HC Deb 05 August 1942 vol 382 cc1012-3
16. Mr. Leslie Boyce

asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware that local firms of building and civil engineering contractors have given undertakings at the request of the Government, both directly and through the Builders Emergency Organisation, regarding their ability and capacity to carry out large contracts; and why these firms are being ignored by his Department and preference given to large financial firms and their subsidiaries?

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Planning (Mr. Hicks)

I have been asked to reply. I am aware that assurances have been given regarding the ability and capacity of local firms of building and civil engineering contractors to carry out large contracts and careful attention is paid to these assurances. I am informed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air that local firms judged capable of executing these contracts within the requisite time are not ignored and preference is not given to large financial firms and their subsidiaries.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

How is it then that large firms obtain all the contracts?

Mr. Hicks

The answer is that they do not obtain all the contracts.

24. Mr. Boyce

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Planning whether he is aware that at a recent building and civil engineering conference, over which the Minister himself presided, an undertaking was given on behalf of His Majesty's Government that the resources of the medium-sized firms of contractors would be utilised by the Government; that effect has not been given to this undertaking and that the placing of many Government contracts has since been confined to a few large firms, mostly from the Metropolitan area; that in some such cases the contracts have been let under preferential conditions differing materially from those relating to smaller contracts; and whether he will take steps to ensure that the above undertaking is complied with in future?

Mr. Hicks

My Noble Friend is making the fullest possible use of the medium-sized - firms in the building and civil engineering industries, both as main contractors and as sub-contractors, and is giving personal attention to the steps necessary to ensure that this policy is followed. I can assure the hon. Member that there is no foundation for the suggestion that contracts are confined to a few large firms. Further, it is not the policy of my Department that any essential difference should exist between the conditions of contract applied to large and small works. There is in existence an Industrial Advisory Committee consisting of building and civil engineering contractors, building and civil engineering operatives representing nationally their respective bodies who are in closest touch with my Ministry upon the fullest utilisation of contractors and their industrial capacity, also contracts and their allocation. My Ministry already invariably uses the services of the Works and Buildings Emergency Organisation in regard to the preparation of all tender lists for medium-sized contracts. My Minister is inviting other Departments to follow this practice and we shall also in future consult them generally in regard to the effect on their area of the larger works.

Sir Patrick Hannon

Is the list of medium and small contractors and subcontractors eligible to undertake work under the Ministry now closed, and can such firms tender for work when available?

Mr. Hicks

There is no closed list. A register was taken of the whole of the builders and civil engineering contractors last year. They all had ample time to register, and, as far as I know, they did all register. If there is any doubt about anyone who is eligible to go on the register, we should be quite willing to accept him. They get an opportunity to tender for work as occasion arises.

Mr. Mathers

Has the Minister investigated charges that, where large firms have succeeded in obtaining contracts, they have not been able to proceed with them until they borrowed plant from the smaller firms with whom they were competing for the contract?

Mr. Hicks

That is a totally different question.