HC Deb 21 December 1983 vol 51 cc416-7
6. Mr. Allan Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will meet representatives of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and the Mersey Development Corporation to discuss the position of the Mersey docks.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I have met representatives of each body since I have been at the Department and am ready to do so again—separately or together, as they may wish.

Mr. Roberts

1 thank the Minister for that answer. When consulting the bodies concerned, will he use his good offices, having inherited the mantle of Minister with special responsibilities for Merseyside, to urge his Government colleagues who have direct responsibility for this matter to make sure that the application for a free port is granted to Liverpool? Is the Minister aware—I am sure he is—of the great anxiety that exists that if free ports are given elsewhere and not to Liverpool all the effort which he, his predecessors and everyone else have put into making Liverpool a slimmer, trimmer and profitable port will be destroyed?

Mr. Jenkin

I was glad to see the last half year's results of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company showing a small profit for the first time for a number of years. I am aware that the company has put in an application for a free port and that the application was strongly supported by the development corporation. The matter is being considered by the Government.

Mr. Alton

As the first half year profits of about £3 million show that the port of Liverpool is beginning to thrive again, will the Secretary of State accept that opinion on both sides of the House very much favours the application which the port has put in for the granting of a free port to the city of Liverpool? Will he accept that there is much concern that his hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, the chairman of the Conservative party, has come out in favour publicly of the Felixstowe application, and that that has caused apprehension? Will he therefore use his best efforts to ensure that Liverpool's application is granted?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman is perhaps referring to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment. The matter is being handled by the Treasury. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment, is entitled to promote his own constituency interests, as we all are. I am well aware of the strength of the case that has been made for Liverpool.

Mr. Heffer

As the right hon. Gentleman has responsibility for Merseyside, and although I understand why he may be reluctant to make any public statements on the matter, could he perhaps give us a nod or a wink that he will at least support the application when it comes before the appropriate Cabinet Committee? As he is undoubtedly aware, the problems of Merseyside are absolutely dreadful, and the free port is essential for us.

Mr. Jenkin

I have taken the most careful note of what the hon. Gentleman said.