HC Deb 04 February 1969 vol 777 cc195-6
18. Mr. Kenneth Baker

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works how many contracts for new construction work were let by his Department in 1968 to building firms employing between 100 and 500 men; and what percentage they represented of the total number of contracts let by his Department.

Mr. Mellish

This information cannot be obtained without the expenditure of a disproportionate amount of staff time.

Mr. Baker

Would the Minister care to reconsider his Answer? If he published this information, it would, I think, allay some of the fears and suspicions, which are probably unfounded, that medium building companies are not getting a fair crack of the whip.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. On a previous Question he bitterly complained about the amount of statistics. Then he asks what he regards as an honourable question and wants more information. I am simply saying that there is a limit, which I think we have reached, in asking many of these firms for the sort of information which the hon. Gentleman wants.

Mr. Costain

We enjoy the right hon. Gentleman's little bit of humour about the statistics, but does not he realise that the medium builder is having a very tough time at the moment? [Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Members should laugh at the plight of the small builders. In selecting tenders, would it not be well for his Department to give some encouragement to small firms?

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Gentleman knows only too well that one of the reasons why smaller and medium builders are in trouble is that some of the very large firms are doing far more of the work than they used to do. The point about information is perfectly fair and I should be prepared to make the effort to get the information, but I resent the fact that, when I try to obtain information, questions are asked by hon. Members opposite in which they complain about the amount of staff I am employing to get it.