HC Deb 06 March 1967 vol 742 cc1020-5
4. Mr. Body

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what consideration he is giving to the provision of bridging finance to brick makers on the lines of that recommended for private builders by Her Majesty's Government; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Prentice

I have been examining the matter of credit for the brick industry and I am satisfied that there is no bar to the granting of normal facilities to credit-worthy applicants from the brick industry, whether for manufacturing or for stock holding.

Mr. Body

Does the Minister realise that stocks are now at an all-time record level since the war—nearly 1,000 million bricks despite the best weather we have had in any winter since the war? Is it not a disgrace that there should be this level of brick stocks, caused entirely by the exhortations of the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor? Is not the least he can do to give the same kind of help to the brick maker as to the private builder?

Mr. Prentice

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is "Yes, Sir"; I know that stocks are at a very high level. I do not agree that this is due to the exhortations of my predecessor. Indeed, the extra capacity was planned and to a large extent laid down before the present Government came into office. There are later Questions about brick production.

Sir G. Nabarro

At the end of December the stock of bricks was 886 million. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what the stock of bricks was at the end of February? Is my hon. Friend correct in speculating that the figure has now risen above 1,000 million?

Mr. Prentice

I have Questions on that later, but the answers will not include the February figure, which I do not have.

5. Mr. Body

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works by how much deliveries of bricks in Great Britain declined in 1966 as compared with 1964 and for what reason; and what proposals he has for arresting this decline.

11 and 12. Sir J. Eden

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works (1) whether he will state the numbers of bricks presently in stock and how this compares with the forecasts made by his department since October, 1964;

(2) in what year since the cessation of hostilities in 1945 the stock of bricks has reached 886 million at the end of the month of December.

16. Mr. Goodhart

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

26. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works whether he will make a statement about the present supply of and demand for bricks.

Mr. Prentice

Between 1964 and 1966, brick deliveries fell by 17 per cent. Brick stocks at the end of January, 1967, were provisionally estimated at 971 million. The total stock in December, 1966, was exceeded in December, 1945, when it stood at 990 million. My Department makes no forecast of stocks but co-operates with the industry in assessing future demand. The Government have taken steps to stimulate private house-building, which is the most important factor in the demand for bricks.

Mr. Body

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that about 70,000 more couples could have had houses from these stocks of bricks? Is it not absolutely disgraceful that there should be that situation?

Mr. Prentice

I agree that couples could have had houses if the bricks had been used. The bricks were there to be used, but the private builders did not build the houses.

Sir J. Eden

Does not the fact that brick stocks in 1966 and now were and are so high show the complete collapse of the Government's housing policy? Why is the right hon. Gentleman so complacent? Is this a record of which he is proud? When will he resign?

Mr. Prentice

I do not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman's last suggestion, particularly in view of the housing figures. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that last year we completed 385,000 houses, which was an all-time record; but there was a decline in the starts of new housing in the private sector, not in the public sector. This was a major factor in the size of brick stocks.

Mr. Goodhart

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, if only his target of 400,000 houses in 1966 had been reached, the brick industry would not have had to mortgage its future by financing such vast stocks. In view of the disappointing house-building record for January, does the right hon. Gentleman think that stocks are over 1,000 million?

Mr. Prentice

It was never a stated target that 400,000 houses should be completed in 1966. The target which has been announced is 500,000 for 1970. The hon. Gentleman asks whether brick stocks may now be over 1,000 million. This may be so, but the latest figures I have are the ones which I gave in my original Answer.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Are not the Minister and his Department in a complete muddle, and is not the whole situation utterly scandalous? Having missed the previous targets by something like 1,500 million, how much must we aim off for future Government interference? Supposing that there is a sudden upsurge of private building, where shall we find the labour to meet the demand?

Mr. Prentice

The answer to all the polemical parts of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is "No, Sir". I am getting a little tired of this mock indignation. The number of houses completed last year was considerably higher than was ever achieved under the previous Government.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

Is not the Minister aware that the target of 400,000 houses by this year was adumbrated in this House by the Minister of Housing and Local Government in March, 1965? Will he, therefore, withdraw what he said to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart)?

Mr. Prentice

No, Sir. The hon. Gentleman is over-working the word "target". One has to see the matter in perspective, and I do not think that we need exchange debating points about it. The only target ever published in a Government statement was 500,000. But, here again, I do not think that it matters: what matters is the achievement of houses built. I agree that the achievement is not good enough. The achievement has never been good enough under either Government, and we ought to be exchanging constructive ideas about how to improve it instead of making these rather juvenile points at Question Time.

6 and 7. Mr. Pym

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works (1) what is the decline in brick production in 1966 over 1964; and whether he will make a statement;

(2) in which year since the end of the Second World War the largest number of bricks was produced; what was the total production figure in that year; how this compares with 1966; and what is the estimated production for 1967.

14. Mr. More

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works in which year he expects the total number of bricks produced to rise again to the level achieved in 1964.

Mr. Prentice

Output reached its peak in 1964, when 7,954 million bricks were produced. This compares with 7,071 million in 1966. I can give no estimate for production in 1967 or future years.

Mr. Pym

Is this nose-dive of 900 million bricks between 1964 and 1966, coupled with the enormous rise in stocks, the fulfilment of Labour's pledge to plan the bricks?

Mr. Prentice

The important thing is that there was a decline in demand, partly, because of a falling-off in starts in the private sector of house-building, and partly because some other programmes were cut back for economic reasons. It was certainly our main pledge that we would clear up the economic mess left by hon. and right hon. Members opposite.

Mr. More

How does the Minister expect to avoid a shortage of bricks next year if the Government decide to reflate the building industry after the decline in production which must have been brought about as a result of the measures taken this year by the Government?

Mr. Prentice

This is an interesting question. There is in the brick industry the perpetual problem that its stocks can easily slide into either shortage or glut because of the nature of the industry and the size of the product. What I hope is that, despite the disappointing demand in recent months, the brick industry will not close down plant permanently and that the capacity will be there when required.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

Reverting to the target of 400,000 houses, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that what his senior colleague says in the House does not matter? Second, has not the brick situation now reached, even for this Government, the proportions of a national scandal? Can the brick makers come to No.10 and put their case at the summit as so many other industralists do?

Mr. Prentice

I have already dealt with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. On the latter part, I do not at all agree that the situation has reached the proportions of a national scandal. I have explained—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman already knows it—that this is an industry which produces for quick sale. It carries a stock of about three weeks' supply, and it can be financially embarrassed if that stock goes over five or six weeks' supply. This is the sort of thing which happened last year. The reasons leading up to that situation certainly cannot be described in the extravagant language which the hon. Gentleman has used.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

In view of the unsatisfactory replies, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.