Finance Minister Bill English has acknowledged there is little he can do to stop shares from partial floats of state-owned enterprises ultimately ending up in foreign hands.

If it wins the November election, National intends selling minority stakes in three state-owned electricity generators - Genesis, Meridian and Mighty River Power - plus, state coal company Solid Energy. National also plans to reduce the Crown's shareholding in Air New Zealand.

Answering questions from delegates at National's weekend conference, Mr English confirmed the Government was considering a "loyalty scheme" to help keep shares of partly-sold state assets in New Zealand ownership. He did not detail how such a scheme - variations of which have been used in Australian state government-instigated privatisations - might operate.

However, he doubted any ban would be put on the sale of such shares to foreign interests. People had the right to dispose of their shareholdings. "The market has to be able to work ... that doesn't happen even in places like China ... I believe New Zealanders will want to own these companies."


Mr English noted overseas investors could be a source of much-needed capital for some companies. "We should not believe that selling shares to Australians is somehow bad for our economy."

He said Labour was focusing on foreign ownership because that party thought that was one way it could get resonance with voters on the issue of state asset sales.

However, the questions from the floor of National's conference suggest it is also an issue within Mr English's party.