Defence Industries (Redundancies)

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 10:02 pm on 20th January 1993.

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Photo of John Hutton John Hutton , Barrow and Furness 10:02 pm, 20th January 1993

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Swan Hunter shipyard on the Tyne is without doubt a centre of world-class engineering excellence. Many of my hon. Friend's constituents will be anxiously awaiting what the Minister has to say about the landing platform helicopter order.

It is also worth bearing in mind the importance to the Navy and to what is left of the British naval shipbuilding industry of the orders for landing platform docks. That matter is of concern to my constituents, as too is the order for the batch 2 Trafalgars. Many of my hon. Friends and I are concerned that one of the changes resulting from "Options for Change" is the substantial reductions in the number of submarines serving in the Royal Navy. Many hon. Members will be concerned that 12 SSNs— nuclear-powered submarines—might not be sufficient for the Royal Navy in future.

Will the Minister give an assurance that the very minimum order for the Batch 2 Trafalgars will be sufficient to replace all the aging Swiftsure class of SSNs? That is a matter of great and direct interest to the future prosperity of my constituents. Without any doubt, the VSEL shipyard in Barrow is the finest manufacturer of submarines in the world.

In addition to those decisions on naval procurement decisions, there should be some help for companies that now find themselves without any MOD work at all or with declining volumes of MOD work. I have noted the responses that the Minister's right hon. Friends have given in response to questions in the House on this matter, but it is not good enough for the Ministry of Defence to say that it is up to defence contractors to respond to their changing needs on their own without any assistance from the Ministry of Defence or other Government Departments.

Many of those suppliers have provided equipment for the defence of this country, often at very short notice—for example, during the Falklands crisis. It is not the proper reward for the service that those companies have rendered to the country over many decades for Ministers now to say that it is up to those private companies to sort out the problem on their own. Those companies have been sole suppliers for the MOD, often for decades—for generations in many cases, as is the case with the shipyard in Barrow. They therefore look to the Ministry of Defence and, legitimately, to the Government to provide them with practical assistance at this moment.

There is a crisis for many important engineering defence contractors. We simply cannot make many of those necessary changes and adjustments on our own. I ask the Minister to consider seriously that it is not a reasonable response for him and his right hon. Friends consistently to say to defence contractors such as VSEL in Barrow, "You are on your own." People in my constituency do not consider that that is anything like a sufficient response from the Government.

The Minister and his Department should be developing a policy in conjunction with other Government Departments to manage the painful process of change before irreversible damage is done to the foundations of Britain's engineering defence industries.