HC Deb 28 February 1991 vol 186 cc1104-5
6. Mr. Gregory

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on his policy on promoting share ownership.

Mr. Maples

The Government are committed to achieving wider and deeper share ownership. Very significant progress has been made thanks to the success of Government initiatives.

Mr. Gregory

Does my hon. Friend agree that wider share ownership schemes have resulted in an increase in the number of share owners from 3 million in 1979, under Labour, to 11 million currently, and will he confirm that he wishes to extend that still further? Will he consider the possibility of companies being able to extend the range so that employees can participate as they have in Yorkshire in British Telecom, British Airways, Northern Electricity and other such companies?

Mr. Maples

My hon. Friend is a long-time proponent of wider share ownership and his figures are right. The number of individual shareholders in Britain has risen from 7 per cent. 12 years ago to nearly a quarter—some 24 per cent.—of the population now. The Government have introduced a variety of employee share ownership schemes as a result of which about 2¼ million employees have benefited from about £6½ billion worth of shares and options over that period. But we shall certainly look at those schemes to see whether there are any ways of improving them.

Mr. Cryer

Is not the best form of share ownership for the nation as a whole to own a service instead of selling it off to a clique of friends of the Tory party, many of whom have contributed to Tory party funds? Is not the Minister ashamed of the way in which, for example, water services owned by the nation have been sold off, have increased their prices and, like other sold-off services, have produced a shoddier service for the people?

Mr. Maples

There we have the true voice of the Labour party. Only three days ago the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made speeches trying to camouflage the sort of sentiment that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) has just expressed and trying to pretend that their industrial policy had been dragged into the 21st century. We find that yet again they are in favour of nationalisation, with industries to be run by unions and subsidised by the taxpayer.

Mr. Colvin

Does my hon. Friend recall that in the 1974 Labour party manifesto, Labour pledged to bring about a fundamental shift of wealth in favour of working people and their families? Is not it a fact——

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is about share ownership.

Mr. Colvin

Does my hon. Friend agree that Conservative policies encouraging wider share ownership and home ownership have honoured that pledge?

Mr. Maples

My hon. Friend is right. We believe that if people own their own homes and have stakes in the companies in which they work, they have the sort of interest in the success of the economy that we want them to have and from which they will benefit.

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