HC Deb 15 October 1991 vol 196 cc134-5
3. Mr. Clelland

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he has made of the impact on employment of reductions in defence expenditure.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Alan Clark)

Employment considerations are among the many factors that we take into account.

Mr. Clelland

Is the Minister aware that the British public will find it appalling that, in one and a half hours of speeches made yesterday by the Secretary of State and his Under-Secretary of State, not a word was said about the employment implications and the implications for manufacturing industry of the current defence review? Have the Government a corporate approach to these matters? What is being done to help manufacturing industries to diversify and to avoid the huge losses in skills and livelihoods that now loom large?

Mr. Clark

I note that the hon. Gentleman has recycled a rather tired cliché of Labour party—it can hardly be called policy; Labour's industrial policy seems to be as confused as its military policy. It was, in fact, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency—although that was thanks more to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter)—that the largest order for military equipment placed in the past two years was given to Vickers, for the Challenger 2 tank.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Royal Ordnance, Nottingham, is the only full gun-making facility in the United Kingdom? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the skills in that unique facility and the product that is made there are essential to the long-term security of our defence procurement? Will he give me some assurance that the Government will recognise those skills and that jobs in that unique unit will be protected?

Mr. Clark

I certainly share my hon. Friend's high estimation of the skills in the Royal Ordnance factory. They are deeply rooted in tradition, as well as being thoroughly up to date in current technology. Two of the most recent products not only have considerable appeal for our own forces, but have considerable export potential: I refer, of course, to the improved high-penetration 105 mm gun and to the air-portable howitzer.

Mr. Battle

Given the momentous changes in the Soviet Union over the summer—in particular, the dismantling of the KGB—are there any plans for a reduction in the number of people employed in the Ministry of Defence security services?

Mr. Clark

We are looking at every aspect of civilian employment in the Ministry of Defence, but, as the hon. Gentleman and the House know, it is never our practice to discuss numbers, costs and activities in the security field.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision to discuss future research and development arrangements with the British defence industry has been widely welcomed? Does he agree that, if we are to have a better-equipped Army, it is essential that we keep alive our research and development in British industry, so that that vital equipment can be provided?

Mr. Clark

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I attach the highest importance to that and I intend—if the House will allow me—to enlarge on the subject when I open this afternoon's debate.

Mr. Rogers

Is the Minister aware that the Scottish Office has set up a defence industries initiative to help communities and individuals who have been affected by reductions in the demand for defence products? Has any additional money been made available for that initiative, have any Government Departments—even his own—been involved in it and does he wish to extend it to the rest of the United Kingdom in accordance with Labour party policy?

Mr. Clark

This is a matter for the Scottish Office to answer. However, the hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the great defect in all Labour's pontifications on the subject. All these fine words are of absolutely no value unless they are quantified in terms of financial assistance. If they are to be so quantified, on whose budget does this financial assistance fall and how much is it to be? As I say, that is a matter for the Scottish Office, but my understanding is that this is purely advisory.

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