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House-Building Workers

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 17 May 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that the number of men engaged on the construction of permanent houses and preparation of housing sites has fallen from 31,000 in December, 1948, to 26,600 in March, 1949; what effect this will have on the housing programme; and what steps are being taken to arrest this decline.

The provisional figure for March has now been adjusted to 28,069. The figures quoted however exclude men directly employed by local authorities; if these men are included the comparable figures become 35,300 in December and 32,500 in March. Many factors affect the totals of men employed on housing but the fall in the first quarter of this year probably results from the high rate of completion recently achieved. During the past few months the starting of a large number of new houses has been authorised and as they come into construction, this should be reflected in the number of men employed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these men are likely to drift out of the housing programme altogether? In view of the very great need, will he give urgent consideration to increasing the number engaged?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this Spring probably for the first time for a long while many householders are able to get their houses redecorated and brought into repair. There is no check on the people who do that work outside the normal building industry. Naturally there is no desire to keep men unemployed if they can be used to do that work while the other work is being prepared.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the revised figures show that the labour force in Scotland is still declining while the comparative figures for England show that the labour force there is increasing? Is the Secretary of State aware that there is grave anxiety among Scottish local authorities about the labour position?

It is possible that that conclusion could be drawn but it would not necessarily be accurate. The fact that the number of men employed on new housing has gone down is no indication that they are not employed on other housing work which is not recorded in these figures.

Are we to understand from the right hon. Gentleman that the reduction in the numbers employed is not the result of Government policy?

It is partly because we are very anxious that fewer people should be employed on building the houses on which larger numbers were employed last year. We must get the cost of housing down, and that can only be attained by improved efficiency in building.

In view of the serious situation which exists, will the right hon. Gentleman consider keeping these men in the building industry whatever form of building they are engaged in? Is not the building of new houses the most serious problem in Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman has just made the point I have been trying to make. The important thing is to build houses and not to keep the people employed if they are not actually building houses.

In view of the concern felt about this matter, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this subject on the Motion for the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.