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Service Establishments (Closure)

Volume 886: debated on Tuesday 11 February 1975

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he now expects to be able to list the Service establishments to be closed and the individuals to lose their jobs as a result of the implementation of his defence cuts.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force will be making an announcement, in answer to a later Question, about the 12 RAF stations which it is proposed to close. It is too early to say whether any other Service establishments will be closed or to give details of the civilian and Service manpower reductions.

Does the Secretary of State accept that that is a disappointing reply to those who will be affected? What have they done wrong? They have never been on strike; they have never sat in. Why do they not get the same consideration as the workers at Meriden or Ebbw Vale? Are they not members of the social contract? Are they not useful? Does the right hon. Gentleman not have the muscle in Cabinet that the Secretary of State for Industry has?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes such a pessimistic view. All the workers and firm involved were informed on 3rd December, when I made my statement, that there would be proper consultation and that we hoped that the redundancies which would flow from the firms which may be affected, or the Service establishments, would be manageable in the time scale that I proposed.

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make it his policy to delay closures of defence establishments until alternative work has been found for the workers involved.

I regret that it will not be possible to delay closures until alternative work has been found for the employees if the Government are to meet their commitment to make substantial reductions in defence expenditure. However, I am fully conscious of the social implications of closing establishments. I am in close contact with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for Industry on this aspect of the defence review, and we shall do everything possible to alleviate the problem.

Is the Minister aware that his answer will give great disappointment to many people in the localities, and particularly to union branches? Is he aware that the Government should treat full employment and high employment as a priority greater than that of cutting defence expenditure?

I fully recognise that point of view, but, because of the grave economic circumstances the Government faced, we had no alternative but to review defence expenditure. In making those cuts, we recognised that they would affect jobs and job prospects. I hope that, as a result of our planned time scale of cutbacks in defence expenditure, the effect on jobs will be manageable.

Does the Secretary of State realise that he is putting himself in a very unfavourable light? Will he tell us why, apparently, it is right to delay closures in the steel industry, where people's jobs are threatened, but wrong to delay closure of defence establishments where, equally, many people's jobs are affected and where there is little other employment for them? Will he look again at that?

Yes, and I am hopeful. Many people employed in defence establishments are skilled craftsmen. They will be more able to find work in industries than will some of the workers to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred. I think our time scale is right. I hope we shall be able to manage it without too many redundancies.

What is the point of cutting Government expenditure on defence while increasing it in paying out unemployment benefit?

I think the small expenditure on unemployment benefit will be marginal in this context. However, it is essential to be able to release resources or investments for the export drive and also to release some of the skills from these industries to take up more productive work.