HC Deb 19 January 1977 vol 924 cc321-2
16. Mr. Douglas-Mann

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received from trade unions representing the construction industry concerning the distribution, as between investment and subsidies, of public funds allocated to housing.

Mr. Freeson

Representations were made at the meeting of the National Consultative Council for the Building and Civil Engineering Industries in December.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that over the past few years there has been a massive shift in the proportion of public money spent on housing away from investment on new building and improvement and towards the subsidising of rents and mortgages? Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that if this trend continues we shall have a construction industry capable of meeting the housing needs of the future?

Mr. Freeson

Certainly that is a point that has given rise to some concern in various quarters. It falls to be considered, and is being considered, as part of the housing policy review. I do not think I am in a position to make any further comment on this matter at present.

Mr. Carter-Jones

In view of the large number of people unemployed in the construction industry and the fact that the import content in building new houses and factories is low, would my right hon. Friend not be better off giving more effort, energy and money to expanding the public as well as the private sector in industry in order to provide employment for construction industry workers?

Mr. Freeson

The provision of capital resources for public or private sector industrial development does not fall within my remit. I am concerned only with the housing aspect. I operate within the budgetary limits imposed by the cuts announced in July and subsequently in December.

The point that was put to me concerned the balance between expenditure on subsidy, either in the private or public sector, compared with the expenditure on investment and whether we should not reform that balance. I have indicated that we are looking at such questions in the context of the housing policy review.

Mr. Heseltine

Does the Minister realise that by continuing the emphasis on current consumption in public expenditure he is actually destroying jobs in the construction industry because he is cutting back on capital investment? Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that there is any prospect of there being fewer than 250,000 unemployed workers in the construction industry by the end of this year?

Mr. Freeson

I can only remind the hon. Gentleman once more that, whatever the constraints in the past year, we are currently building many more houses. We have a higher rate of investment in housing construction today than when we came into office and inherited the programme of the last Conservative Government. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned to see a cut-back in current expenditure in these areas, I should be interested to hear his views and those of his party at some time. In the housing policy review we are looking for any proposals that can be mooted for cutting mortgage tax relief, which is part of the question put to me.