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Free Ports

Volume 35: debated on Thursday 27 January 1983

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asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on what progress the working party on free ports has made.

The working party has recently visited Rotterdam, Shannon and Hamburg to examine the facilities available in these localities. It has discussed Community rules with a representative of the Commission. In the immediate future visits will be made to a number of traders to examine the facilities currently available in the United Kingdom. In addition, the working party will consider all this evidence together with any additional contributions offered by industrial and commercial interests not directly represented.

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful and full response. Will he affirm that, contrary to reports in the media, the Government have not taken any financial decision on this matter and that those decisions will be taken on the merits of the scheme, including the extra new jobs which the free ports may provide? Will my hon. Friend give some idea of the time scale of the Government's decision on this matter?

I assure my hon. Friend that he should not believe everything that he reads in the press. I speak from experience. I can give him the assurance that he seeks. The working group is examining all aspects of the issue and is doing so with a completely open mind. Our ambition is to complete our work as swiftly as possible so that if it should be the view of the working group, and if that view is subsequently accepted by Her Majesty's Government, that there is a need for change in existing legislation, provision can be made for that in this year's Finance Bill.

If that is the case, why did the hon. Gentleman sack the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) from the working group?

I was just trying to think who was the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South.—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade expressed an interest in attending the first meeting of the working group, and did so. In general, however, the Department of Trade, like other Departments of State, is represented on the working group, and most effectively, at official level. I should tell the hon. Gentleman as well that he should not believe everything that he reads in the papers.