HC Deb 14 July 1987 vol 119 cc963-4
5. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has plans to devolve more service establishments and jobs to Scotland and the north of England.

Mr. Younger

I am anxious to improve the geographic spread of defence employment, particularly in areas of high unemployment. Such moves must, however, be justifiable in both operational and economic terms.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Does my right hon. Friend agree that moving jobs northward is helpful to the regional economy, without requiring artificial subsidies? Can he tell us what progress has been made, whether earlier plans to transfer jobs to the Glasgow area have borne fruit and to what extent the jobs have been filled by local recruitment?

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Glasgow programme is a good example of the Government's dispersal policy, with 1,330 extra jobs established there, of which 1,000 have been filled by local recruitment. The overwhelming majority of the jobs were dispersed from the south of England. We recognise that those jobs should be offset against further moves from posts out of London, but the net result at the end of the programme should be a gain of 1,400 jobs for Glasgow, offset by a similar loss of posts from London.

Mr. Cartwright

As it is Government policy to provide more rather than fewer jobs in inner London, will the Secretary of State resist the temptation to remove any defence jobs from areas such as Woolwich, which has suffered massively from the systematic transfer of defence jobs in the past few years and where unemployment is still more than 16 per cent.?

Mr. Younger

I very much appreciate that valid constituency point. It is established policy in the Department that every effort should be made to relocate work to the regions wherever it proves economically and operationally viable, but, of course, we also take into account the interests of the other areas concerned.

Mr. Robert Banks

Will my right hon. Friend give a categorical assurance that there are no plans to remove any service jobs from Harrogate to Glasgow or anywhere else?

Mr. Younger

That would certainly not be in tune with the Government's policy, which is to disperse jobs to other areas from London, not from Harrogate.

Mr. Beggs

When considering relocating jobs to the north of England and to Scotland, will the Minister bear in mind the very high rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Younger

I certainly take that very much into account. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we place a large amount of defence contract work in Northern Ireland—not least the order placed by my Department with Harland and Wolff for a new auxiliary oiler replenishment vessel, which I very much hope will be completed to price and on time.

Mr. Holt

Will my right hon. Friend take note of the Government's recent commitment to augmenting the Merchant Marine in the event of war? Does he agree that it should be based in the north-east of England, preferably on Teesside, and will he ensure that it is not based in London?

Mr. Younger

I note my hon. Friend's comments. I am very conscious of the defence work carried out in my hon. Friend's area in the north-east of England. It is a highly valid part of our defence industry.

Mr. Grocott

If the Minister is keen to secure defence jobs in areas of high unemployment, will he scrap the absurd suggestion to privatise jobs at COD Donnington, threatening the livelihood of more than 400 employees?

Mr. Younger

It is a matter, not of threatening jobs in terms of the area, but of trying to obtain better value for money in the way in which existing establishments are run. That must be in everyone's interests, because if the job is done more effectively there will be more money available for other defence work.