HC Deb 09 July 1987 vol 119 cc504-5
7. Mr. Simon Coombs

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many companies and how many employees have been transferred from the public sector to the private sector since 1979.

Mr. Major

Fifteen major businesses have been privatised, employing 650,000 people.

Mr. Coombs

Will my right hon. Friend remind the House of the proportion of public industry that has been returned to the private sector since 1979 and what other elements of the public sector remain to be returned in the immediate and medium term future, and will he take this opportunity of telling the House about some of the many advantages that privatisation bestows?

Mr. Major

Were I to respond in detail to all those points, I fancy that we would run on for rather a long time. Over one third of state industry has been privatised since 1979. As the House knows, we have a continuing rolling programme for the future. Many benefits are increasingly apparent, not least the access to capital markets and greater incentives for management and employees to produce a profitable return, as they are doing.

Mr. Ashley

Will the Minister confirm that the workers in most of the companies that have been transferred now have lower wages, job insecurity, lower pensions, lower sickness benefit and fewer holidays? What excuse has he to offer for this shabby transformation?

Mr. Major

I cannot confirm any of those propositions. The companies that have been transferred to the private sector were often unprofitable before, but they are now substantially profitable.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the result of 11 June shows that the public like the idea of transferring properties from the public sector to genuine public ownership? When will he start this process on the Bank of England?

Mr. Major

I have no comment on the latter part of my hon. Friend's question. On the former, I entirely agree. The concern for privatisation that we have shown has been followed in a number of other countries. It is noticeable that on 11 June privatisation was preferred to social ownership.

Mr. Blair

If the British Airports Authority is to be sold partly by fixed tender to get value for money for the taxpayer, why was the same procedure not followed on the sale of British Gas, British Telecom and British Airways, when thousands, if not millions, of pounds were lost to the taxpayers through selling those companies off at a knock-down price?

Mr. Major

I do not accept that any of those companies was sold at knock-down prices. The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot comment on BAA at the moment.

Mr. Oppenheim

Does my hon. Friend recollect the dire predictions of doom and gloom when companies such as Cable and Wireless, British Aerospace and Jaguar were privatised? How do those predictions square with the current performance of those companies in the private sector?

Mr. Major

As my hon. Friend intimates, those predictions do not square. For example, Jaguar's pre-tax profits are up 33 per cent. on 1984, and Cable and Wireless pre-tax profits are up fourfold since that date. Therefore, the predictions that were made at the time were wildly inaccurate.

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