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Cement Supplies

Volume 476: debated on Monday 26 June 1950

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asked the Minister of Works if he is aware of the shortage of cement in the Macclesfield and Congleton areas, which is holding up house building progress; and what steps is he taking to remedy the position.

Yes, Sir. Deliveries to the north-west region have recently been increased, and the Macclesfield and Congleton areas should benefit thereby.

Is the Minister aware that I have a letter in my hand saying that orders for cement placed on 22nd March have yet to be completed? Is he aware that the failure to carry out these orders is holding up the construction of 30 new houses, and will he undertake to give to my constituency the same priority as the South Bank Festival of Britain site?

The hon. and gallant Member will realise that I am not directly responsible for the distribution or manufacture of cement. Arrangements have been made for an increased supply to that area of 3,000 tons as between the third week in May and the present date. It may be that some people are still short, and we are doing our best to meet particular cases. If the hon. and gallant Member will send me particulars I will see what I can do.

The Minister says that he is not responsible for the production and distribution of cement. Is he not responsible for the amounts used by the Service Departments?

Is the Minister aware of the very serious effect which the shortage of cement is having upon agriculture in Cheshire; and further, that the shortage is occurring just at the very time of the year when cement is needed most? What does the Minister intend to do about it?

I am aware of the seriousness of any shortage. If the hon. and gallant Member has any case, agricultural or otherwise, I shall be very glad to look into it.


asked the Minister of Works what reply he has sent to the letter addressed to him, dated 17th June, 1950, from the Liverpool Regional Federation of Building Trade Employers regarding the shortage of cement on Merseyside; and how far either of the suggestions made are practicable.

I have sent my hon. Friend a copy of my reply to the Federation's letter. She will note that I warmly welcome the second suggestion to encourage the use of lime mortar instead of cement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his answer to the first part of the Question is not considered to be satisfactory? Will he say whether he has any authority to deal with the amount of cement that is actually exported, and whether his Department undertakes any responsibility for the fact that too much is exported and there is insufficient to meet home needs?

The hon. Lady is not quite right in her facts. It is impossible to alter the export programme at short notice, but I certainly can influence it. I have taken such steps as may be necessary, after consultation with the trade, to modify the export programme. Long before that, I took steps to supplement what the trade thought was immediately necessary at home. I arranged to import 80,000 tons, and they said the total was adequate.

Will the Minister have the reply he sent earlier to me circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Can the Minister do anything about channelling cement supplies for building trade purposes, particularly housing, rather than for the other uses to which, unfortunately, cement goes?

The responsible cement distributing companies have been asked to give top priority to all house building programmes, if necessary stopping other work of national importance.

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman's reply may cause misunderstanding, will he make it quite clear that it is the Government which fixed or, at any rate, laid down, in a communication to the industry the target for cement production for the home market and that the industry has delivered more cement in the home market than was asked for in the Government target?

The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. I doubt if anybody could have foreseen what has happened. A greatly increased production of cement has taken place, but there has also been a very much increased consumption. I hope that by the end of six weeks the situation will be balanced, and that by the end of the year home production will have greatly overtaken demand.


asked the Minister of Works what reduction there has been in the supplies of cement to the City of Nottingham and the immediate district.

Is my right hon. Friend confident that his desire that supplies of cement should be used for house building purposes only will be accepted, and that the advice he has given to the trade will be accepted by the trade?

So far, the trade have been very co-operative. Whenever I or my Department have drawn their attention to a so-called shortage, or a danger of shortage, in housing, they have, to the best of my knowledge, taken immediate action.

Can the Minister say whether the reduction of supplies in Nottingham and district for house building during recent weeks has been more or less than 25 per cent. as compared with the past year, and whether the top priority of which he spoke includes priority before the National Coal Board?

The question of increased supplies is raised in another question on the Order Paper.

Is the Minister aware that when I drew attention to this shortage some weeks ago he denied there was a shortage? In view of the Questions asked today, and the concern expressed on both sides of the House about this, does he still maintain that there is no shortage? Will he do something about it?

It all depends what the hon. Gentleman means by shortage. The cement companies have done very well. They have produced a great deal more than was ever anticipated would be required, more than could have been anticipated by anybody. There has been a very considerably increased consumption. When I said there was no shortage, what I meant to say was that there would be no shortage on the amount originally planned.


asked the Minister of Works what demands for cement from other undertakings there have been that have necessitated reducing supplies of cement to builders for housing purposes in the Nottingham City area.

I am not aware of cement for housing in Nottingham having to be diverted to other undertakings.

Will my right hon. Friend take all the necessary steps he can to give that information to the local building organisations, who are spreading very widely the story that cement is being used in large quantities for non-essential work in the Nottingham district?

I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for asking the Question. I am sure that his local paper will publish the reply.

Is the right hon. Gentleman sure that he has better figures than the local builders? Can he categorically deny that the amount of cement for house building during the last few weeks has, in fact, been more than 25 per cent. less than in the corresponding period last year?

That is rather difficult to answer categorically. I can only tell the hon. Member that in 1949 the average for the first quarter was 9,618 tons; in 1950 it was 10,152 tons and in the present quarter, so far, the average has been about 400 tons a week above that.


asked the Minister of Works whether he is aware of the cement and brick shortage in South Wales; and whether he will suspend operations on all building work not classified as essential in order that materials may be used for housing purposes.

I am aware that supplies of cement and bricks may not be sufficient to meet all demands in South Wales, but I do not know of any serious interruption in important work. The answer to the second part of the Question is, "No, Sir."

Is the Minister aware that his own Department recently issued a disturbing report with regard to possibilities in South Wales? Will he stop the large scale building of Prudential Insurance premises, which will largely be used as Government offices?

I will have a look at the report to which my hon. Friend refers, but I must point out that it is not for me to discriminate. I have gone as far as I think reasonable by saying that housing is to be given top priority and asking the cement companies to observe that request.