HC Deb 18 March 1965 vol 708 cc1469-70
Q2. Mr. Dodds

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the effect of the proposals set out in the eight-page circular, about which his predecessor told the House on 16th May, 1956, designed to ensure greater care in ordering supplies by Government Departments and the setting up of suitable administrative machinery to ensure that Departments and public bodies made the best possible use of Government surplus stocks before they were offered at public auctions; and what proposals he has to make to give the maximum protection to the taxpayers' interests in this connection.

The Prime Minister

Following the 1956 statement to which my hon. Friend refers, these matters have been kept under review, and the provisioning and procurement arrangements of Government Departments have been continuously and substantially improved.

Mr. Dodds

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has just said. Is he aware that what now appears to be happening indicates that we have not learned any real lessons from the scandals of surplus goods following the war? Is not he aware that it seems as if the only beneficiaries then, as now, are the ringers and that the loser is the nation, which certainly is not getting the deal it should expect? Will he have another look at this?

The Prime Minister

There are two problems to which my hon. Friend refers. One is the one referred to in his Question, namely, the problem of identifying surplus spares and surplus stores in the hands of Government Departments, seeing that they are not excessive, and seeing that they are offered to other Departments. I think that the fact that this has been put on to a computer basis and is progressively being further done in that way will help to stop the excessive stock holding which is perhaps inevitable in any large organisation, especially in relation to the Services, on which I think the Comptroller and Auditor-General has just reported to the House. With regard to the method of disposal, I have answered Questions from my hon. Friend and other hon. Members and, as he knows, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is discussing this with the trade in order to get some reform in a situation where reform is urgently needed.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are still 100,000 balaclava helmets in stock? What does he propose to do about them?

The Prime Minister

I am always prepared to consider applications. I think that hon. Members who have studied the Reports of the Public Accounts Committee over recent years will be able to draw on those Reports for even more striking examples of some of the stocks which have accumulated in Service Departments.