HC Deb 28 February 1983 vol 38 cc5-7
4. Mr. Michael Morris

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he has any further proposals for privatisation and denationalisation within his responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Nigel Lawson)

It is the Government's firm intention to maintain the momentum of the privatisation programme, but I have no new proposals to announce at the present time.

Mr. Morris

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that is a disappointing answer, as he has led the way in denationalisation? Is there not a strong case for plans to be prepared now for the complete denationalisation of the British Gas Corporation?

Mr. Lawson

There may be opportunities for further injections of private capital into aspects of the British Gas Corporation and for further inroads to be made into the gas corporation's monopoly. As I have said, I have no proposals to announce now.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when we discussed the disposition of Wytch Farm on a previous occasion he doubted whether the figure that I suggested represented a true valuation? As that has now been confirmed as the correct figure, will he assure us that he will not privatise Wytch Farm at half the valuation that has been put on it by the British Gas Corporation?

Mr. Lawson

It is a well-known ploy of those who do not wish to sell an asset to place upon it a valuation that will ensure that there will be no takers.

Mr. Jay

As the Minister's Britoil shares have lost half their value since he sold them only a few months ago, will he say why he always gets it wrong one way or the other?

Mr. Lawson

The right hon. Gentleman has it wrong. The shares have not lost half their value—not nearly half. The discount on the partly paid shares represents a discount on the fully paid value. The right hon. Gentleman was once a distinguished City editor. If he could recall those days, he would understand this point. As for signs of the fall, even the right hon. Gentleman must surely be aware that there has been a change in the nature and state of the oil market since the flotation of Britoil.

Mr. McQuarrie

If my right hon. Friend considers the privatisation of any of the public utilities in future, will he ensure that the small shareholders who apply for some of the shares are given a better opportunity than that which was made available to them when shares in Associated British Ports were offered to the public? Is he aware that many Scottish shareholders were very disappointed that they were not given any shares on that occasion?

Mr. Lawson

The Associated British Ports flotation is not a matter for me, but it is Government policy to use every means to encourage small shareholders to subscribe to privatisation issues and especially to encourage employees to do so. I am glad to say that we have been extremely successful in that regard.

Mr. John Smith

Is the Secretary of State aware that in both the Amersham ramp and the Britoil flop he has displayed a spectacular incompetence that is unrivalled even among his colleagues? As he appears to think that Britoil has been a success, does he not think that it is time he sent a letter to those who bought shares on his recommendation explaining what a wise and prudent investment it has been?

Mr. Lawson

The right hon. Gentleman is showing himself to be characteristically schizoid. In the face of flotation, he and his right hon. and hon. Friends accused the Government of selling Britoil shares too cheaply, or providing a rip off for the City and so on. Now that they have got it completely wrong—

Mr. Rowlands

The right hon. Gentleman got it wrong.

Mr. Lawson

—and we have achieved an excellent price for the taxpayer, they complain about that. They neither understand, although the right hon. Gentleman might, nor like markets. They cannot bear the idea that prices sometimes move up, sometimes move down, and that they cannot fix them.

Mr. John Smith

Does the Secretary of State not understand that we are disinclined to take lessons on the market economy from a Secretary of State who spectacularly misjudged the market for both Amersham and Britoil, who in one case sold the assets of the nation cheap and in the other brought a British oil company, because of its financial weakness, to its knees? Is he aware that it will therefore be unable to fulfil its role in the North sea?

Mr. Lawson

The right hon. Gentleman is doing his best to damage Britoil with that utterly unfounded allegation. If he had the power to damage it he would. The company operates in the North sea, is successful and will continue to be successful. With regard to the price, the right hon. Gentleman fails to acknowledge that the price was that which was thought to be right by the underwriters who underwrote that issue. That is true for Amersham as well. They are professionals who, I venture to believe, are better placed than the right hon. Gentleman to judge the right price. It comes down to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman cannot bear the idea that, in a market, prices move.

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