HC Deb 09 November 1964 vol 701 cc637-40
1. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what is the present situation with regard to the supply of bricks; and what action is being taken to ensure that in future lengthy periods of good weather building operations are not stopped or slowed down by a shortage of bricks, as in recent years.

2. Mr. A. Lewis

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works whether he is aware of the shortage of bricks; and what action he intends to take to improve the production and supply of bricks.

5. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what steps are being taken to overcome the shortage of bricks; and whether he will consider setting up publicly-owned brickworks in areas like Scotland.

8. Mr. Maxwell

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what practical steps he is taking to increase the production of bricks and improve the working conditions in the industry.

9. Mr. Lipton

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works to what extent building operations have been held up in recent months by the shortage of bricks; and what action he is taking to improve the supply of bricks.

The Minister of Public Building and Works (Mr. Charles Pannell)

There continue to be troublesome shortages of bricks which have been holding up some work. I have asked the brickmakers to increase their output next year by 600 million bricks above the figure of 7,800 million expected for this year in order to achieve the total of 8,400 million bricks which I believe to be necessary to meet the expected demand and to provide the necessary flexibility. I hope very shortly to receive the brickmakers' proposals on how this target might be met. This would be an increase of about 8 per cent, above this year.

Mr. Dodds

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. Is it not a fact that since 1959—even this is a record year—production has gone up by only 7 per cent., which is totally inadequate? Cannot he do something to inspire brick-makers to be much bolder and more imaginative than they have been since the war? Is it of interest to my right hon. Friend that a number of Tory builders, exasperated by delays, have suggested that it might be an inspiration to have some public brickworks?

Mr. Pannell

We have some public brickworks. The National Coal Board makes bricks and is expanding production—[Laughter.] This is a by-product of the industry. If hon. Members opposite knew anything about it, this would not excite derision. A new plant takes 18 months or two years to install. I have told the brickmakers that the need for building is so great that they have sufficient incentive to make the necessary investment. I do not believe that the demand for bricks will be reduced by the spread of industrialised building methods for many years to come.

Mr. Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the previous Government sought to match the housing target with the country's brick production? Is not this the reason why we are in the difficulty in which we now find ourselves?

Mr. Speaker

I do not see how the Minister can say what the last Government sought to do.

Mr. Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the expected increase that he has now asked the brick industry to undertake will be forthcoming within the next year or the next two years?

Mr. Pannell

I have made it perfectly plain to the brickmakers—I have seen them—that this is the figure we want if essential building is not to suffer. That is all I want to say at present. I shall be seeing them again.

Mr. Maxwell

Is the Minister aware of the excellent work being done by the N.C.B.'s new brickworks executive to break the brick shortage? Would be make available their experience and "know-how" to the private brickmakers so that they can do as well as the new brickworks executive?

Mr. Pannell

I am seeing all sections of the brickmaking industry. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is nothing that he has said this afternoon that I have not already brought to their notice.

Mr. Lipton

Does my right hon. Friend believe that private enterprise is capable of producing all the bricks that a Labour Government, with their vastly increased housing programme, will require?

Mr. Pannell

If the brickmaking industry produces the 8 per cent, increase, which is a very considerable increase—I do not want to anticipate the industry's reply—I think we can get by with reasonable flexibility.

Mr. Ramsden

May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Jennie Lee) on assuming their offices. Is it not a fact that, whatever his hon. Friend may say about the previous Government and the difficulties in the industry, there are now 428,000 houses under construction? [Hon. Members: "No bricks."] On the estimate of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government at his recent Press conference, it should be well within the scope of the industry, assisted by the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry, to achieve the target that the previous Government set for next year of 400,000 houses.

Mr. Pannell

The hon. Gentleman is not on a very good point. He is speaking about the number of houses started this year. We are speaking about the number that will be finished, which will be of the order of 370,000. There is no doubt that the shortage of bricks has inhibited new building to a considerable extent this year. I have had a great many complaints about this from hon. Members on both sides of the House. We may have got by, but there were necessary projects which were not undertaken because of the fear of shortage of bricks.

Mr. Dodds

In view of the unsatisfactory situation inherited by my right hon. Friend, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Mr. Speaker

We must stick to the traditional formula, which, as it is early in a new Parliament, I might say is—"In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Answer, I beg to give notice …".