HC Deb 31 July 1924 vol 176 cc2233-5
52. Mr. HARDIE

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer the price paid by the nation for the houses, land, and plant sold at Gretna; and what was the difference between the cost and the sale price?


I understand that the total expenditure on Gretna was approximately £9,000,000, but, as stated in replies given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to supplementary questions by the hon. Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon) on the 29th July, I do not think any useful purpose can be served by comparing that cost with the sale price of the assets realised since the War.


Could I not have some indication as to what was the cost of the items sold, and the prices at which they were sold, so that the public may know what the difference is?


We have already informed the House that in the recent sale the yield was rather more than £100,000.


What was the cost?


I could not give the costs of these items without a very great deal of inquiry.


Is it not the fact that this particular place was built during the War period at inflated prices?


That is perfectly plain, because it cost about £9,000,000, which, of course, was simply war-time expenditure.


Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the difference between the cost price and the actual price of war equipment when he next makes a speech as to the value of the stores given by us to the Russian monarchical forces?


Is it possible for the hon. Gentleman to say what was the price that the Government paid for the land to the firm who re-purchased that same land at the sale last week?


Obviously, I could not give that without notice. There were 500 or 600 lots in this sale, and it would be quite unfair to give any figure regarding an individual item without investigation.

Lieut.-Colonel HOWARD-BURY

Is not this an example of the success of State trading?


asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether reserved prices were put against the property and plant in the recent auction sale at Gretna; if so, whether he is aware that the steam laundry was sold for £2,850, which the auctioneer declared to be only the scrap value of the machinery; if he has requested an explanation as to why the auctioneer used his official position to deliver himself of partisan political sentiments; and what steps he now proposes to take to safeguard the public interest in the balance of the property and plant still in public ownership?


As regards the first part of the question, a reserve price, fixed after the most careful consideration, was put against every lot of property and plant in the auction sale. The total proceeds of the lots sold exceeded the reserve prices by approximately 8 per cent. The steam laundry was sold for £2,850. It was valued independently on behalf of the Government on a scrap basis, and that valuation was £1,943. As regards the third part of the question, the Government accept no responsibility whatever for remarks of a political character made by the auctioneer during the course of the auction. The question of what is to be done with the unsold property and plant is under consideration.


Is my hon. Friend aware of the statements made by the auctioneer during the sale as reported in the local press, and has he taken any exception to them? Is he aware, for example, that the auctioneer said we did not want any nationalisation, that he was acting for the Treasury and that he had a licence to say what he liked?


I have made inquiry, and the auctioneer stated that while his instructions were from the Treasury, he held an auctioneer's licence, and he proceeded to make remarks of a political character. To these, of course, we have taken exception. Beyond that at the moment I do not know that we can go.