HC Deb 20 November 1964 vol 702 cc849-78

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. George Rogers.]

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)

Mr. Norman Dodds. Before the hon. Gentleman begins his speech, may I say to him that if he finds it painful and difficult to stand after his accident he may sit.

3.8 p.m.

Mr. Norman Dodds (Erith and Crayford)

Thank you for your kindness and consideration, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

This debate follows from Questions and Answers on 9th November, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works told the House that he was asking the brick industry to produce 600 million more bricks in 1965. In 1950, when I was connected with the Ministry of Labour, I was interested in an inquiry about the then shortage of bricks. Since then, up to the present time, the position has been that the only time we have adequate supplies of bricks is when the seasons are so bad that the builders cannot get on with the job. Time after time, when there have been long spells of fine weather, as there have been this year, there have been acute shortages.

I should like to know how much longer we are to tolerate a situation in which the only time we seem to have adequate supplies of bricks is when the weather is too bad to build. I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is not significant that a number of Tory builders with whom I have discussed this problem—and these are men who are generally against nationalisation in any form—have told me that because of the frustrations they have suffered throughout the years they would welcome much greater production by the National Coal Board or any other form of public ownership which would get rid of what to them is a nightmare when the weather enables them to go ahead with building.

I have a son who wishes to build his own house. He hopes to get married in two years' time, and the builders' merchants with whom he has discussed his problems have told him that it will take about that length of time to obtain the bricks that he requires. There is many a true word spoken in jest. In recent months we have heard much about the need to curb the rocketing prices of land and to provide lower mortgage rates to enable people to purchase their own houses. If this is done it means that many more people will feel that they are in a better position to buy their own house. But if this is to be the case, there is a need for a greater supply of bricks, unless we make much greater use of industrialised building techniques than seems to be the case at the moment.

The main purpose of this debate—I am sure that many of the issues are known to most people—is to obtain the maximum information from my right hon. Friend on whose shoulders so much responsibility lies. My main purpose, therefore, is to seek information and if it cannot be obtained now or in subsequent weeks I hope this occasion will serve notice of the questions which will be asked in the next few months.

My right hon. Friend has said that he is asking the brickmakers for 600 million more bricks in 1965. Does he have any evidence that he will get them, in view of the time it takes to bring in new brick kilns and the cost involved? Even if he gets them, will they be adequate for what he has in mind? It has been reported in the Press that a spokesman for the National Federation of Building Employees states that this rate of production will not be enough. The public read these statements, and it would be helpful if these matters could be resolved.

I ask my right hon. Friend also by what date are the brickmakers asked to submit their proposals for increased production? What is the present situation with regard to delivery dates, and how many bricks is it expected will have been produced this year? Do we know the number of the brickmaking firms that can produce the finance necessary for the expansion of which we seem to be in need?

One thing which seems to have stood out throughout the years in which we have had these troubles is that if the brickmakers had been as progressive as the motor manufacturers there would have been no need for this debate. I would ask my right hon. Friend whether, when there are so many small firms in industry, there is not need for amalgamations or mergers, particularly among those firms which have a very limited output, with a view to encouraging greater efficiency. The provision of financial aid from public funds is a matter which looms on the horizon and is mentioned in public talk. Is that contemplated? It may well be that my right hon. Friend may not be able to say anything about that, but these questions are being asked. These are the problems surrounding this business of a great shortage of bricks.

I should like to know what is being done to stimulate research work by the industry and by the Government. It is said that there is need for much more research into up-to-date methods of production. What consideration is being given to ensure that the drive for more bricks will not result in too great a capacity and undue stockpiling as a result of stop-go economics or some other cause? This is a consideration which naturally must loom large in any request for increased production. Judging from past experience it is no wonder that this is regarded as an important consideration.

What action is being taken or contemplated to remedy the labour shortage in the industry and what is being done to improve working conditions? Conditions are good in some places and are extremely bad in others. In these days when so much progress is being made in improving conditions in foundries and similar places of work, no man who values his ability will be attracted to brickmaking unless the best possible conditions are provided. It does not seem to me, judging from the brickfields I have seen, that much thought has been given to this point in this industry or in the building industry generally. It is astonishing to find the conditions with which men have to put up. When there is so much competition for labour this is a matter which must be looked at.

I remember that when, in 1950, I was engaged in the inquiry to which I have referred there was then also a shortage of labour. As the House knows, I take a great interest in gypsies. It strikes me that in employment in the brick-making industry there might be a solution to the problem of unlawful parking by gypsies. I know many gypsies who would have moved on to land occupied by brick-fields and would have worked well there if they had been given the opportunity.

When it is recalled that a scheme was introduced to bring in workers from Italy, that we had to pay for bringing them here and had to provide them with houses when they came, and when it is realised that this is a problem today in Bedfordshire, it seems to me ludicrous that this should have happened when we already had people in this country whose great need was a piece of land on which to camp. Their employment in the industry would have helped in solving a big problem.

It is no use saying that gypsies steal. I cannot imagine that they would have much interest in stealing two or three bricks. The owners of the brickfields, however, would not look at the suggestion, or when they did they found what they claimed to be good reasons for turning it down. Their outlook on these matters is probably rather antiquated. I should not like to run down the industry to such an extent that people might not wish to work in it, but working conditions need to be made worthy of those who enter the industry. In this respect, there is room for a big improvement.

What has been done to halt the tendency of firms to leave the industry? Three hundred have done so in the past 20 years. Does my right hon. Friend think that it does not matter—perhaps it does not—and that there are other ways to get bricks. If the target for bricks in 1965 is achieved, is the building industry geared to be able to use them all? This is another question calling for answer. If there is doubt about it, can anything be done to make the industry more effective? These are questions which are now being asked and, if they are not dealt with now, someone will have to answer them when the time comes. It is much better, no matter how unpleasant the facts are, that we look at them now and have the answers ready.

Can the National Coal Board play a bigger part in the production of bricks and, if so, what is proposed? If it cannot, then may we be told? What action has been taken or contemplated to ensure that industrial building will play a prominent part in our future housing programme, and what are the Government doing to encourage research and development here? This subject by itself is worthy of an Adjournment debate, or even more, but I mention it now with particular reference to the demand for houses. Because of the urgent need, many people would be prepared to have almost any house, and it may well be that, in the short term, we must think closely of these other methods rather than promise people pie in the sky for the future.

The answers to these questions will be of enormous interest to a great many people. I take this opportunity of wishing my right hon. Friend the best possible success in the great tasks which lie ahead.

3.22 p.m.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) on the pluck he has shown in coming to the House today. We all realise that, after a serious motor accident, he has made a great effort to come, though I tell him candidly that that is what we would all expect from someone who is so keen on his Parliamentary duties.

Mr. Dodds

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. It was the only excuse I could make for getting out of hospital.

Mr. Costain

I was about to remark that, judging from the unlucky experience of the Labour Party since it came to power, travelling in motor cars seems to have become an occupational hazard for right hon. and hon. Members opposite.

The hon. Gentleman made some most important points. He paid special regard to the effect of bad weather and the possibility that we might run into a serious shortage of bricks. This is closely germane to the argument, and, while I accept what he said in part, I remind the House that we in this country suffer from a very variable climate. The problem lies in the very nature of the material of which bricks are made. In the construction of an ordinary dwelling house with, say, a floor area of 900 sq. ft., about 15,000 bricks are used. Taking present proposals for the production of houses, this calls for the production of about 500 million bricks a month, and the stocking of them presents an enormous problem in handling, double handling and other costs if they are not used.

The brick industry, therefore, or, for that matter, the building industry, depends on an estimate of production and an estimate of weather. A reliable estimate of weather is an impossible exercise. An estimate of production is extremely difficult. I draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the N.E.D.C. Report which considered the industry. I am sure he has read it in great detail. I draw his attention to the fact that, with the best will in the world, the N.E.D.C. has made an inaccurate assessment of the building industry.

One of the problems—what I have said many times in this House I ask leave to say again—is that an extraordinary thing about the industry is that people cannot appreciate that it is a whole series of separate operations, of the design, the planning, the supply, the engineering and the actual contracting. All of them are independent one of the other and are not necessarily co-ordinated. At the same time the industry itself is not always master of its own fate.

In the industry we have made remarkable progress in the last few years, very much in excess of what the N.E.D.C. suggested. On the contracting side alone there are a large number of firms some of which employ only a few men. When we talk about the motor-car industry no one has any difficulty in appreciating the difference between the British Motor Corporation and a local garage. It is not appreciated in statistics of this sort that there are a large number of small builders who virtually are equivalent to garage proprietors who employ only three or four men, craftsmen who are doing wonderful jobs. The statistics of the building industry get very much distorted when we try to apply them to the whole industry, including the big contractors—the House knows that I represent one of them—and the small jobbing builders. This becomes more significant when we look at percentage changes.

The housebuilding industry is the one with which we are most concerned today. I say housebuilding as opposed to flat building, office building or any other type, because it is remarkable how few bricks are used in office building. The housebuilding industry attracts most attention. With the co-operation of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor we have been carrying out development of industrial techniques. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford has already made reference to the question of how they are to develop. They are ripe for development at present if local authorities and the Minister will give them a fair wind. I have questioned him at Question Time about when he is to get down to legislation on building regulations because we cannot industrialise the industry until that happens. The Minister's hon. Friend has anticipated a major statement today. The industry will welcome such a statement if the Minister is ready to make it.

I hope that the Labour Government do not rely too much on their planning techniques to arrange the production of the building industry. It is a most remarkable industry. It has its faults—no industry in the world is not subject to certain faults—but it has a wonderful resilience, as shown by the fact that housing totals have risen from 300,000 houses a year, which was once considered impossible, to 400,000 now under construction. Hon. Members opposite have made some criticism that the 400,000 houses are only partly built and have not been finished. As one who has been in the industry for 30 years, I say that if they were not partly finished at this time of the year the situation would be very bad. One of the objects in building is to get the roof on before winter sets in, and one would expect at this time of the year a larger number of houses partly finished than in the spring.

Bricks are not the only shortage. There is also a shortage of copper pipes. I mention that in the context of planning because one of the difficulties of planning the supply of copper pipes is that the ordinary statisticians and the great economic planners may consider only the amount of material which is required for new building and completely forget the large maintenance factor in the industry and the amount of copper used in repairing burst pipes and in installing central heating, which is becoming such a popular asset in our houses, largely because of the increased standard of living. I fail to see how statisticians can read into the minds of men and can read the weather ahead so as to know the amount of material which will be required to meet the contingencies of burst pipes and the installation of central heating.

We shall always have problems in the industry, but I hope that we can have a clear statement from the Minister which makes it absolutely certain to all our suppliers—brick makers, cement makers and so on—that the demand for their products will continue. In our complaints about the shortage of bricks, nobody has sufficiently praised the way in which the cement industry has kept pace with industrial growth. I have never heard of a shortage of cement. If I am wrong, no doubt the Minister will correct me. I am sure that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford is near enough to the cement works to have made the point had there been any risk of a shortage of cement.

Builders, both in the private enterprise and in the national sector, have to be able to vary their type of construction to meet temporary or longer term shortages. That is why private enterprise is always able to build houses quicker, from start to the point of occupation, than can public authorities. In private enterprise the builder is master of his own design. If he runs short of one type of guttering, he can substitute another. If he runs short of bricks, he can substitute concrete blocks.

But when the client and the contractor are not always working in unison, any attempt to change the type of construction is looked upon with suspicion; they feel that the builder is trying to get away with something, when in fact he is simply trying to get on with the job. That is why I pressed the Minister earlier about his attitude to the Banwell Report, and I await with interest to hear what he says about it. I thank the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford for having raised this subject in the Adjournment debate and for the interest which he has aroused.

3.34 p.m.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I came to the House prepared to explain that I was not my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds), because if he had not been able to attend it would have been my lot to open the debate in his place. I join the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) in saying how pleased I am that my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford managed to get here. It shows enormous pluck and tremendous determination that, after the serious accident which he sustained on Tuesday, he has come here determined to carry out his Parliamentary duties. He is an example to all of us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford has already referred to the statement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works on 9th November in reply to Questions about the supply of bricks. My right hon. Friend gave the brick-makers a new target. He told the House that the estimated production of bricks this year would be about 7,800 million and he hoped that the brick-makers would be able to achieve an 8 per cent. increase. I hope to persuade my right hon. Friend that he may have his target a little lower than would be possible, because, with persuasion and instructions, the brickmakers might be able to produce a greater increase than that of 8 per cent.

On 9th November, my right hon. Friend rightly said: I do not believe that the demand for bricks will be reduced by the spread of industrialised building methods for many years to come."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1964; Vol. 701. c. 638.] We have to face an enormous expansion of the brick industry and at the same time a considerable expansion of the industrialised building industry, and the two will have to run parallel. I am sure that the House will be interested to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say about his discussions with the brick-makers. Do they feel that they will be able to meet the expanding programmes? Are they themselves in a position to suggest that they might meet a higher target?

I am sure that the brickmakers themselves understand that from now on, now that we have a Labour Government in office, they will be working in a very different climate from that in which they have worked for the last 13 years They have had a raw deal under successsive Conservative Governments with their stop-go-stop policies and I believe that the brickmakers themselves realise that they will have a better deal in future.

From the admirable Statistics Department of my right hon. Friend's Ministry, I have been able to extract the figures of brick production for the last ten years or so. In 1954, we produced 7,247 million bricks, which in 1958 fell to 6,440 million. By 1963, it had pulled itself back a bit, to 7,139 million, still less than in 1954, and in this year, as my right hon. Friend has said, we hope to achieve 7,800 million. In the last ten years, brick production has been more or less stagnant, static. We hope that during the next period, with the encouragement which the new Government will give to the brickmakers, there will be a phenomenal rise in brick production.

There has also been a change in the kinds of bricks produced. For example, in 1954, 72 per cent. of the total output consisted of common bricks while 28 per cent. consisted of facing bricks. In 1963, the relevant figures were 63 per cent. common and 37 per cent. facing bricks. That is a move in the right direction. There is now a tendency to build the inner leaf of an 11½in. cavity wall and the internal partition in a house with light weight concrete bricks instead of burnt clay bricks. Concrete blocks are easy and quick to lay and the capital outlay for their production is smaller than that for bricks, roughly about one-third, and they are a very satisfactory substitute for bricks in short supply.

If we can develop the promotion of light weight and aerated concrete blocks for certain parts of housebuilding, we can help to supplement our brick supply considerably. The brickmakers should be encouraged to produce facing bricks and I believe that they will be able to do so very economically. I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to sand lime bricks which provide facing bricks and whose production should be expanded. I hope that some attention will be paid to improving the quality of sand lime bricks.

I would also my right hon. Friend to encourage the production of engineering bricks. These can be used for calculated brickwork, for multi-storey buildings. They are used all over the Continent. In Switzerland, for example, engineering bricks are used to build 18 to 22 storey buildings. There is no reason why we should not do this here.

Some time ago, at a building exhibition, V bricks were launched on the building industry. I should very much like to commend these to my right hon. Friends. I am sorry that we are not given the opportunity of using visual aids or modern methods of communicating to hon. Members in the House, because if I had a blackboard I could show the cross-section through a V brick which I think the House would find of interest. A V brick is really a nine-inch cavity wall built in one with the two leaves joined together with cross sections of burnt clay and the cavity is, as it were, built in with the block.

These mark a considerable advance in brickwork technology. They are quick to build because only one process is required. Instead of having two leaves with the cavity in between, the wall with the cavity can be built in one operation. These bricks are also perforated and have a higher thermal insulation than an ordinary brick wall of the same thickness.

I understand that there is only one works in this country producing V bricks. Their output is about 70,000 bricks a week and I am told that the whole of it has been booked for several years ahead. This is an instance in which public enterprise and my right hon. Friend's energy and determination to make an enormous success of his job, as I know he will, could be an advantage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford mentioned the part which the nationalised industries could play in the supply of bricks. This is something which I am very anxious to see the Labour Government propagate and encourage. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford mentioned the National Coal Board. Hon. Members will recall that my right hon. Friend the Minister referred to the contribution to the supply of bricks made by the Board in his statement to the House on 9th November. The Board produces 500 million bricks a year. In my view, it could produce many more very much more economically if it used more up-to-date methods of production. Apart from bricks and coal, the Board produces millions of tons of colliery shale a year and most of this is dumped, spoiling the beautiful countryside. In my view, the Board could use this waste colliery shale to produce more bricks. I hope that my right hon. Friends the Ministers of Public Building and Works and Power will get together to ensure that some encouragement is given on these lines.

As I said in a speech which I made in the House on 4th November, the Central Electricity Generating Board produces large quantities of waste material—pulverised fuel ash. About 7 million tons of this are being produced this year alone. In a few years, in the 1970s, this 7 million tons will have become 20 million tons of waste material which could well be used to produce materials to aid our building industry.

Since 1945, the Building Research Station, which, as hon. Members know, is part of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, has been actively engaged on research into the methods of utilising pulverised fuel ash for various purposes, including the production of bricks and tiles. This Government Department produced a report more than ten years ago and said that if 80 to 90 per cent. pulverised fuel ash were bonded with 10 to 20 per cent. sticky clay perfectly good bricks could be made. Nothing was done by previous Conservative Governments to ensure that this report on research carried out in a Government Department was implemented.

It has been no economic advantage to the brickmakers to use pulverised fuel ash to make bricks, because, although this is a waste material produced by the Central Electricity Generating Board in respect of which it pays large sums of money to dump it in the sea and elsewhere, when it is sold, it is rather expensive.

Mr. Costain


Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Lady resume her seat, please. May I explain that the hon. Gentleman is trying to intervene and that if the hon. Lady does not want to give way to him she need not do so.

Mrs. Short

I hope that I was indicating that I did not wish to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

I should like to see the Central Electricity Generating Board being encouraged to establish brickworks near its main power stations in the south where there is the right kind of clay, and the brick manufacturers being permitted to buy this waste material, pulverised fuel ash, at a price at which it would be an incentive for them to utilise it. I think that in these two ways the National Coal Board and the Central Electricity Generating Board could be encouraged to help the brick production of the nation.

I think that we should also give some thought to the kind of bricks that we produce. The custom in this country—I think that we are the only country in Western Europe to do this—is to produce mostly solid bricks and I would urge my right hon. Friend to use his influence with the brickmakers to try to change production of solid bricks to perforated bricks. By doing this alone productivity could be increased by considerably more than the 8 per cent. that he has asked for, since the turnover of the kilns would be speeded up very considerably.

In my view, the brickmakers of this country have had a raw deal under previous Governments and clearly the responsibility for this lies with the former Government and with Conservative Ministers. We need to reassure the brick-makers that they will have a continual and continuing demand for their products. When we consider the enormous demands in this country for good housing—I would reckon that we need something like 8 million new houses and flats if we are to achieve our object of seeing every family housed in a decent home—when we look back on the cuts in school building that local authorities have had to tolerate, during the last ten years in particular, with school building programmes slashed by 50 per cent. each year when they have gone to the Minister for approval, and when we look at the lack of new hospital buildings and consider the way in which the last Minister of Health cut the building programme for new hospitals—if we consider only these three aspects of Government responsibility and policy—we can make it quite clear to the brick industry that there is to be a continuing and expanding demand for their products, and that the Government have every intention of seeing that they are given every encouragement to step up their output and increase their target even above the target suggested by my right hon. Friend.

I am sure that there will be agreement when I say that I wish my right hon. Friend everything of the best in the responsible and onerous task that has been placed upon him, that I am sure he will carry out his job with energy and determination, and that efficiency will be engendered into his Department which will be experienced and felt throughout the whole of the building industry.

3.49 p.m.

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

Like other hon. Members I should like to extend my congratulations to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) not only for having chosen to initiate a debate on this subject, but on having managed, in trying circumstances, to come here today. I remember that when I made my maiden speech from the benches opposite, something like 10 years ago, I followed the then hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs who had used his speech as a pretext to get himself out of hospital after an illness. I find my maiden speech from these benches taking place in the same circumstances in relation to the hon. Gentleman. I think that I must be something of a "lucky Jim" for invalids on the benches opposite.

I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes, because we are all anxious to hear the reply of the Minister. In looking up what had been said recently on this subject, I noticed that it was debated in the House as recently as an Adjournment debate on the last day of the last Parliament. Having studied that debate, and seen what the right hon. Gentleman said on that occasion, I shall be surprised if he makes today a reply very different in kind from the reply given in that debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples).

I notice that on that occasion the right hon. Gentleman expressed the view that on this matter there should not be too much politics. I, temperamentally, would be disposed to share that view, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I shall fall in with it provided that he can, as I am sure he will, resist the temptation to paint a situation of muddle and indecision left to him in the brick industry by his predecessors.

I am quite sure that the Minister will resist that temptation, although I thought that the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), in a speech which set us all very high standards of homework, tried, towards the end of it, to beguile her right hon. Friend towards the possibility of taking that line. I am sure that he will not. If he does not, he will find us on this side at one with him in hoping that the industry will continue its, on the whole, excellent record of contributing to the massive building effort.

As regards the construction industry in general, the right hon. Gentleman will find that we share what, I know, is his aim of assisting it to increase output, to make strides in the direction of industrialised building and in other ways of keeping up the momentum of the work which was begun by his predecessor Mr. Rippon, to which he has already paid tribute in the House.

The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford said that the main aim of this debate was to elicit information for the future, and I agree with that. In answer to a Question on the first day of Questions in this Parliament, the Minister said that he had asked the building industry whether it could achieve a target of 8,400 million bricks for next year. I should like to know whether he has had a reply from the industry and, if so, in what terms it was couched.

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

The reply will be next week.

Mr. Ramsden

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will let the House know of any developments resulting from that reply.

Secondly, I put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. When I first heard the figure of 8 per cent. as the contemplated increase for next year, it seemed fairly big, but when I had had time to look into it I realised that in the debate to which I have already referred, my hon. Friend who was then Parliamentary Secretary indicated that on the basis of existing plans an increase in production for next year of about 5 per cent. was at that time—in the summer—anticipated in the Ministry.

Since then, from researches which I have been able to make, I gather that the September return of brick production, which is the most recent figure available, is of the order of 704 million, which, transposed into terms of a year, gives a yearly rate equivalent to 8,448 million, or slightly above the right hon. Gentleman's target of 8 per cent. That, of course, is on the basis of existing plans within the brick industry, and I shall he interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman's comment on that, and, in particular, whether he thinks that this figure will be enough in relation to his expectations for the future. If he does not think that it is enough, will he let us know what his estimate is of the likely shape of future requirements next year and in succeeding years?

I know that it would be helpful to the House, and, indeed, for the industry, to have any details he can give us as to the assumptions, about the rate of building, the kind of building which is to be necessary, on which his target figures for succeeding years are based. If the right hon. Gentleman is to say that he wants more than an 8 per cent. increase, and tell the industry that he would like to see a greater increase over future years, could he—I think that he would wish to do this—give the industry some assurance, if he is expecting it to finance and to make investments in new plants and new kilns and in other ways to build up its present output, as to the possibility of the increased output not being absorbed by activity within the industry?

If the right hon. Gentleman is to ask the industry to produce more bricks it must have some assurance of continuity of demand and that those bricks will be used, because it is expensive, as he knows, to produce bricks and to have to hold them in stock. The industry must have some indication of the likely level of demand if it is to plan its future production intelligently.

One final question. I have heard of cases, and one case in particular, in which a brick company would have wished to expand its capacity for production by putting up a larger plant, but for one reason or another, the company's plans were frustrated because of its inability to get planning permission. I make no comment, for obvious reasons, on the rightness or wrongness of the denial of planning permission. It could have been a perfectly sensible decision in the context of wider interests and wider needs. I would simply ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that his Ministry liaises as far as possible with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government over questions like this so that no—as I would call them—Whitehall-seated obstacles should interrupt any expansion of production the right hon. Gentleman may wish to see.

With these questions to the right hon. Gentleman, I think that we shall await his reply to this debate with interest.

3.58 p.m.

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

Like other hon. Members in this debate, I also express my pleasure in seeing my Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds), here this afternoon. I am one of his constituents. I do not think that anyone in his constituency would have expected anything else from him but the high standard which he set us this afternoon. He is my friend as well as my colleague. I did write to him a letter, in most persuasive terms, to try to deter him from coming, for no other reason than consideration for him. But he is a Member of Parliament and here he is.

If I do not touch on the reply of the brickmakers it is because I put the proposals before them and I expect to hear their answer next week. I hope that during my speech I shall deal with most of the questions which have been asked.

It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. George Rogers.]

Mr. Pannell

On one or two isolated points, if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) will let me know where planning permission was refused, I shall see whether it was on good grounds or not.

With regard to the question whether we have a different reply today or not, I hope honestly to tell the House the legacy which I have been left. When I was in the right hon. Gentleman's position of shadowing for this Ministry, I recognised that it was largely a technocratic Ministry. But I have been trained as an engineer and I shall deal with the building industry in that way. It is not statisticians who build houses. They are built by bricklayers and at least I try to bring the tests of engineering to this industry.

May I, first, express my thanks to the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) for coming here this afternoon. It was a great pleasure to listen to her speech. I did not hear her maiden speech, but I have read it. I think that maiden speeches are not the most difficult to make; the most difficult speeches to make are the second and subsequent ones, and they become even more difficult as times goes on. I can give my hon. Friend no higher praise than to say that she fulfilled the promise of her maiden speech and made a very good speech this afternoon.

The hon. Lady raised certain technical matters concerned with the Central Electricity Board and the National Coal Board. Her speech will be studied, and she will receive replies to the points that she raised. We look to the House to give us this sort of information, and we are grateful for it. We have not had too many Members coming into the House who know about the building industry, and we welcome her as a powerful ally.

The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) has had a lot of experience in the building industry. I noticed that he was very careful when he said that N.E.D.C. was inaccurate in its report on the building construction industries with regard to certain of its percentages. If he looks at the last page of the report he will see that it was not too inaccurate in its conclusions as to what was likely to happen in the industry this year.

If I do not take up all the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford in the broad tenor of my speech, at least I shall see that he receives a reply to them. His speech showed the intelligence that he and I have, because largely the same sort of questions occurred to me when I was framing my speech.

Mr. Costain

I have had a chance to read the passage to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. N.E.D.C. said that the industry would not be capable of meeting the demands made on it. The point I was making was that it had greatly understated the production for the house building industry in Table 1.

Mr. Pannell

What it states on the last page, the summary of the report, is what I shall seek to prove this afternoon is true.

The question of bricks worried me for a long time when studying this industry before. The hon. Gentleman referred to an intervention that I made in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) on one occasion. I received a good deal of evidence of the shortage of bricks before I came to my present office. Almost one of the first things that I did was to ask the Department to look at this as keenly as it could. The right hon. Gentleman has been a Minister and he knows that, standing at this Box, I do not "chance my arm" on any statistics at all. Consequently, I hope that he will take any statistics that I give as well founded, and the sort of statistics that, had the fortunes of war been reversed, Mr. Rippon would have had to use this afternoon. I hope that we shall not have any suggestion that I am colouring any statistics.

What I found on my appointment was that on the basis of numbers the shortage was marginal, but the effects throughout the industry, generally speaking, were serious. There is no doubt that work has been slowed down on many sites during the year. A great deal of work has not been embarked upon because of the shortage of bricks, and it would be true to say that that shortage has largely been masked—in the way that my hon. Friend has said—because, knowing that the bricks were not there, and knowing the long delays, any amount of worthwhile projects were not embarked upon which could have been embarked upon.

There is no doubt that there has been a shortage of bricks this summer.

Mr. Ramsden

There was no shortage of bricklayers.

Mr. Pannell

Perhaps the right hon. Member will allow me to come to that, in time.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

There was a shortage of rain, too.

Mr. Pannell

That is not something over which the hon. Member's party had any control. If he is just going to put it out that the Almighty was not on his side of the argument, that is a strange thing to me.

In March, 1963, after a very bad winter, stocks stood pretty high. They then amounted to 912 million. Since then they have been reduced, and still further reduced. In July of this year stocks reached their lowest point, at only 77 million. That represents only three or four days' supply. The latest figure that I have for September is hardly any better; it was then only 82 million. Thus, there has been a change from a position almost of glut to one where stocks have been virtually eliminated.

The immediate reason for this dramatic change is that brick production has not kept pace with building work. It is a failure of the industry. The output of bricks for 1964 is likely to be about 9 per cent. above the output for 1963, which is the figure that is always quoted. But it will be only 7 per cent. higher than the output for 1961. Against this, the number of houses started in 1964 is likely to be a record. It will be about 415,000, of which about 360,000 will be completed. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the bricks produced go into the building of houses.

The fundamental reason for the disparity between output and need is the reluctance of the brick industry to invest quickly and heavily enough in new plant and machinery.

Mr. Speir

Will the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Pannell

I am sorry. I cannot give way in the middle of an argument. I will give way when I have finished this part of it.

The brickmakers lack confidence in a steadily rising demand for their product. The "stop-go" policies of the previous Administration are largely responsible for this. When I have met leading brickmakers—and I am fairly sure that they never voted for my party—they have always echoed that sentiment. They have a pathological fear of "stop-go," and the fact that this industry is the first victim of any depression.

Mr. Speir

Since the National Coal Board plays a very large part in the production of bricks, can the right hon. Gentleman give us the figures of the Board's increased production over 1961?

Mr. Pannell

The hon. Member must assume that I would not have left the National Coal Board out of my speech. He is a step or two before the music.

Mr. Speir

Is there anything wrong with that?

Mr. Pannell

No, but the hon. Member seldom catches up when he needs to. The "stop-go" policies of the previous Administration checked the demand for bricks in 1954 and again in 1961. On both occasions the deflationary methods of the Government produced surpluses of bricks which lasted for between two and four years. That is what the industry fears.

As I said at the Quantity Surveyors' dinner recently, whatever we have done in the face of the £800 million deficit left to us by our predecessors, whatever the remedy and whatever the steps we have taken, for instance by way of a 15 per cent. surcharge, it does not represent any threat to the building and construction industry.

Mr. Speir

What about timber?

Mr. Pannell

As a matter of fact, I could have dealt with that, but the hon. Gentleman will not make his speech staccato, stuttering from time to time. He had better possess his soul in patience and I will deal with all aspects as I go along.

In this situation, I have taken immediate steps. The House may recall what I said at Question Time on 9th November. I told the House then that I had seen the brickmakers and asked them to increase their output per year by 8 per cent. overall. I must make it clear that this means over 10 per cent. for the most efficient ones, because any amount of the brick-making industry—it is a very patchy industry—will not be able to increase its output by 8 per cent. I am concerned about that. When the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) talked about 5 per cent., he was again speaking of 5 per cent. overall. Consequently, an increase of 8 per cent. overall represents a very big advance. When the hon. Gentleman spoke of 5 per cent., it did not mean on that sort of basis that everybody would have increased their output by 5 per cent. We have to get on from there.

I have set the industry a target of 8,400 million bricks for 1965. This is 600 million more than the 7,800 million which I expected to be produced in 1964. When I saw the industry, I emphasised that this Government had resolutely set their face against stop-go policies. I assured them that for many years ahead I could see a rising demand for bricks. As a matter of fact, one tycoon who saw me asked, "How many years ahead?" I said, "At least four years ahead".

Mr. Speir

One what?

Mr. Pannell

A tycoon.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I hope hon. Members will not interrupt too much from a seated position.

Mr. Pannell

I said four years, which is a reasonable expectation of the life of this Government. Leaders in the industry have every reason to be confident.

The National Federation of Clay Industries—I expect this is the point the hon. Member for Hexham has picked up from reading his newspapers this morning—issued a statement on 18th November about the present position. The Federation suggested that if the output achieved in September were maintained in every month of 1965 the brick industry would hit my target of 8,400 million bricks. This is arithmetically correct, but one cannot just make conclusions about future output from the performance of one month. The Federation also suggested that the situation was not as serious as it in fact is, because bricks were distributed unevenly. That seems to me rather odd. Even if bricks are distributed unevenly, if they are on one site they cannot be redistributed to another. That is not the point. To achieve a proper distribution one must have increased production and a higher level of stocks than exist at present.

Mr. Ramsden

The right hon. Gentleman is right in assuming that the figure I gave came from the industry. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he knows more about the brick industry's production programme and possibilities than the industry itself? If he does, that needs some explanation.

Mr. Pannell

Of course we do. My Department knows more about the overall state of the industry than individual brickmakers. The statement this morning was very disingenuous. As Minister, I went to a great deal of trouble to get the returns from the industry—the whole industry. Hon. Members need not think that these things were thought up by people in my Department. Of course they were not. We are reckoned as the leader of industry. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe will know that the Ministry of Public Building and Works does not guess in that way.

Mr. Speir

The experts do.

Mr. Pannell

I do not know whether the passage of time has given the hon. Gentleman a thirst which makes him so talkative. Some brickmakers have in the past voiced the fear that the growth in industrialised methods of building which use fewer bricks than the traditional type of house, or no bricks at all, will reduce the demand for bricks. I am sure that in the foreseeable future we shall need more bricks and more building by Industrialised methods. The two things are complementary.

I have also heard it said that if more bricks are produced, we shall not have enough bricklayers to lay them. This is a lot of nonsense, too. I hope that this sort of argument will not be used as a convenient alibi. Experience shows—and it has been repeated over and over again by employers and operatives—that we have yet to know what the bricklayer can do in this country if we put enough bricks in front of him. If they are only piled up in front of him he almost hates the sight of them and wants to get them out of the way.

Bricklayers are stimulated by seeing plenty of bricks. Their only fear is that they will run out of bricks. People tell me that the last brick on the site costs £5 to lay. The appetite of the average bricklayer grows from what it feeds on. We shall never really know what he is capable of until he has the confidence that the Government is behind the industry and the industry has confidence in itself.

I have tried to present a fair picture of the brickmaking industry and the brick situation. If I have left anything out I shall have the report of this debate looked at and will see that an answer is given to every point. But I must hurry on rather quickly, and I now want to say something about the background of the industry itself.

The shortage of bricks is only one of a series of connected problems. The brick problem must be viewed in the context of the wider problems which my right hon. Friends and I found waiting for us. We are in the same position as the late President Kennedy, who said that when he took office he was surprised to find that things were as bad as he had said they were.

I should now like to outline the legacy which the previous Administration left us. The most startling thing I found on taking office was that during this financial year output of new construction would fall short of the demand by £100 million. There is a shortfall in this industry of £100 million for this year. In other words, £100 million worth of new building which public authorities and the private sector were able and willing to order, to carry out and to pay for, in this financial year will not be carried out because the construction industry just cannot cope.

Mr. Ramsden


Mr. Pannell

I do not wish to be interrupted any more. I have to move through this statement.

Mr. Ramsden


Mr. Pannell

No, I shall not give way again at this stage. I generally give way, but some of the interruptions this afternoon have been rather irrelevant.

Mr. Ramsden

Be fair.

Mr. Pannell

I am being fair. I was fair to the right hon. Gentleman this morning, when I telephoned him and told him the scope of this debate. He cannot complain that I am unfair. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I must ask the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) to take note of the criticism that I have made of his conduct so far.

Mr. Pannell

Many projects which are socially desirable and necessary will have to be deferred. Others already in progress will take longer to complete. In particular, the average local authority house already takes far too long to build and the building period has been getting longer and longer. The picture for the next few years ahead does not look any brighter either. On the basis of the schemes now being planned, the demand for new construction should rise by about 7 per cent. in each of the next four years. It will not be easy to increase output in the construction industry by as much as this. It might well go up by only as much as 5 per cent. a year, and even this may not be achieved without difficulty.

So, in each of the next four years, the gap between demand for new building and the capacity of the industry will widen still further to the tune of something like £70 million to £90 million worth of work a year. The task that we have inherited—and, of course, I called for a full-scale inquiry immediately on taking office—is to close this gap.

We have a problem in the building industry very comparable to the balance of payments at national level. But while the notional string of noughts which the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have at the end of the day might be solved by the economists, this problem will be solved only by real hard work. This may be all the more difficult as we ourselves are likely to want to spend more money than our predecessors on socially desirable projects. It is not just a question of building houses. People always talk about houses and think that they solve everything. They do not. There are all sorts of other social works which have to go on at the same time. There is nothing more miserable than great housing estates built without social amenities.

Certainly we expect to do at least as well in house building as hon. Members opposite said they expected to do before and during the Election. But for a civilised life we need other new buildings as well. Schools and hospitals, for example, have an equally vital social function, and they go hand in hand with housing. There can be no doubt that our programmes will involve very heavy investment.

On 9th February, for example, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced in the House school-building projects for 1965 –66 costing £80 million. Even our predecessors envisaged a hospital building programme of £300 million in the five years between the current financial year and 1968 –69. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is now reviewing this programme. Our predecessors had announced university projects costing £54.5 million to start between January, 1965, and March, 1966, and their road programme for the next financial year alone envisaged expenditure of about £190 million.

These figures add up to an enormous load on the construction industry. I have inherited an uphill task in trying to see that the industry can and does meet it. Everyone is agreed that the productivity of the industry must rise dramatically but we cannot just sit back and utter a lot of well known clichés about modernisation and leave it at that. Too many people with no knowledge or insufficient acquaintance with the industry tend to speak of it in general terms without appreciation of its history or anything else. They utter the words "industrialised building" and think that that solves the problem. It does not. We have to create the conditions in which modernisation can go forward and not just mouth about it. The most efficient firms in the industry are doing a good job. Part of our problem is to ensure that all those in the industry become as good as the best.

We need more investment in plant and machinery. The demand is there to justify any amount of investment. We need to spread the use of systems of building which use factory-made components. Even more important, conventional building must be more highly mechanised. Each man on the site must be given more horse-power at his elbow, and the work which he is asked to do must be organised more rationally so that there are no delays on the site and work can proceed smoothly. A great deal turns on the quality of management of the whole building process from the design stage to the operations on the site.

We can do very much more about continuing to build in winter and during bad weather. In an average winter we lose about £50 million worth of work. In the bad winter two years ago we lost £150 million worth of new work—enough to build three new towns. I am looking particularly into this and the sort of regulations which will not say, "You shall stop work in certain circumstances," but will say, "You will go on until you are told to stop".

Many people in the building industry and, even more, many of its clients, are reluctant to exploit the possibilities of industrialised building. Too often I have heard it said that 85 per cent. is traditional building and industrialised building is only a small part of the whole. The National Building Agency has recently been sent up to help with this. It is now fully staffed and ready to advise on more efficient building methods. I think that it needs more powers. Its services are at present not being used to the full. I say quite emphatically that I hope that they will be, and I intend to see that they are.

The construction industry's clients can help a lot here. They can plan their programmes further ahead and they can adapt their contractual procedures to the needs of the present time.

These are some of the ways in which the construction industry can improve its productivity. We shall press ahead with all of them. But even if we do—this is most important—we shall, I believe, find that this is an industry which is just not big enough in terms of the nation's economy to meet the demands which will be made upon it. It needs more people, about 10,000 additional craftsmen every year. There is scope for more apprenticeships and for more retraining. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has this well in hand. But we cannot train men who are not there to be trained. The industry needs more recruits.

Industrial working conditions are getting better all the time. What is the barrier to new recruits? Conditions in the building industry are not as good as they might be, and they compare unfavourably with those in other industries. Status is vital today, in a time of full employment, and in this matter the building worker has not kept pace with workers in other employment. Above all, in this sort of thing, the call in a time of full employment is that men shall always be treated as men. Much can be done by mechanisation of work on the site and doing more work now done on the site under cover in a factory. Methods can be made easier, but this is not enough. The worker on the site must have better conditions.

The Ministry has given the lead in providing decent amentities on sites where it has large contracts. All who place such contracts, whether public authorities or private building owners, should follow its example. This is not just a matter of common decency and elementary respect for the dignity of labour. It is a matter now of enlightened self-interest. Unless employers do provide decent working conditions and building owners are willing to pay for them, the men just will not come forward to do the work.

I have described the present situation as a legacy from our predecessors, and I have drawn up a sort of balance sheet. Hon. Members will, in fairness, understand that this is not the end or beginning of a long debate when one can expand on these matters at great length. I wish only to add that building is at the heart of all our plans for industrial and social progress. My right hon. Friends the Minister of Housing and Local Government, the Secretary of State for Education and Science, the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, to mention only a few, depend in so many of their plans on the resources available for building. I am working closely with all of them in these projects. There is agreement between us on our objective and close consultation on method.

We are, I know, setting the construction industries a tremendous task. If they fulfil it, they will have done well by us all. As the Minister in charge of a Ministry which now has the reputation of being the leader of the industry, and to which the industry now generally looks, I intend to give them every encouragement, every facility, every help, and, if necessary, every stimulation. This work is vital. We dare not fail in this because on it as much as on anything depends what we make of Britain today and tomorrow.

4.28 p.m.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

We have listened to a most extraordinary tirade. All I can say to the Minister is that, if he thinks that he will get more bricks from the brick industry by abusing its leaders and calling them tycoons he is very much mistaken. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not talk about nationalising the industry as well. He seemed to have great confidence in the estimates of the expert. Has he ever heard the saying that the expert is only the common man away from home?

Mr. C. Pannell

The hon. Gentleman is the common man in this House.

Mr. Speir

Yes, I accept that. I am not an expert.

If the hon. Gentleman wants proof of what I say, he should read the estimates produced by the National Coal Board in its "Plan for Coal". The Board said that it would be quite impossible to produce enough coal in Britain to satisfy demand by 1962. Yet, when 1962 came, we had hundreds of millions of tons of coal above ground, and the Board had enormous difficulty in finding stocking grounds for the coal supplies which it could not sell.

The situation is by no means so simple as the Minister suggested. It would be very much in the interests of the building industry in general if he did not take such a partisan approach to this very difficult problem.

The Question having been proposed at Four o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Four o'clock.