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Volume 884: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is yet in a position to estimate the effect on employment in civil shipyards of the cuts in the Royal Navy and the decision to concentrate naval work in the Royal Navy shipyards.

Until final decisions are taken on the proposals contained in the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, following consultation with our allies and interested parties including shipbuilders, we cannot estimate the effects that changes in the defence programme will have on shipbuilders.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the defence review provides for substantial reductions in the number of warships in the Navy and for no less than a one-third cut in the number of Royal fleet auxiliaries? Does he not accept that this must affect employment, particularly in yards which are situated in areas of present high unemployment? Will he press the Government to withdraw restrictions on the sale of warships to countries like Greece and Portugal?

The last part of that question is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence rather than for my own Department. There will be an effective transfer of ship refitting from commercial yards. The only significant effect will be on those yards which undertook the refit of Royal fleet auxiliaries, including the yard in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The absorption of this work into the Royal dockyards will take place only as capacity becomes available.

Since my hon. Friend has recently talked to Swan Hunter, the shipbuilding firm which has yards in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), will he say whether it was the view of Swan Hunter that this would be likely to increase unemployment on a dramatic scale? Was that firm worried about employment prospects? I am told that it is not so worried.

My recent talks were with the shop stewards and management of Swan Hunter, in the ship repair division. They did not indicate any general concern about this effect. They were satisfied that they could operate efficiently and highly competitively. I hope that they will co-operate in this exercise in the belief that the Government are committed to maintaining the highest possible level of employment and that we are conscious that a great deal of shipbuilding and ship repair work takes place in the development areas.