The task force continues to liaise with local authorities, public agencies and the private sector in taking forward an increasing list of initiatives on Merseyside. In addition to my frequent visits to the area, I receive regular reports from the task force.
Will the Secretary of State use his influence and support the task force by trying to unravel local government bureaucracy and red tape in this attempt to provide much needed jobs on Merseyside? I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the recent case I sent to him concerning an application in Aintree which would provide hundreds of jobs. Will he also seek to use his influence in the demolition and development of the Tate and Lyle site, which will provide many hundreds of jobs in the deprived Vauxhall area of my constituency? Will the right hon. Gentleman also—
In view of the number of visits that I have already paid, I had hoped that there would not be much doubt on that matter. I intend to take a close interest in the affairs of Merseyside.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because I think that implicit in his question is a recognition of the dedicated way in which the task force is doing its work. Certainly it is doing all that it can to help in difficult circumstances. Might I add that the English Industrial Estates Corporation is closely concerned, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, in my presence, recently made the awards for the prize-giving for the Tate and Lyle site and the possible redevelopment, which I hope will go ahead on a satisfactory basis. May I further add that I very much hope that everyone—I say this in the light of the present situation—will realise the importance of improving the industrial position on Merseyside and giving the best possible reputation to industrial activities there, which could not be more important at this time.
It is incredible that the hon. Gentleman can represent Liverpool in the House and ask Ministers what they can do to attract large-scale industrial investment to Merseyside at the time of a major industrial dispute that is doing enormous damage to Merseyside's reputation. I hope that he will join me in urging the earliest possible return to work so that the damage done to Merseyside can be minimised.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments about his renewed commitment to Merseyside. Is he aware that Merseyside councils, of a variety of political persuasions, have made clear to the Select Committee how much they welcome the action taken by the task force over a sustained period and how much they look forward to its work continuing?
Instead of hiding behind the Ford dispute, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how much private capital has been attracted by the Merseyside task force, the success of which was the proud boast of his predecessor?
I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was at the opening of the new flats, Minster court, which were developed entirely by private capital out of redundant public sector housing, but that is one example to which I draw attention. I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the figures today, but I shall try to give him some details of the new ventures that have taken place.
I am not hiding behind the Ford dispute. I do not know whether hon. Members realise that when one is trying to attract industry to Merseyside one cannot exaggerate the damage that results from such a dispute.
In order to enable the task force to work more effectively in Bootle, will the Minister include the inner city part of Bootle in the partnership area with Liverpool? As he is to remain as the Minister for Merseyside, will he arrange an urgent meeting with those Members of Parliament who represent Merseyside? When he next visits Merseyside will he meet the Labour representatives of the inner city part of Sefton, not the council leaders, who come from Southport and are resented by the people of Bootle?
I am willing to meet any hon. Members to discuss the problems of Merseyside. If there is any doubt about that I confirm my willingness to do so now from the Dispatch Box. If there are points that councillors want to raise with me, I shall be happy to talk to them as well.