HC Deb 30 April 1981 vol 3 cc902-3
18. Mr. John Townend

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what are the estimated total external financing limits of the nationalised industries for 1980–81, expressed as a percentage of North Sea oil revenues for the same year.

Mr. Brittan

The estimated figure is 75 per cent.

Mr. Townend

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the figure answers the demand from many sources that more and more North Sea oil revenue should be invested in industry? Does he agree that it is disturbing that such a large proportion of the revenue is going to loss-making nationalised industries, and not sufficient into productive private investment?

Mr. Brittan

The figure is a useful illustration of the reality of what is happening to the revenue. My hon. Friend's point illustrates the divergence of objectives. There is legitimate concern about the desirability of capital investment of a generally productive sort, but there is concern also that investment in the nationalised industries is not always of that character. Those concerned with investment might take account of the fact that 1 per cent. off the nationalised industries' wage bill would save £125 million.

Mr. Foster

Is the Chief Secretary aware that there is a majority in the House, and a consensus in the country, in favour of reflating the economy by such public sector projects as the electrification of British Rail and investment in British Telecom? Is he further aware that there is widespread disbelief that such projects crowd out private investment, especially when private investment is widely expected to reduce, and when £3 billion was spent in overseas investment during the last six months of the last financial year?

Mr. Brittan

I do not accept all the hon. Gentleman's remarks. All countries, as well as Britain, must take into account what should be the appropriate share of national resources—whether in capital or current expenditure—absorbed by the public sector. There is no way to avoid the fact that nationalised industries are in the public sector.

The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that we should find ways to finance the nationalised industries' investment programme that involve getting the private sector to take a genuine share in the risk of such investment. We are interested in considering any such suggestion.