HC Deb 14 March 1983 vol 39 cc9-10
12. Mr. Aitken

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what recent representations he has received from manufacturing industry concerning free ports; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

My right hon. Friend has received one representation about free ports.

Mr. Aitken

Despite that rather small harvest of support, will my hon. Friend nevertheless lend his Department's weight to backing the recommendations of the recent Treasury working party, which proposes early legislation to introduce free ports into Britain? Is my hon. Friend aware that free ports are likely to be good news to British industry because, in the view of many British industrialists, notably Mr. Clive Sinclair, they are likely to produce new marketing opportunities and many new jobs?

Mr. MacGregor

I should make it clear that the primary responsibility for this issue does not rest with my right hon. Friend, which explains why there have been only a few representations to him. The Government are considering the report and will in due course announce their recommendations. As my hon. Friend will know, the working party recommended that free ports should be set up. I have no doubt that in so doing, it took into account some of the comments that he has made.

Mr. Anderson

Does the Minister agree that it would be an interesting concept to have one of the proposed new free ports linked with an existing enterprise zone? The Minister will be aware of the pressure of Swansea city council to this effect.

Mr. MacGregor

If the Government did decide to accept the recommendations in the report, widespread consultations would still be necessary before a decision on sites could be taken, because the working party did not consider individual locations. The working party did recommend that experimental locations should be chosen on the basis of demonstrated demand and economic viability.

Mr. Michael Brown

Following the question of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), may I ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware that there is an enterprise zone in my constituency and a port just a few miles down the road, called Immingham? Will he be making representations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor in the event that he has something interesting to say on the matter in his Budget speech?

Mr. MacGregor

I note from the exchanges in the House the considerable interest in the free port concept, but it is not for me to make individual choices or make recommendations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor. If the Government did decide to go ahead, I am sure that full consultation would be undertaken over a wide area before individual sites were chosen.

Mr. Palmer

Will the Minister say something about the claims of the port of Bristol in these matters, which is at present a heavy burden on Bristol ratepayers?

Mr. MacGregor

It is already clear that many hon. Members would wish to put forward recommendations for individual sites, but as I have already said, it would be a matter for widespread consultation, if we went ahead, before these were chosen.