HC Deb 13 December 1976 vol 922 cc947-9
8. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what further plans he has to extend public ownership of industry.

Mr. Varley

The Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill was reintroduced at the beginning of this Session, received its Third Reading on 7th December and is now before the other place. The remainder of the Government's proposals on public ownership which fall within my Department's responsibilities have been implemented in full.

Mr. Canavan

Will my right hon. Friend remind all those Right-wing Tories who take a doctrinaire stance against public ownership that it was that well-known militant Winston Churchill who took a public stake in BP and that well-known revolutionary Sir Alec Douglas-Home who nationalised North Sea oil? Would it not be sheer stupidity even to contemplate selling off £500 million of shares in BP when the income from those shares can be used to extend public ownership in industry through the National Enterprise Board and the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies?

Mr. Varley

Questions about British Petroleum must be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, who has ministerial responsibility for them. However, I know that my hon. Friend was very much is support of proposals that I laid before the House when I was Secretary of State for Energy to establish the British National Oil Corporation. That organisation will have a continuing and expanding role.

Mrs. Bain

Would not the Government be well advised to look at industries which are already within public ownership? Will the right hon. Gentleman give a commitment today that Rolls-Royce will continue to operate in Scotland in view of its importance for industrial development and job opportunities in the west of Scotland?

Mr. Varley

Yes, Rolls-Royce will continue to operate in Scotland. So will the other nationalised industries, properly integrated within the United Kingdom. I think that that is a marvellous reason for preserving the economic and industrial links through the country as a whole.

Mr. Biffen

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the whole House will have noted with interest his unwillingness to give any idea of the future stake in British Petroleum?

Mr. Varley

The answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) was that the public ownership proposals contained in our manifesto which rest with the Department of Industry to implement have been implemented in full. I have some apprehension about the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, but I know that the Opposition will use their influence with their friends in another place to ensure that the measure reaches the statute book as quickly as possible.

Mr. Pardoe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the nation might be better served if we all concentrated not on how much or how little was nationalised but on how well concerns were run when nationalised? What is his reaction to the NEDO Report on the chaotic state of activities in the nationalised industries?

Mr. Varley

I agree that it is necessary that the nationalised industries should be run efficiently and, where practicable, profitably. Since February 1974 we have been trying to achieve those goals. On the subject of the NEDO Report, I do not intend any discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman when I say that there is a Question on that subject a little later on the Order Paper, and perhaps he will await the answer to it.

Mr. Hoyle

I appreciate that any further extension of shareholding is a matter for the Secretary of State for Energy, but does not my right hon. Friend agree that, although this may be a Cabinet decision, this may be the wrong time to sell because, with Alaskan oil coming on stream, we might be disposing of our seed corn? Could not the available money be used to back the activities of the National Enterprise Board?

Mr. Varley

I am sorry, but I must give my hon. Friend the same answer as I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire—namely, that Questions on energy policy must be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.