asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if, in view of the closure of the Liverpool to Belfast ferry route, he will seek discussions with British Rail Sealink to ensure the extension of the service on the Stranraer to Larne link.
No, Sir. Both ferry operators working out of the port of Larne have assured us that there is sufficient capacity available at the present time.
Is the Minister aware that we on the Labour Benches hope that speedy action will be taken to reopen the Liverpool to Belfast ferry? What action will he take to ensure that the same fate does not befall the route from Stranraer to Larne? In particular, will he join us in asking the Monopolies and Merger Commission and his right hon. Friend to reject the proposed takeover bid by European Ferries?
The reopening of the service from Belfast to Liverpool is a matter for the commercial judgment of those who are considering operating a service. We very much hope that they will come forward and make the operation successful. As regards the safety and continuance of the Larne service, 8,000 fewer passengers have travelled on the P and O Belfast-Liverpool service during the past five years, while over 422,000 more passengers have travelled between Lame and Scotland. Therefore, it is plain that the service is viable.
Is the Minister aware that it would probably be in his interests, and in the interests of the House, if he were to be a little more forthcoming about the state of negotiations for reopening the Belfast to Liverpool ferry? I am not asking for names or for the names of firms, but merely if he will give some assurance that the matter is proceeding with all speed.
Negotiation is not a matter for the Government. We have played the role of the honest broker in advising those concerned of the commercial possibilities. We have every reason to believe that operators will come forward, but that is for them—not the Government.