HC Deb 09 March 1981 vol 1000 cc611-2
16. Mr. Marlow

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what has been the cost per head of the population since 3 May 1979 of the nationalised industries for which he is responsible.

Mr. Michael Marshall

I estimate that the cost per head of the population of British Shipbuilders and the British Steel Corporation during the two financial years 1979–80 and 1980–81 will be approximately £45.

Mr. Marlow

If my mathematics are right, I think that that represents about £180 per family of four in the country. Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to reassure doting paterfamilias up and down the country that this investment being made on their behalf will show a good return and an even better return than if the money had been put into private industry?

Mr. Marshall

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that this figure, taken per head of the population, is, in one sense, slightly misleading. Bringing it back to the wage earner, as he does, puts the matter more into perspective. As to his hopes and our hopes for the future, time alone will tell, but my hon. Friend is aware of the arguments that are put in these matters.

Dr. John Cunningham

Instead of indulging in snide criticisms of and carping about public sector industry, would not a better approach, in the taxpayers' interest, be for the Government to give these industries some support? Is it not silly for the Government to put in taxpayers' money at the level that is now taking place and then continually carp about the industries and their managements, which, in the main, have been appointed by this Administration? Would it not make more sense if, instead of accepting criticisms of British Shipbuilders, the Government went out to get more orders for British Shipbuilders—for example, the Occidental order for a £50 million platform which, it is learnt, is another order that will go to a foreign yard?

Mr. Marshall

The trouble with the hon. Gentleman is that he comes here with his prepared lines. I have heard no criticism or carping. There has been substantial support for industry, which has been discussed in the House many times. The hon. Gentleman has not included in his thinking the intervention fund in British Shipbuilders. Substantial support is being given to the nationalised sector. The sooner that we can get to a more competitive situation the better.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

In view of this drastic figure, does my hon. Friend agree that the sooner the Government denationalise many of these industries the better? Is my hon. Friend happy with the rate at which this is happening with British Leyland?

Mr. Marshall

The Government share my hon. Friend's view that we wish to move down the privatisation route. In regard to BL, that is very much in our minds. Even in the case of British Steel, one positive development from the present arrangements is Phoenix I. We hope that there will be further progress along the same route.

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