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Construction Industry

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 3 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current level of unemployment in the construction industry; and what percentage increase that figure represents over the equivalent figure for 1st March 1974.

At 10th February, the latest date for which an industrial analysis is available, 227,443 people who last worked in the construction industry were registered as unemployed in Great Britain. This figure represents an increase of 101ยท2 per cent. since March 1974.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that that dreadful figure of a 101 per cent. increase under his Government in any way represents a creditable or honourable record for the Administration?

I think that it is an extremely unsatisfactory figure. I believe that the Government acknowledged that in the debate last night. Through the hon. Gentleman, I ask his party's Front Bench to tell us what its policies are for the construction industry and whether it would be cutting back public expenditure in this area as savagely as it has threatened to do in other areas.

Is my hon. Friend aware that even in the construction industry unemployment is higher in some parts of the country than in others? Is he aware, for example, that of the 30,000 unemployed construction workers in the North-West over half of them are on Merseyside? Will he indicate what special and extra efforts are being made by the Government to ensure that there is extra construction work on Merseyside to begin to take up some of the unemployed skilled workers in the area and get them back to work in the industry?

I recognise the special problems of Merseyside in this respect. I must tell my hon. Friend that points of detail are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Certain measures have already been announced that will have special effect in Merseyside.

Has the hon. Gentleman mentioned in his discussions with the Secretary of State for Industry the desirability of increasing development grants for buildings and, if necessary, reducing grants for new machinery, which would give considerable encouragement for new industrial construction and would probably not result in any reduction in investment in new machinery?

That is very much a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. We shall draw his attention to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Will my hon. Friend give an indication of what the general level of unemployment would be if the Government had imposed the massive cuts in public expenditure that Conservatives have been advocating?

I should hate to speculate on that figure, but we cannot get any intelligible answers from the Opposition on these matters.