HC Deb 22 March 1982 vol 20 cc678-9
16. Mr. loan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Industry if he will list the value of the publicly owned assets disposed of by his Department since May 1979.

Mr. Wakeham

The restated net asset value of British Aerospace was £592 million at the time of flotation, of which 51.57 per cent. of the share capital was sold to the public; and the restated net asset value of Cable and Wireless was £307 million, of which 49.47 per cent. of the share capital was sold to the public.

Mr. Evans

As the country has passed through the worst economic recession since the 1930s and private manufacturing industry has been in almost a state of collapse, is it right—even if the Government believe it right that publicly owned assets should be sold off—to sell them now?

Mr. Wakeham

The reason for privatising these two industries is that they are both engaged in highly competitive international businesses, and we feel that they are much more likely to be capable of responding to the challenges presented to them as part of the private sector, not having to look to the Government all the time for funds for expansion.

Mr. Michael Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that an additional indication of the correctness of this policy occurs in British Aerospace, where 27,000 employees—40 per cent. of the work force—have spent their money acquiring shares in the business in which they work?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree with my hon. Friend. British Aerospace is making a great contribution to the many markets in which it operates.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Does the Minister realise that his Government are seeking all the time to take away from any nationalised industry the plums of that industry and that, whenever that occurs, it causes unrest throughout the country? Will he take into account the many countries where management, the Government, trade unions and the banks work together to ensure that greater progress is made in industry? Why do not the Government try to create a better relationship with the trade union movement and the work force, instead of adopting their present approach?

Mr. Wakeham

I am tempted to say that our policy of privatisation gives all these elements a chance to work together. In those industries that have not been privatised, however—for instance, British Shipbuilders—the Government's record of support is one of which we are very proud.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Opposition should realise that without the sales that have been made of the successful enterprises a lot of the funds would not have been available to put 'into British Steel, BL and other loss-makers that the Government still have?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Are the Government considering disposing of further publicly owned assets in British Telecom, instead of introducing the Buzby bond?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government announced the Buzby bond in the Budget, but long-term plans could include privatisation. However, I have no statement to make today.

Dr. John Cunningham

Will the Minister confirm that, despite privatisation, British Aerospace still faces a major problem about how it might finance the proposed A320? Is it not true that British Aerospace has told the Government that, without substantial Government support, there is no prospect of this major project going ahead?

Mr. Wakeham

There is no major airline project in this country or anywhere else in which Governments of the day do not have a major part to play. That does not make the case against privatisation one whit stronger. The efficiency of the running of the industry is an entirely different matter.