HC Deb 25 November 1957 vol 578 cc803-5
45. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Minister of Supply what opportunities are open to the Controller of Ordnance Factories to tender for contracts for Royal Ordnance factories.

Mr. Aubrey Jones

The Controller of Royal Ordnance Factories is free to tender for any defence stores his factories are equipped to produce. In addition, he may seek civil work where this is needed to keep essential defence capacity in being or to relieve a shortage of civil supplies.

Mr. Mayhew

Will the Minister give the assurance that when Royal Ordnance factories such as Woolwich Arsenal are under-employed and can tender at a cheaper rate than private firms for private contract, he will encourage them to do so?

Mr. Jones

My answer indicated that the tendering for civil work is encouraged, subject to our ability to satisfy the criteria I laid down. The aspect of the question which, I think, the hon. Member tends to ignore is that reserve capacity must be held in being for defence purposes. It cannot be turned over fully to civil purposes, because its withdrawal to defence work is utterly impractical.

46. Mr. Hannan

asked the Minister of Supply if he is aware of the growing concern of the trade unions and Scottish Council for Industry about the increase in unemployment likely to arise following the closure of Royal Ordnance factories in Scotland; and whether he will make a statement about the future of these factories.

Mr. Aubrey Jones

Yes, Sir. I announced last July that two Scottish factories would eventually cease to be needed as Royal Ordnance factories. I was anxious that the notice of closure should be as long as possible so that we should have time to interest industry in the factories and so reduce the risk of unemployment. The Royal Ordnance factory at Dalmuir is to be acquired by Babcock and Wilcox, Limited, and meanwhile it is the company's stated intention, as defence work runs down, to put its own work into the factory in order to avoid a break in activity. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and I, in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, will do our best to find a satisfactory solution in the case of the Irvine factory also.

Mr. Hannan

Will the Minister bear in mind that the closure of the factories in Scotland is quite disproportionate to what is taking place in the rest of the country, in that 3,000 of the national total of 7,000 workers who will become unemployed are in Scotland? Will he direct his mind to the retention of these factories in public ownership and arrange with other Government Departments for them to make and manufacture equipment for the nationalised industries?

Mr. Jones

I cannot accept any imputation of unfairness to Scotland. The problem of which factories are to be retained and which closed down is primarily a technical problem. I agree that, where possible, technical considerations should be tempered by other considerations. They were, in fact, taken into account in this instance, but the closure of these two factories was in the circumstances unavoidable.