HC Deb 06 February 1974 vol 868 cc1211-3
19. Mr. Boyden

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what building materials are now in short supply.

40. Mr. O'Halloran

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the supply position relating to house building materials.

Mr. Channon

The main delays in the supply of building materials relate to steel, plaster and plasterboard. Otherwise supplies are generally sufficient to meet demand, though some local shortages of cement have been reported.

Mr. Boyden

Is the Minister aware of the difficulties which these shortages are causing to the building industry? Does he not think that the time has come for his Department, in conjunction with the industry, to work out an allocation so that proper priorities can be established?

Mr. Channon

I would be reluctant to do that unless forced to do so. It would be an extraordinarily difficult and complex task, and the industry is not pressing me on the matter at present. I have not shut my mind to the possibility should circumstances develop which I hope will not develop.

Mr. McBride

The Secretary of State for Wales has informed me that in Wales there is a shortage of steel, plaster, plasterboard and sanitary ware. Would it not be correct to insert a forward planning proviso in the Housing and Planning Bill to ensure that there is a continuous flow of materials directed to the construction and improvement of houses?

Mr. Channon

Everyone is well aware of the need to keep up progress in house building. The building materials industry is well aware of this and no legislation is required. What is needed is a return to normal working in all sections of industry.

Mr. Marten

As one of the shortages is steel, can my hon. Friend say why we are short of steel and what is the outlook for the next three months?

Mr. Channon

It is impossible at the moment to give an accurate assessment of the future of steel for the next three months. It all depends on many events in industry. Steel production at present is about 70 per cent. of normal production. Stocks of coking coal are at a minimum level at most works and future production will depend mainly on coal deliveries.

Mr. Conlan

Is the Minister aware that small builders and property repairers find it almost impossible to get supplies of cement unless they are prepared to pay much more than the normal price, and they therefore believe that we are now seeing in these materials the beginning of a black market the like of which has not been seen since the war?

Mr. Channon

I have not received that allegation from any representative of the industry. The average delivery time is approximately seven weeks after the merchant has received an order, which he then passes to the supplier. We must keep the matter under continuous review. No doubt the three-day working week, the electricity difficulties and the threat of a miners' strike may make the situation worse.