HC Deb 19 July 1995 vol 263 cc1649-50
3. Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the business prospects for the house-building industry. [33373]

Mr. Robert B. Jones

The Government remain firmly committed to a policy of sustainable home ownership and we anticipate recovery in the house-building industry as the wider economy continues to grow.

Mr. Nicholson

The national interest and the Conservative party's interest depend on a flourishing housing and building industry in the widest possible sense—home ownership and encouraging mobility. Does my hon. Friend agree that the present situation—which has complex causes, notably the over-borrowing of the late 1980s—is not sustainable for long? It is desirable for the reasons that I have given that my hon. Friend's Department should work closely with the Treasury to bring forward specific, urgent and early measures to encourage the house-building industry.

Mr. Jones

I shall certainly draw my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor's attention to my hon. Friend's point, but I return to the fact that the health of the house-building industry depends crucially on the performance of the economy as a whole. As my hon. Friend says, it would serve no one any good if we returned to the days of hyper-inflation in house prices.

Mrs. Helen Jackson

In view of the Minister's new responsibility for health and safety, has he yet had time to look at the appalling health and safety record of building workers in the house-building industry? What will he do, particularly about the deregulated sector, commonly known as the lump?

Mr. Jones

The hon. Lady sounds like a voice from the 1960s. We are, of course, keen to see improving safety standards in the construction industry. As someone who worked in that industry, I am more aware of the matter than most, and we will continue to place emphasis on it.

Mr. Dover

Does my hon. Friend agree that a key factor in the house-building industry is the level of interest rates? Does he applaud the action taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 5 May when he resisted increasing interest rates? Will my hon. Friend try to ensure that, like the Chorley building society, other building societies do not always put up their rates when the larger ones do?

Mr. Jones

I am pleased to hear about the building society in my hon. Friend's constituency. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor has to balance all the considerations, including the climate for inflation, as well as the performance of the economy as a whole. As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, that is not an easy balancing act.