MPs HAVE clashed in the House of Commons over Southampton’s cruise ship rivalry with Liverpool.

The contentious matter was raised when a new planning policy for the UK’s ports was being discussed at Westminster.

Southampton Itchen MP John Denham seized the opportunity to debate Liverpool’s controversial expansion plans, telling Transport Minister Norman Baker the bid “breaches the principle of fair competition”.

This drew a response from Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, who chairs the Commons Transport Select Committee.

She pointed out that Southampton currently accounts for 65 per cent of the cruise market compared to Liverpool’s five per cent, and said it was “very important”

to her city’s regeneration.New Forest East Tory MP Julian Lewis intervened, telling Ms Ellman Liverpool “never had any intention” of sticking to promises it made when it was granted millions of pounds of public subsidy to develop its cruise terminal, saying it would be “bizarre” if permission were granted for it to operate as a turnaround facility.

Ms Ellman said his claims were not accurate, saying she hoped “a reasonable decision” would be taken.

Ports bosses, politicians and cruise-related businesses have been campaigning for a level playing field and are demanding Liverpool pays back all the £21m of taxpayers’ money it has received to build its City Cruise Terminal.

The Department for Transport is poised to rule on Liverpool’s request to repay a fraction of its state funding in return for being allowed to launch cruises, tapping into Southampton’s lucrative industry.

The National Policy Statement on Ports sets out the guidance that will be used in future to determine major planning applications relating to ports, because the quango that has handled them in the past is being abolished.

Mr Lewis also raised the lengthy battle over plans for a huge container port at Dibden Bay, turned down after a public inquiry.

Mr Baker said the changes would not make a similar application more likely to succeed in the future.

And Mr Denham urged the minister to help unlock £150m private investment in Southampton Port, where a bid to increase container capacity is being held up by legal red tape.

Mr Baker promised to “take the issue away”.