HC Deb 15 October 1996 vol 282 cc574-5
3. Sir Anthony Durant: T

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his Department's responsibilities in relation to the construction industry. [38352]

The Minister for Construction, Planning and Energy Efficiency (Mr. Robert B. Jones)

My Department's role within the Government and the EU is to help sell British construction products and services in the domestic, European and world markets.

Sir Anthony Durant

Does my hon. Friend agree that the recovery in the construction industry is still slow? Will he encourage the private finance initiative, in co-operation with the Department of Health and the Department of Transport, and try to get it moving a little faster?

Mr. Jones

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the private finance initiative. My right hon. Friend and I have met those in the construction industry several times to discuss issues related to the PFI and, as a result, have encouraged bilaterals with the Departments to which my hon. Friend referred, but not just those Departments, because we must ensure that any, obstacles are overcome, whichever Departments are involved.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth

Does the Minister accept that half a million jobs in the construction industry have been lost over the past six years? How does he justify the Government's policy doing such damage to the industry, when £5 billion of local authority capital receipts are tied up and unusable and there is massive need in the country? Does the Minister accept any responsibility for that?

Mr. Jones

I remember the borrowing binge that the last Labour Government went through, and the massive inflation that did immense damage to the construction industry. We would no doubt have that again if we ever had the misfortune to have another Labour Government.

Sir Michael Neubert

Will my hon. Friend have a word with his colleagues in the Treasury and draw their attention to the part of the construction industry that is carried out on the black economy, to the detriment of fair competition, adequate training skills and general competence, not to mention the Chancellor's cash flow? Would it not be of great benefit if that illegal activity were reduced, the revenue restored and the prospect of tax cuts for honest taxpayers brought much closer?

Mr. Jones

As my hon. Friend knows, legitimate contractors have considerable interest in trying to tackle the black economy. We have been engaged in discussions through both the Department of the Environment and the Treasury, and are contemplating what steps to take at this very moment.