HC Deb 24 June 1974 vol 875 cc976-8
17. Mr. Stanley

asked the Secretary of State for Industry whether he will make a statement on the setting up of the National Enterprise Board.

Mr. Heffer

I would ask the hon. Member to await publication of the Government's proposals.

Mr. Stanley

Will the Minister consider carefully the figures given to me by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Friday relating to the cost to public funds of the nationalised industries? Is he aware that in the past five financial years the public sector of industry has required from the Exchequer £1,400 million in subsidies, £1,000 million in write-offs, £900,000 in public dividend capital and £2,100 million in public debt capital? Will he consider the implications of these figures before extending nationalisation further?

Mr. Heffer

The hon. Gentleman ought to advise his friends in private enterprise that they also should consider those figures, which over the years have in effect meant a good subsidy to private enterprise. He should recognise that the publicly-owned industries have not been able to charge as much as they ought to have charged and that this has meant in effect a good subsidy for private enterprise.

Mr. Skinner

Will my hon. Friend take note that the figures are roughly the equivalent of £3,000 million being handed out over the past four years to private firms, which equates to about £2 million a day? Will he also bear in mind that private firms have at the same time been milking nationalised industries—the public sector—for a much greater amount? Further, will he note that some of us are more than disturbed that industrialists need supplementary benefits from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's purse, from the taxpayer, in order to go and work in the regions? That is one of the questions to which we ought to be turning our attention, and will my hon. Friend——

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has previously complained that he is not called enough on Questions, but I think he is called more than almost any other hon. Member and it would help me, when I do call him, if he would be reasonably brief.

Mr. Skinner

I am winding up now. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the National Enterprise Board, when set up, will stop the cash flow to Aims of Industry?

Mr. Heffer

My hon. Friend has put about six questions to me all in one supplementary question and obviously I cannot answer them all, because some of them do not come within the responsibilities of my Department. I wish to make it absolutely clear, however, that as far as we are concerned we are considering all the various subsidies that have been paid to private industry. I also wish to make clear that as far as the Government are concerned there is not necessarily any criticism of companies receiving aid in order to go into the regions. This matter, which was continued by the previous Government, arose from the actions of an earlier Labour Government. What we are intending to do once the planning agreement is established is to make certain that there is more selective use of the finance that is granted by the Government.

Mr. Tom King

May I remind the hon. Gentleman that part of the function of his Department is to support all industry in this country? May I ask him not to allow any comparison of the relative remissions of tax from one sector of industry or another to be seen as an attack on the private sector the success of which sector is vital to the success of Britain? May I point out the damage that has been done by the delays on proposals for the National Enterprise Board and say how important it is that at the earliest possible moment industry should know exactly where it stands?

Mr. Heffer

The proposals for the National Enterprise Board and planning agreements will be brought before the House at the earliest possible moment. Regarding industry as a whole the present Government wish to ensure that we have a healthy economy and healthy industries. We believe that the proposals that will be put before the House are the best possible proposals in our immediate situation to help overcome the lack of investment and, in many respects, the defects in proper location of industry.

Forward to