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Report (3rd Day)

Part of Infrastructure Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 10th November 2014.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 8:30 pm, 10th November 2014

My Lords, I have also added my name to this amendment. This is for two reasons—partly, I was swept away by the rhetoric from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, in Committee; it is such an obvious strategic decision that I thought I must support it. The second reason is purely historic. Somewhere in the archives of the TUC, from about 1973, there is a paper with the initials “LW” on it. In that paper I argued that we should set up a fund to invest in upgrading into the new technologies of the manufacturing industry and acquire assets at home and abroad to meet the interests of the state and of the British economy out of the tax revenues which we anticipated would come from the North Sea. We had no idea how much revenue would be coming in from North Sea oil at that time but it would clearly be substantial. I do not think anybody thought at that point it would be as substantial as it turned out, altering the terms of trade of the UK, with the level of sterling rising to the detriment of the competitiveness of the British manufacturing sector which was, of course, already a bit deadbeat and uncompetitive.

If only they had listened to me then. I am afraid that I never got my paper to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, while he was still in office but the next Government took no notice of it nor, indeed, the one after that. It stayed through all that period of North Sea oil revenue the Government received—I would not use “squandered”. I disagree with a lot of the priorities of the Government of the 1980s as noble Lords know, but that revenue was not used for the long-term benefit of the British economy when at least a fraction of it should have been. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, had an important point here. If this industry develops to the extent that many of its proponents are saying, although none of us knows that yet, there will be a serious tax revenue that is in a strict sense a windfall for future Governments and a windfall for the British economy. We should not make the same mistake and we should take a lesson from our Norwegian cousins by investing in a fund that can provide some degree of security and improvement of the British economic situation for future generations. I am very happy to support in principle the noble Lord’s amendment.