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Type A Houses (Tenders)

Volume 148: debated on Wednesday 9 November 1921

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asked the Minister of Health whether, in view of the figures showing that the tender prices for building houses of type A submitted to his predecessor for the month of March were on the average £128 less than the figures for the previous month, he has now considered the statement of the Director-General of Housing, as reported in the Press of 19th July, to the effect that until his predecessor, as Minister, left office, prices were soaring higher and higher almost weekly; and what action he proposes to take in connection with the issue of this statement by an officer of his Department?

The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. The particular statement of the Director-General of Housing to which my right hon. Friend alludes proved to be incorrect in the light of fuller information afterwards at his disposal. I would, however, observe that the average price for class A houses in approved lump sum tenders submitted in December, 1920, was £823; in March, 1921, £693; in June, 1921, £687; and in September, 1921, £596. The total number of these houses in approved tenders up to March, 1921, was 36,166, and up to September, 1921, 37,942. The policy of limiting construction, accepted by my right hon. Friend before leaving office but subsequently so strongly criticised by him, certainly contributed to bring down prices, but it remains true that one main cause of inflation of prices was his action in approving contracts for a large number of this and other types of houses at very high prices far in advance of the facilities available at the time for construction. I think the statements of the Director-General have been broadly correct, though this particular statement was not so, and I do not pro- pose to take any further action in regard to a gentleman who is in an honorary capacity rendering service of great value to the State.

In view of the fact that this gentleman has been in the Department for a considerable time, and has had access to the figures, which show that the reduction in the time of his predecessor was much greater than at any time since, do I understand from that answer that the right hon. Gentleman seeks either to excuse or justify the issue by an officer of his Department of a grossly false statement?

If my right hon. Friend reads my answer he will see that I admit, that this statement was made by the Director-General—who has not been in the Department for a considerable time—and that the statement was incorrect. I have admitted that, and I do not see what further action my right hon. Friend asks me to take. I certainly do not propose to take any.

Why was this gentleman, who is, I presume, a civil servant, able to make this public statement? Is he not bound by the same rules as other civil servants?

I have pointed out that the Director-General is acting in an honorary capacity, and is not a civil servant. He is giving his very valuable services for nothing at all in order to assist me to secure economies in housing, and he has been extremely successful in doing so.

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that this gentleman could have ascertained the facts inside of five minutes by going to the Finance Branch; and am I to understand from the further remarks of the right hon. Gentleman that he, in any way, seeks to excuse this false statement?

I have already given an answer to that. I do not excuse the statement. I said the statement was incorrect. It is admittedly incorrect, and I do not see what more I can say in the matter. I am entirely justified in refusing to take any further action or to give up the great services which this gentleman is rendering to the State, even if he has made some incorrect statement about the right hon. Gentleman.