HC Deb 17 February 1958 vol 582 cc853-5
38. Mr. C. R. Hobson

asked the Paymaster-General what general direction he has given to the Central Electricity Authority and the area boards concerning the allocation of contracts and sub-contracts to firms whose personnel are associated with the Central Electricity Authority and area boards.

Sir I. Horobin

None, Sir. The award of contracts is a matter within the commercial discretion of the boards. Board members are, however, required by the Minister's regulations to disclose their interest in any contract made or proposed to be made by the Board, and not to take part in any deliberation or decision of the Board with respect to contracts where they have an interest. Officers of the Board are subject to ordinary commercial practice.

Mr. Hobson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that work formerly done by electricians employed directly by the London Electricity Board is now being performed by the Maybridge Construction Company, of which the major shareholder is head of the London Electricity Board's contracting department? Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that this is in accordance with the best interests of the London Electricity Board, and is this one of the matters to be referred to the inquiry which his noble Friend has set up?

Sir I. Horobin

As already announced, my noble Friend, in agreement with the chairman of the London Electricity Board, has decided to have an investigation into the special contracting department of the Board to which the hon. Member refers. I am sure all hon. Members will be glad to know that an inquiry is being made by Messrs. Deloitte, Plender, Griffiths and Co., than whom there could be no more satisfactory persons to undertake the inquiry. In all the circumstances, I think it would be best to await their report before making any further comment.

Mr. Robens

Is it proposed to make the inquiry public so that the House might have the opportunity to discuss it, in view of the fact that the Minister has been the deciding factor in having the inquiry set up?

Sir I. Horobin

The inquiry itself is not of a type which it would be possible to make public, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the report will be made public.

Mr. H. Morrison

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this incident, which has been brought to the public notice by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. C. R. Hobson), is causing a great deal of public concern? Is this incident not something which ought not to be possible? Will the hon. Gentleman consider making regulations whereby any officer or employee of the Board will also have to declare his interests in any concern which has or may have contracts with the Board? Is it not profoundly important for the reputation of publicly-owned industries, or privately-owned industries for that matter, that this sort of thing should be impossible?

Sir I. Horobin

I have a great deal of sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman's observations, but I think it would be best at this stage to await publication of the report before going into matters which may or may not turn out to be relevant. In fairness to all the persons concerned, I hope that we shall await this report and, in this case at least, receive the inquiry's decision, whatever it may be, with the fairness which we like to associate with these matters in this country.

Mr. Shinwell

Would it not surely be desirable, in order to remove any suspicion regarding the activities of those employed either by the London Electricity Board or any other area board associated with the electricity supply, that the Minister should issue a general direction, which under the Act he is entitled to do, intimating that on no account should anybody in the employ of any of the boards be associated with any private company undertaking any contracts on behalf of that board?

Sir I. Horobin

I do not think I can usefully add at this stage to what I have said. That may or may not be the outcome of the inquiry, but it would be unfair, to put it on no other ground, to the boards of these nationalised undertakings for the House now to assume that they have not done what they ought to have done. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is admitted."] With respect, it is odd that I should have to defend these great nationalised boards from hon. Members opposite. Hon. Members must not take it as admitted that the London Electricity Board has not carried out its duties properly. Until we find reason to the contrary, which may or may not arise from this report, it would be very wrong for the House to pursue the matter further.