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Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I shall have to give the noble Lord precise details of those representations at a later date so as to ensure that I do not make any error when conveying the details to him.
The important point is that with many other privatisations and statutory processes we have received many, many representations. In this case only two were received. I shall inform noble Lords whether they were by way of being a multiple response.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, before the Liberal Benches dissolve entirely into mirth on this point, we have a consultation process. Responses are invited. They are submitted. They are then considered. It would not be appropriate to answer them individually. That has never been the process with consultations. Responses are sent into a consultation exercise. Full consideration is then given to them. In the middle of a consultation, it would be wholly inappropriate to treat each representation as an individual piece of correspondence, to reply to them and then to have an ongoing debate.
Before the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, rises to his feet, that is the process that we take forward with consultation exercises. My department has many of them under way at the moment. That is the way we shall continue to run consultation exercises. I dare say that that was even the way they were run when the noble Lord was in government. If I am wrong, I am sure that he will correct me.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. When I was in government, which is now a substantial number of years ago, we had one habit in the Home Office. That was to reply to letters. Apparently the noble Lord's department does not consider it necessary to do that. That seems a little odd.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, we could test the system. The noble Lord could write to me and see whether he receives a response. It is my practice to respond to correspondence that I receive. The noble Lord is splitting hairs. We had a public consultation process. Some public consultations involve many thousands of responses, in which case it would not be appropriate for the Minister to sit down in the middle of it and answer every one, in order to obtain further representations. That is not how the process works.
I was demonstrating, I trust, the effects of the order. It will enable the management fully to develop the port's potential and to respond to the commercial environment. We have had a good debate about some of the issues. The issues that have been debated have wholly ignored that this country's port industry has become a huge commercial success. It has become efficient in the face of its history of inefficiency. That is not the case now. Our industry has a great deal of which to be proud.
We believe that this order will provide access to share capital as well as loan capital, which was not historically available. We believe that it makes the port more attractive to companies which might wish to go forward in joint ventures--another point ignored by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. It also enables the management more easily to develop land surplus to its requirements. It will make for easier diversification of the port's activities.
The management of the Ipswich Port Authority has now accepted that uncertainty would be bad for the port and that privatisation would help to resolve that uncertainty. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, might like to be aware that a press statement that was released on 21st June by Mr. Alan Howell, the chief executive of the port, states that the authority has been informed that Parliament will consider the confirmation of the order which will effectively start the sale of the Ipswich port. It states:
It is the clear and primary objective of the Ipswich Port Authority to ensure that Ipswich Port not only remains as a port but grows as a port. That is an interesting point for the House to take into consideration. The issues surrounding the assets and the port's obligations are important. I would not say that they were misrepresented, but perhaps that they were misunderstood by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. He is painting a disaster scenario while ignoring those ports that have already privatised. Yes, they have privatised voluntarily, but after that the port is in the private sector. It is in the same position as Ipswich in that it has obligations imposed by various local Acts. It operates within that. It does not just close down, asset strip and forget all about it.
One harkens back to the bad old days of the dock labour scheme when this country had an incredibly inefficient ports industry. Now that labour relations have changed considerably with the abolition of the dock labour scheme, the ports can now take full advantage--
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord should have done so because the dock labour scheme was one of the major considerations in releasing the ports industry of this country to take full advantage of the new efficiencies.
Earl Russell: My Lords, earlier today the Government opposed a Motion by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that we should not complete the Asylum and Immigration Bill tonight. Is it the Minister's wish to indicate his covert support for that Motion?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am here to listen carefully to the provisions of the Asylum and Immigration Bill. I shall listen to many noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who occasionally speaks at some length on many important issues.
This is an important issue. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, indicated his intention to vote against secondary legislation, which is not the normal practice of the House. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is an expert on whether or not to vote against secondary legislation. He has raised the issue on a number of occasions with regard to social security legislation. Nonetheless, this is an important issue; we are considering a major plank of privatisation. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, indicated his desire to vote against it. I am merely trying to give the House the fullest possible explanation of the provisions of the order so that the House can make its own decision.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I have listened to the noble Viscount. I do not believe that he has convinced a great number of people in this House. However, we accept the convention, although in this case not with enthusiasm. The enabling legislation was strongly opposed in the other place, but in this House we have a convention not to vote against secondary legislation.
The central point is how existing customers will be protected. All successor companies are required to take on a former trust port authority's statutory obligations after privatisation. As a general rule, port authorities have an obligation to be open to all customers for the loading and unloading of goods and for the embarking and landing of passengers. Port charges are subject to an appeal process. Therefore, I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, needs to be concerned about that matter.
The noble Lord raised the issue of surplus land, operational land and the disposal of surplus land. The company which will own Ipswich Port Authority, although in the private sector, will nonetheless be a statutory harbour authority. It may not close the port or dispose of operational land without the consent of Parliament. It will inherit by means of the transfer scheme not only the assets and liabilities of the port but also the legal duties, including observing the right to use the port. Dues and charges must be reasonable.
Any gain on land disposed of during the first 10 years after privatisation by way of sale or long lease is subject to a clawback levy payable to government. Disposals in the first five years are subject to a 25 per cent. clawback. In the sixth and seventh years they are subject to a 20 per cent. clawback. In the eighth, ninth and tenth years they are subject to a 10 per cent. clawback.
The noble Lord was also concerned about the way in which the levy works. I do not see that as a problem. The noble Lord accused me and the Government of acting like second-hand car traders. I forget his actual words but they were something of that nature. That is not the case. The way in which the sale process is due to work was enshrined within the Ports Act 1991. It is very clear. Parliament voted on it and it was approved by Parliament, so there is no underhand nature. The Government are not suddenly turning up with a brand new scheme. The fact is that it was agreed by Parliament. The way the levy works is that 50 per cent. goes back and 50 per cent. is received by government. There is nothing underhand. The scheme has been approved by Parliament.