HC Deb 10 March 1970 vol 797 cc1092-4
3. Mr. H. Boardman

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works if he will state the number of closures of building firms in the North-West in the past two years.

16. Mr. Tilney

asked the Minister of Public Building and Works what steps he is taking to counteract unemployment in the construction industry in the North-West.

The Minister of Public Building and Works (Mr. John Silkin)

The number of construction firms in the North-West Region which closed in 1968 and 1969 was 809 and 762 respectively. Because of my concern for the construction industry as a whole I have, as I indicated on 10th February, had discussions with all sides of the industry and am considering the situation with my colleagues.

Mr. Boardman

To what extent are those failures due in part to a false scarcity of land brought about by a too rigid green belt policy which in turn brings about a phenomenally high price for land? There is also the effect of S.E.T. to be considered. If the Government want to do something about housing, should they not do something about these two problems?

Mr. Silkin

It is as well to consider this very carefully. The closures were almost entirely concentrated among the small- and very small-size firms, that is, firms with fewer than 25 workers. One has to be very careful because this may well reflect amalgamations and acquisitions as well as genuine closures.

Mr. Tilney

Is the Minister aware that closures have led to an increase of over 4,000 unemployed in the industry in the North-West and many of them will never return to the industry?

Mr. Silkin

I am, of course, very much concerned about unemployment in the construction industry, but generally activity in the construction industry as a whole, apart from house building, in the North-West has been moving fairly satisfactorily. It was, for example, at constant prices 10 per cent. higher in 1969 than in the same period in 1968.

Mr. Heffer

But would my right hon. Friend not agree that the level of unemployment among building workers in the North-West and on Merseyside is far too high? Will he urge the Chancellor to do something positive soon to ensure that credit facilities for builders are eased and other steps taken to realise more work in the building industry?

Mr. Silkin

My hon. Friend knows my concern about the general question of unemployment in the construction industry, and that I have been having discussions with my colleagues.

Mr. Longden

What is wrong with a firm which employs 25 or fewer men?

Mr. Silkin

I do not remember telling the House that there was anything wrong; I was trying to explain what had actually happened and said that there might have been amalgamations and acquisitions, as well as straight closures.