HC Deb 22 March 1977 vol 928 cc1070-2
16. Mr. George Rodgers

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if any recent consultations have taken place relating to the introduction of alternate employment in factories at present engaged on the manufacture of defence equipment.

Dr. Gilbert

No, Sir. Unless there is a substantial change in our assessment of the external threat, we expect overall employment in the defence industries to remain fairly steady over the next few years.

Mr. Rodgers

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be tragic if skills and apparatus already employed in the defence industry affected by cuts were not utilised to the advantage of civilian production? Is he aware of the proposals submitted by the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards committee to facilitate this changeover, and is due consideration being given to these proposals?

Dr. Gilbert

I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. We are aware of the Lucas Aerospace shop steward's committee proposals, but I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree that these are matters for the firm itself to consider.

Mr. Thorne

Will my hon. Friend consider whether it is now appropriate for his Department to liaise with the Department of Energy to establish some sort of working committee to consider the whole problem of the diversification of those employed in the defence industry?

Dr. Gilbert

I am always happy to consider any suggestions made by my hon. Friend. I must refer my hon. Friend to my first answer, namely, that over the next few years we expect overall employment in the industry to remain fairly steady. Of course, in some firms it will rise and in others it will fall.

Mr. Churchill

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), who, at a recent meeting of workers and trade unionists at a Hawker Siddeley factory, expressed the Marie Antoinette view that they should be allowed to manufacture caravans at a time when there is a glut of caravans on the United Kingdom market?

Dr. Gilbert

I am no expert on the state of the caravan market.

Mr. Frank Allaun

I am glad that the question has been asked, as I wish to ask my hon. Friend whether he thinks that the highly specialised skills of the aircraft factories and the workmen in them are especially suited for the manufacture of highly sophisticated machine tools that we are now importing in large quantities from America, Sweden, Italy and Germany?

Dr. Gilbert

My hon. Friend may well be right. The problem is that within our given level of defence expenditure, if we forgo procurement of defence equipment from our own country we shall merely have to buy it abroad.