HC Deb 20 April 1994 vol 241 cc872-3
4. Mr. Spring

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what role he foresees for his Department over the next 12 months in sponsoring the construction industry.

The Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction (Sir George Young)

The Department will build on the enhanced support that it is giving to the construction industry in order to encourage its success in both home and overseas markets.

Mr. Spring

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the £6 billion worth of exports undertaken by the United Kingdom construction industry during 1992? Is he satisfied that the industry is receiving sufficient support and can he cite any initiatives that would help it to gain a still larger share of the world market?

Sir George Young

I pay tribute to the construction industry's work in generating some £6 billion in overseas earnings: that shows that there is a demand for British products and skills. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has just returned from India—where he led an export drive —clutching a fistful of new orders. I am off to Beirut next week, and to Kazakhstan next month, with the construction industry, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is off to Chile and Argentina. The Department will do what it can to help British companies to win orders and generate work for British people.

Mr. Battle

Why do not the Government act now to forge a clear link between housing construction, employment and the health of our economy? As well as encouraging the industry to win contracts in Berlin and Beirut—which we welcome—why not also let local authorities use their £5.5 billion worth of capital receipts from council house sales to get thousands of our 500,000 construction workers back to building and repairing the homes that are desperately needed for rent here in Britain?

Sir George Young

The hon. Gentleman clearly has not seen the figures that we published yesterday about the construction industry. Construction orders for the latest three months were 14 per cent. up on the previous three months—31 per cent. higher than a year ago. Public sector building orders are 50 per cent. up on 1991. There has been a real about-turn in the construction industry, with the most positive forecasts that we have seen for many years. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will rejoice at the better news that is now coming out of the industry.

Mr. Ward

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Sir Michael Latham is about to produce an important report on the construction industry. May we be assured that the Government will consider it carefully and will provide any legislative time that may be needed to implement it?

Sir George Young

As my hon. Friend says, our former colleague Sir Michael Latham is carrying out an important study into construction. His interim report was published a few weeks ago and was well received. He hopes to complete his work in July. It is a tribute to his work that the interim report was well received, and certainly the Government and all those in construction who await his final report in July will give it the serious consideration that it rightly merits.