HL Deb 07 June 1990 vol 519 cc1513-4

3.25 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are taking any steps to minimise redundancies in the construction industry during the current slump in the housing market.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, despite some job losses, employment in the sector at the end of last year was at its highest level for at least 10 years. The most effective ways of minimising redundancies in the construction and other sectors is to reduce inflation by maintaining our present monetary and fiscal policies.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that what he has just said, which I hope is on the record, is the opposite of views submitted to the national press by the Building Employers' Confederation, which claims that work is dropping off in every sector and that work loads have been terribly reduced during the past few months; and that if there is a continuation of the collapse in the housing market there is a possibility that 100,000 jobs will be lost? Will the Minister look again at what he has said or does he now say that the BEC has not stated the facts or the truth?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, no. What I shall do is to repeat what I have just said. The most effective way of minimising redundancies is to ensure that we have a healthy economy. We do that by reducing inflation and maintaining our tight monetary and fiscal policies which will ensure that we have a booming industry. After eight years of growth in the construction market, given the current level of interest rates, it is not surprising that it should now decrease, but the long-term future for the construction and house building industry is good.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, that is not the point that I was making and the noble Lord is aware of that. He said that the construction industry is increasing the number of people it employs month by month. The BEC says the reverse: that 100,000 jobs are at risk. That is what I was complaining about. What the Minister has said can in no way be related to what the BEC has said is the position.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord heard what I said in my original Answer. I said that I agreed that there had been some job losses but that employment in the sector at the end of last year was at its highest level for at least 10 years.

Lord Moyne

My Lords, in that context, will my noble friend consider accelerating support for the Housing Corporation, which at the moment is applying the brakes when it might help the building situation by applying the accelerator to schemes which are in hand? Is it not better in a time of relative slump to spend less money than to spend more money at a time of boom, which we all hope is coming?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will be pleased to hear that the Housing Corporation capital programme is set to rise from £11 billion this year to £1-5 billion in 1991–92 and £1-7 billion in 1992-93. That is a massive and rapid increase by anyone's standards.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, in view of the Minister's acceptance that there are some job losses, will he say whether any steps are being taken to prevent loss of skills in the industry, because it is important that we maintain skill training and skill levels in the industry? If there is to be unemployment those skills will be lost. Are any steps being considered to ensure that that does not happen?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. Skill levels and shortages are of great concern to us all. In that context, the Construction Industry Training Board is working hard to alleviate the skill shortages and to ensure that skills are not lost to the industry.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, perhaps I may follow up that question. Does the Minister agree that one way to mitigate the effects of redundancies in the construction industry, particularly those affecting young people, would be to restore to the CITB, at least temporarily, the financial assistance formerly made available to it for youth training?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the construction industry stilll uses the youth training and employment training, providing its services either to young people or to people who have been unemployed. The main point about the Construction Industry Training Board is that it should be more responsive to the needs of employers.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Royal Institute of British Architects has supported the employers' federation, which says that house building is likely to drop dramatically in the next two months? Is he also aware that the Law Society has pointed out that it is inundated by young lawyers who are specialists in conveyancing? They now find themselves unemployed and the situation will worsen. Will the Government take into consideration the statement made by the Building Employers Confederation, by the Law Society and by the Royal Institute of British Architects? They all point out that the situation is much more serious than the Government seem to think.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, we shall seek to run the economy in such a way that the long-term future of the construction industry is assured. I believe that that is the most sensible approach.

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