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Construction Programmes (Expenditure)

Volume 983: debated on Thursday 24 April 1980

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asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he expects to be able to give further details of future public expenditure on construction programmes beyond 1980–81.

I cannot give my hon. Friend any undertaking about when I shall be able to provide such information, because detailed decisions on the composition of expenditure programmes beyond 1980–81 have not yet been taken.

I understand that. However, with regard to table 5.2 of the public expenditure White Paper—which stops at the end of 1980–81—does my right hon. Friend accept, in principle, that medium-term targets are as important for construction planning as they are for monetary control?

I understand that point, and I know that the industry has expressed anxiety on this matter. Those considerations will be taken into account when we contemplate the next White Paper.

Although I accept that the Minister is, not unnaturally, reluctant to publish the figures for construction, are not the housing figures available in the Estimates? Do not they show a cut of £2·5 billion a year by 1983, most of it in bricks and mortar? Is not that a suicidal policy when 235,000 building workers are unemployed?

I readily confess that I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's specific question, but I shall ensure that an answer is sent to him. There is no point in deceiving ourselves about the construction industry. If there is to be a cut in the rate of inflation, and if an interim price is to be paid for reduced activity, the construction industry, no less than other parts of the economy, will have to pay it.

In view of the forecast decline in investment in the construction industry, why are the Government deliberately understating North Sea oil revenues by £3 billion or £4 billion in current prices, and probably £7 billion or £8 billion a year in foreseeable terms? Is it not more important that those revenues are used to strengthen industry and investment in this country and do not go abroad in capital outflow and destroy our industry through a high-value pound?

Although that is a controversial question, it is none the less interesting and perceptive, I suggest that it goes a good deal wider than the public expenditure construction programme. The conclusion that I draw from the hon. Gentleman's observation is that it is unfair to characterise the medium-term forecast as some facile piece of optimism.