§ 4. Mr. Fisher
asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will take steps to prevent the foreign ownership of British Rail Sealink.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)
We have taken steps designed to ensure that Sealink's ships will remain subject to the Government's powers of requistioning for defence purposes and that any future change in ownership would not materially affect the defence interest.
§ Mr. Fisher
That was not the answer to the question that I asked. I asked about foreign ownership. Does the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State recognise that many hon. Members on both sides of the House are opposed to foreign control and ownership of public services, such as Sealink, British Telecom and the royal ordnance factories? Is it significant that today the hon. Gentleman did not refer to the golden share? Is that no longer his policy for controlling potential foreign ownership? If the golden share is still his policy, will the hon. Gentleman explain who will monitor its operation, under what circumstances it will be operated and whether the criteria used will be based on whether a threat is posed to ownership or just simply on control? Will he define "control"?
§ Mr. Mitchell
The Secretary of State will be able, through the golden share, to ensure that ships are kept 7 available and subject to the Government's requisitioning powers. In relation to foreign flag, it would require the consent of the Secretary of State to put a sizeable part of the Sealink—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ownership."]—I said "ownership". I am answering the question. It will require the consent of my right hon. Friend to put a sizeable part of the Sealink fleet under a foreign flag. If such proposals arose, the Secretary of State would consider the defence implications.
§ Mr. Yeo
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the interests of the taxpayer, the customer and the Government will best be served by the encouragement on the Sealink route of competition between successful private sector companies of whatever origin? Will my hon. Friend do whatever he can to ensure that free competition continues?
§ Mr. Mitchell
The purchasers have given assurances of their intention to expand the business. I do not expect that there will be any diminution in the level of competition.