HC Deb 20 June 1950 vol 476 cc1055-7
37. Mr. Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware that local authorities are experiencing difficulty in obtaining timber and other essential building material; that in Ayrshire the housing programme is endangered; and if he will take action to ensure that house construction is not impeded by lack of essential materials.

38. Mr. Manuel

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland in view of the number of representations being made to his Department by local authorities and building contractors as to the holding up of local authority house building through sufficient supplies of cement and timber not being available, what steps he is taking to deal with these complaints.

Mr. T. Fraser

Some temporary difficulty has arisen in fully meeting the demand for timber and cement. As regards timber, there is close and regular consultation between my officials and regional officers of the Board of Trade and Ministry of Works to ensure the utmost care in the use of stocks and to see that no hold-up occurs on housing or other essential works. Any case in which a hold-up is threatened is examined at once and, if necessary, supplies are released from a stock held in reserve to meet emergencies. As regards cement, I would refer the hon. Members to the answer given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works.

Mr. Ross

Will the Joint Under-Secretary consult the local authorities? He will find out that the difficulty which he describes as temporary has been recurring season after season. Will he not take action to get rid of it once and for all?

Mr. Fraser

In point of fact, if we want to get this thing quite accurate, the difficulty only arose a few weeks ago, and the difficulty will disappear within the next month. I do assure hon. Gentlemen that there were no such difficulties about either timber or cement from the summer of last year until a few weeks ago.

Mr. Manuel

May I ask my hon. Friend to go into the question of the distribution of cement? I am informed by a builder from the burgh of Irvine, who is on municipal houses that he can get plenty of this cement if he transports it from Dundee, which puts up the cost of the cement and adds to building costs in the area.

Mr. Fraser

I have personally been going into the distribution of timber and cement very recently. Of course, there are contractors and local authorities who run to merchants at a very great distance from the area in which they are working, and of course they get supplies from long distances. It very often happens that they could have got supplies much nearer at hand.

Commander Galbraith

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the seriousness of this hold-up at this time in the building industry? What steps is he taking to see that it does not occur again?

Mr. Fraser

I have just been explaining to the House the steps that I have been taking to get over the difficulty, a difficulty which indeed arose because of the excellent building weather and the increased building work that has gone on in recent weeks.

Commander Galbraith

Is not the hon. Gentleman's Department capable of dealing with a situation that should have been perfectly obvious?

Mr. McGovern

Is it not the case that steps were not taken early enough and that the Government have largely slept in, in connection with this problem?

Mr. Fraser

I do not think we have had any hold-up as yet. Let me make that quite clear. I met the Scottish contractors only last week in Glasgow and I asked them to let me have knowledge of any case in the whole of broad Scotland where there was a stoppage. There has not been one, and I do not think there will be one.