HC Deb 11 June 1974 vol 874 cc1389-91
7. Mr. Robin F. Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what preparations are being made by his Department to counter the effect on employment of cuts in defence expenditure.

20. Mr Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what consideration he is giving to finding alternative employment for those employed in defence industries who may be affected by the Government's defence expenditure review.

22. Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what studies he has made about ways in which reducing armament manufacturing may be phased together with increases in civil production to avoid loss of employment opportunities.

Mr. John Fraser

The employment implications of a revision of the defence programme are being studied as an integral part of the review.

Mr. Cook

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that the present scale of the armaments industry represents a burden on the economy which we have carried for too long and can no longer afford to support? Does he accept that if the economy is to benefit from a reduction in the arms industry it will do so only if attention is properly drawn to consultations with the Secretary of State for Defence on the cuts which he proposes to make in the arms industry so that the manufacturing resources thus freed are fully redeployed?

Mr. Fraser

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support for a reduction of several hundred million pounds in defence expenditure. The way in which the review takes place must take into account the needs of defence in areas which may experience a greater level of unemployment. This matter will be subject to consultation. It is important to examine means by which savings in manpower can be effected in areas where there may be a shortage of labour.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

When will the hon. Gentleman remove the uncertainty about the defence aspects of arms supplies which are affecting jobs and causing worry to many people? In the specific case of the supply to Saudi Arabia of arms worth millions of pounds, will the Government make it clear whether they approve of the state of democracy in Saudi Arabia and the facilities given to free trade unions there, so that workers employed in producing weapons for that country will know that the Government are prepared to let them continue to do so?

Mr. Fraser

The Question relates to a review of our domestic defence expenditure, which is being undertaken in the first instance by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Evans

Bearing in mind that the Government have inherited a £4,000 million deficit and that we are spending more on defence than we can afford, we expected a massive reduction in defence expenditure and one of the arguments used was that it would involve the loss of a great many jobs. Will my hon. Friend's Department prepare suitable work for the people involved in terms of constructive employment in the building of houses, meeting other needs of the country and solving our balance of payments problems?

Mr. Fraser

It must not be forgotten that we have far fewer reserves of labour than many other countries. In the first instance the decisions must be taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. But we shall examine the manpower implications and ensure that we use our manpower in the best way possible for peaceful purposes.

Mr. Burden

If defence cuts of the size suggested are imposed and if the present rate of inflation continues, we shall be left with no defence at all. In the meantime, will the hon. Gentleman consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to let the workers in Chatham Dockyard know exactly what is their future?

Mr. Fraser

Of course people will be anxious to know their future, and the Defence Department will take into account employment implications in its review. The proposal is to effect savings of several hundred million pounds. However, I cannot agree, even by the widest stretch of the imagination, that that would leave the country defenceless.