HC Deb 09 March 1976 vol 907 cc233-4
8. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Defence, in the light of reductions in public expenditure, what steps are being taken to redeploy civilian labour now involved in defence projects to work of value to the national economy.

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. William Rodgers)

I hope that the loss of job opportunities arising from cuts in planned defence expenditure will be offset by the growth of national manpower requirements as the economy recovers.

Mr. Hooley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is not good enough just to sit and hope? Is he also aware that the defence establishments have immense expertise in deep sea diving and in the production and maintenance of naval equipment? Could he not establish some liaison with the Offshores Supplies Office and see how far this expertise and these resources could help in our development of North Sea oil and gas.

Mr. Rodgers

My hon. Friend is wrong to say that we are sitting and hoping. I hope very much that he supports the proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in his White Paper, which will help to create the conditions in which manpower resources can be absorbed as unemployment falls. Turning to the second half of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I entirely agree with him. In so far as we can play any part in turning important and advanced skills to civil purposes we shall certainly do so.

Mr. Adley

Will the right hon. Gentleman please look personally at the problems being caused to many of my constituents who are working at SRDE in Highcliffe and assure them that he will do whatever he can to alleviate the difficulties of unemployment which result from the Government's determination to close this establishment?

Mr. Rodgers

Certainly I can give the hon. Gentleman that undertaking. We are extremely concerned about those who have served this and previous Governments faithfully and loyally over many years in research establishments, amongst others, and who are bound to become redundant or likely to find their careers dislocated by essential savings.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Why did the Minister not take the opportunity to educate his hon. Friends and point out that much defence expenditure is not only vital for the security of the country but has great value for the economy?

Mr. Rodgers

I think that my hon. Friends fully understand that defence expenditure has consequences not only for employment but for the balance of payments. However, this does not minimise, and should not minimise, the very special human and social problems caused by necessary defence savings.