HC Deb 20 November 1951 vol 494 cc209-10
32. Mrs. Barbara Castle

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what effect it is anticipated that the proposed cuts in softwood imports will have on the housing programme for 1952.

Mr. H. Macmillan

I would refer to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 7th November.

Mrs. Castle

Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman starts in a very advantageous position because of the fact that his predecessors have left him such excellent stocks of timber which, by the end of this year, will be three times as large as a year ago?

Mr. Macmillan

I do not wish to argue now about figures for softwood. All I care about is that the houses should be built, and if they can be built I hope everybody else will be equally pleased.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that it was very wise to put this matter back in the hands of private enterprise?

Mr. Macmillan

Certainly the purchasing of timber had to be returned to private enterprise, and I think that is a matter of general agreement on all sides of the House.

Mrs. Castle

Is it not a fact that the excellent stocks which the right hon. Gentleman inherits are due to public buying as well as private buying, and is he not immensely grateful for them?

Mr. Macmillan

When the hon. Lady refers to stocks which I have inherited she must realise that I am only one of the claimants upon softwood stocks. As I understand it, during recent months they have been bought partly by bulk purchase and partly by other methods.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that it had definitely been decided to hand back all the importing of timber to private enterprise?

Mr. Macmillan

I understood that that announcement had been made, but it is certainly a matter which I think was generally considered advisable—that the actual purchase would be best carried on by the trade under licence.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he does not recollect that in fact the purchase of timber from Europe was handed back to private enterprise, but not the purchase of timber from dollar countries or from Soviet Russia? Is it intended, at a time of great dollar difficulty, to hand back the purchase of timber to private importers on dollar account, and also from Soviet Russia; and what is the purpose of that?

Mr. Macmillan

This is rather outside my Department. Surely the problem is two-fold. The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is partly a question of the amount of dollars, of lucre, of sterling which may be spent in different areas and it is partly the actual mechanism of purchase. Those are two separate matters. What matters to the Treasury is the quantity of money spent.