HC Deb 12 July 1977 vol 935 cc351-81

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

10.0 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Some time after the reorganisation of Scottish local government in May 1975, a few local authorities realised that the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 under which the reorganisation took place had unintentionally restricted the activities of their direct labour organisations. In particular, those which, before reorganisation, had worked for all-purpose authorities and had been able to carry out new construction work in connection with all local authority functions could now only undertake such work in connection with the limited functions of the new parent authority. For example, an all-purpose organisation taken over by a region found that it could not undertake works for the new district in the area, even though it had undertaken new construction work in connection with the new district's function.

The Bill does no more than restore to the few organisations which had carried out work immediately before 16th May 1975 on a function which was not transferred to their parent authorities the power again to undertake such work.

When the Dundee District Council, the Fife Regional Council and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities asked us to legislate, the Government envisaged that the problems that I have described would be solved as an incidental effect of the comprehensive legislation on direct labour announced in the Queen's Speech. However, it has not been pos- sible to introduce such legislation, and the Bill is designed to cover a small point which cannot wait until parliamentary circumstances permit the introduction of comprehensive measures.

Although the Bill affects only a few authorities, it is of prime importance if the direct labour organisations concerned are to be used to the best effect. In particular it is desirable to avoid unnecessary redundancies and to ensure the economic use of expensive plant and other resources.

I should emphasise that the Bill imposes no mandatory duty on local authorities to exercise the powers that it confers upon them. Indeed, whether the powers are exercised must depend upon client authorities wishing to award work to the DLO authority concerned, and before awarding such work a client authority would no doubt compare estimates of costs submitted by the DLO with tenders from the private sector. It would also need to take account of the DLO's record and its proven ability to complete work in time and within the estimated cost.

The Bill does no more than restore powers lost in the reorganisation to a few local authorities which, as a result, will be able to operate the same range of functions as previously. It is a moderate, reasonable and desirable Bill.

10.4 p.m.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

The Bill was, in effect, given a Second Reading by the Scottish Grand Committee, and a number of amendments and new clauses were moved during the Committee stage. It is unusual for a Bill involving Scottish hon. Members to go through that procedure and for there still to be disagreement about its fundamental purpose.

If I achieve nothing else tonight, I hope that I shall be able to get the Under-Secretary to admit that the Bill does not simply restore the position but is an extension of the powers of direct labour organisations. The position is clear. Before the Bill becomes an Act, direct labour organisations can work only for their own authorities. In other words, the Glasgow District Council direct labour department can do work in Glasgow and the Dundee District Council direct labour department can do work in Dundee. The direct labour departments can do work only in their own areas. Now, however, the Bill will enable those direct labour departments to do work for other authorities, in this case the regional authorities related to them.

Mr. Harry Ewing

What is wrong with that?

Mr. Taylor

I shall tell the Minister what is wrong with that. If he had been listening to the speeches made in Committee, he would have heard what was wrong with it. The departments will be doing work for another authority in their own area. To the extent that they will be working for another authority, I hope that the Minister will accept that there is a change in principle and a change in the powers of the direct labour departments.

I also hope that the Minister will be able to answer a question which arose out of discussions in Committee. The Bill states clearly in the Explanatory Memorandum: The power to make such agreements". In the course of our deliberations in Committee, it was made clear by the Minister that such direct labour departments would not give a specific tender to the regional authority. As I understand it, it would be unlawful for a department to do so. It would not be able to do so because the direct labour departments had to recover all their costs. The Minister himself said that a direct labour department was simply acting as agent for the regional council. If that is the case—it certainly did not appear to be the case on Second Reading—I hope that the Minister will give me an answer to the question I asked, to which I have not yet had an answer.

Section 56 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 states: Subject to any express provision contained in this Act or any Act passed after this Act, a local authority may arrange for the discharge of any of their functions by a committee of the authority, a sub-committee, an officer of the authority or by any ether local authority in Scotland. If, as appears to be the case from discussions in Committee, the Minister is now saying that a direct labour department is simply acting as agent for the regional council, why is the Bill needed at all? I must say in fairness that the discussions I have had with certain district councils indicate that some of them are of the opinion that the Bill is not necessary for the purpose set out by the Minister, namely, for the local authorities to act as agents. Will the Minister say why, in view of his comments in Committee, Section 56 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act does not cover the question of a DLO carrying out an agency job? I hope he will have something to say about these questions.

It is probably well known that my right hon. and hon. Friends have never liked the Bill, for a number of reasons. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) will no doubt accept that the Bill is a product of the Lib-Lab pact. By itself that might not seem to be too nasty a thing, but I think the hon. Member for Inverness will be aware, if he looks at the Queen's Speech, that the Government originally planned to bring forward a Bill to extend even further the powers of direct labour departments, to bring in powers to ensure fair competition and to ensure proper competition with the private sector. Unfortunately, because of the Lib-Lab pact, the Bill was changed.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)


Mr. Taylor

It was most certainly unfortunate. All the proposed safeguards to preserve free enterprise and all the provisions on fair competition and proper accounting were removed from the Bill. That was certainly most unfortunate, but there was a bonus in that the powers were not extended as far as the Government originally wished. The situation is far from satisfactory since all the safeguards on fair competition are lost and the extension of public ownership is only partly cut back.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

What does this have to do with Third Reading?

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member wishes to intervene, he must rise so that the hon. Member who has the Floor can give way if he wishes. A running commentary from a seated position would not be tolerated in a classroom.

Mr. Taylor

We have just finished a debate on the restoration of discipline and I would have thought that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), being a former teacher, would want to encourage such a move, although he does not give that impression from his activities in the House of Commons.

We are not happy about extending the powers of direct labour because unemployment in Scotland, particularly in the building industry, is serious. Any increase in the powers of direct labour will undoubtedly affect employment in that industry. I can give an example to show what I mean. We were discussing the Second Reading of the Bill on 21st June. It was announced the day before that Angus MacDougall and Company, the Glasgow contractors, had been compelled to pay off 70 men because the Labour-nationalist majority on the council had awarded a contract to direct labour even though the private company had quoted a lower price. The Secretary of State is reconsidering this whole question and will have to give his approval to the award, but that is no consolation to the 70 men of Angus MacDougall who have been paid off because of the irresponsibility of the Socialists and the nationalists on the Glasgow Town Council.

Mr. Canavan

When the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) refers to Socialists and nationalists getting together, is he referring to the same nationalists as he was collaborating with in 1974 in an attempt to get some form of coalition off the ground, and about which he was so reticent to comment at the weekend?

Mr. Taylor

One thing I have never been accused of is reticence to comment. On that occasion I was asked to convey a message, and that message was conveyed. I was very glad to do that. Unfortunately, as with many of my messages, by the time it got there it was too late.

We are deeply suspicious of legislation such as this in view of our experience of direct labour in the municipalities of Scotland. I experienced the system as a councillor in Queen's Park, where we received many indications that in the absence of greater safeguards direct labour was not a sensible way to organise activities, bearing in mind the interests of ratepayers and employees.

In 1969, an independent inquiry into the costs of the Glasgow new works section showed that the section could probably never have built to the price indicated in estimates tendered. The procedures adopted virtually deprived the council of control of its own finances, the report stated. In 1976, 1,055 men in the DLO new works section built 277 houses. The private sector in the same city and in the same situation employed 1,544 men to build over 1,600 houses. That is an output of about one-quarter of a house for DLO employees compared with an output of over one house for private sector employees. Yet another example is the Darnley contract. For nearly identical houses in identical circumstances the DLO price proved to be £9,636 while the private firm quoted £5,921. That was its final price. At the end of 1976, all nine projects which had been carried out by the Glasgow direct works department were late by an average of 11 months, one of them being late by over two years.

It is not only Conservatives who have been complaining. For example, the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), who takes a great interest in Glasgow affairs, will remember that Councillor Neil Stobo, a Labour Glasgow councillor, has referred to the DLO as an inefficient and costly monster.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

How does this arise on Third Reading?

Mr. Taylor

I understood that the hon. Gentleman had a great interest in these affairs. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will remember ex-Councillor Dick Dynes. The hon. Gentleman, like many others, pays Glasgow rates. The departed Dick Dynes said that direct labour costs in Glasgow were the unacceptable face of Socialism. When we have direct labour departments costing so much money—in some instances costing a great deal more than if the works were handled by a private firm—it is extremely dangerous to extend the powers of direct labour unless there are adequate safeguards.

The Minister has suggested that there are safeguards. I hope that careful note was taken of the words he used when introducing the Bill on Third Reading. He said that there was real protection because he hoped that regional councils would pay careful attention to the estimates of the direct labour departments and the tenders submitted by private firms. I think that the Minister has given the whole game away. He is saying that regional councils should consider the tender prices put forward by private firms, which will be for specific amounts, and then consider the estimates of the direct labour department. What happens if the estimates prove to be wrong?

I think that the Minister is well aware that in respect of the Red Cross contract in Glasgow, as well as in other contracts, we have had the unfortunate experience of direct labour estimates being terribly wrong. What happens if that occurs? What happens if the Strathclyde Regional Council takes on a job to build a school at a cost of £1 million or £1½ million on the estimate of the Glasgow direct labour department if the final cost proves to be £3 million or £4 million? In fact, there is no protection.

I hope that the Minister will answer the specific questions I have raised. I hope he will give us some specific assurances. First, will he give us an indication of how he intends to ensure that there is fair competition for jobs if the Bill is enacted? What steps is he prepared to take to ensure that private firms have fair competition with direct labour departments if the Bill becomes law? He seems to be engaged in careful conversation to try to get some advice from his ministerial colleagues. I hope that he will be able to give us a clear answer.

If the Bill becomes law, what safeguards are there for fair competition on the part of regional councils? In the present situation, there is one slight safeguard that applies to some councils—namely, that direct labour departments come under the control of the council's committee, whose members consist of councillors who levy the rate. However, if the Bill becomes law the responsibility will not lie in that area. We find that the Glasgow building department committee, for example, will be responsible for supervising the job and that the Strathclyde Regional Council will be responsible for paying the bill. If it were a case of Tayside and Dundee, the Dundee committee would supervise the building department but it would be the Tayside Regional Council that would pay the Bill.

It is clear that one of the essential safeguards has been removed. A completely new situation is being introduced.

What safeguard is available for fair competition? Secondly, what safeguard is available to the ratepayers concerned, since they will not have the protection that is available at present? Thirdly, is the Minister prepared to initiate changes in the accounting system? He will be aware that those who have supported the changes in accounting proposed by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy have done so in the context of direct labour departments building in their own areas for their own authorities. Now, however, despite that, the Minister will be aware that serious concern has been expressed as to whether the accounts show the proper, full and true position of the actual cost of jobs. The hon. Gentleman must accept that if the Bill is to become law and if we are to have the new factor of direct labour departments building for authorities other than their own, the accounting will become extremely complex. I hope he can assure the House that there will be tighter accounting procedures if the Bill becomes law and if direct labour departments are able to build for councils other than their own.

We are seeking information and assurances. I hope that the Minister can give them to us tonight. He will be aware that in Committee he singularly failed to give us not only the information but the assurances that we were seeking.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

I do not propose to detain the House particularly long. This is a small piece of legislation with limited effect. All possible arguments, and some arguments that rather stretch beyond the possible, have already been deployed and effectively rebutted, both on the one day given to the consideration of principle on 21st June and on the one day given to the Committee stage on 5th July.

The matter has not been more clearly summed up than by the Minister himself when, on consideration of principle, he said: The scope of the Bill is merely to permit those authorities which were doing something before reorganisation to go on doing it after reorganisation. It does not extend their powers. It does not give them any authority to do something they were not doing before reorganisation. Any authority that was not building schools before reorganisation cannot build them now under the terms of the Bill. which has a very limited scope indeed and merely regularises a position which many authorities thought in any case prevailed."—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 21st June 1977; c. 41.] We know that the Government intended to introduce legislation to extend the scope of direct labour organisations, but part of the agreement made with the Liberal Party was that they should not do so, because the Liberals did not in their judgment see any justification for such an extension. Equally, however, we could and can see no reason why the situation obtaining before reorganisation, which had been thought to persist but had not persisted, should not be regularised.

Mr. Teddy Taylor rose

Mr. Johnston

I shall certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman later, because I am assuredly coming to some of the points that he made.

In Dundee and Fife there are two large direct labour organisations which are affected by the Bill and which are also generally recognised to be very efficient DLOs with good reputations. However, that is not relevant to the Bill. We are arguing not for or against the continuance of direct labour organisations but about the correction of a legislative oversight committed by the Conservative Government, who, be it noted, did not at that time seek as part of the reorganisation of local government to abolish existing direct labour organisations.

There are good and bad direct labour organisations. Equally, speaking as a supporter of private enterprise, I would say that good and bad firms engage in the building of schools and houses. Umpteen examples can be quoted of private firms which have landed local authorities with heavy bills. It is not, therefore, of great value to particularise from examples. They are bad. Nobody is denying that. To criticise the whole system, however, makes no sense. Nor do I believe that there is any serious dispute—I have not heard the Minister say that there is—about the recommendation of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy about the accounting and tendering procedures of DLOs.

I accept that it was not realistic or politically sensible for the Government to attempt to do both these things at once or to make such arrangements apply experimentally to the limited number of authorities affected by the Bill.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does the hon. Member accept that we did precious little in the Scottish Grand Committee? If the Liberals wanted fair competition introduced into direct labour organisations, they could have asked the Government for a Bill of that kind. We should not have opposed such a Bill and it would have gone through quickly. We have done little in Committee. There have been many Tuesdays and Thursdays when we have not met. It is nonsense to say that there is no need for this. A Bill could have been introduced to deal with fair competition.

Mr. Johnston

I am not happy to be accused of speaking nonsense. In practical terms, to introduce legislation was not a simple matter. On the contrary, in many ways it was a complicated matter. The Government were right not to attempt to do the two things at once.

It is all very well for the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) to inveigh about this, but his party did nothing about it when it was in Government in the four years from 1970 to 1974. He cannot blame the Liberals for that.

The only other issue raised was the hypothetical question about the possibility of a miscalculation of tender leading to a higher cost of construction than had been anticipated. The hon. Member for Cathcart said that the extra cost would fall upon the constructing authority. The Minister has denied that. He has made it clear that if an extra burden was created in this way it would fall upon the client authority. This risk always exists whether DLOs or private firms are involved. It is part of a local authority's responsibility to try to evaluate these risks and to seek to follow a prudent course. There is nothing strange about that.

I do not agree that this represents an enormous change in principle, as the hon. Member for Cathcart alleges. It is as well that the hon. Member is inhibited by his long-held beliefs about working within the Common Market, because with his capacity to transform molehills into mountains we would be in real trouble. This is a useful, small and practical piece of legislation. It should receive a Third Reading.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) gave a distorted view of the Bill, particularly as it relates to public works as they were and as they are now. Before the reorganisation of local government, the Dundee public works department was equipped and manned to build schools, along with houses and various other things. After the reorganisation of local government, it was prevented even from tendering for its own schools in its own area, because it then came under the Tayside Regional Council.

The hon. Member for Cathcart says that he wants fair competition. How can it be fair competition when the position is as I have stated it? We had a body which had been doing this work, building the schools and so on. It was equipped to do the work, and a great deal of money had been spent on good equipment. It had the staff and it was in every way capable of doing the work. It had built many schools. Then, suddenly, it was prevented, by an oversight within the reorganised local government, from doing so any longer.

That is what the hon. Member calls fair competition. I call it very unfair competition, and it resulted in wasting a valuable public asset. It deprived people who had been employed by the local public works department of the chance to continue in that employment. Incidentally, that is where most of the building workers want to work. That is where they try to get a job first. The conditions are better there.

Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is unfair competition with the law as it stands now. Once the Bill is passed, there will again be fair competition, because the department will be able to tender for the schools for which it previously tendered, namely, the schools within its own area, which are now built and administered by the Tayside Regional Council instead of by the Dundee District Council.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will at least accept that if the Bill becomes law it will not be fair. If the Tayside authority takes on a contract with a private building firm to build a school at £3 million and it costs £6 million, the firm carries the loss, unless the council agrees that there are special circumstances. On the other hand, if the direct labour department ends up by costing the council £6 million, the ratepayers of Tayside have to pay the full burden. I quite accept that in some cases councils are willing to make additional payments, but firms have gone bankrupt by quoting specific prices to local authorities and not being able to meet them. Direct labour departments never go bankrupt.

Mr. Doig

I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman should imagine that he could get away with a statement of that kind.

Mr. James Hamilton (Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household)

He has done it all his life.

Mr. Doig

Ninewells Hospital in Dundee was built by a private firm, That private firm put in an estimate and obtained a contract on the basis of the estimate. It was exceeded by a very large sum of money. Did the firm lose the money? Not on your life. The hospital board had to pay in order to make up the deficit. No one should fool himself that private firms do not make mistakes and do not get compensated for them. When I was treasurer of the city of Dundee, many private building firms put in tenders, subsequently lost money and came back to the corporation begging for a subsidy to make up some of their loss—or sometimes all their loss. We could have said "No" and let them go bankrupt, but what would have happened? It is, in fact, a common practice in the building trade for public money to be spent to make good losses which could not be foreseen at the time by private builders doing public work. It is the public who pay for it. The hon. Gentleman ought to know that. He was in positions in which he should have known it. He carried out investigations into these very contracts.

I wanted to make only a short speech in order to put the record straight. The record is that when the Bill is passed we shall once again have fair competition.

Mr. Teddy Taylor


Mr. Doig

It may well be that, in tendering, a direct works department or a public works department may lose money. Equally, it may be that it will make a profit. Either way, the same group of people will benefit or lose since they carry the risk.

Surely those departments are entitled to the same treatment as private builders so that they can come back and say "This was unforeseen. It was no fault of ours, but it has happened. What are you going to do about it?" It is not fair that the private builders, whom the hon. Member for Cathcart champions, should get better treatment than a public works department.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Cathcart thinks that private builders should be reimbursed for the unforeseeable but that public works departments should not. Is that his attitude? If it is, the House of Commons should know that the hon. Gentleman's attitude is far from fair.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

The one fatal mistake in the argument of the hon Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) was his reference to Ninewells Hospital. That has nothing to do specifically with the Bill. The nature of the contract was the thing in question and the form of contracting used rather than the rights or wrongs of the way in which the particular firm acted. if one is to criticise—I agree that criticism can be made—it should be about the form of contracting used for the job. I hope that the lesson has been learnt.

I make no party political point. I do not know why the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is shaking his head. It was the form of contract rather than what happened subsequently. Many public authorities probably learnt their lesson from that.

I intervene briefy to seek clarification from the Minister on one specific point. However, I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) that in an otherwise excellent speech he made one fatal flaw. He complained about direct works departments because of the extra men they employ and the extra costs. But at a time of high unemployment in Scotland I would have thought that our objective should be to encourage employment. What better way of helping employment in Scotland than by encouraging some of these direct labour departments? That was what my hon. Friend was saying, if one follows his logic through. Therefore, in an otherwise excellent speech, I was rather disappointed to see my hon. Friend fall from his normal high standard of excellence.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is my hon. Friend aware that the leader of the Scottish National Party made exactly the same point during Second Reading? The right hon. Gentleman said that, while there were many criticisms to be made of direct labour departments, one thing he could say was that certainly they did no harm to the unemployment figures.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am glad my hon. Friend acknowledges that fault in his original argument. It was worth mentioning in passing.

I do not share the view of the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). I do not think that we shall be worse off at all with regard to whether the Bill proceeds.

The point that I wish to put to the Minister is this. If, for example, Dundee district direct labour department tenders to build a school for Tayside Regional Council within the boundaries of the Dundee Disrtict Council, and if it put forward too low a tender which is accepted and the school is built, it will be the Dundee direct works department and the ratepayers of Dundee who will suffer from that. In those circumstances, it cannot have its loss made up by the district council. I assume that the direct labour department will operate like a commercial firm, and the Tayside Regional Council can only be better off as the result of a low tender.

But I am concerned by a broader aspect. My constituents are ratepayers of Tayside Region, although not of Dundee district, and they would be justifiably concerned if the direct labour department were given preference even though it did not submit the lowest tender and they therefore had to pay a higher price than was necessary for the work. I hope that I may be assured on that point.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) referred to one lapse of logic in the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). I noticed another. At one point in his prejudiced argument, the hon. Member for Cathcart said that the Bill was not needed. He said that many authorities and officials in Scotland maintained that Section 30 of the 1973 Act allowed them to do this work anyway. So what is he worried about?

Mr. Teddy Taylor rose

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman mounted an argument on that proposition and then attacked the Bill as an extension of powers. Both he and the Under-Secretary said that the Bill makes it clear that authorities like Dundee, which lost powers in the reorganisation are not acting illegally in allowing their direct labour departments to do education and social work, for instance, which they were previously able to do legally.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) was in charge of the 1973 Bill. He must have appreciated that, if this work was illegal, any school not completed or any social work left unfinished would also have become illegal. I am surprised that he did not stop and realise what a foolish procedure that would be.

I understand that Dundee's direct labour department has been working in its own area on some of the things that it was entitled to do before the 1973 Act. All that we are doing is legalising what is happening, and what the previous Government must have wanted to happen.

The hon. Member for Cathcart talked about unemployment and the MacDougall company as against the direct labour department. That position is not affected by the Bill.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Yes, it is.

Mr. Ross

No, it is not, because it is within the power of Glasgow's direct labour department to build houses. That is one thing that we are sure of, because that is its function. We have spent a good deal of time talking about something which is not affected by the Bill. The Bill has a narrow purpose and one which is sensible and logical. I know that the hon. Member for Cathcart is blindly prejudiced against direct labour departments. Yet when he was a Minister and when the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns was a Minister they did not look unkindly on the biggest direct labour department we have in Scotland—the Scottish Special Housing Association, which has been in existence since 1936, mainly under Tory Governments. Those Governments did nothing to prevent the Association from doing useful work.

The Association has exactly the same powers as those in the Bill. For a time it could operate within the area of another authority only with the permission of that authority. It could only operate within Dundee in respect of works carried out by the Dundee regional authority. I wish that the hon. Member for Cathcart would lose some of his prejudices.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

I want to speak briefly on Third Reading because in the course of the passage of the Bill I suffered the biggest disappointment of my parliamentary career. It was extremely upsetting for me when I arrived at Committee Room 14, all keen for the Committee stage, having done my homework, only to find that I was not on the Committee. Hon. Members can imagine the tremendous disappointment I felt and how heartbroken I was.

I was most flatteringly referred to by the Under-Secretary in one of his remarks in Committee. He obviously waited to make sure that I was not on the Committee before he made his comments, otherwise he knows that I would have been able to shoot him down in flames.

The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said that the Bill rectified a mistake that should never have occured in the 1973 Act. But it is right that we should spend a moment looking at what we are doing in the Bill. I have studied the proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee—both of which stages were brief—and I cannot really see that either the Grand Committee or the Standing Committee fully appreciated the point of principle that we are changing in this measure. It is a fairly narrow but terribly important point, particularly at this time because of the very sensitive situation in the construction industry.

The industry has been put into the worst decline almost in our lifetime, and certainly since the war, by the cuts that the Government have made in their programmes because of their financial incompetence. Contractors are tremendously worried, and thousands of construction workers are out of work. It is hardly surprising that there is a very sensitive atmosphere in relation to the direct labour departments question. Yet at this time the Government bring forward this small Bill, watched by their watchdog, the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). It must be very reassuring to the Minister to have the hon. Member for Inverness looking over his shoulder. I can imagine no more reassuring person to keep watch and check up on one than the hon. Member for Inverness.

Before the Bill was introduced, a local authority was perfectly entitled to have a direct labour department if it wanted to I did not try to stop this in the local government reform when I was a Minister, and I do not want to stop it now. It is no part of my argument that there should be no direct labour departments anywhere. Nobody is suggesting that that priciple should be removed. If however, the provisions of the Bill are enacted, the change will mean that the direct labour department of one authority will be allowed to operate in another authority's area. It is a question not so much of area as of function.

By these provisions a direct labour department can be involved in constructing something that is not directly part of its functions but is part of the functions of another authority—for instance, in respect of schools. A direct labour department, even if it is a district council direct labour department, will be able to tender and to construct a school. Since a district council does not have an education function for the building of schools, that is something new. It was not possible before, as I understand it, for a direct labour department to undertake any works that were not for its own functions, never mind where they were.

One can understand why the contracting industry is concerned about this change. Up to now a contractor has had to compete against the direct labour department of the authority for which is was tendering. People are used to that system, and by and large it works, although it contains anomalies. But if the Bill is enacted the contractor will have to compete for a piece of the work not only with the direct labour department of the authority that is commissioning the work but with the direct labour department of another authority. This appears to be an extension of the present power. The Minister may say that it is only a small one, but it could be important. It is an important matter for somebody who is employed as a construction worker in a private firm which is tendering against such a direct labour department and who is in danger of losing his job.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Surely, in practical terms it makes no difference at all. As the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said, in Dundee there is no difference now in regard to a private firm tendering for a school as against the direct labour organisation as it existed when Dundee was a corporation.

Mr. Younger

I hope that the hon. Gentleman, in his new-found position as keeper of the Labour Government's conscience, will appreciate the importance of the difference. The difference is that in that process the direct labour department with which the private firm is competing is not necessarily the firm that is commissioning the work. That direct labour department is in the position of another private firm. For example, three concerns might be interested in the contract—two private firms and a direct labour department which is not the direct labour department of the authority commissioning the work. The Bill will allow that direct labour Department to go into the contracting business by carrying out functions which are not its own functions.

The hon. Member for Inverness may think that it is a good thing, but it is certainly a different thing. It is not what has been happening up to the present. That is why I do not like it.

I have already said that I am not against all direct labour departments. Indeed, if I were elected to a local authority and had to help to run it, I should question the direct labour department very carefully indeed. I should want to see an efficient department—and many of these departments are not efficient. It is not surprising that they are not efficient, because they do not have to face the harsh commercial disciplines that beset private firms.

I do not like this small but important change of principle. I grant the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock that there is a small error to be put right, but it is almost too late to bother. I accept that there was something of an anomaly over work in progress at the time of the changeover, but—I hardly dare say this to the right hon. Gentleman—it is a bit of a lawyer's argument.

Nobody will suggest that even the most assiduous of the excellent civil servants at St. Andrew's House was going to say in August or September 1975 "We have just discovered that this school, which is half-built, should not be being built by this direct labour department. You had better stop. It is against the law." Possibly we should have seen that there was a certain anomaly and put it right then, but it is a small point and one that is now out of date.

Mr. William Ross

The whole Bill concerns a fairly small point, but is the hon. Gentleman telling the House that St. Andrew's House deliberately thought of this as a matter of principle and decided to put "function" instead of "authority"? That is what it comes to. It is indeed a lawyer's argument that we are dealing with.

Mr. Younger

I do not think that the matter was thought of in the way that the right hon. Gentleman would attribute to me. I think that this is the rump of the old Local Authority (Direct Works) Bill, which emanated from the recesses of Transport House and was to be the great measure that would extend the empire of direct labour all over the country. It was clobbered. To be truthful, it never had the faintest chance of going through the House after the Government lost their majority.

Although my natural affection for the hon. Member for Inverness would lead me to bend over backwards to try to give him some credit in the matter, I cannot in all conscience do it because I do not think that the Government ever had the faintest chance of getting such a measure through.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

It was the Tory by-election wins that killed it.

Mr. Younger

Yes. The Tory Party won by-elections at such a rate as to make it impossible for the Government to put the Bill through, but they did not feel that they could abandon it altogether. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman. This small measure must be put through so that in the next month or two, until the General Election, the Government can wave their bit of paper and say "We did something that we said we would do. We passed a Local Authority (Direct Works) Bill." Nobody will inquire whether it was the great and broad measure that it was advertised to be.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

The Liberals supported it.

Mr. Younger

The hon. Member for Inverness, in his charming and effective way, will be able to say that it was his achievement that the Bill went through without all the other things in it.

I have taken a fairly light-hearted and relaxed attitude in some of the things I have said, but I am most unhappy about this small extension of the powers of direct labour authorities. I do not think, and people in the contracting industries do not think, that it is desirable that the sphere of direct labour departments should be extended at all. It may be that some people believe in them and want to see them extended. I respect that belief, although I disagree with them.

Certainly, the direct labour departments' sphere of activity should be extended not one millimetre until they are properly organised and brought to account, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) has spelt out not only tonight but in the other stages of the Bill's progress. There is no doubt in the minds of virtually all who have looked into the matter for many years, including Press commentators, that the accounting system of direct labour departments as it is presented to the public is appalling. Either they are doing a marvellous job and the accounting system is concealing the fact or there are many anomalies and bad and wasteful practices in them. Until those are sorted out, I shall not stand for any extension of their principles—even a small one such as this. I hope that the Minister will think seriously about this, because it is very much against the public interest, including the ratepayers' interest, that it should be so.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher (Edinburgh, North)

Opening this debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) sought assurances from the Minister which had not been forthcoming during earlier proceedings on this Bill. If these assurances are again refused, it will be no good the hon. Gentleman suggesting that this is such a minor piece of legislation that he wonders, perhaps innocently, what all the fuss is about. He hardly fits the role of the maid protesting to her mistress that it is only a small baby. The Minister may be full of good intentions, but that is all the more reason for our taking this small baby very seriously. There are plenty of hon. Members sitting behind the Minister who welcome any prospect of extending the powers of direct labour departments or any other form of central bureaucracy.

Throughout the proceedings on the Bill, the Minister has not only defended the role of direct labour departments, he has been exceedingly fulsome in his praise of them. That has been the hallmark of his contributions in these debates, both on Second Reading and in Committee. I must confess that he has been a little quieter about it this evening. But this praise of direct labour organisations has not been based on the presentation of any facts and figures to support his argument. We are asked to take his word for it that these organisations work well and efficiently, not least the organisation in Dundee, to which he has referred on a number of occasions. Contrary to this, however, the Minister has agreed that legislation would be desirable to put the accounting and estimating operations of direct labour organisations on a proper basis, so clearly there are some contradictions in the Minister's argument when he makes that point.

The basis for accounting procedures recommended by the Chartered Institution of Public Finance and Accountancy in June 1975, just over two years ago, has again been mentioned many times during our debates on this Bill. It was understood on both sides of the Committee that the booklet containing these recommendations would have formed the basis for some recommendations by the Government if they had wanted to try to back up their praise for direct labour organisations by helping them to put their affairs in better order. The Minister skipped any responsibility for this by claiming that there was no time to do it. Yet the booklet was published two years ago.

The Minister appears to be praising direct labour organisations for working within their estimates, when what is happening is that they are operating on a cost-plus basis. It is a system left over from the last war and, one hoped, been forgotten with the last war. It is one which any Minister sharing responsibility for the public purse can commend to this House only if he is careless of his reputation.

The Minister is not normally a careless man, and perhaps even at this eleventh hour he will reconsider his complacency about the way in which direct labour organisations run their affairs and about recommending the extension of direct labour organisations to this House.

We have been extremely disappointed that at this stage of public expenditure cuts, cash limits and letters of intent to the IMF, the Government should seek, even in a small way, to encourage the expansion of this kind of activity. It is an activity which clearly lacks proper financial control. That is especially so when there are efficient private companies and large numbers of unemployed building workers—the people who are suffering from the Government's folly. That point was made by my hon. Friends the Members for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and Cathcart.

On that point, it is worth noting that in Committee the Scottish National Party representative, the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick), did not question the merits of the Bill, but suggested that a contract between local authorities under thise arrangement would seem to be a blank cheque. Perhaps his party's attepts to curry favour with the Glasgow direct labour organisation, despite the burden that that organisation has imposed on Glasgow's ratepayers.

I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) is still with us—just. He seemed to consider that the Bill was a small matter of limited scope, although he must appreciate—having studied the matter previously—that it prolongs an unsound system. This Liberal disinterest is a measure of the effect of the bad company that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues now keep.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) would take the trouble to study the direct labour department of the Greater London Council he would find that it is the most efficient in the world and that it has actually exported its accounting ideas to Washington, Hong Kong and the Scandinavian countries. The hon. Gentleman should take the trouble to study the results that it has achieved.

Mr. Fletcher

I should be happy to study the results of a e GLC direct labour organisation, provided that the hon. Gentleman could give me a proper balance sheet and set of accounts provided by a firm of auditors that would give me confidence that the figures might be reasonably accurate.

The hon. Member for Inverness was also terribly confused about private builders and their claims on local authorities. He should know that the normal claims that private builders make at the end of a contract are in respect of extra work and not because of the lack of profit on the work. If a private company makes a profit it survives, if not it goes bankrupt. The example given by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) was how a contract, even with all the professional people employed on it, could get a private builder into serious difficulties. If a private builder incurs a heavy loss, he goes bankrupt. We do not know whether direct labour organisations make a loss, but we know that they do not go bankrupt. That is a test that they do not have to face.

Mr. Russell Johnston

It is, of course, true that private firms that make such mistakes go bankrupt. However, it is equally true that they are sometimes given assistance by the local authorities for which they have engaged in construction work, for the simple reason that local authorities—with an eye to unemployment and the continuing availability of the facilities of private firms—sometimes take less than the straightforward commercial view of the matter that the hon. Gentleman might wish, but which would increase unemployment and not improve anyone's efficiency.

Mr. Fletcher

That is an option that a local authority may exercise. I should imagine, however, that it would be a rare occasion when a local authority felt that it could be so free with ratepayers' funds as to give gratuities to private firms—and that was what the hon. Gentleman just suggested.

With direct labour organisations the local authorities have no option but to pay up. That is the essential difference and the point that my hon. Friends have been arguing tonight.

I found it unusual that the Chairman of the Committee that considered the Bill should give us on Third Reading the benefits of the opinions that he had held throughout the Committee stage. In fairness, I must say that the hon. Member for Dundee, West gave no indication of his feelings while the Bill was being discussed in Committee.

The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said that the best example of direct labour was the Scottish Special Housing Association. He is probably right. The SSHA produces a balanced sheet, audited accounts and an annual report that we can all read. That distinguishes it from direct labour organisations because they do not produce that sort of information so that the Minister, hon. Members opposite or my hon. Friends can make a comparison between the DLOs and the SSHA. The right hon. Gentleman's analogy does not hold water.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) was denied a place on the Committee—it was taken by me. I did not volunteer and I thought that I would be getting the easy morning. As things turned out, my hon. Friend had the easy morning and I did not. I am glad that he was able to make his important contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart emphasised a number of specific points, including the fact that the Bill provides for a fundamental extension of the powers of certain direct labour organisations. He gave staggering examples, which cannot be ignored. of the low productivity—at the ratepayers' expense—in Glasgow. From his comparisons of productivity in the private sector and in the direct labour organisation, it is clear that ratepayers in Glasgow are having to bear a tremendous extra burden.

The Minister refused to accept amendments in Committee on the accounting and estimating procedures.

Mr. Teddy Taylor


Mr. Fletcher

Indeed, it was shameful. That is not a word that I normally use, but when I am in the company of my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart, it springs to his lips before I can think of another appropriate word.

We want to know what safeguards will exist for fair competition. The council that is paying the bills will not necessarily know the actual cost.

It has been obvious from this debate that we are utterly dissatisfied with the Bill and it is up to the Minister to allay our fears. Our criterion is that there should be no extension of direct labour unless proper safeguards exist for fair competition.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Harry Ewing

As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) made clear, we have been dealing with the reserve team of the Scottish Conservative Party. He said that he was a substitute for the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and, having heard both speeches, I find it difficult to choose between the substitute and the original version.

I intend to be brief, because I spent some time on Second Reading and a considerable time in Committee trying to convince the Opposition Members of the strict limitations of the Bill and the need for it. From time to time, issues arise on which we have to agree to disagree and this is obviously one of those issues. Nothing that I say—however convincing it may appear to other hon. Members—will convince the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and his hon. Friends.

I noticed with interest that when my hon. Friend the Member for West Stir- lingshire (Mr. Canavan) referred to the pact sought with the SNP in 1974, the hon. Member for Cathcart described himself as the message boy. He dwelt at length on the arrangement between the Liberal Party and the Government. I am honest about that arrangement. There is a great maxim in politics that it is better to be kind to people on the way up, as one will usually meet them again on one's way down. The hon. Member for Cathcart is meeting all these people on the way back down, and having been unkind to them on the way up he is now reaping the rewards of his lack of wisdom in that direction.

The Bill is a very restricted measure, as I have explained so often. It merely gives the local authorities concerned—of two we are certain, and they are Dundee and Fife—the power and right to do what they were doing before reorganisation. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) summed the Bill up in that way tonight, as I did on Second Reading.

We were approached by the two local authorities that I have mentioned and by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities asking us to introduce this small Bill in order to correct an anomoly which the hon. Member for Ayr has been trying to convince us tonight was a deliberate mistake. I have seen these deliberate mistakes before. If the hon. Member is now arguing that when he was piloting the local government Bill through he deliberately picked out Dundee and Fife for special treatment for their DLOs, that is a remark that the people in those areas will find most interesting. The hon. Member was seeking to convince us tonight that all the time that the Bill was going through in 1973 the contents of the Bill were understood by him as the Minister in charge of it, and that he knew that the result would be the anomaly that we are now seeking to correct.

Fife direct labour organisation is one of the most efficient in the country. I can assure the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) that it compares easily with the Greater London Council DLO. The hon. Member for Ayr should have a talk with the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) because the Fife DLO was set up with the agreement of the then Conservative Secretary of State For more than an hour we have listened to all the old prejudices against DLOs being peddled by everyone from the hon. Member for Cathcart at one end of the scale to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North at the other.

Mr. Younger

I wish that the Minister had listened to what I said. Surely he cannot imagine that his remarks bear any relation to mine. I did not mention Dundee or Fife or express those views when the Bill went through. Will the Minister address himself to the change of principle embodied in the Bill? I hope that he will comment on that and not invent my speech.

Mr. Ewing

The hon. Member certainly picked out Dundee as an example. He was arguing that Dundee direct labour organisation ought not to have the authority to build a school whereas before reorganisation, as an all purpose authority, it was able to do so. When the Official Report is published tomorrow the hon. Member will find that he mentioned Dundee. I take strong exception to his interrupting me to say that I had misunderstood him when I was listening to his every word.

The question of fair competition—and this links into the question of the lowest tender—was raised. If a local authority does not accept the lowest tender, whether from a direct labour organisation or a private contractor, it must submit its proposal to accept the next lowest to the Secretary of State. 'There is therefore that protection.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) made a telling contribution, drawing on his experience in local government, particularly in Dundee. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan

Smith) asked about a direct labour organisation recovering the cost of a job. We took Dundee as the best example. If Dundee District Council carries out a contract for the Tayside Regional Council it is acting as agent for the regional council. In that respect it has be be reimbursed for the cost of the job. No cost could fall on the Dundee District Council's ratepayers. The direct labour organisation would be working as an agent for the contracting department.

The hon. Member for Cathcart referred to Section 56 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and the rights and powers that the direct labour organisation had. As I explained in Committee, the direct labour organisation is not in itself a function, it is an agency for carrying out a function. It is a local authority's agency for carrying out a function, and that position is covered in Clause 1(1)(a).

All the points that have been made and covered tonight were made and covered in Committee and on consideration of principle. I end with the words that I have used so often—namely, that the Bill does not extend the powers of direct labour organisations.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

It does.

Mr. Ewing

I wish that the hon. Member for Cathcart was unavailable for comment much oftener. He keeps repeating "It does "when in fact it does not. It gives the direct labour organisations of Dundee and Fife authorities the power to do what they were doing before. It does not extend their powers at all.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 99, Noes 105.

Division No. 191] AYES [11.22 p.m.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Cocks, Rt Hon Michael Fletcher, Tad (Darlington)
Armstrong, Ernest Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Forrester, John
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Cryer, Bob Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)
Bates, Alf Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) George, Bruce
Belth, A. J. Dalyell, Tam Golding, John
Blenkinsop, Arthur Davidson, Arthur Hardy, Peter
Bray, Dr Jeremy Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Harper, Joseph
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Deakins, Eric Hooley, Frank
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Dempsey, James Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)
Buchan, Norman Doig, Peter Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Buchanan, Richard Dormand, J. D. Hunter, Adam
Callaghan, Jim (Middlelon & P) Douglas-Mann, Bruce Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)
Campbell, Ian Fadie, Alex Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Canavan, Dennis Evans, John (Newton) Johnson, James (Hull West)
Cant, R. B. Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Carmichael, Neil Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Jones, Alec (Rhondda)
Judd, Frank Richardson, Miss Jo Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Lambie, David Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Lamborn, Harry Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Loyden, Eddie Selby, Harry Ward, Michael
Luard, Evan Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Watt, Hamish
McCartney, Hugh Small, William White, Frank R. (Bury)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) White, James (Polk*)
McElhone, Frank Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
MacKonzie, Rt Hon Gregor Stallard, A. W. Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Maclennan, Robert Steel, Rt Hon David Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
McNamara, Kevin Stewart, Rt Hon Donald Wise, Mrs Audrey
Magee. Bryan Stoddart, David Woof, Robert
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Stott, Roger Young, David (Bolton E)
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Strang, Gavin
Moyle, Roland Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) Mr. James Hamilton and
Noble, Mike Thompson, George Mr. Donald Coleman
Pendry, Tom Tinn, James
Penhaligon, David Urwin, T. W.
Awdry, Daniel Grylls, Michael Peyton, Rt Hon John
Baker, Kenneth Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Price, David (Eastleigh)
Biffen, John Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hannam, John Ralson, Timothy
Bottomley, Peter Hayhoe, Barney Rathbone, Tim
Brooke, Peter Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Brotherton, Michael Hunt, David (Wirral) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Hutchison, Michael Clark Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Channon, Paul Jessel, Toby Rhodes James, R.
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Clark, William (Croydon S) King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Knight, Mrs Jill Shelton, William (Strealham)
Clegg, Walter Lamont, Norman Shersby, Michael
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Langford-Holt, Sir John Silvester, Fred
Costain, A. P. Lawson, Nigel Sims, Roger
Crouch, David Le Marchant, Spencer Skeet, T. H. H.
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Durant, Tony Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stalnton, Keith
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Males, Michael Stanbrook, Ivor
Elliott, Sir William Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stanley, John
Emery. Peter Mayhew, Patrick Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Falrbairn, Nicholas Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Farr, John Mills, Peter Stradling Thomas, J.
Fell. Anthony Miscampbell, Norman Taylor, Teddy (Cathcarl)
Finsberg, Geoffrey Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Tebbit, Norman
Fisher, Sir Nigel Moate, Roger Temple-Morris, Peter
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh, N) Monro, Hector Thomas, Rl Hon P. (Hendon S)
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Moore, John (Croydon C) Trotter, Neville
Fox, Marcus More, Jasper (Ludlow) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Fry, Peter Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Gardiner, George (Reigale) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Wakeham, John
Glyn, Dr Alan Neubert, Michael Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Goodhew, Victor Newton, Tony Wiggin, Jerry
Gorst, John Onslow, Cranley TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Sir. John Gilmour and
Grist, Ian Pattie, Geoffrey Mr. George Younger

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

In view of the very substantial defeat on a major issue of importance—[Interruption.]—will the Secretary of State make a statement? Will the Government accept that tonight we have won a battle for free enterpriseUnterruptiond—a battle against the extension of Socialism—[Interruption.]—and a battle against the extension of direct labour? Will he accept that we have won a battle for fair and free competition? Will the Minister at least give us an assurance that he will never again bring a Bill such as this before the House of Commons unless we have a guarantee of fair and free competition—[Interruption.]—in a free Britain?

Mr. Harry Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House has made a decision which, as democrats, the Government accept. But I say to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), who I understand gave a commitment that there would be no vote on this tonight [Interruption.] I understand that the hon. Gentleman gave an indication that there would be no official vote on this Bill tonight.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

No, never.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

May we have one point of order at a time? Mr. Harry Ewing.

Mr. Ewing

As I said earlier, the House has made its decision and the Government will now have to turn their attention to how they preserve the jobs of hundreds of employees of direct labour organisations. The Government will consider how best they can preserve the hundreds of jobs that will be involved in the constituency of the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) and the jobs that will be involved—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Mr. Harry Ewing.

Mr. Ewing

We shall turn our attention to how we can save the jobs of hundreds of men in East Fife, Glasgow and Dundee—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House is doing itself no credit. We have had a vote on this matter and a decision has been taken. Has the Minister anything further to say?

Hon. Members


Mr. Ewing

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I again make the point that, having accepted the decision of the House, the Government's efforts will now be turned to how they can save hundreds of jobs throughout Scotland.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should just like to deny what the Minister has said.