HC Deb 25 July 1939 vol 350 cc1227-30
24. Sir Arnold Gridley

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that military camps are being erected under contract terms on a cost plus percentage basis; that contractors are employing men at rates exceeding the standard trade union rates and which exceed the rates paid to permanent employés in the districts; and whether he can make a statement on this matter?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

Most of the contracts for the larger Militia camps were placed on the basis of prime cost plus a fee for profit, overhead expenses and the use of certain tools. Most of the smaller camp contracts are on a fixed price basis, or on a cost basis with the contractor's remuneration calculated as a percentage of an estimate of the prime cost. The cost plus percentage of cost basis has been used in one exceptional case only. The cost plus fixed fee contracts contain a stipulation that rates in excess of those for the time being awarded by the wage fixing machinery of the building industry shall not be paid. I am aware that, in order to provide the necessary labour, "exceptional margin" rates, higher than those normally payable in the districts, concerned, have been fixed by the industry for some of these camps but I have learned of only one case in which the rates of wages, etc., paid were in excess of those required by the working rules of the industry, and immediate steps were taken to have the wages reduced in that case.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in certain areas where these camps are being erected the inflation of wages has caused much local difficulty in other employments?

Mr. Ellis Smith

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that it is very unfortunate that he made use of the phrase that wages would be reduced? It is obvious that this is an inspired question, but will the right hon. Gentleman remember that it is the modern idea that where excess rates are paid they get the best results and the greatest amount of co-operation?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I was not aware that this was an inspired question, although inspiration may take strange forms, but the wages are fixed by the industry itself.

Mr. Shinwell

Is there any reason why the wages should not be in excess of those in a particular wages agreement and by what right does the right hon. Gentleman take steps to bring about a reduction?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

To pay the higher wages would be a breach of an agreement with the industry, and of course we wish to observe it, so that the fair system may prevail both for those concerned and also for the taxpayers.

Mr. Fleming

Will my right hon. Friend consider investigating the rumours going around in Manchester that at Kinmel Park, in North Wales, wages are being paid at the rate of £7 and £8 a week to unskilled workers?

Mr. De la Bè

re How do these wages compare with the soldier's wages?

29.Mr. Gordon Macdonald

asked the Secretary of State for War by what method firms are asked to tender for Government work; whether all reputable firms in the area in which the buildings are to be erected are invited to tender; or whether the invitation is only sent to certain firms both inside and outside the area?

30.Captain Sir William Brass

asked the Secretary of State for War what procedure is adopted in asking for tenders by contractors for the building of camps for militiamen, in order that competitive prices are submitted to his Department?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

The normal method of placing contracts for War Department building services is by competitive tendering amongst firms selected from those noted on the Department's list of contractors. The selection of firms for any particular tendering depends upon the locality, nature and size of the work, and aims at including firms both inside and outside the area concerned which are considered from the Department's records most likely to quote economical prices and to carry out the work satisfactorily and punctually. In the case of Militia camps, it has been necessary to dispense with competition in a few cases owing to the extreme urgency of the work, but otherwise the usual procedure has been followed.

Mr. Macdonald

Is the Minister aware that there is much suspicion among many firms in various districts with regard to the method which is now adopted and will he take steps to include more firms on the selection list?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

If the hon. Member will be kind enough to tell me where that suspicion prevails I will certainly look into any suggestions that are made.

Mr. Macdonald

One place is Wigan and district.

Sir W. Brass

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable dissatisfaction among local contractors, who consider that they ought to be allowed to tender, instead of its being confined to the very big contractors, who then subcontract to the local people?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

My hon. and gallant Friend will be aware of the great urgency there is in this matter. I am sorry if that feeling should prevail, but if my hon. and gallant Friend will give me any particular instance I will with pleasure look into it.

35. Mr. Gallacher

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that men employed on War Office work by Messrs. Chivers, on Salisbury Plain, are working overtime that, in some cases, brings their working week up to 70 hours; and whether he will take steps to see that all work done in connection with building hutments for militiamen, with ammunition dumps, etc., will be carried through without overtime so that the unemployed may receive additional chances of employment?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I am aware that men working for Messrs. Chivers on contracts for hutted camps for the Militia have been working a considerable amount of overtime owing to the speed with which this work must go forward. I cannot undertake that urgent building services shall be carried out without overtime, but it is the practice, except in contracts of great urgency, to impress on contractors the desirability of working ordinary time only, and of providing increasing labour by employing additional hands. Messrs. Chivers actually need 1,000 extra carpenters, and are advertising extensively for them.

Mr. Gallacher

Will the Minister not make inquiries to find out whether there is any opportunity of employing men as labourers from among the unemployed?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I have said that there is a shortage of labour there, and naturally we are glad to be able to employ anybody who is suitable.

Mr. Gallacher

Is the Minister not aware that there are many labourers among the unemployed there?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I do not know whether the trade unions would welcome unskilled men to do skilled work.

39. Mr. Ritson

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will appoint a representative to meet the hon. Member for Durham at the contractor's works near Durham to inquire into the number of hours per day the men are compelled to work?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

Yes, Sir, provided that the contractor raises no objection to the hon. Member's proposal.

Mr. Ritson

Why leave it in the hands of the contractor? May I repeat the question I put before? This was a deputation of ex-service men who had been out of work for years. Why accept the word of the contractor, who is interested in the matter.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

I think I have tried to help the hon. Gentleman. I have done a considerable amount of research to get him the figures, which did not tally with the information which he had. I have now told him that, with the contractor's consent, I have no objection to his visiting the works and examining the books. The contract provides for examination of the wages sheet by a military officer; that is the only right I have under the contract. I propose to ask the contractor that the hon. Gentleman may also examine them and I am not expecting any difficulty. I hope the hon. Gentleman will realise that I am trying to help him.