HC Deb 28 November 1995 vol 267 cc1065-6

I turn now to the utilities. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will speak about the regulatory regime that protects consumer interests in his speech in the Budget debate on Thursday. I have been looking at the case for a windfall tax on the utilities. I have been told that it has many splendid qualities. It is a one-off tax, often described as if it hurts nobody. It is claimed that it has no impact on the economy and apparently can be used to pay for up to 10 public spending proposals which cost far in excess of the amount of tax that it actually raises. What a potential pot of gold; an elixir to cure all the ills of some people.

Of course, a windfall tax is nothing of the kind. It would damage investment and threaten the quality of customer service. It is an illusion that a windfall tax is paid by the company. It is paid by its shareholders, including many small shareholders and pension funds, and it would mean higher future prices for customers. The whole point of privatisation is to benefit consumers, not simply the Exchequer. I have no intention of introducing such a tax. [Interruption.] If that decision is meant to be a help to the Labour party, heaven help it. I do not think that it can make much of that.