HC Deb 25 February 1959 vol 600 cc1092-4
5. Mr. Gibson

asked the Minister of Labour the number of unemployed operatives in the building industry in December, 1958, and in December, 1957; and what relation exists between these figures and the rate of commencement of the building of new houses.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Sixty-nine thousand two hundred and ninety-two workers whose last employment was in the building and contracting industries were unemployed in Great Britain on 8th December, 1958, compared with 45,498 on 9th December, 1957. During 1958 the construction of 259,000 houses was begun, compared with 276,000 in 1957. The level of employment in the industry depends on the total amount of building of all kinds in progress, though the number of new houses begun is an important part of that total.

Mr. Gibson

May I ask the Minister whether, in view of the housing situation, to which he has referred, he would agree with what his Parliamentary Secretary said in the last debate on the subject of unemployment— that it was a fall in demand which, among other things, created increased unemployment? How can he say that there is a fall in demand for building labour when we are still a million or more houses short of what we need? Will he say what steps are being taken to try to absorb this high figure of unemployment in the building industry, which is the highest since the beginning of the war?

Mr. Macleod

The point I was making in my main Answer is that I do not think that there is any sort of direct relationship, as suggested by the hon. Member. Employment, as distinct from unemployment, has virtually not changed over the last year, and building figures, as he knows very well, are particularly difficult to interpret, because there is so much movement in and out of the industry. So far as the measures which the Government are taking to help demand in this field are concerned, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of those relating to lower interest rates, credit restrictions and additions to public investment which were announced in this House.

Mr. Shinwell

Unlike the problem of the shipbuilding industry, which is affected by world conditions, is not this problem of unemployment in the building trade largely a matter within the competence of the Government themselves? Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that the Government's intervention in respect of credits and interest rates is sufficient to enable them to tackle this problem wholeheartedly?

Mr. Macleod

I accept the general truth of what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I went beyond credit restrictions and interest rates. I referred to the additions to public investments announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and also to some relaxation in house building restrictions, which—I do not know whether they were announced or not—have been put into effect by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government.