Liverpool will be allowed to base ships in its new city centre cruise terminal if it repays the European grant that helped to pay for the facility.

Mike Penning MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state for transport, told the opening day of the UK Cruise Convention 2011 that he wanted to ensure there was enough UK port capacity to support the growth in cruising.

With projections that cruise will grow to two million people by 2014, it was important that the pre-boarding experience was as good as it could be, he added.

Penning said the recently agreed terminal five in Southampton was a step towards achieving that but said he was looking at capacity at ports around the UK and Liverpool could become an alternative turnaround port.

Currently under the agreement for the European funding that built the facility, located yards from the city’s famous Liver building, the cruise terminal can’t be used as a base for ships, only as a port of call.

Thomson Cruises has previously wanted to base a ship in the city but ditched plans when it emerged it would not be allowed to do so.

Addressing delegates on Fred Olsen Cruise Lines’ Balmoral in Southampton, Penning said cruise lines would “not be allowed to cruise directly from Liverpool unless it repaid the subsidy”.

“People say to me their experience starts right here in the port. The question is how do we make sure that cruise experience really starts here as early as possible instead of like at airports where the experience can be a hindrance.”

Penning said high on his list of proprieties was security with the threat from piracy and following the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the potential threat that could pose.

And he added: “I’m passionate about supporting you as the growth [in cruise] is something I would like to see in a lot of other industries round the country.”