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Employment Redundancies

Volume 892: debated on Tuesday 13 May 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many workers will be declared redundant as a consequence of the recent additional cuts in defence expenditure.

The extent of redundancies amongst defence contractors at any one time must depend upon management decisions, but we do not expect the recent further savings to affect significantly the employment situation.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on this side will welcome the statement which he has just made? Will he further resist pressures from some of his hon. Friends to increase the level of unemployment arising from the defence cuts?

My right hon. Friend, other Ministers and I have consistently said that none of us can have it both ways. If we are to have substantial savings on defence expenditure, for good and sufficient reasons, we must not try to persuade others that there is not a price to pay in a potential substantial loss of job opportunities.

As the Minister stated, the Secretary of State has been forthright about this, and the Government have told us that there are no easy alternatives, such as manufacturing spin driers, caravans or filing systems, on which to employ people who lose their jobs as a result of the defence cuts. Will the Minister consider publishing a White Paper and spelling this out, for the benefit of those of his hon. Frinds below the Gangway who are either too stupid or dishonest to explain this to their constituents?

Those remarks were totally uncalled for. This is an area in which strong feelings are aroused and genuine opinions are held. The hon. Gentleman knows that there is no need to publish the sort of White Paper he suggests. I think that we should continue to discuss these matters calmly in the House, as most of us choose to do.

Is my hon. Friend aware that those of us who have pressed for defence cuts are every bit as concerned as others about the need to fight unemployment? Will he make it clear that it would be absolute madness for us to maintain defence contracts merely to keep people in work without any consideration of why this was done?

I think that there is a point of view, and a sober point of view, which the House may feel is right, that we should never seek simply to maintain employment if it serves no adequate purpose. The need is to redeploy skills in areas where they are principally needed.

When considering his defence cuts, will the Minister bear in mind the frightening effectiveness of the Soviet weapons displayed in the 1973 Middle East war, especially by the Egyptians and the Syrians? This is an important matter. Will he ensure, in view of this modern weaponry now held by the Russians, that he does not cut down on research and development on the most modern weapons? That is an important side. Will the Minister ensure that that is maintained?

I agree entirely that it is an important side. I am not sure whether a large amount of employment is directly involved in this.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence what arrangements he is making designed to ensure that civilian workers displaced as a result of the defence review are helped to transfer to productive civilian jobs; and whether he will make a statement.

Wherever possible, reductions in Ministry of Defence civilian personnel will be achieved by normal wastage, but for those made redundant every effort will be made to provide alternative employment. We expect defence contractors to recognise similar responsibilities.

May I invite my hon. Friend to go further? Will he confirm that some of the largest trade unions with members employed in the defence industry are in favour of substantially cutting arms spending provided that alternative civilian work is made available? [Interruption.] Ignoring the guffaws of the gunboat diplomatists on the benches opposite, will my hon. Friend accept the responsibility for his Department and do what he can to ensure that there is a phased switch from defence to civilian work to ensure that people are put into work which can aid our national recovery and help exports?

I agree with my hon. Friend that some trade union leaders, though not all, want to see further substantial defence cuts. It is nevertheless true that a number of their shop stewards visit other Defence Ministers and me telling us about the difficult consequences of reduced defence spending. These are issues in which we must show a sense of balance and proportion. I ask for recognition of the fact that if we are to make major defence savings we cannot overnight guarantee other job opportunities in place of those which are lost.

What is to be the future of the more than 1,000 highly skilled aircraft production workers in the Hawker Siddeley Woodford and Chadderton plants who will be made redundant as a result of the Government's defence cuts? What alternative employment will be provided for them? Certain of the Minister's hon. Friends below the Gangway have suggested caravan production. How does that square with the 25 per cent. VAT rate?

I hope that the redundancies will not amount to the figure mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, that depends a great deal on management decisions, and I cannot anticipate what they may be.

Will my hon. Friend advise the House what consultations have taken place with trade unions, management, the Department of Industry and the Department of Employment about the prospects of providing alternative employment?

Following my right hon. Friend's statement of 3rd December 1974, we made it clear that we were willing to receive representations from management and trade unions about the likely consequences which would follow. We have received a number of those representations. I saw the representatives of Hawker Siddeley Aviation and discussed with them what best could be done. We shall continue to lend our services, and those of the Department of Employment and the Department of Industry will also be available to discuss such a range of alternative jobs as may be available during difficult times.

The hon. Gentleman has asked us to discuss this matter calmly. Would it not be in keeping with that request, and much more straightforward for those involved, for him to say clearly that the massive defence cuts imposed by the Government will throw thousands of people out of work? Would not the Government do better to admit it?

No, it would not be better to say that, because we have made it clear—[Interruption.] The House should listen carefully to this, because this could cause real anxiety where we should seek to avoid it. We have said plainly—we said it in the White Paper—that as a consequence of the cuts then made there might be 10,000 job opportunities at risk in the next five years. How many may become redundant we cannot tell, because that depends upon alternative work which may come forward and upon management decisions. Nevertheless I think it is wrong to exaggerate what I have always conceded to be a difficult problem.