HL Deb 14 May 1987 vol 487 cc715-6
Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement on the future of the Enfield Small Arms factory in the light of current negotiations concerning the ownership of the Royal Ordnance Factories.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, the sale of Royal Ordnance to British Aerospace plc was completed on 22nd April. Strictly speaking therefore the future of Enfield is a matter for British Aerospace. However, the company have assured us that it is their intention to develop the business as a whole and run it successfully.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how the Government propose to influence the commercial judgments and decisions of the new owners? Is it not a fact that the workers of the Enfield Small Arms factory have been cast off, abandoned, and sacrificed for party purposes? Is the Minister aware that there are thousands of workers at the Enfield Small Arms factory who helped to save this country in the Falklands war, and in many others, and that they have been abandoned and betrayed by this Government? How does the noble Lord intend to secure the future welfare and well-being of such workers.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, if I may say so, I am afraid that the noble Lord is labouring under a very considerable misapprehension. There is certainly no question of the Government seeking to influence the commercial judgment of British Aerospace in its dealings with its new subsidiary, Royal Ordnance, or for that matter in any other way. The future of the factory at Enfield will be secured by it becoming as efficient as possible. As the noble Lord may be aware, we made it clear before we disposed of Royal Ordnance to British Aerospace that for example, the order for the second tranche of the SA.80 weapon was available to the new owners of Enfield if they thought fit, and we are now waiting to hear British Aerospace's decision.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House whether all disputes about pensions and other employment rights regarding former employees of Royal Ordnance factories—and there were some, about which the noble Lord told us—are now settled?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not aware of any outstanding details that have not been settled. Of course the sale of Royal Ordnance was a sale of shares, so the whole of the enterprise, including all its existing schemes and liabilities, has passed to the new owners.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, if in the commercial judgment of the new owners it is in the best interests of their shareholders to transfer work, to close down a factory completely, or to put it to other use, that is perfectly within their gift? In that circumstance, has the noble Lord no shame that workers who have served the national interest so well are to be abandoned in that way?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord puts an entirely hypothetical question to me. As he is aware, and as I have already said, British Aerospace has made it quite clear that it intends to operate Royal Ordnance as a single entity. There is no question of it chopping up Royal Ordnance bit by bit.

A noble Lord

Wait and see.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can help me on one matter having regard to his general statement about the rights and liabilities of the firm in reply to my noble friend Lord Winstanley. Can the noble Lord assure the House, having regard to the attitude of the Government towards innovation, that the rights of employees in relation to intellectual property rights have been looked after and preserved?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the resolution of the question of the ownership of the intellectual property rights was one of the more complex matters that had to be agreed with the new owners during the course of the discussions that we had with them. I am happy to say that agreement was reached.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, as one who had the misfortune to be a machine gunner in the front line on the Somme in the First World War, I should like to pay very great tribute to the Enfield Small Arms factory and its products.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right to point out that the Royal Ordnance factory at Enfield has been manufacturing small arms for a long period of time, and with great success.

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