HL Deb 05 March 1990 vol 516 cc963-5

Lord Rodney asked Mer Majesty's Government:

How many jobs will be secured by the order for three Type 23 anti-submarine frigates recently placed with Swan Hunter Shipbuilders on Tyneside.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, we have calculated that this order will sustain up to 10,000 jobs in the defence industry over the next four or five years.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that encouraging Answer. Can he assure the House that, in spite of the current détente, Her Majesty's Government will continue to maintain a viable naval force?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that the Government are fully committed to the strong defence of the United Kingdom and to meeting NATO and out-of-area obligations. That therefore necessitates an effective and professional Royal Navy.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, can the Minister say how many Type 23 anti-submarine frigates have been ordered for the coming year? Bearing in mind the swiftly changing nature of the political scene throughout the world, not least in Eastern Europe, can he tell the House whether the Government have any plans to review their defence commitments? As one hopes that there is less need for defence jobs, can he confirm that the Government are considering alternative employment in those areas where defence jobs will be reduced?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, to take first the noble Lord's second question, as I have frequently made clear in your Lordships' House, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has always said that he will continue to examine the options for change. With regard to the number of Type 23 frigates now on order, I can tell the noble Lord that a total of nine are on order, five from Yarrow Shipbuilders and four from Swan Hunter Shipbuilders. Those are being built to a phased build programme, with the next two due for delivery in 1991 and the others following at approximately six-monthly intervals.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, can my noble friend give us an idea as to cost? Are those Type 23 frigates to cost more or less than the preceding Type 22 frigates?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, as regards costs they are always treated as commercially in confidence.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, the award of the contract for three frigates to Swan Hunter is one thing, but can my noble friend say when the keel laying will start as that will produce the increase in employment at the yard?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am not totally clear as to the point that my noble friend is trying to make.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, are we to understand that it is the Government's policy not only to increase defence expenditure but to increase manpower in the defence industries? Should not the Government have extensive contingency plans for a substantial cut in manpower in those industries?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, again I shall do my best to make clear to the House that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has always said, and continues to say, that as regards the future of the defence industry and the future of resources he is continuing to examine all options for change.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, we welcome that slight move in the direction of the advice tendered to the Government from these Benches. But may I ask again whether the Government have contingency plans for a substantial drop in employment in the defence industries? They certainly should have.

The Earl of Arran

No, my Lords, that is not the case.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether there is yet evidence of any decrease in the production of submarines from Soviet yards?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Soviet threat is not expected to diminish despite the Soviet Union's announced intentions to cut defence expenditure. The likely naval cuts are probably to be in the form of scrapping obsolete and aged combatants, with small net reductions in numbers, but there will be an improvement in capability due to their replacement by modern and better equipped units.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, the noble Earl must be unique and alone in thinking that the Soviet threat has in no way diminished since last year. But does he agree that the negotiations for naval disarmament have not gone ahead because the United States has refused to engage in them?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the reason why they have not gone ahead was that it was agreed before the CFE talks by the two superpowers that talks concerning the possibility of naval reductions would not be among the CFE negotiations.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, has my noble friend noted that the Question on the Order Paper relates to a single type of frigate in a single shipyard? Does he agree that this is hardly the occasion to embark upon a general discussion?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend, but at the same time I am trying to be helpful to your Lordships, even though we may have strayed slightly off the Question.

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