§ 25. Mr. Frank Allaun
asked the Minister of Public Building and Works if he will state the number of building firms which closed down in the last 12 months; and what were the main causes for such closures.
§ 33. Mr. Kenneth Lewis
asked the Minister of Public Building and Works how many small building firms he estimates have gone out of business in the years 1969 and 1970.
§ Mr. John Silkin
A total of 6,750 firms in the construction industry ceased trading during 1969 but my Ministry has no record of causes. Included in the total were about 6,400 firms with less than 25 persons of which about 2,900 were one-man businesses. Similar information for 1970 is not yet available.
§ Mr. Allaun
If later today there is no relaxation of the credit squeeze on house-building firms will my right hon. Friend "do a Devlin" and sit all night outside No. 11 Downing Street? Could there be anything more anomalous than having firms and building workers unemployed on the one hand and several millions of families desperately needing houses on the other?
§ Mr. Silkin
I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern, but I am not altogether sure that we can deduce all the inferences that he makes from these figures. The assumption of my hon. Friend is that the closing of these businesses resulted from a lack of liquidity. This is not necessarily true. [Interruption.] There are many thousands of new firms starting, and at the same time a number of businesses closing down or amalgamating, because the proprietor does not wish to continue.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is difficult for hon. Gentlemen to put their questions and to receive answers against a background of conversation.
§ Mr. Lewis
Is it not time that the Government started to help the poor businessman instead of caning him all the while? Does the Minister realise that many of these small firms have built some of the best houses in the country and that the more we kill off the fewer houses we get and the worse it is for those on the waiting list for houses?
§ Mr. Silkin
As to building in general the hon. Gentleman may have heard me say earlier that output, apart from housing, went up in 1969. As for housing I would once again draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing on 18th March. 1970.
§ Mr. Heffer
Would my right hon. Friend ask hon. Gentlemen to get this question of the small firms into proper perspective? Is he aware that there has always been a proliferation of small firms in the building industry and that their rate of failure has always been tremendously high? Does the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) realise that, on this issue, it is very important that he should not attack the Government for something for which they are not basically responsible?
§ Mr. Silkin
Once again I would say that it is significant—and my hon. Friend has pointed the way—that, although there has been a number of closures, and many of these may have been through amalgamations, there have also been many thousands of new firms starting up in 1969.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a new factor is that large and reputable building firms have closed down this year, for the first time in any great quantity, and that this is due in large measure to S.E.T.? Is he not aware that despite the new measures, many of the small house-building firms, who build anything up to 40 per cent. of the private houses in this country are suffering? Is it not time for some new measures?
§ Mr. Silkin
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have taken in my first answer which was that out of 6,750 firms in the construction industry, 6,400 were firms of less than 25 persons, so that the attempt that he makes to say that this is a matter affecting the whole building industry is simply not true.