HC Deb 21 March 1961 vol 637 cc181-2
7. Mr. W. Clark

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs whether, in view of the increase in building operatives employed by local authorities between 1951 and 1959, he will initiate an inquiry to ascertain from local authorities the total value of work carried out by direct labour forces in 1951 and 1959.

Mr. Brooke

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works already collects information from which it is possible to estimate the cost of work carried out by direct labour forces in Great Britain. The figure was about £107 million in 1951 and £200 million in 1959. This represented, in each case, 8 per cent. of all building and civil engineering work carried out during the year.

Mr. Clark

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the grave disquiet amongst ratepayers throughout the country because local authorities have these direct labour forces? Does not he agree that a reduction in the numbers of these labour forces and in the amount of work they do would be a step in the right direction towards halting this creeping nationalisation of a major industry?

Mr. Brooke

It is important to distinguish between direct labour forces used for maintenance work, much of which could be done only with difficulty otherwise, and direct labour forces used for new construction. The remedy in every case rests with the ratepayers themselves at local government elections.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in many cases direct works departments are saving the ratepayers hundreds of thousands of pounds? Is he aware that on one contract alone in Salford £130,000 was saved, and that, when one also takes into account interest over sixty years, the total comes to over £500,000? Is he also aware that the job of building 700 flats in this case was completed not in three years but in eighteen months?

Mr. Brooke

There is a great deal of argument about this. Many people tell me that direct labour saves money, while an equal number—if not a larger number—tell me that it wastes money.