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Defence Contractors

Volume 167: debated on Wednesday 14 February 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he has anything to add to his answer to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, of 17 January 1990, Official Report, columns 280–81 about encouraging defence contractors to look for alternative work.

Yet again, no, Sir. As I stated on the two previous occasions when the hon. Gentleman raised this point, it is my firm view that such decisions are best left to those best equipped to take them—business men.

I am glad that the Minister remembers his outbursts on the two previous occasions. Has he had the chance to read the speech that the Foreign Secretary made two days later, when he said that turning swords into ploughshares was a cliché, but that turning tanks into tractors was the politics that the Government were involved in? Is the Foreign Secretary more interested in protecting British industry and converting our arms industry into peaceful use than are Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry? When will the Minister take notice of the more sensible members of the Government?

I am becoming increasingly concerned for the hon. Gentleman, who has posed exactly the same question on three successive occasions. There are two kind explanations for his bizarre behaviour: first, that he has run out of ideas and the Labour party is intellectually bankrupt, which I know to be true; and, secondly, that he is trying to divert attention from Labour's losing policies—the roof and window tax and the payroll tax. The plain truth is that companies such as British Aerospace and Marconi need no advice from a conversion agency about how to diversify or find new markets.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the efforts being made by British Aerospace, through its involvement in Airbus Industrie, to diversify? Is he further aware of the damage being done to that effort by the continuing luddite strike by the engineering unions, supported by Opposition Members? Will he join me in condemning those unions for their inability to agree to a good deal offered by the company?

As I would expect from my hon. Friend, he has made a powerful point. British Aerospace is participating in the Airbus, which is an extremely successful product. The future of Airbus Industrie is threatened by the strikes of the engineering unions. Those strikes are being supported by the Labour party, which is a discreditable activity and one calculated to damage British industry.