asked the Secretary of State for Industry what estimate his Department has made of intended Government investment in industry in 1980–81.
Details of Government assistance to industry in 1980–81 will be given in the White Paper on public expenditure and the Supply Estimates, both of which will be presented to the House on 26 March. It would not be appropriate for me to anticipate the publication of these documents.
Is the Minister aware that the gap between industrial investment in Britain and that in Germany, France, Japan and other major manufacturing countries is terrifying? Does he not realise that Government policies will do nothing to encourage private investment in Britain? Does he not accept that substantial public investment is essential if we are to survive as an industrial nation?
The hon. Gentleman is aware that massive industrial investment has been made in the public sector. He knows that losses are now being made in that sector. The best investment will come from the private sector putting money into projects from which it knows that a profit can be made.
Is not the Treasury right to wish to encourage the State's accretion of funds through the sale of State assets so as to reduce the level of direct Government holdings in industry? What action is my hon. Friend taking to bring that about in the case of British Leyland?
I know my hon. Friend's concern about British Leyland. He knows the Government's position, which is that we should not stand in the way if it were the commercial decision of British Leyland to sell. On my hon. Friend's first and more major point, it will be significantly to the benefit of British industry for certain assets held by the State to be returned to the private sector.
Is not the Minister aware that the biggest fear on the shop floor, not only in British Leyland but in successful manufacturing nationalised industries, such as British Aeropace, is that Government investment in those industries is about to disappear?Is the hon. Gentleman aware that half of the British Aerospace workers have stopped work today, and that 5,000 have marched on the House this afternoon because they fear that British Aerospace will be sold off to foreigners, or to those who pay most to Tory Party election funds?
The hon. Gentleman would do a great service to British Aerospace and its employees if he did not—as he has done yet again today—perpetuate untruths about the industry's future. He is thoroughly to blame for the anxieties which exist in British Aerospace. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly well aware that in the articles of association there will be a maximum limit of 15 per cent. foreign ownership. That will be safeguarded by the Government retaining 25 per cent. of the shares and their preparedness to vote their shareholding to defend the articles.
As my hon. Friend's answer indicates that a large sum of money is likely to be involved, is there not enormous scope for reducing the amount of money invested by the Department of Industry? Does he agree that the right level of investment by the private sector will never be achieved if the Government continue to pre-empt so much of its money? That is a lesson that the House should learn.
My hon. Friend, as always speaks a great deal of wisdom on the subject.
Order. I shall call the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield). However, as the House knows, I do not usually call even Front Bench spokesmen twice on one question, especially when many other hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye.
If there were not 5,000 workers from British Aerospace outside the House I should not press my case Mr. Speaker. Will the Minister confirm or deny that there is nothing in the Bill that will prevent the breaking up of British Aerospace, and that there is no provision, if the Bill reaches the statute book, that will prevent British Aerospace being taken over lock, stock and barrel by foreign interests?
I have stated very clearly the safeguards against British Aerospace being taken over by foreign interests. I should like to think that a statement to this effect from the Dispatch Box—which has been made on previous occasions—would be accepted by the House.The Government have made it clear that it is not their intention to split up British Aerospace. There is allowance for only one successor company to the corporation, and that, in itself, is a safeguard and an assurance that British Aerospace will remain in its present form.