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Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd.

Oral Answers to Questions — Technology – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th March 1968.

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Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West 12:00 am, 18th March 1968

asked the Minister of Technology whether, in the light of the findings of the Wilson Committee of Inquiry into affairs concerning Bristol Siddeley Engines Limited, he will initiate similar investigations into all contracts completed by that company for Government Departments over the last 10 years.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I have asked Rolls-Royce to provde a statement showing the costs and profits resulting from all contracts placed by the Department with Bristol Siddeley Engines Limited between 1st April, 1959, and 31st March, 1967.

I should add that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have received from Sir Roy Wilson an amendment to paragraph 177 of his Committee's Report, which referred to the firm's general level of profitability from 1959–60 to 1962–63. This amendment reduces the statement of overall profit on Departmental business, with taxation items excluded, from 29·2 per cent. on cost, equivalent to 36·5 per cent. on capital employed, to 22·2 per cent. on cost, equivalent to 27·8 per cent. on capital employed. A corrigendum slip will be attached to all undistributed copies of the Report. Copies of this slip are being made available in the Vote Office.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

That is a very complicated Answer which will need careful study by the House. Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that, if it transpires that this company has been deceiving the civil servants and robbing the taxpayers, he will not hesitate to claw back as much as he possibly can?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I dealt with that in my original statement, and I understand that the Public Accounts Committee is seized of the problem. I apologise for the complexity of the second part of my Answer, but there was this amendment to be made and I thought it right to take the opportunity to notify the House.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how the error arose? Obviously, it is of great importance on the question of the credibility to be attached to the figures in the Report as a whole.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I understand that there was a misunderstanding of some figures given—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—a misunderstanding of some figures given. It does not alter the findings in the Report. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity, when he has studied the matter, to assess the significance of it for himself.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Bristol North West

Does my right hon. Friend realise that, whatever the Public Accounts Committee may be seized of—to use his words—the House as a whole does not know what the Public Accounts Committee is doing, and he should pursue his Departmental investigations, whether he proposes to make further evidence available to the Attorney-General or not?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

As the House knows, I am pursuing my own investigations. When we have a debate on the matter, I shall have more to say about them myself.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Bristol North West

asked the Minister of Technology what action he has taken, and what is now the position with regard to the two additional matters referred to in paragraph 229 of Sir Roy Wilson's inquiry, one an established case of wrongly charging and the other a case referred to in the Report as suspected double charging.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

Both the matters referred to in paragraph 229 of the Report following Sir Roy Wilson's inquiry are now being closely investigated by my officials and the company. Investigations are not yet complete. The firm has so far repaid £51,000 on account of work charged to the wrong contracts.

Photo of Mr John Ellis Mr John Ellis , Bristol North West

Will my right hon. Friend see what he can do, so that when we have the full debate on Bristol Siddeley we may clear up all the outstanding points at the same time? The matter is doing damage to the aircraft industry. We want it sorted out as soon as we can. Will that be possible?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

That is what I hope, but it depends partly on when the House wants to have a debate. There is some advantage in allowing these investigations to be completed before the debate takes place.

Photo of Mr Eric Moonman Mr Eric Moonman , Billericay

As one of the reasons given in the report by Bristol Siddeley was that there was a need for excessive profits because of the scale of research and development, would my right hon. Friend now give instructions that on all Government contracts there should be clear specifications as to what this is?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I do not think that the question of the rate of profit necessary over the range of Government business to sustain R. and D. has anything whatever to do with intentional misrepresentation to the Government on contracts that are signed.