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Housing, Scotland

Volume 499: debated on Tuesday 22 April 1952

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Scandinavian Timber Houses


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement regarding the scheme for importing Scandinavian timber houses.

The lowest of the quotations which I have received from both foreign and home manufacturers is from the Weir Housing Corporation of Coat-bridge, Scotland. I have, therefore, arranged that this firm will undertake a programme, based on orders from local authorities, for the manufacture and erection of up to 3,000 timber houses in 1952 and 1953. This is the maximum number for which timber can be provided in present circumstances and I have been obliged to scale down the total demands of local authorities accordingly. Nevertheless, these houses should ease the demand for bricks which are scarce.

I am sending a circular to local authorities tonight giving them details of the scheme and am writing to selected authorities offering them allocations under the programme.

While thanking the Minister for his second and wiser thoughts on this problem, may I ask whether he is aware that in the building industry there is great dissatisfaction at the loose way the quantities were prepared to be sent out for tender and, secondly, at the time limit that was placed on contractors for doing their estimating—15 days, which included Christmas and New Year holidays? Generally, the tenders were more in the nature of guess work than honest tendering, and there is a danger that if these—

Order. I must ask hon. Members to keep their supplementary questions short.

Will the right hon. Gentleman pay attention to the drafting of quantities in the future, because the prices being estimated for now are likely to be exceeded when the completed price is fixed?

I shall certainly pay attention to any suggestion which the hon. Member makes.

Does this mean that the scheme for importing timber houses from Scandinavia has been abolished, and secondly, will my right hon. Friend look into the previous complaints made amongst other things by the East Kilbride Development Corporation against bad construction by this firm?

We certainly do not want bad construction. It is the case that we are not importing timber houses but are manufacturing them at home.

While we welcome the Minister's statement that these houses are to be manufactured in Scotland, may I take it that the Government have not closed their minds to importing additional houses if that can be arranged in the proper exchange of trade? If this can be facilitated, is there any objection to importing additional timber houses, which have made a great contribution to overcoming the shortage in Scotland?

I should be very glad to consider any suggestions which the right hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member has to make on the subject.

Is this the final word that there will be no importation of Scandinavian houses, because a great many contractors are keeping their orders open? Will my right hon. Friend say whether the firm in Coatbridge is the only one that is allowed to tender in future?

It is not the only firm which is allowed to tender. The point is that they produced the lowest tender, and one can get cheaper production by having the whole of this limited programme in the hands of one firm.

Building Contracts

39 and 40.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland (1) what steps he has taken to circularise local authorities as to the desirability of permitting the use of substitute material in house-building contracts whenever necessary, in order to avoid delay in construction provided this is not detrimental to the general standard required;

(2) whether he will circularise local authorities with a view to urging upon them the desirability of paying promptly for house-building work undertaken on their behalf.

I have sent to the hon. and gallant Member a copy of a circular which I issued to local authorities on 9th April about these matters.

Arising out of the second of these Questions, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the increased rate of overdraft interest makes the second Question very important to builders and that they should not be left too long without their money?

I agree, and I think my hon. and gallant Friend will find that advice has been tendered on this subject.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take care to circulate that part of his reply which deals with substitute house-building materials to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Works who, 15 minutes ago, was bragging to the House of a 13 per cent. increase in brick production and prophesied more bricks and therefore less use of substitute materials?

Since the right hon. Gentleman has shown, in answer to a previous Question, that he has discovered something which he and his party pretended not to know about before—the shortage of bricks—will he reconsider his decision about importing timber houses from Scandinavia, because there is a very great shortage of houses and a crying need for them?

I can assure the hon. Lady that we want to get all we can, but financial considerations make it impossible for me to suggest at the moment that there will be more timber houses.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman had these same considerations in mind when six months ago he and his colleagues were promising the importation of Scandinavian houses?