HC Deb 21 December 1983 vol 51 cc413-4
3. Mr. Pike

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will consider giving direct labour organisations the right to tender for grant work in the private housing sector.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Ian Gow)

No, Sir.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister not accept that many cowboy firms are making a lot of money out of grant work and are doing shoddy work? If direct labour organisations were allowed to tender for such work that would produce better results for the householder and ensure good value for public money.

Mr. Gow

No. Our policy of introducing more competition will best serve the people whose houses need repair.

Mr. Robert S. Jones

When considering this matter, will my hon. Friend also take into account the price of DLO annual reports? Some local authorities are charging up to £25 for such reports, which puts them well beyond the means of the ordinary ratepayer, to whom this section of the Act was supposed to apply.

Mr. Gow

I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. O'Brien

Given that a number of direct labour organisations now operating on the tender basis can return a profit and that their reports are available to ratepayers, does the Minister agree that they ought to have the opportunity to tender for work outside local government —for example, private sector housing and hospital work?

Mr. Gow

No, Sir. It is not the business of local authorities to be involved in work as general builders. I am satisfied that the present system of competition is working satisfactorily.

Mr. Terlezki

Does my hon. Friend agree that the direct labour organisations should concentrate on doing a good job for the local authorities before they compete with the private sector?

Mr. Gow

I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is what I said in my earlier answer.

Mr. Fatchett

If the Minister is so confident about the efficiency of private building firms, and so firm in his often-stated belief in competition, what does he have to fear if he allows the DLOs to compete in the way suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike)?

Mr. Gow

I fear for the best interests of the ratepayers, who would be likely to have to pay higher rates as a result.

Mr. Heffer

Is it not time that the hon. Gentleman and his Government stopped their dogmatic and sectarian opposition to DLOs? Is he not aware that DLOs all over the country have done a good job for the local ratepayers? Is he not also aware that DLOs today are, on the whole, the only bodies creating apprentices, while at the same time we hear from certain people in the industry, in certain areas, that they cannot find enough skilled labour because the cowboys have taken over? Is it not time that the DLOs were given an opportunity to tender, as my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) asked?

Mr. Gow

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, and he is not one who should talk about dogma and sectarianism.