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Personal Statement

Volume 480: debated on Monday 13 November 1950

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a personal statement. In the housing debate on Monday, 6th November, the Minister of Health, referring to myself, said:

"But, after he has left them,"
that is Kirk & Kirk Ltd.

"his colleagues are building the house"—
and here the Minister referred to the B.S.C. house—
"satisfactorily in competition with traditional building, whereas he is building power stations."
The facts are these. I resigned from Kirk & Kirk Ltd on 30th January, 1950. The present managing director of Kirk & Kirk Ltd. informs me they did not build a single B.S.C. house after my resignation or, for that matter, before it, so the Minister's statement was inaccurate.

Secondly, in column 646, the Minister said:
"Therefore, it was not possible for the Ministry of Health finally to have given any such guarantee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 645–646.]
He was referring to guarantees by the Ministry of Health to Kirk & Kirk Ltd. of orders for B.S.C. houses. On 30th May, 1946, the Ministry of Health wrote to Kirk & Kirk Ltd., as follows:
"… You would then undertake to build up to 1,200 houses …"—
I omit a few irrelevant words—
"If so, we would be ready to induce local authorities to enter into such contracts with you up to this programme."
Because the Ministry wanted Kirk & Kirk Ltd. to build B.S.C. houses, and in view of the Ministry's written assurance, as well as other verbal assurances, Kirk & Kirk Ltd. built a special factory costing £80,000 in which to prefabricate the house. But, owing to a change in Government policy, it proved impossible to get enough orders for the B.S.C. house to put the factory into production. The Ministry's assurances were not implemented. Without sufficient orders, the company was forced to abandon the project and to sell the factory and machinery. There was no alternative. And money was lost on the sale of the special plant and machinery, with no compensation received from the Ministry.

This inevitable decision was not my own personal decision but a collective and unanimous decision of the board of directors of the company. Even if the Minister's attack was well founded, it should have been directed, not against myself personally, but against the board of directors as a whole, which, at that time, consisted of three members. The two ordinary directors, with equal voting rights, were a Mr. Drewery and myself. The chairman, with a casting vote under the articles of association, was the right hon. Gentleman the Socialist Member for Leeds, South-East (Major Milner), who is Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means.

The House is very well aware of the convention that, when one hon. Member has made a statement which casts undeserved slurs on another hon. Member, the Member casting those slurs should unreservedly withdraw. I did not know the statement which the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) was going to make because I did not see a copy of it—I make no complaint about that—but the substance of my charge against the hon. Member is left untouched. The substance of my charge was that he was engaged in negotiations with the Ministry of Health for the construction of a house that involved an additional subsidy when, in point of fact, he had abandoned any attempt to construct that house and was now engaged in civil engineering.

A personal statement can be just shortly answered. It cannot be the occasion of a substantive debate.

Then I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that as the hon. Member's statement was a long statement, involving relationship within companies, the hon. Member should take an opportunity of raising the matter in a debate and I will reply.

We cannot pursue the matter further. Erskine May is very clear indeed that these sort of statements are apt to lead to an irregular debate. There is no question before the House. The hon. Member was entitled to make a statement and the right hon. Gentleman may answer it shortly, but we cannot debate the matter further. We cannot pursue what anybody else has said. That can be left to another occasion, but not now.

On a point of order. Is it not usual, Mr. Speaker, when an hon. Member has made a statement, with your approval, involving the integrity of a Minister, as in this case, that the Minister is entitled to have an opportunity of replying to such a charge, instead of such charge being allowed to remain unanswered?

It does not involve the integrity of a Minister. The Minister, in the opinion of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), was misinformed and he wanted to make his own views clear. That is what a personal statement is for. This statement was carefully scrutinised—it was screened, if I may use the expression—and was perfectly in order.

Since my name has been brought into this matter by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples)—for what purpose I do not know—I think it should be made quite clear that I resigned any office with that company quite a long time ago.