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Nationalised Industries

Volume 113: debated on Wednesday 25 March 1987

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6.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how much his Department will be spending on support for nationalised industries in 1986–87, as compared with 1978–79.

The total external financing requirement for the Department's nationalised industries is expected to be £177 million in 1986–87, compared with £845 million in 1978–79. This is a reduction of nearly 90 per cent. in real terms.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that these excellent figures are the result of determined Government policies and effective management of these industries over the years? Does he also agree that these reductions have enabled resources to be released which are much better and more effectively used in other parts of the economy?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the management of the nationalised industries and also the privatisation programme have been of immense benefit to the British people.

If these industries are such a liability, as has just been mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), why is it that we saw such indecent scandals going on in the stock exchange when people were eagerly wanting to buy up the shares in these very industries?

The question that I have been asked is what the financing requirements are of the nationalised industries that I have in my Department. As to the question of privatisation, the whole House knows that the Government have transformed the prospects of the majority of the nationalised industries in this country. They have been placed in a situation in which they can be privatised, to the immense benefit of all concerned.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the huge sums of money that have been expended on supporting the nationalised industries over the years have held back the British economy for too long, and that the sooner the rest are brought back to profitability and the private sector the better it will be?

I am sure that we should have an increasing programme of privatisation. I agree with my hon. Friend that the sums that had to be spent in the past were a great drain on the economy, and nothing illustrates that better than the example of British Steel.

Will support include non-financial matters, such as not forcing Austin Rover to give commercial information, which the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor and his Department did, although this was resisted by senior management and was extremely damaging to Austin Rover, particularly to sales of the Metro? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why this was done, and will he assure the House that it will not be done again in the future?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says, nor does this question refer to Austin Rover.

In congratulating my right hon. Friend on these excellent figures, may I invite him to suggest to the House that the fact that other countries are following precisely the policy followed by this Government is in itself a major tribute to their success?

I think that that is right. All over the world people are following the privatisation policy. It is only the out-of-date dinosaurs on the Opposition Benches who will not do so.

Does the Minister not realise that the benefits that he talks about are somewhat illusory? Does he not recognise, for example, that it is very hard to convince the consumer, in relation to British Telecom, that he or she has benefited from the privatisation? Does he not realise that £2,000 million private monopoly profit is not difficult to achieve, exercising monopoly power, but does he recognise that that means that the Government have imposed £2 million of Tory doctrine tax on consumers linked to the British Telecom system?

I do not agree with that at all. The privatisation of British Telecom has led to an upsurge in new industries and in new suppliers and to a very considerable increase in activity in the economy. The duopoly policy is also extremely successful. When one looks at the other nationalised industries, one sees that the Post Office has made very considerable strides, and I notice that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention British Steel.