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Asset Sales

Volume 129: debated on Thursday 10 March 1988

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8.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the expected level of asset sale receipts for 1987–88; and if he will make a statement.

I am sure that the Prime Minister's guide to household economics says that capital asset receipts should be reinvested in capital projects and not used to fund current expenditure. In the light of that, can we expect the sum that the Financial Secretary mentioned and any sums that may accrue in the next financial year to be used to fund infrastructure projects in the community and to invest in the health and education of our people?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, capital spending is broadly, in real terms, around the same level as it was in 1979. There has been a very considerable increase in expenditure on roads, railways and other items of infrastructure, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's plea for more expenditure on infrastructure has been noted by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary.

Does the Financial Secretary agree that, while we welcome the progress that has been made in electricity and other big asset sales, now is also the time to look at some of the lesser assets that are languishing in the public sector, such as the PSA and Ordnance Survey, and to bring them forward to be included in this excellent programme?

I note what my hon. Friend says. I am sure that he will welcome yesterday's announcement about the Professional and Executive Register, which is one of the smaller agencies of precisely the sort to which he rightly says we should give attention.

Fortunately, there is a long way to go. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, we are expecting the implementation of water and electricity privatisations to occupy us for a little time yet.

Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on this excellent figure, which is a reflection of how successful the Government have been in transferring ownership of these assets from the state to individual shareholders? Does he not think that it is time he speeded up the process by privatising British Coal and British Rail?

I note what my hon. Friend says. We have said that we have no present plans to privatise those industries. As I said to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), privatising the electricity and water industries is a considerable task in itself at present.