HC Deb 09 February 1984 vol 53 cc1003-5
2. Mr. Wareing

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on his visit to Liverpool on Friday 20 January.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Nigel Lawson)

I visited the Merseyside Development Corporation, the Inland Revenue's north west district office at Bootle, and was the guest at dinner of the Merseyside chamber of commerce. I also had a speaking engagement in Ellesmere port.

Mr. Wareing

Ministers visiting Merseryside always visit the prestigious but merely peripheral sections of the economy. Why did the Chancellor of the Exchequer not visit factories such as British Insulated Callender's Cables Ltd. and British American Tobacco, plc, which since his visit to Liverpool have laid off no fewer than 1,500 workers? Is it not time that the Chancellor and other members of the Government looked at the real social cost in terms of distress and unemployment caused in areas such as Merseyside as a direct result of the Government's monetarist economic policies?

Mr. Lawson

The hon. Gentleman is wholly wrong in attributing the real difficulties of Merseyside to the Government's economic policy. I discussed these matters with the people whom I met there. I also received a number of representations that Liverpool should be made a freeport. As the hon. Gentleman will know, Liverpool has been designated a freeport, although I would not say that my visit had anything to do with that decision.

Mr. Cockeram

As a Merseysider born and bred, may I tell my right hon. Friend that his visit to Merseyside was very well received? People were glad to see him and listen to his views and, in particular, to note the way in which he received representations made to him on behalf of Merseyside.

Mr. Lawson

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who represents the authentic voice of Merseyside.

Mr. Alton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many other Merseysiders are very grateful to the Government for granting freeport status to Liverpool and welcome the opportunity to expand the viability of the port and to provide work? However, there is concern in the city that the council is being used as a battering ram against Government policies. Some of us may disapprove of those policies, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that bankrupting the city will only add to the loss of confidence in the city of Liverpool and lead to the loss of further jobs?

Mr. Lawson

I am aware of the situation to which the hon. Gentleman refers and hope that wise counsels will prevail. I am grateful to him for his opening remarks.

Mr. Parry

The right hon. Gentleman did not mention that he visited the BAT enterprise workshops. That is an ironic title. Was the right hon. Gentleman advised by BAT that the company intended to axe 1,100 jobs on 3 February, the date following the designation of Liverpool as a freeport, and does he feel that that announcement influenced the decision of the company?

Mr. Lawson

It is true that a number of jobs in the tobacco industry have been lost over a number of years. That is largely because of the campaign against smoking, which was supported by many right hon. and hon. Members. It is a fact of life. I visited the BAT enterprise workshops and was much impressed by what I saw.

Mr. Loyden

Will the Chancellor take it from me that the observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram) about the reception that he received in Liverpool are understood and that people are sceptical about the Chancellor's approach to the problems of Merseyside, as they fully recognise that the cuts in public expenditure are further depriving that city of the necessary means to solve many of the social and economic problems of the area?

Mr. Lawson

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that Britain, like most other countries—this was brought out in a recent OECD report—has a serious problem of public expenditure over the longer term. That is one of the reasons why the Government will publish a Green Paper on the subject in due course.

Mr. Allan Roberts

When will the Chancellor's economic policies result in a fall in the level of unemployment on Merseyside? Did he not gain the impression from his meetings that everyone on Merseyside, whether in the private or the public sector, wants more public expenditure to create more jobs, not fewer?

Mr. Lawson

No. The representations that were made to me concerned several issues, including freeport status. Most of the people to whom I spoke went out of their way to say that they were not asking for Government handouts.

Forward to