Adjournment (Christmas)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:47 pm on 19th December 1990.

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Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin 7:47 pm, 19th December 1990

I am glad that my hon. Friend is on it.

It is ridiculous that we are unable to question this important part of prime ministerial patronage. That is not a criticism of the monarch, who simply does what is recommended. It is high time that the honours system was subject to more careful scrutiny, particularly as it was abused for political purposes by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher).

I said that I would deal with issues in ascending order of importance. Baronetcies are not matters of major importance, but the other two subjects that I wish to raise are. We shall undoubtedly encounter bad weather during the Christmas recess. As bad weather dramatically affected the west midlands the weekend before last, I wish to refer to how the public services had to respond. Thousands of people, including many of my constituents, were without heat, power and water. My constituents in Dawley were without water for five days.

As ever, the people who find themselves at the sharp end when things go wrong are those who must go up poles and repair the wires in biting winds. They are employed by the great national utilities, but they did not make the investment decisions that caused the problems in the first place. It is salutary to note how, under this Government, our great national utilities have suffered from a lack of investment.

It is even more disgraceful that they have been sold off at knock down prices. [Interruption.] I know that Conservative Members do not like this; I would be upset if I were them. In the past week, the electricity industry was sold off at a cut price. According to a parliamentary answer, the Government received £5,182 million from the regional electricity companies, whereas the current value is £6,221 million. That is nothing compared to some of the huge privatisation bonuses under the Government. The National Freight Consortium was sold in 1982 at a benefit to the Exchequer of £5 million, whereas it is now worth £702 million. Associated British Ports was sold for £45 million, whereas it is now valued at £377 million. The Exchequer has received massive income from privatisation, but my constituents can see no benefit.

Since the Government took office, revenue from privatisation amounts to £28·5 billion. Therefore, would not one expect massive improvements in our national corporations? My word, there has been no improvement; but nor has there been any benefit from the revenue of North sea oil.