HC Deb 30 January 1967 vol 740 cc8-11
13. Mr. Pym

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works in what year since the cessation of hostilities in 1945 the stock of bricks in Great Britain exceeded 770 million at the end of the month of November.

16. Mr. Allason

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works whether he will now announce the target for brick production in 1967 agreed with the representatives of the brick production industry; and whether he will make a statement.

19. Mr. G. Campbell

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works whether he intends to offer advice to brickmakers on the likely requirements for brick production in 1967.

4. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what was the size of the stocks of bricks at the end of 1966; and what were the comparable figures for the end of 1965, 1964, and 1963, respectively.

10. Mr. Peyton

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works whether he will make a statement on the current stockpiles of bricks.

Mr. Prentice

Stocks at the end of 1966 were about 886 million compared with 561 million, 115 million and 263 million at the end of 1965, 1964 and 1963 respectively. The stock in November, 1966, was the highest for that month since 1945.

I meet representatives of the brick industry frequently, but I have not set any specific target for production in 1967. I expect demand to increase this year.

Mr. Pym

Will the Minister now confirm that the stockpile of bricks today is probably approaching the 1,000 million figure? Is it not fantastic that at this time of the year, in such favourable weather conditions, bricks of this quantity should be in stock? Has the right hon. Gentleman considered what the cost of this stockpiling is and would he not agree that a continuation of this stockpiling is a strong disincentive to brickmakers to make more bricks, so that they will be available when they are needed again?

Mr. Prentice

I agree that this is an abnormally high stock, as I indicated in my Answer. I hope that it will not discourage brick makers from investing in plant for the future because, clearly, the building needs of the country in the years ahead will be such that we shall need an increasing production of bricks and other materials.

Mr. Allason

Would not the right hon. Gentleman chance his arm and give the industry a target? Is he aware that at present the only target the industry has is that for 1965? As the brickmakers produced last year 18 per cent. less than the 1965 target, and remembering the quantities which they are perfectly capable of producing, would not he agree that they are in a bit of muddle as a result of his action?

Mr. Prentice

They probably find it more helpful that we should keep in constant touch with them. This we are doing. I met their representatives several times and my officials are in more frequent contact with them. The aim is to have regular discussions so that the position is known from month to month and so that we may give them the best advice we can.

Mr. G. Campbell

Is not the reduction of more than 800 million bricks in production last year, compared with 1964, considered with the enormous surplus about which we have just heard from the right hon. Gentle, a bitter reflection of the failure of the Government's house-building programme?

Mr. Prentice

No, Sir. The Government's house-building programme has been better than the previous Conservative Government's programme. [Interruption.] Naturally, we all want to see even better results. I believe that there will be an increase in building starts in the private sector this year. This was the sector in which starts have been falling—resulting in one of the main factors for the excessive stocks of bricks.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

Why does the right hon. Gentleman tell my hon. Friend that he is keeping in constant touch with the industry? If that is so, why does he think that the brickmakers went to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government the other day? Was it because the Minister of Public Building and Works had told them that they were exaggerating the position last August or was it because they had given up all hope of the Minister doing anything for the industry, for which he is responsible?

Mr. Prentice

I have seen them a number of times recently and I do not believe that they exaggerated the position, although certain hon. Gentlemen opposite do at times make exaggerated statements. The reason the brickmakers went to see my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of House and Local Government was because they wanted to discuss the sort of advice given by that Ministry to local authorities about the proportion of industrialised building that should be done. The brickmakers were anxious about this and it was thought better that they should see my hon. Friend about it.

Mr. Channon

Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Government are now considering, in this difficult situation, giving perhaps temporary credit help to the brick industry?

Mr. Prentice

No, Sir. We have not been considering giving such help specifically to the brick industry. An announcement was made a short while ago by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about bridging finance. That was made in very general terms, but it ought to help brickmaking as well as other industries.

Mr. Costain

Has the Minister observed the number of brickworks which are closing down? Does he appreciate how long it takes to get them started up again?

Mr. Prentice

Yes, I have noticed that, and it worries me, but, to put the matter in perspective, we should remember that brickworks closures have been going on for a number of years for a variety of reasons. These include technical changes which have led to certain methods becoming out of date. Of course I regard this as a serious situation—but I do not regard the Government as culpable in any way, because most of the capacity concerned was in fact planned, if not laid down, before the present Government came into office.