HC Deb 15 February 1979 vol 962 cc1293-5
7. Mr. Gow

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the amount of the national debt on 1 March 1974 and on the latest available date; what was the amount of interest on the debt for the year ended 5 April 1974; and what is his latest estimate of the interest on debts during the current financial year.

Mr. Joel Barnett

The amount of the national debt on 31 March 1974 was £40,458 million and on 31 March 1978 was £79,180 million, or roughly £42,400 million in March 1974 prices.

The interest paid in 1973–74 was £2,284 million. The estimate of interest payable in 1978–79 is £6,300 million, or roughly £3,000 million in 1973–74 prices.

Mr. Gow

Do not these figures underline the extent to which there has been massive overspending by the Government during the last five years? Does the Chief Secretary understand that this debt and the Government's borrowing requirement are the primary causes of the present unexceptionable—outrageously high—interest rates?

Mr. Barnett

So far as I could hear what the hon. Member said, he was wrong in every respect. The national debt, as a percentage of GDP at market prices in the financial years 1973–74 to 1977–78, has fallen from 56 per cent. to 54½ per cent. The views on debt of Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), bear all the hallmarks of an incompetent, wealthy and amateur business man, who is so well represented on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Cryer

Here is another one.

Mr. Peter Rees

Instead of insulting my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), will the Chief Secretary correct his figures and tell the House that the interest on public sector debt for 1978–79 will be about £8½ billion? Will he attempt to justify to the House policies which over five years have raised the cost of servicing the public sector debt above, for example, the cost of defence?

Mr. Barnett

That is an interesting question. It is not connected with the one that I was asked, but I shall answer it. I was asked about the national debt. The interest on the national debt as a percentage of GDP at market prices has risen from 3¼ per cent. in 1975–74 to 3½per cent. in 1977–78. The percentage of GDP represented by the public sector borrowing requirement in the United Kingdom is not wildly out of line with that in many other countries.

Forward to