Anger at Labour and LibDem let down over UK ports

Labour and LibDem MEPs dealt a hammer blow to privately-owned British ports today when they voted down a Conservative move to prevent these ports from being swallowed up by state-controlled monopolies from other EU Member States.

Most British ports are prosperous because private operators have taken over from cash strapped local authorities and are running the ports as successful businesses. A proposed European Commission directive to increase competition in port services in the EU is now set to reverse this. It will leave British ports vulnerable to take-overs similar to the take-over over various British electricity firms by the state-controlled Electicit de France.

A Conservative-sponsored amendment would have prevented this from happening, by exempting private operators from the scope of the directive. But it was defeated by the votes of Labour and LibDem MEPs.

Conservative transport spokesman in the European Parliament Sir Robert Atkins MEP said: "I despair at what Labour and LibDem MEPs have done today. We all want greater competition in port services in Europe, and we know the potential benefits: greater efficiency, reduced costs and so on."

"But today's vote will throw the baby out with the bathwater. The directive should tackle monopolistic advantages that exist elsewhere in the EU. But we should have safeguarded the arrangements that exist in most British ports where competition already exists and there is no public subsidy."

"Instead we risk importing inefficiencies into British Port services. This is bad news for British industry and British jobs. All we can do now is seek to repair the damage Labour and the LibDems have done when the report comes back for Second Reading, but it will not be easy."

Note to editors: a copy of the Jarzembowski Report on the proposal for a European Parliament and Council decision on market access to port services (A5-0354/2001) and Sir Robert Atkins proposed amendment (No. 79) is available from the press office, along with the roll calls from today's voting.

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