HC Deb 12 May 1983 vol 42 cc908-9
12. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the current level of expenditure on public works in Northern Ireland.

Mr. David Mitchell

The Government's public expenditure plans for the current year envisage over £400 million worth of work being generated in the construction industry in Northern Ireland through direct public sector spending on capital projects and maintenance.

Mr. Dubs

Has the Minister seen the recently published report of the Federation of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors, which draws attention to the 25,000 unemployed construction workers and urges a major expansion in the public works programme in Northern Ireland as a means of reducing unemployment without increasing inflationary pressures?

Mr. Mitchell

In addition to the sum that I mentioned, there are Government grants and loans to the private sector totalling about £300 million. One sign of the progress being made by the construction industry in Northern Ireland is that we have the largest house building programme in Belfast for more than 100 years. Last year there was a 17 per cent. increase in private sector house starts.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Does the Minister agree that if public expenditure were accounted for and presented separately in other regions and areas of the United Kingdom, as it is in Northern Ireland, it would be seen that public attention to special needs is not unique to Northern Ireland?

Mr. Mitchell

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is correct. I should add that I do not regard public expenditure as a virility symbol.

Mr. Fitt

Does the Minister agree that there is a haphazard approach to various public expenditure projects in Northern Ireland? Is he aware that in my constituency, where there are so many unemployed, particularly among the young, the Department of Education refused to pay the salary of one school teacher when the employment of that teacher could have kept a lot of young people off the streets and on the community project in St. Louisa's school? There is great resentment at the fact that the Government, by refusing to help that project, are contributing to the disadvantage in that area of Belfast.

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend who looks after the Department of Education is already looking into that matter.

Mr. Soley

Is the Minister aware that the report referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) showed that the value of public works had dropped from about £149 million to about £112 million? Given that the number of unemployed school leavers has increased by about 1,100 since March, why does the hon. Gentleman not take the advice of the civil engineers and my hon. Friend and increase public works expenditure?

Mr. Mitchell

Outside Belfast we are doing all that is necessary to achieve our target. Inside Belfast, we are held up by lack of available land, but we are clearing land as quickly as we can under the redevelopment area policy. We cannot move faster.