HC Deb 11 April 1967 vol 744 cc960-2
27. Mr. Hastings

asked the Minister of Technology whether he will now review the present system of Government contracting with a view to establishing a viable and flexible system of incentive contract instead of the present adherence to fixed price.

32. Mr. Moonman

asked the Minister of Technology what improvements he is to make in the light of recent revelations concerning the Bristol Siddeley company in liaison and communication between Ministerial cost-estimating staff and specialists in commercial firms engaged in research and development.

Mr. Benn

The improved procedures introduced in the last few years, following the Ferranti case were a factor in bringing the Bristol Siddeley case to light.

Nevertheless, I am considering these and other aspects of contract policy to see whether further changes need to be made. In particular, I intend to continue a close personal interest in contracts matters; to examine the possibility of using contracts clauses to enforce equality of information and post-costing, and of using, to the full such statutory powers as I possess; and to strengthen existing procedures and staffing.

Mr. Hastings

I am grateful to the Minister, but does not he agree that there has been considerable delay both in the Ministry of Aviation formerly and now in his Department in considering this issue, and that the Ferranti affair, the Bristol Siddeley affair and the losses suffered in this industry, which never have any publicity, all result from the present fixed-price system? Is it not time that he considered a sensible and realistic capital-profit ratio and that something was done to bring this matter forward?

Mr. Benn

I shall look at what the hon. Gentleman says. The fixed-price contract, which has been recommended by the Public Accounts Committee as providing incentives to the firm, with post-costing, has great merits, and some of the points which have been suggested, like the one made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) about renegotiation, were positively opposed in the Lang Report.

Mr. Moonman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that enormous advances have been made in the advancement of management techniques, which would go some way to improve communications and avoid perpetuating the errors of the previous Administration?

Mr. Benn

I hope that the new procedures as they develop will give a better and more efficient system which will be of benefit all round.

Mr. R. Carr

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware of the very long time it is taking this Government to make progress? They have had the Lang Report for over two years. I put forward exactly these proposals in the debate on the Plowden Report on 1st February last year, and the then Minister of Aviation said, more than a year ago, that they would be looked into.

Mr. Benn

The right hon. Gentleman is not being fair. A very large number of the Lang recommendations have been implemented. In the one case, post-costing, Lang did not actually recommend it. Complements and staff have increased, and, partly as a result of these procedures, cases have come to light. A great deal has gone on in the last 2½ years.

Mr. Shinwell

As a previous supplementary question remained unanswered, partly because another Question is on the Order Paper, would this not be an appropriate opportunity for my right hon. Friend to answer that supplementary? Do the Government intend to proceed with the project?

Mr. Benn

With great respect to my hon. Friend, he is asking me, on two Questions about costing, a question that will later be dealt with by my hon. Friend. I do not, however, think it would be proper for me to deal with it.