harbour and the historic nature of the commissioners' office.

At some stage during our deliberations, the Minister tried to taunt the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) by implying that, unless the order was passed, the port of Larne would be disadvantaged. The hon. Member for Antrim, East, whose constituency includes the port of Lame, will no doubt speak on his own behalf. However, let me say that, while there is competition between Larne and Belfast, they also complement one another. There is a balance—one is in public ownership and one is in private ownership, and long may that situation flourish. But if the port of Belfast is disposed of, it will raise the question of whether there will still be two ports. The future would then be uncertain, which would obviously be damaging to employment and the communities that are largely served by the two ports. Far from these orders being an attractive proposition for Lane, their prospect raises great dangers. I look forward with interest to what the hon. Member for Antrim, East has to say.

Mr. John D. Taylor

There are more than two ports in Northern Ireland; we also have Londonderry and Warren Point. The Government are giving their full support and enthusiasm to expenditure, through the cohesion fund of the European Community, to advance the ports in the Republic of Ireland, and that will eventually lead to the closure of Warren Point harbour.

Mr. Mackinlay

The point made by the right hon. Gentleman is manifestly an important one. When I visited Warren Point, I saw for myself that the Republic opposite would benefit from the cohesion fund—and that is its entitlement—whereas Warren Point would not.

After all the bravado and macho politics displayed by the Prime Minister in his approach to Europe—and I shall not trespass too far down that road this evening—it occurred to me to ask why, some months ago, the Government did not argue that the cohesion fund should extend to the whole of the island of Ireland. That would have been logical and would not have trespassed on other sensitive issues involving Northern Ireland and the Republic, but—so far as I am aware—it never crossed their mind.

The matter arose in European Standing Committee B and I tried to probe the Minister about it. Clearly, it had never occurred to him to go to Brussels and bang on the table and explain the extraordinary circumstances involving the interface between Northern Ireland and the Republic and that there is a strong case for the cohesion fund to extend to the island of Ireland. All the parties concerned would have understood that, but the Government did not even contemplate exploring the issue. That is absolutely wretched and jeopardises the port and interests at Warren Point and probably elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) gave us the benefit of his attention earlier. I regret that he is not here now as I thought he was talking through a hole in his hat when he suggested that there was a comparable situation as between Rotterdam and Cleethorpes. Has anyone heard anything so absurd? Certainly not today. If the port of Belfast loses grant from the European Community because it is sold off and if the port of Dublin and the Irish Government legitimately seek to exploit the cohesion fund there will demonstrably be disadvantages to the port of Belfast; for the hon. Gentleman to suggest otherwise is nonsense.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes told us what a great advantage privatisation was and how the Ports Act 1991 was so attractive. It is significant that, so far as I am aware, none of the trust ports that were subject to the 1991 Act have voluntary put up their hands and asked to be privatised. We are still waiting with bated breath to find out whether the Government will move in relation to Ipswich, Aberdeen or Poole. I hope that they will not. It is interesting to note that the equivalent of the harbour commissioners there have not volunteered their ports for privatisation, despite the attraction that we are told exists.

The Government cannot get their way there, so they decide to pick on a part of the country, a particular port, where there is not so much political clout or opposition as would occur were they to tackle Aberdeen with the political considerations there, Poole, which is a Tory area, or Ipswich, which is a marginal parliamentary seat.

I am also concerned about the implications for the dock workers. One of the experiences in the port of Tilbury is that people who were proud to be employed in the docks industry are now facing casualisation. There have been major redundancies and people are not employed on a full-time basis with the pay and conditions of service to which they are entitled.

On the other side of the Thames, it is important that people in Belfast are aware of what has happened to the port of Medway, where a tantalising carrot was put before the dock workers in the form of an invitation to join what I believe to be a wholly bogus and cosmetic management-employee buy-out. It was suggested that they could have a share in their enterprises. We have heard that commercial before—how it was all part of the Thatcher revolution; people could have a stake in their firms.

The good dock workers of Medway were invited to take shares in their port. Many did so. Not long after that port was sold to a so-called management-employee buy-out, dock worker after dock worker was sacked. They then found that, under the small print, they were obligated to sell back their shares at £2.50 per share. Some of the purchasers of their shares were the port owners/managers. They got hold of those cheap shares and after a few months sold them again at a price of £37.50 per share. That was a rip-off. In my view, it was a form of stealing. It was a gross deceit perpetrated upon the workers.

Suppose that this measure had a Committee stage. If, on reflection, the Government felt that what happened at Medway was unfair, they could amend the order to ensure that even if someone lost his job he could hold on to his shares. [Interruption.] If I could just attract the Minister's attention for a moment, I should like to ask him a specific question. Will he ensure that if there is a management-employee buy-out, the shares purchased and owned by the dock workers will be sacrosanct? If dock workers lose their jobs through no fault of their own, will they be able to retain their shares? That is an important point that needs to be clarified this evening because that was not the experience at Medway and elsewhere.

Mr. John D. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman is understandably concerned about the security of share ownership. Does he agree that it is important that the shares in the privatised company should not be owned by foreign interests?

Mr. Mackinlay

Absolutely; it is something that exercised us at the time of the sale of Tilbury. Indeed, it still does. Even if a port is sold initially to a management-employee buy-out—with a considerable amount of involvement from banks and other financial institutions—we do not know what will happen in the future. There will be compelling commercial considerations. Ownership and control could pass to the stewardship of people who do not have any loyalty to the locality, to the country or even to the ports industry. There is a great danger of asset stripping.

Mr. John D. Taylor

I was with the hon. Gentleman until his last few remarks. A new owner could have an interest in the ports industry, but in a port that was in competition with Belfast.

Mr. Mackinlay

That is absolutely correct. I am with the right hon. Gentleman all the way. The experience in England is that people will purchase ports with a view to running them down so that they can promote the other port or ports in their ownership.

Quite apart from the selfish interest that could emerge, it is a crazy way to run a ports industry. We are talking about strategic ports, vital to the economy of England in my case, and of Northern Ireland in the case of Belfast—and, indeed, of a large part of the northern part of the Republic of Ireland. The ports' development needs to be planned. Currently there is a delicate, complementary role between Belfast, Larne, Warren Point and the ports on the Foyle. With the absence of planning, England has too many ports, and at some stage some of them will lose out.

I have referred to the port of Dublin, but there are other ports in Ireland. The port of Cork is rightly exploiting the opportunities provided by European grants, to its legitimate advantage. I do not complain about that, but I think it is wrong for us to refer only to Dublin. The fact is that, given the major ports around the island of Ireland, Belfast will be the odd one out.

The port is strongly identified with Northern Ireland. It is an historic port—one of the great ports of the old empire. The Government should not dismiss its deep association with the city. Clearly they will not reverse their current course tonight, but I hope that in the not too distant future the Minister will state from the Dispatch Box that the Government, on reflection, have decided not to privatise the port but to leave it to the sensible stewardship of the harbour commissioners, with whose membership they will not tamper.

Opposition Members fear that, after the order is passed, there will be a period of uncertainty and disquiet. The harbour commissioners will be in limbo, and there will be anxiety among the work force and the trade unions. The Government should heed the popular view expressed by all Northern Ireland politicians, and the fact that a number of us have experienced the problems associated with port privatisation in other parts of the United Kingdom. A Minister should state from the Dispatch Box, in a matter of weeks, that after due reflection the Government have decided to leave the Belfast port and harbour commissioners to flourish in their enterprise, as they are currently trying to do.

9.32 pm
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who has taken an informed interest in Northern Ireland and shared the concerns of its people.

Last night, winding up the debate, the Minister of State chided Northern Ireland Members for not talking the Province up. We are here tonight to talk the port of Belfast up, because we fear that a port with a proud history may be shunted down a siding—as it were—that would not benefit either the port or the citizens of Belfast.

I should declare an interest, for several reasons. My son-in-law works in the harbour; my great-uncle was first secretary of the Belfast dockers union; I was a minister for 19 years, and part of my parish was the harbour estate; I represent Belfast, South, members of whose city council and corporation—previously—have been commissioners. For all those reasons, I feel that I have a right to speak tonight and to challenge some of the assertions that have been made.

I understand the point that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) was trying to make, but, knowing the kipper trade and the herrings to be found along that coast, I thought that he was bringing a red herring into the debate when he spoke of the wonderful developments on the east coast. In fact, there has been a lamentable decline in Britain's west coast ports. The thrust of the European transport system relates to Dublin, Holyhead and further down—and, on the other side, the main link that will cause congestion around the channel tunnel. Some of us have been arguing for the build-up of the west coast ports, including the ports of Larne and Belfast. In case anyone thinks that there is a problem between Larne and Belfast, I can tell hon. Members that my paternal ancestors came from east Antrim and my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) will realise that I am not trying to encroach on his domain.

Belfast has a proud tradition, but we are now in a period of uncertainty. In a sense we have an elected dictatorship. For years we have been lectured in the House about looking after minority rights. When the minority of the nation represented by its Members in this House combines with trade union officials and business interests to tell the House that this is not the right way to go, we would like to think that there might be second thoughts.

Emphasis has already been placed on the concept of consultation. I have had to challenge the use of English in this place on more than one occasion when we have been told that co-operation was excellent. I always thought that when I received an excellent report, which was very rarely, it could not be much better. Tonight there has been another wonderful use of English. We have been told that two fundamental points came from the discussion period. Those points have not been addressed and the draft order is unamended. If they were fundamental points, surely the Government should have addressed them. I am delighted that on both sides of the House voices have been raised arguing for a proper form of democracy and for proper scrutiny of measures in this place. Some 22 years after the abolition of Stormont, there is no excuse for making a mess of Northern Ireland legislation.

Mr. John D. Taylor

The hon. Member speaks for almost everyone in Northern Ireland when he talks about consultation. Just this weekend, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said and wrote that nothing would happen without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. We are talking not just about consultation but about consent. Yet here we have an Order in Council for which consent is not forthcoming from the elected representatives of Northern Ireland. Does the hon. Gentleman not find that the procedure that the Minister is pushing through the House is in total contradiction and rejection of the philosophy expounded by the Secretary of State when he said that consent should be applied?

Rev. Martin Smyth

I share my right hon. Friend's concern about the use of English. Yesterday we talked about the concept of consultation and we discovered that consultation meant very little. It is obvious that consent has the same import in certain branches of English scholarship. I do not know whether it is something to do with American English, but it is not Ulster English or Scots English, where we like to call a spade a spade. We would like to think that the consent of the people of Northern Ireland was being looked for rather than something being imposed on us.

We have praised the development of the harbour estate and the landfill site and reclamation work, but now it is possible that, even allowing for clawbacks, some persons could come in later and profit off the backs of the forebears of the harbour commissioners who over the years have been expanding and developing the port. We believe that that is wrong.

Our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland have done marvellously well in pushing their cause within Europe. That is their responsibility and I do not criticise them, but I indict Her Majesty's Government for not pushing the case of Northern Ireland and its ports.

I asked the Minister a question at the beginning of his speech and I was amazed that he did not have the answer on the tip of his tongue. We have heard that Aberdeen, Ipswich and Poole ports have trust status but have not asked to be privatised. As far as we know, the Government have not pushed for them to be privatised. Why has the order been introduced when other legislation that is more important to Northern Ireland and affects the everyday life of its citizens is waiting to be considered? The Minister knows that I have been waiting for legislation to deal with road traffic problems in Belfast, but I have been told that there is insufficient time in the legislative programme. We are not getting our priorities right.

I do not want tediously to repeat the points that have been made, but I endorse my colleagues' arguments and I am delighted that they have been reflected on the Government Benches.

9.40 pm
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Article 12 refers to schemes initiated by the Department. In Northern Ireland we believe strongly that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." That should be adhered to and borne in mind at all times.

Regrettably, recent bureaucratic meddling in port affairs in my constituency has been perceived as damaging in the borough of Carrickfergus. A decision has been made to cease commercial operations at the port of Carrickfergus. Was there collusion in Northern Ireland Departments to bring about the decline of Carrickfergus harbour, perhaps to make Belfast harbour even more attractive in the Government's privatisation programme?

The Minister should be aware of the decision taken some time ago in respect of commercial operations at Carrickfergus harbour, which is only 10 miles from Larne. At two public inquiries, it has been suggested that Departments and the council may have misled the commissioners into believing that an alternative port would be developed at Kilroot, but that has not happened. Will finance be made available to Carrickfergus borough council in the event of a decision to rescind the earlier decision to cease commercial operations so that Carrickfergus harbour can be regenerated and redeveloped as a commercial harbour and regain its former principal port status, which it achieved when record tonnages were recorded through the port? Did Northern Ireland Departments promote the scheme to cease commercial activities, and did they encourage the council to believe that it would get a replacement port at Kilroot, for which it would receive private and public funding?

Belfast port has become the principal sea port on the island of Ireland, handling more than 11 million tonnes of trade per annum. The private port of Larne in my constituency has the distinction of being the second busiest ferry port. I have no axe to grind today. I support the retention of the present status of Belfast harbour. Its success was largely attributable to the successful management of the harbour commissioners, who include representatives of the city council and the trade union movement, all motivated by a desire to improve the Northern Ireland economy.

There has been major modernisation and port development. I accept the right of the Government compulsorily to privatise Belfast port, but do they not recognise the potential of that successful port and the disadvantages that would result from a change in its status? Because of the advantages that are about to flow, the ports in the Irish Republic, such as Dublin, will have available grants of up to 85 per cent. for port development. As Belfast is a trust port, its harbour commissioners receive no grants or subsidies from Her Majesty's Government. Retained profits, with assistance from European regional development funds, have financed port redevelopment and modernisation.

The economy of Northern Ireland as a whole benefits from the competitive pricing made possible by good management of all the facilities and assets managed by the Belfast harbour commissioners. Common sense dictates that when all is well there should be no interference. If the Government are determined to interfere, however, the bottom line is that the asset should be secured within the control of the people of Northern Ireland. Is the Treasury so hard up for cash that it has to recoup funds now rather than accept the ongoing annual benefits? I understand that £1 million was paid this year in corporation tax.

All Northern Ireland ports provide competition within Northern Ireland, which has made them attractive to Northern Ireland industry and, indeed, to industry in the Irish Republic, which makes use of our facilities. Millions of pounds every year are being relocated from the profitable private port of Larne and transferred out of the Province. If under privatisation Belfast harbour is lost to Northern Ireland control, its profits, too, will be lost for reinvestment in Northern Ireland. Surely the Minister can accept that the reinvestment of profits generated in Belfast harbour and the ongoing payment of corporation tax make a valuable contribution to the Northern Ireland economy and provide a worthwhile return to the Exchequer for its past investment. I therefore hope that he will accept that variety of management in harbour control has been beneficial and an asset to Northern Ireland, and that he will not proceed with a compulsory privatisation of Belfast harbour.

As I have said, I am conscious of the past advantages of private ownership, which helped to bring about the success and the development of Larne harbour, but I regret that in the present climate, with the greater advantage of EC funding going to the ports of the Irish Republic, the privatisation of Belfast harbour would bring with it serious disadvantages to the Northern Ireland economy as a whole. That would result in higher costs to importers and exporters alike, which could ultimately threaten jobs and employment opportunities beyond Belfast harbour.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I confess to a little puzzlement. Why, in theory or in practice, should one get less money from the EC for the ports in Northern Ireland if they are privatised than if they were in public ownership?

Mr. Beggs

I thank the hon. Lady for that specific question. What she describes is one of the anomalies of European regional development funding; regrettably, therefore, successive Northern Ireland Ministers have not managed to secure equal benefits for private and public ports in the Province. I hope that the Minister will specifically address that question further in his response.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) that as a party we judge each case on its merits. We see no merit in the proposed privatisation of Belfast harbour through this enabling legislation and we trust that there will be no future decision compulsorily to require the Belfast harbour commissioners to privatise that harbour.

9.49 pm
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

We have had an interesting debate tonight. It is significant that the only support that the Minister has obtained in this debate has been from the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), who represents a constituency on the east coast of England, which does not even face Belfast.

No Northern Ireland Member supports the order and no Labour Member supports the order. I doubt whether, if the Minister or any other Tory went to Belfast, they would find one person who supported the order. That is the extent of the issue. There is no support in the House from Northern Ireland representatives or from the Labour party, and there is no support among the people of Belfast. The Minister should take note of that.

Mr. Beggs

The hon. Gentleman speaks about the absence of support for the policy among the Northern Ireland parties. I remind the hon. Gentleman that only about 5,000 people out of the whole voting population of Northern Ireland supported the Conservative party in the recent elections.

Mr. O'Brien

The hon. Gentleman explains the depth of feeling. I bet that, if we approached Tories in Northern Ireland, they would not support the order, because the port of Belfast is key to the economy of greater Belfast and to the Northern Ireland economy in total. The port accounts for 55 per cent. of all imports and exports to and from Northern Ireland. The order can only mean poorer services and increased port charges, which will have a greater effect on the region than on Great Britain, because Northern Ireland relies on ports for trade and tourism links with the rest of the United Kingdom and the European Community.

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) asked the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) why a privatised port should receive less grant than a port in public ownership. The Minister explained why in his opening remarks. Here we have a person who will go through the Lobby tonight to condemn the port of Belfast, yet who does not know what the consequences will be. The people of Belfast will suffer because of this legislation.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

From what I know of the European regional fund regulations, I do not believe that what Opposition Members describe will occur. I see no technical reason why the port should not get just as much, one way or another.

Mr. O'Brien

That shows once again that the hon. Lady is not aware of the circumstances or of the problems that she will create for the people of Northern Ireland in general, but in Belfast especially, by the way in which she votes tonight in favour of the order. Therefore, if the hon. Lady has any merit, the least that she could do would be to abstain or to vote against the order, because she is totally confused over the way in which the European Community grants will apply.

When the Minister was questioned, he explained in his opening remarks that the amount of grant received now, while the harbour is in public ownership, is 75 per cent., yet, under privatisation, it drops to 50 per cent.. That point was also made by the hon. Member for Antrim, East and other hon. Members. It will have an effect on the economy of the harbour and the economy of Belfast.

The Government have wanted to claim that the order will improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of the port. Obviously, they are saying that privatisation will be a lesser burden on the taxpayer.

Mr. Peter Robinson

I think that the hon. Gentleman is within a hair's breadth of convincing the hon. Lady that it would be wiser to abstain or to vote against the order. It should be pointed out that the Minister made it clear to the House in his opening remarks that, while a grant of up to 75 per cent. would be available if the port was in public ownership, a maximum grant of 50 per cent. would be available if it was a private company, and some of us doubt that it would even get that.

Mr. O'Brien

The hon. Gentleman's point is significant and relevant. However, may I also tell the hon. Member for Lancaster that we were told tonight that, if the port realises £50 million in capital for its sale, 50 per cent. of that capital will go back to the company? In other words, only 50 per cent. of the value of the port and the real estate which goes with it will go to the Exchequer. Therefore, one has to ask why Conservative Members want to privatise a port which is highly efficient and highly profitable, and which helps the people of Belfast and the Province of Northern Ireland. One has to ask why we are in such a position tonight.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

If we take an analogy from Great Britain, from the hon. Gentleman's experience, would he say whether a private port such as Felixstowe had more or less capital investment than some of the publicly owned ports? If he cannot acknowledge that Felixstowe did rather better than most of the publicly owned ports, should he not draw this part of his speech to a speedy conclusion?

Mr. O'Brien

That is another example of a Conservative Member trying to find some solution to justify going through the Lobby to support the order, because, again, the hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. Belfast is a trust port. All the resources which are generated from that port go back into the business, or it reduces the charges. It is a trust port; it is not a port where there will be—or where there are at present—any benefits to individuals or to companies.

Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the Opposition parties have acquiesced in the disgraceful procedure of putting the matter through by Order in Council, to which he has important, specific detailed objections, when they ought to have been debated by the Opposition through the usual channels in the House?

Mr. O'Brien

If the hon. Gentleman feels that the business that we are discussing tonight should not have been before the House under the Order in Council procedure, we agree with him. The Minister should withdraw the orders and let us discuss the matter in the manner which has been requested by hon. Members. We should discuss the matter in Committee in the proper way, as legislation should be discussed.

Mr. Budgen

indicated assent.

Mr. O'Brien

The hon. Gentleman nods his head in agreement. If he holds that view, the least that he can do is abstain from voting tonight. He accepts that the orders have been presented to the House in a disgraceful way. I feel that more Tory Members share that view. I appeal to them: if that is their view, the least that they can do is abstain from voting tonight.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Is it not the case that the orders should be withdrawn so that we can have a proper debate about the Government's transport policy and see how ports and trust ports fit into the whole issue of transport?

Mr. O'Brien

Obviously, one does not want to move away from discussing the principle of the orders. My colleague has introduced a subject that I do not want to follow.

The orders will create complications and problems. I appeal to Tory Members to listen carefully to what is said, especially by Northern Ireland Members, so that we can put the orders in the proper perspective.

Mr. Budgen

Can the hon. Gentleman explain the official Opposition's position on the matter, because this disgraceful procedure has been supported by both Front Benches for a long time? Is it Labour's position that they will no longer support the use of the Order-in-Council procedure to impose legislation on Northern Ireland without proper discussion?

Mr. O'Brien

Each time we debate an Order in Council in the House or upstairs, we make it clear that the way in which the business is presented is undemocratic.

Tonight, we are debating compulsory orders or enabling legislation relating to privatisation of the port of Belfast. In any language, and in any approach to the matter, one can rightly see that hon. Members who support the Government have not fully realised the consequences of the orders. In that context, the least that the Minister can do is withdraw them and allow us to have a full debate on the issue, allow greater consultation and allow Members of Parliament and the people of Belfast to judge the Government's intentions more openly and freely.

With privatisation, the European grant support which has been so beneficial to the port of Belfast will decrease, if not disappear, as was pointed out earlier. There is also the question whether some of the grant that has been paid should be clawed back. Reference has been made to that in the past, and EC Ministers have said, as has Commissioner Bruce Milian, that there is a possibility of clawing back EC funding. Commissioner Millan also made that clear when we discussed the privatisation of Aldergrove airport. The way in which we judge the orders tonight will only be to the detriment of Belfast, the people of Belfast and the people of Northern Ireland.

As I said, the port of Belfast is a trust port, and the trust port arrangement already ensures that there is fair charging and equal treatment in the allocation of berths and other port facilities. There is a real threat that the ownership of privatised ports will be transferred out of Northern Ireland. The Minister was asked earlier to give an assurance that the ownership of the port of Belfast would not be transferred out of Northern Ireland. Hon. Members ask for that assurance because there is fear that, if foreign investors are allowed to take over the port of Belfast, they will engage in asset-stripping, which will be detrimental to the port and to the Northern Ireland community.

We are also aware that a handsome amount of real estate is attached to the port. That matter must have some bearing on the way in which the port will be disposed of. The regulations under which trust ports operate place a responsibility of care on the various statutory bodies which control ports on behalf and in the interests of people in the hinterland served by the port—the people of Belfast. The port of Belfast operates in the interests of both the citizens of Belfast and the whole Province of Northern Ireland.

The board of the harbour commissioners is representative of port users, the business community, Belfast city council and employees, through their statutory joint negotiating committee, and representatives of the trade unions in Northern Ireland. In other words, the board is entirely accountable for the operation of the port of Belfast. That accountability will go under privatisation. There will be a lack of democracy and accountability to the people of Northern Ireland. Under privatisation, the only people to whom the board will be responsible are the shareholders.

When one considers the backcloth to the order, one cannot but object to the way in which it has been presented tonight. Hon. Members have expressed anxieties about the staff pension fund. We have seen some examples of what has happened to pension funds in other privatisation schemes. Northern Ireland Members have expressed fears that redundancies and unemployment could result from the asset-stripping that might take place.

We must also consider security. At present, the harbour commissioners organise security at the port. It has been suggested that the security force at the port could be part of a privatised police force. That again would be detrimental to the work of the port.

The people of Northern Ireland and a great proportion of people in other parts of Great Britain are opposed to this arrogant attempt to impose the ideology of the Tory party. They are opposed to this privatisation enabling Bill. I urge the Minister to consider the consequences and think about what has been said by hon. Members who represent constituencies in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland. He should withdraw the order tonight. If the order is not withdrawn, we will divide the House and vote against it.

10.10 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tim Smith)

The Labour party has opposed every privatisation measure that has come before the House since 1979.

Mr. Budgen

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Smith

May I make some progress, as I have completed one sentence so far?

The Labour party has opposed every privatisation measure which has come before this House since 1979, yet it has no proposals to renationalise any of those industries which have been privatised, apart from having some debate about the future of the water industry.

Mr. William O'Brien

I can assure the House that, if the legislation is not on the statute book before the next general election, the nexrLabour Government will stop the privatisation.

Mr. Smith

That, of course, was not the point I was making. The fact is that the Labour party has no proposals to reverse any of the privatisation measures which the Government have put in place.

Mr. Budgen

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Smith

I shall give way in a moment, but I would like to try to complete my preliminary point.

The Government's privatisation programme has been outstandingly successful. Consumers have benefited, employees have benefited and shareholders have benefited. Even the socialist Government of Greece now proposes to privatise part of its telephone industry. Perhaps one day the Labour party will learn that there are advantages to be gained from privatisation.

Mr. Budgen

Can my hon. Friend confirm that, when analogous legislation was put through this House in respect of the United Kingdom, it was done through the Bill procedure? Will he please explain, if I am right in saying that, how the people of Northern Ireland can have any proper confidence in the Westminster Parliament if the squalid procedure of Order in Council is used, which is used particularly to deprive them of their proper rights of discussion?

Mr. Smith

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend, and I certainly would not claim that this was a perfect arrangement for the discussion of legislation. I think you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that time simply will not allow for every measure to be included in primary legislation. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. I am having great difficulty in hearing what the Minister has to say, and I am sure that many hon. Members also want to hear it.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) may not be aware that, when we debated the privatisation of Belfast international airport under similar procedure and allowed three hours for the debate, the whole time was not taken up. That is an interesting indication of the level of interest. We do not rule out primary legislation for Northern Ireland business, but we must make a judgment in each case.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Smith

The difficulty is that we could spend the rest of the debate discussing this issue, and I would not be in a position to reply to the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien).

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

May I ask the Minister whether the legislation to which he refers was amendable? Was there any chance—no matter how long we talked on it—that we could have made any difference, or added even a single full stop, to that order?

Mr. Smith

That is my very point. The legislation is not amendable, and I have said that I am sympathetic to the point that has been made. But there we are—that is the situation we are faced with. [Interruption.] I must move on, or I shall not be able to reply to any points raised during the debate.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister has made it clear that he is not giving way.

Mr. Smith


Mr. Taylor

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister has made it clear that he is not giving way.

Mr. Smith

I do not think that there is anything I can usefully add to what I have said.

Mr. Taylor

Will the Minister give way on that subject?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said that the port of Belfast—

Mr. Taylor

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are talking about procedure, and I find myself in great sympathy with what the Minister said.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point for me at all. I would think that the hon. Gentleman's point is intended to refer to why the Minister is not giving way. The Minister has made it clear that he is not giving way.

Mr. Smith


Mr. Taylor

I need a ruling on what you know, rather than on what you think , Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is up to the Minister to give way or not. He has indicated that he is not giving way.

Mr. Smith

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North asked about the clawback of European grants. In certain circumstances, grants could be clawed back.

Mr. John D. Taylor

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that it is a different point of order.

Mr. Taylor

It concerns your decision, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it right to make a decision on what you think, or on what you know?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Chair has made a decision, so it should be right.

Mr. Smith

As I was saying, in certain instances European grants could be clawed back. If they were, the amount clawed back would be reduced from the proceeds that went to the Treasury.

Mr. McNamara

The Minister is now saying that we would receive a sum, half of which would go to the company, and that any clawback would not be pro rata with the company but would be straight from the Treasury's take. Gosh, that is marvellous. This is a double Dutch order.

Mr. Smith

That is the position. I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question. We have made no decision about the matter. The order is an enabling measure. But he should remember that, if we decide to go ahead with privatisation, bids will be based on the information that I have just given the House.

Ms Walley

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Smith

No; because I want to deal with the hon. Gentleman's second point, about a management-employee buy-out. I agree with him that, in many ways, that would be the most desirable outcome, which is why the order makes special provision for such a buy-out, providing help to those who want to make a bid at the appropriate time.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) was concerned about procedure, should we decide to go ahead with compulsory privatisation. As I said, we have made no decision about that, but if we decided to go ahead, we would want to consider carefully whether the matter should be debated on the Floor of the House. I think that it would probably be debated in response to a prayer.

Mr. Trimble

A few moments ago, in reply to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), the Minister said that he had great sympathy with his view that this matter was being dealt with inadequately. One way in which he could demonstrate that sympathy is by giving a clear undertaking to the House that, in the event of the Government deciding to make an order for privatisation, the matter will be debated in the House in a proper manner. Will he give that clear undertaking now?

Mr. Smith

I do not think that that would be sensible. We are discussing a hypothetical proposition. We shall give the matter careful consideration. Obviously, it depends from where the prayer comes. I think that the matter will be of sufficient importance to warrant a debate. Given that the Government have made no decision about the compulsory privatisation of the port of Belfast, and the fact that we have two years during which we shall want to hear the views of various people, not least the harbour commissioners, it would not be sensible to give such an undertaking now.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Smith

I shall not give way, as I wish to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink), who asked me about the harbour office. The harbour office is a grade A listed building, and it would continue to enjoy that protection even if the port were privatised.

Mr. Budgen

Does my hon. Friend seriously believe that a procedure that allows for no amendment is a satisfactory way to deal with the privatisation of a port? Why does he carry on in that way if he wants to achieve the support of the people of Northern Ireland for this institution?

Mr. Smith

I have already dealt with my hon. Friend's point. I have nothing to add to what I have already said.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) was concerned about the environment and areas of special scientific interest. We would want to take that important matter into consideration if we were considering the compulsory privatisation of the port, but that ASSI status will remain, and the area will enjoy the same protection whether the business remains in the public sector or not.

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) brought to bear his experience and knowledge of the port of Immingham and the success that the port has enjoyed following privatisation. Many ports in Great Britain have enjoyed similar success following privatisation, which is why I believe that, in certain circumstances, Belfast could benefit similarly.

Ms Walley

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but does he accept that there is a difference between voluntary privatisation of trust ports and compulsory privatisation of trust ports, which cannot be properly debated in this place?

Mr. Smith

I certainly accept that there is a difference, and this is an enabling measure. First, we want to discover the opinion of the Belfast harbour commissioners. We want to find out whether they bring forward their own voluntary scheme in the next two years. It will be open to us, as a matter of law, to consider compulsory privatisation only in two years' time. Many of the important matters mentioned in the debate will be relevant to that consideration.

The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) acknowledged that some advantages would accrue from privatisation, and I welcome that. Obviously, there are some very strong arguments in favour of privatisation, and some arguments against it have been adduced during the debate.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) was especially worried about the Belfast harbour police. The Belfast harbour commissioners, as the port authority for Belfast harbour, appoint and employ harbour police by virtue of section 79 of the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The responsibility of the harbour police force is to employ a general policing and security service for the harbour estate, which comprises about 2,000 acres, as the hon. Gentleman said.

Training of recruits in general policing matters is carried out by senior officers of the force. All new recruits are given short-term training by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Training of members of the force in the use of firearms is carried out by a senior harbour police arms instructor, who is a fully qualified instructor, trained by the RUC. Members of the force receive refresher courses in the use of firearms every six months, and each member is issued with written instructions regarding the circumstances in which firearms may be used.

Mr. Mackinlay

What will happen in future?

Mr. Smith

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that in future the same arrangements will prevail. There will be no change in the present arrangements when—if—the port is privatised. If the port is privatised, there will be the same arrangements for the harbour police.

Mr. Beggs

Will the Minister take the opportunity, as he has the Floor, to explain to those of us who oppose the proposal for privatisation or enabling legislation what he regards as the advantages, if any, that will flow to Belfast harbour commissioners from privatisation?

Mr. Smith

Given the record of ports privatisation in Great Britain, I believe that considerable good news could follow, as business has held up well in those ports in spite of the recession; there has been a big improvement in productivity; financial reconstruction and rationalisation are continuing; employee involvement in the industry has been extended significantly; managers are being given the freedom to manage, and are actively seeking out and developing new business opportunities. The Government have made no decision about the privatisation of Belfast port, but I believe that those are some of the advantages that could accrue if they did decide to proceed.

Mr. Trimble

Will the Minister take on board the point that the experience in England is not relevant to a position where one will be disadvantaging Belfast significantly with regard to the capital that it can raise compared with its competitor? What does he say about the position with regard to European development money, where our grant will be cut from 75 per cent. to 50 per cent. or less, so we shall be disadvantaged?

Mr. Smith

I dealt with that matter earlier.

It being three hours after the motion had been entered upon, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [24 June].

The House divided: Ayes 287, Noes 220

Division No. 276] [10.24 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Cran, James
Aitken, Jonathan Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Amess, David Davis, David (Boothferry)
Ancram, Michael Day, Stephen
Arbuthnot, James Deva, Nirj Joseph
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Devlin, Tim
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Dicks, Terry
Ashby, David Dorrell, Stephen
Aspinwall, Jack Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Atkins, Robert Dover, Den
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Duncan, Alan
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Duncan-Smith, Iain
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Durant, Sir Anthony
Baldry, Tony Dykes, Hugh
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Eggar, Tim
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Elletson, Harold
Bates, Michael Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Batiste, Spencer Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Bellingham, Henry Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Bendall, Vivian Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Beresford, Sir Paul Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Evennett, David
Body, Sir Richard Faber, David
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fabricant, Michael
Booth, Hartley Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Boswell, Tim Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Fishburn, Dudley
Bowis, John Forman, Nigel
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brandreth, Gyles Forth, Eric
Brazier, Julian Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bright, Graham Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Browning, Mrs. Angela French, Douglas
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gale, Roger
Burns, Simon Gallie, Phil
Burt, Alistair Gardiner, Sir George
Butcher, John Garnier, Edward
Butler, Peter Gill, Christopher
Butterfill, John Gillan, Cheryl
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Carttiss, Michael Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Cash, William Gorst, Sir John
Chapman, Sydney Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Churchill, Mr Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Clappison, James Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Grylls, Sir Michael
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Coe, Sebastian Hague, William
Colvin, Michael Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Congdon, David Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Conway, Derek Hampson, Dr Keith
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Hanley, Jeremy
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hannam, Sir John
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hargreaves, Andrew
Cormack, Patrick Haselhurst, Alan
Couchman, James Hawkins, Nick
Hawksley, Warren Ottaway, Richard
Hayes, Jerry Page, Richard
Heald, Oliver Paice, James
Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Heathcoat-Amory, David Pawsey, James
Hendry, Charles Pickles, Eric
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Porter, David (Waveney)
Horam, John Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Richards, Rod
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Riddick, Graham
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Robathan, Andrew
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Hunter, Andrew Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jack, Michael Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Sackville, Tom
Jenkin, Bernard Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Shaw, David (Dover)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Key, Robert Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
King, Rt Hon Tom Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shersby, Michael
Knapman, Roger Sims, Roger
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knox, Sir David Soames, Nicholas
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Speed, Sir Keith
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Spencer, Sir Derek
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Legg, Barry Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Leigh, Edward Spink, Dr Robert
Lennox-Boyd, Mark Spring, Richard
Lidington, David Sproat, Iain
Lightbown, David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Stephen, Michael
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham) Stern, Michael
Lord, Michael Stewart, Allan
Luff, Peter Streeter, Gary
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Sweeney, Walter
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tapsell, Sir Peter
MacKay, Andrew Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Maclean, David Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Temple-Morris, Peter
Madel, Sir David Thomason, Roy
Maitland, Lady Olga Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Malone, Gerald Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mans, Keith Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Marland, Paul Thurnham, Peter
Marlow, Tony Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Tracey, Richard
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Tredinnick, David
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Trend, Michael
Mates, Michael Trotter, Neville
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Twinn, Dr Ian
Mellor, Rt Hon David Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Merchant, Piers Viggers, Peter
Mills, Iain Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Walden, George
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Moate, Sir Roger Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Monro, Sir Hector Waterson, Nigel
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Watts, John
Moss, Malcolm Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Whitney, Ray
Nelson, Anthony Whittingdale, John
Neubert, Sir Michael Widdecombe, Ann
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Nicholls, Patrick Wilkinson, John
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Willetts, David
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Wilshire, David
Norris, Steve Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Oppenheim, Phillip Wolfson, Mark
Wood, Timothy Tellers for the Ayes:
Yeo, Tim Mr. Irvine Patnick and
Young, Rt Hon Sir George Mr. Bowen Wells.
Abbott, Ms Diane Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ainger, Nick Fatchett, Derek
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Faulds, Andrew
Allen, Graham Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Flynn, Paul
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Ashton, Joe Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Austin-Walker, John Foster, Don (Bath)
Barnes, Harry Foulkes, George
Barron, Kevin Fraser, John
Bayley, Hugh Garrett, John
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret George, Bruce
Beggs, Roy Gerrard, Neil
Bell, Stuart Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bennett, Andrew F. Golding, Mrs Llin
Bermingham, Gerald Gordon, Mildred
Berry, Roger Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Betts, Clive Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Blunkett, David Grocott, Bruce
Boateng, Paul Gunnell, John
Boyes, Roland Hain, Peter
Bradley, Keith Hall, Mike
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Hanson, David
Burden, Richard Hardy, Peter
Byers, Stephen Harman, Ms Harriet
Caborn, Richard Harvey, Nick
Callaghan, Jim Henderson, Doug
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Heppell, John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hinchliffe, David
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hodge, Margaret
Cann, Jamie Hoey, Kate
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Home Robertson, John
Chidgey, David Hoon, Geoffrey
Chisholm, Malcolm Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Church, Judith Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Clapham, Michael Hoyle, Doug
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hutton, John
Clelland, David Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Jamieson, David
Coffey, Ann Janner, Greville
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Corbett, Robin Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Corston, Ms Jean Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Cousins, Jim Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Cox, Tom Jowell, Tessa
Cummings, John Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Keen, Alan
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S)
Denham, John Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Dixon, Don Khabra, Piara S.
Dobson, Frank Kilfedder, Sir James
Dowd, Jim Kilfoyle, Peter
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kirkwood, Archy
Eagle, Ms Angela Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Eastham, Ken Lewis, Terry
Etherington, Bill Livingstone, Ken
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Radice, Giles
Loyden, Eddie Randall, Stuart
Lynne, Ms Liz Raynsford, Nick
McAvoy, Thomas Redmond, Martin
McCartney, Ian Rendel, David
McCrea, Rev William Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Macdonald, Calum Roche, Mrs. Barbara
McFall, John Rogers, Allan
Mackinlay, Andrew Rooker, Jeff
McLeish, Henry Ruddock, Joan
McNamara, Kevin Sedgemore, Brian
MacShane, Denis Sheerman, Barry
McWilliam, John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Madden, Max Short, Clare
Maddock, Mrs Diana Skinner, Dennis
Mahon, Alice Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Mandelson, Peter Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Marek, Dr John Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Martlew, Eric Snape, Peter
Meacher, Michael Soley, Clive
Meale, Alan Spearing, Nigel
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Milburn, Alan Steinberg, Gerry
Miller, Andrew Stevenson, George
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Stott, Roger
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Strang, Dr. Gavin
Morgan, Rhodri Sutcliffe, Gerry
Morley, Elliot Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Mowlam, Marjorie Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Mudie, George Timms, Stephen
Mullin, Chris Tipping, Paddy
Murphy, Paul Trimble, David
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Turner, Dennis
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Tyler, Paul
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Vaz, Keith
Olner, William Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
O'Neill, Martin Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Walley, Joan
Paisley, Rev Ian Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Parry, Robert Wicks, Malcolm
Pendry, Tom Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Pickthall, Colin Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Pike, Peter L. Winnick, David
Pope, Greg Worthington, Tony
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Wright, Dr Tony
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Primarolo, Dawn Tellers for the Noes:
Purchase, Ken Mr. Eric Illsley and
Quin, Ms Joyce Mr. John Spellar.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Ports (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 19th January, be approved.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER then put the Question on the other motion to be decided at that hour.

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Ports (Northern Ireland Consequential Provisions) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 19th January, be approved.—[Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]