HC Deb 10 December 1986 vol 107 cc336-8
12. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what future meetings he has arranged to discuss investment in national infrastructure.

Mr. Channon

None, Sir.

Mr. Alton

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is of the opinion that private sector investment in infrastructure projects should be matched by a corresponding decrease in public funds? Instead of offering that view, would it not be better to ensure that, in projects such as the Mersey barrage, in which private enterprise has offered to put up about £220 million, private funding is matched in partnership with public funding to ensure that some of the 400,000 building workers who are languishing on the dole are given a useful job or work to do?

Mr. Channon

The Mersey barrage is a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. In general, I am in favour of private sector spending, as well as public sector spending, on the infrastructure. The House will be well aware of the enormous amount of such expenditure, which has frequently been outlined.

Mr. Marlow

Given that the private sector is to finance the Dartford bridge and is about to finance the Channel tunnel, is it not right to give the private investor the chance to enjoy the benefits of investing in these great opportunities and to save the taxpayers' money by encouraging the private investor rather than the public investor?

Mr. Channon

I agree with my hon. Friend. Private finance is certainly welcome, provided that it is cost-effective. We should consider specific proposals on their merits. The new bridge at Dartford shows that there are good cases. There are extra benefits, such as incentives to efficiency, from a wholly private sector project. My hon. Friend made a good point.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

When the Secretary of State said that investment by his Department had rightly been reduced, did he understand that the impact of that reduction has been felt in my part of the country, west Cumbria, where industrial investment has collapsed? Is he aware that under a Labour Government factories were opening all the time every year, and now they are closing? Why does he not restore the industrial assistance that was available under a Labour Government—and to the level that it was in the 1970s—and once again seek the restoration of the west Cumberland economy? We are in desperate need.

Mr. Channon

The hon. Gentleman is a little unfair. He knows that since 1979 more than £770 million has been spent in the north-west on regional aid schemes which have created or safeguarded 72,000 jobs. There are also other schemes outside my Department. There is the Mersey basin campaign, the derelict land programme, the urban development grant and a host of other expenditures that have taken place. Of course, it suits Opposition Members to decry all that. We all know why they do it. They just do not want to hear any good news when it comes along.

Mr. Thurnham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the criteria for judging public sector infrastructure investment decisions have been much improved by this Government, those decisions are best made by private investors?

Mr. Channon

Yes, I agree, but there is also a place for public sector infrastructure. As my hon. Friend knows, there has been a massive increase in spending on infrastructure on such things as motorways and trunk roads, rail and housing. National Health Service spending is up 31 per cent. in real terms. Capital spending on housing renovation is now £1.4 billion per annum. Those are all massive amounts of public sector money spent on infrastructure.

Mr. John Smith

Is the Secretary of State claiming credit for spending more money, or for spending less, because he is giving confusing replies? If, as he claims, investment in the north-west has safeguarded so many jobs, why does he not increase the investment and safeguard even more jobs?

Mr. Channon

I am not in any way giving confusing answers. I was asked a question about infrastructure in the north-west and I gave the House the facts about what has been spent in the north-west. The fact that the figures are creditable is something that the Labour party does not like.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Does the Secretary of State accept that channelling investment into such items will increase output and increase the number of jobs rather more—possibly substantially more—than tax cuts, which just go through to consumer expenditure and increase imports?

Mr. Channon

I hope that we can have both.