HC Deb 06 April 1976 vol 909 cc213-4
15. Mr. Ford

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are the consequences for civilian employment of the rationalisation of defence research and development establishments.

Mr. William Rodgers

Rationalisation decisions are expected to reduce civilian employment in the R and D establishments by about 900 posts by the early 1980s.

Mr. Ford

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the technological spin-off from defence research contracts is of considerable value? Will he seek to mitigate the closure of such establishments when placing contracts with private industry?

Mr. Rodgers

I agree with what my hon. Friend says about these establishments, which maintain a very high quality and a high degree of effectiveness. We hope that we shall be able to maintain a much larger part of what they now do while concentrating work in fewer establishments. The importance of R and D is well understood.

Mr. Onslow

How many civilians currently employed by his Department will be declared redundant when the process of rationalisation is finished?

Mr. Rodgers

The process of rationalisation, which was started by the hon. Gentleman's Government in 1971, is likely to involve the loss of about 900 posts, although perhaps 3,500 people in all may find themselves relocated as a result of the closing of some establishments.

Mr. Cryer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we spend too much on military research and development? Do we not need to transfer some military research and development to civilian purposes, so that we can keep up with our competitors abroad? For example, Japan spends virtually nothing on research and development, but she is obviously successful in industrial affairs.

Mr. Rodgers

I shall turn round my hon. Friend's question. I agree that we should be spending more on civilian R and D, but it is not as easy as my hon. Friend supposes to transform military establishments into civilian establishments, or to move those working in military establishments into civilian work without considerable redundancy and hardship.

Mr. Mates

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some of us are as worried about the cuts in civilian staff as we were about the cuts in "teeth" arms last year? Will he now come clean and tell us why our defence forces have been cut in this way? What possible sense does it make to cut the "teeth", as he did last year, by destroying brigade headquarters and taking away half of the RAF transport fleet, and then, this year to start considering a rationalisation of civilian staffs?

Mr. Rodgers

The hon. Gentleman goes much wider than the Question. It refers to the rationalisation programme that started in 1971. When it started the principal object was not to make substantial money savings; it was to make the establishments more effective. The matter raised in the hon. Gentleman's wider question was debated fully last week, and I do not think there is anything I can add today.