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Capital Underspending

Volume 32: debated on Thursday 25 November 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his latest estimate of the capital underspending in 1982–83 on housing and other environmental projects; and if he will seek to reduce it.

I do not at present expect that there will be any capital underspending on the housing programmes in 1982–83. Capital underspending on other environmental projects is expected to be relatively small.

Does the Minister agree that the high level of unemployment and the poor housing conditions throughout Northern Ireland point to the need to increase capital expenditure? Will he take steps to tackle the problems there by doing so?

The Housing Executive capital programme will amount this year to £169 million, in addition to which £34 million will be available in grants to the private sector. Housing associations are spending £29·5 million. These are high figures. The building programme in Belfast is the largest since 1875. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and Opposition Members will feel that this is some progress in the direction that the House would expect.

Does the Minister accept, unlike his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, that capital investment involves revenue expenditure'? Will he bear that fact in mind in planning expansion, especially in housing, where 37 per cent. of building firms are working at under half capacity.

The number of people unemployed in the construction industry in Northern Ireland has fallen by about 2,000 during the past 12 months. That shows that our capital expenditure programme is creating jobs on the ground.

Will the Minister tell the House what is happening in the negotiations about the £18 million that was to come from the European Community for housing in the Belfast area?

That is a different question. If the hon. Gentleman will table it, I shall endeavour to answer it.