HL Deb 15 January 1986 vol 469 cc1074-5

2.59 p.m.

Lord Wolfson

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will state the total amount of capital investment they plan for the year 1985–86 and indicate the proportion being financed by public borrowing, surplus asset sales, privatisation issues, and taxation receipts from capital transactions.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the last public expenditure White Paper showed total public sector capital spending of £22 billion in the plans for 1985–86. The estimated outturn for the year will be shown in the public expenditure White Paper to be published later today. It is not possible to link particular forms of public spending, such as capital investment, directly with particular forms of finance.

Lord Wolfson

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply, which helps to put in some perspective the intriguing matter of the family silver! It is normal business practice to produce a balance sheet and to separate capital transactions from revenue items. That is governed by company law and tax statute. Should not the same relevant information be provided to the public in the annual Budget Statement?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, it has been the policy of successive governments, for as long as history goes back perhaps, not to hypothecate capital and current expenditure. However, if one looks through the Budget Statement one can quickly see the total amounts of money which have been raised from the various items about which the noble Lord asks in his Question.

Lord Morris

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that he is absolutely right? This has been the custom since the days of William Pitt. But does he think that it is relevant in 1986?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving me the date when this started.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in his Answer he has given support to the Labour Party position, which is that we should have a national balance sheet, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, implied, and the public sector borrowing requirement should be projected in the function of that balance sheet? Is he also aware that we in our party are grateful to him for his support for that concept? I hope very much that the Government will pay attention to what the noble Lord said and that he will be able to give us those assurances.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, in case in my original Answer I gave support to the party of the noble Lord opposite, I shall have to read carefully what I said and perhaps correct myself.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, will be observed in making a clear distinction between using the receipts of the sale of surplus assets and their being distributed in some form of taxation relief? Will he commend any public company which sells capital assets in order to realise the payment of dividends?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I said, we have to look at the Budget as a whole. If the noble Lord wishes to do that, over the years since this party has been in office, he will find that the amount of fixed public capital investment has exceeded the receipts of privatisation some 20 times.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, can the noble Lord say how the quantum of public investment that he has indicated for the United Kingdom compares with that of the major countries in the European Community?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

Not without notice, my Lords.

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