HC Deb 23 April 2001 vol 367 cc14-5
12. Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

How many civilian jobs in the north-east of England he has (a) created and (b) safeguarded by the awarding of defence contracts since the completion of the defence review. [156938]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

Approximately 350,000 jobs are dependent on defence expenditure and equipment exports. More than 60,000 new contracts are placed each year and the Ministry of Defence does not record the number of jobs created or safeguarded as a result of each individual procurement decision. As my hon. Friend will know, in March of this year the Ministry of Defence confirmed a contract worth £250 million with Vickers Defence Systems for the supply of 66 specialist Challenger-based engineer tanks. That will help to sustain all 500 jobs at its Newcastle plant and up to another 1,000 jobs among UK sub-contractors.

Mr. Cousins

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his efforts. I also congratulate the Minister for Defence Procurement on her unfailing helpfulness and courtesy to north-east Members of Parliament when they pursue these issues. However, my hon. Friend will be aware of the very difficult situation facing shipbuilding workers in the north-east, which is part of the fallout resulting from the difficulties of the Cammell Laird group. Is he also aware that, whereas one in 10 members of the military forces in the United Kingdom is recruited from the north-east, only one in 200 of civilian MOD employees is located there? Is my hon. Friend giving his attention to these matters, and will he offer any prospects for assistance?

Dr. Moonie

I am well aware that areas such as the north-west and north-east, which supply the largest percentage of our recruits in England, suffer when it comes to the deployment of Ministry of Defence jobs. It is our policy where possible to devolve jobs away from the south-east to other regions, and I assure my hon. Friend that I will do all that I can to ensure that that happens.

We are also well aware of the problems that Cammell Laird is experiencing. We support the receiver's aim for RFA Argus to be completed at Birkenhead, and have agreed on a system whereby that can be done. We are also in discussions with the receiver on the best options for the company's contract for work on RFA Fort George, which is due to arrive at the yard on the other side—rather than the north-east—on 7 May. It is, however, too early to speculate on the outcome.

I assure my hon. Friend that we are doing all we can to support our colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry, and their efforts to find a solution to the problems of Cammell Laird.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

What the Minister did not say about Cammell Laird is that the company had hoped for a considerable amount of work in connection with ro-ro ferries—work that the Government have placed in Germany. Is that not a betrayal of hundreds of workers in the north-west and north-east of England?

Dr. Moonie

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the contract for the ro-ro ferries encompasses their management and service over their lifetime, as well as their construction, which represents a very small part of the total value of the contract. It has been let to Weir, the British company that will control it.

We spent a great deal of time and effort on the contract. As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, the yards are not subsidised. We sought best value for money throughout, and we believe that as a consequence we achieved the best solution.

Forward to