Building Industry (Black Economy)

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th February 1987.

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Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Rutland and Melton 12:00 am, 4th February 1987

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will instruct his working party on the effects of the black economy on the building industry to complete its inquiry and publish its report by Whitsun; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

This working party will not be confined to the effects of the black economy. It will be looking at a range of issues such as the role of guarantee and warranty schemes in smaller scale building works. There are no instant solutions to these complex issues and many organisations, such as the building societies, have asked how to be involved. It will just not be possible to come up with soundly based proposals by Whitsun.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Rutland and Melton

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is now one and three quarter years since his predecessor produced a Green Paper promising just these discussions with the industry on all the fiddles, rip-offs and other disasters that go on in the home improvement industry? Will he please give his Department a good boot up the backside and tell it to produce some specific proposals now?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

There are no bad civil servants, only bad Ministers. If any kicks up the backside must be administered, they must be administered to Ministers. My hon. Friend has already administered such a kick to me in his excellent comment in an excellent periodical, Building, last week. Apart from that, all the letters and representations that we have received welcome the working party. They total 22. I understand what my hon. Friend said from his great depth of experience of this issue.

Perhaps we should try to speed up our proceedings. I shall examine the matter again to see whether we can do so, but we shall not be able to do it by Whitsun.

Photo of Mr Lewis Carter-Jones Mr Lewis Carter-Jones , Eccles

If the working party reports and if, as is most likely, it recommends that there should be better trade training and better safety practices, will the Minister undertake to implement such recommendations speedily?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

Yes, indeed. Only three weeks ago my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment and I met representatives of the building and construction industry and the trade unions to discuss just these problems. Afterwards, the meeting was described by one distinguished trade union leader, Mr. Albert Williams, as surprisingly constructive.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

Does my hon. Friend agree with Lord Scarman that the black economy is a good thing, or does he agree with the vast majority of the country that dishonesty should be discouraged?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I certainly think that dishonesty should be discouraged.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

We also welcome the working party and add to the strictures placed upon it by his hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham).

Will the Minister take on board this important point? An unregulated industry leading to a black economy has horrendous consequences for health and safety in the industry. The Minister and the working party must take on board the consequences of the deaths of workers on building sites and, in particular, on demolition sites. That cannot be divorced from the ramifications of the black economy in this industry.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I discussed these points this morning with the National Economic Development Council. The hon. Member raised some serious points. Trade union voices will be heard on the working party and they will have a chance to make representations about these issues.