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Building And Construction Industry

Volume 957: debated on Thursday 9 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will set up an inquiry into the building and construction industry in Northern Ireland with a view to improving its efficiency and providing greater stability and better opportunities for growth.

The Northern Ireland construction industry advisory council meets regularly under the chairmanship of a Minister, mostly to advise the Government on these matters. There are 23 members, nominated by professional and trade organisations, plus, of course, the relevant Government Departments.

Does the Minister agree that there is reason for concern that costs in Northern Ireland are much higher than in comparable regions in Great Britain—on average, 40 per cent. higher? Is that not a cause for an independent assessment? Do we need to examine the effect of a single authority in public sector housing on the industry? Do we need to look at the planning decisions and the availability of development land? The industry is not giving a good service to Northern Ireland.

Those are matters which we discuss and for which we have working parties within the group. Every professional group and trade group in Northern Ireland is represented in this committee. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we do some hard work, and some of our recommendations are worked upon and acted upon. I shall, of course, make sure that anything the right hon. Gentleman says in this respect goes forward to the next meeting of the group.

Does my right hon. Friend the Minister agree that there is an overwhelming case in Northern Ireland for public ownership of the building industry?

What I am concerned about in Northern Ireland is the creation of employment. If I were told that public ownership would create another job in Northern Ireland, I should consider it.

Will the Minister continue to look at the cement supply in Northern Ireland? Has he any further announcement to make about the supply of cement to the building industry?

This is one of the recommendations that came from the group on which we were working. The groups in Northern Ireland asked us to put forward a programme which would make us self-sufficient in cement. That is what is happening now. I have a further meeting with the Blue Circle Group and I shall probably be able to say more after that.

In view of the reply of my right hon. Friend to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. (Thorne), will my right hon. Friend look at the Labour Party's construction programme "Building for Britain", where he will find some extremely good proposals which could well be applied to Northern Ireland for the benefit of both the operatives and the employers in Northern Ireland?

I have looked at the document and will do so again on the recommendation of my hon. Friend. If there is any way in which Northern Ireland can lead the rest of the United Kingdom, we shall certainly do so.