HC Deb 16 February 1983 vol 37 cc275-6
1. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what fees have actually been paid to the consultants Travers Morgan Ltd. for their work on the Serpell report.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Howell)

Payments to date amount to nearly £370,000 inclusive of disbursements and VAT. Final accounts have not yet been received.

Mr. Whitehead

As over half the costs of the Serpell inquiry have gone in lucrative fees to the consultants Travers Morgan, would not the right hon. Gentleman consider it unwise to pay any further sums that may be outstanding to the firm, as many Opposition Members and others in the country believe that—inadvertently or not—he breached the guidelines in the code of practice with regard to seeking a sufficiently wide source of assistance and advice for such a committee? Many of us believe that this matter should go to the Public Accounts Committee.

Mr. Howell

There is no question of a breach of the code of practice. The hon. Gentleman will see that page 5 shows that the procedures were strictly followed. The payments to Travers Morgan are strictly and closely audited and checked; and, of course, the PAC has a perfect right to look at them.

Mr. Dover

Is my right hon. Friend aware that several Conservative Members welcome the very quick findings of the consultants Travers Morgan and consider the fees paid to be a mere trifle compared with the enormous savings that will be possible?

Mr. Howell

It is true, as my hon. Friend points out, that the report identifies savings in excess of £200 million. Therefore, it is clearly worth while getting good and thorough complex financial and engineering studies.

Mr. Cryer

Is not the total cost paid out to two firms of consultants, which had two members on the Serpell committee, in excess of £500,000? Is it not curious that, although the Secretary of State always rabbits on about competition, these consultants were chosen without any competitive tendering whatsoever, contrary to the general rules of conduct applying to such business?

Mr. Howell

As I have said, the consultants were chosen not contrary to, but in accordance with, the code of practice laid down for their procurement. In this case, it was clear that there was a need to make rapid progress—as was strongly urged by British Rail—with complex financial and engineering studies. The consultants were chosen because they could give prompt backing to those selected to help with the review.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Can the Secretary of State cite one other case in which companies that have provided a consultancy service to a committee of inquiry have had their senior partners appointed to it? Where is that specified in the rules that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned?

Mr. Howell

There are precedents for the employment of consultants whose partners are committee members, and I shall let the hon. Gentleman have details— [Interruption]—if he so wishes. The rules for the employment of consultants make it clear that in exceptional circumstances an approach to a single firm may be made.

Mr. Ron Lewis

If, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the inquiry will save hundreds of millions of pounds, how does he intend to proceed?

Mr. Howell

We had a full debate in which I answered that question and implied that British Rail was being urged to seek the savings—well in excess of £200 million—that were identified in the Serpell report.