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Construction Industry

Volume 927: debated on Tuesday 1 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he will make a further statement on the level of unemployment in the construction industry; and what proposals he has for reducing it at least to the level of March 1974.

The latest available quarterly figures for the industry in Great Britain are those for August 1976, when 193.800 workers were registered as unemployed. Questions about future programmes of construction work should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The Government's special employment measures are available to help workers in the construction industry who are unemployed or threatened with redundancy.

Since the work load in the construction industry is so abysmal and is growing steadily worse, will the Government at least insist that the report from the economic development council for building advocating more home ownership—a report which has been suppressed because it may be politically embarrassing—is published as soon as possible?

That is a matter for the NEDC. As for what the report will or will not disclose, I do not know the answer to that matter any more than does the hon. Gentleman, except what has been reported speculatively in the Press. We should find the facts before we make sweeping allegations of that nature.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the construction workers are sick and tired of always being hit by slumps? Is it not time that the Government got down to arranging some sort of crash programme to insist that the construction industry must build more houses, help in home improvements and assist local authorities to take their plans out of pigeon-holes to ensure that more use is made of construction workers on public buildings?

I share my hon. Friend's concern about unemployment in the construction industry. I hope that he will take some small comfort from the recent fall in interest rates, which is expected to lead to an increased demand for building in the private sector and has considerably improved the competitive position in the building societies. I hope that that will give some comfort and help to the building industry.

Will the Minister discuss with the Secretary of State for Industry and the Chancellor of the Exchequer the case for increasing development grants for new industrial building to promote construction and renovation in older areas? If necessary, will he consider making reductions in grants on new machinery to offset the cost as a switch in balance would be beneficial?

Of course, the hon. Gentleman knows that these matters are readily recognised by the Secretary of State for Industry. But it is equally recognised that the Government's industrial and economic strategy is one of providing for more assistance in the measures that are being taken in terms of Sections 7 and 8 of the Industry Act. I hope that in that way the Department of Industry will be able to express a positive response to the kind of strategy of which the hon. Gentleman spoke.

Does my hon. Friend realise that by cutting public spending he will automatically cut back on manufacturing industry? Does he not appreciate that the six-month moratorium on public utilities that arose out of the last set of measures in December and the housing cut-back of last July are throwing pipe-workers out of work and putting them on short time in North Derbyshire, in the Stanton and Staveley areas, and other regions throughout the country? If the Minister really wants to put things on a sound basis and footing, should he not stop listening to Members of the Opposition who are demanding public spending cuts?

My hon. Friend will recall that when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his statement in December he made it quite clear that the programme that he was then announcing would not of itself lead to increased unemployment and that any increase in unemployment would be the result of other factors, such as the general state of the world economy. Our aim must be to achieve a general strengthening of the economy and to provide a sound basis for construction and other industries.