HC Deb 05 December 1983 vol 50 cc2-3
2. Mr. Tim Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how much financial assistance he envisages giving to the Port of London Authority in the current financial year.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

So far this financial year the Port of London Authority has received £21.9 million in severance grant. The final figure will depend on the number by which the authority reduces its manpower surplus. In addition, grant of £9 million is being paid to meet the costs falling due this year of loans covered by the Ports (Reduction of Debt) Act 1983.

The Government have also guaranteed the authority's overdraft facility up to £5 million. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) announced last year that grants to meet deficits would not be available to the PLA after the end of 1982, and that remains the position.

Mr. Smith

What useful purpose is served by the continued existence of the PLA?

Mr. Ridley

Apart from anything else, the PLA has a number of important statutory functions, including the conservancy of 95 miles of the Thames and the provision of navigational facilities. Its abolition would not be practicable, because those tasks must be performed.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Secretary of State for Transport confirm that the terms of the auditor's qualification in the last annual report of the PLA make it quite clear that the Government are encouraging the sale of PLA land in order to sustain revenue? Is this not a questionable financial procedure for any body, let alone a public body for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible?

Mr. Ridley

It is true that the Government have allowed the PLA to keep the proceeds of land sales. If we had not done so the financial crisis would certainly have struck the PLA before now.

Mr. Moate

In view of the many rumours about this subject, does my right hon. Friend expect the PLA to face a financial crisis in the near future? If there is to be a further financial reconstruction or the like, does he agree that a major objective should be to reconstitute the PLA now so that the conservancy and riverside functions that he mentioned earlier can be completely separated from the freight handling operations at Tilbury?

Mr. Ridley

I am expecting from the PLA a review of its financial position very soon indeed — I hope this week. It will be on the basis of considering that review that the Government will take further decisions on the future of the PLA.

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