Have the Government made investigations as to the possibilities of the productive power of these plants for national needs, such as the supply of fuel for aeroplanes and other things connected with national defence?
Yes. I can assure my hon. Friend that the whole circumstances were considered, and after reviewing all the facts the Government decided that the sale could not be postponed.
Is it not a customary thing to suspend or postpone a sale? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the auctioneer who was carrying out the sale pointed out that so many people thought the sale was suspended that they had not turned up? Why did not the Government suspend the sale until they had had full investigations as to the possibilities of the plant?
In reply to the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie), I am afraid I can only repeat that it was the decision of the Government and I cannot add anything to what I have said. As regards the houses not being sold, it would be impossible for me to make any statement as to what is to be done with them. I am afraid it would be impossible to find tenants in that isolated spot.
The average price received for brick houses sold was £324 4s. 6d. at Gretna and £315 10s. 6d. at Eastriggs. The wooden bungalows sold in both townships averaged £43 10s. each. I regret that the average cost of building these brick houses and wooden bungalows is not available, but, if it can be obtained from the accounts for the years 1916–1917 without serious labour, I will let the hon. Member have the figures.
Is it the case that no reserve prices were placed upon the valuable property arid plant disposed of at Gretna; and is it a fact that £2,850 was received for the steam laundry which the auctioneer himself said was only the scrap value of the plant?
If over £300 each was paid for these dwelling-houses, is it not curious there was no demand for letting these houses, since there were purchasers who desired them to live in?
As there is obviously great loss to the taxpayers in these sales will the hon. Gentleman institute some inquiry to satisfy the public as to how they are being conducted?
If I remember rightly, some time ago, every effort was made to let these houses, but in fact, at that time, applications could not be obtained, and it was then arranged to sell the property. As I have already mentioned, in point of fact the prices obtained for the, small houses were surprisingly large. In reply to the question by the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Somerville) I could not offhand say what is the intention regarding the letting of the houses, but I imagine that they must have been bought for occupation.
I cannot say whether any of the house property has been sold since the sale, but, one plant was sold subsequent to the sale. As regards the question of an inquiry, the position will be reviewed by the Government almost immediately. I ought to state to the House that while more than £100,000 was realised at Gretna, only a small fraction of the property was sold.