Orders of the Day — Statement on the Defence Estimates

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:16 pm on 19th October 1993.

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Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde 8:16 pm, 19th October 1993

I was delighted to hear the announcement from the Government that, after a considerable delay, they were going to give a £200 million order to Royal Ordnance.

It was not long ago when Royal Ordnance was bought with British Aerospace. One of the major announcements was that the Bishopton Royal Ordnance factory was to close. I remember that, at the time, everyone said that it would close. The work force fought vigorously and showed the country that they were a caring and dedicated bunch of workers. They were committed to the defence of the country as much as the soldier on the front line. They wanted to work and to contribute to the country. That battle was won, and they have won the right to continue to work in Bishopton. I am glad to say that the factory is still open, and that there are 430 workers still there.

What worries me is that over 600 workers have now left. I can assure the House that those people will probably still be unemployed, languishing on the dole, scramblingm about looking for work and still trying to live on the pitiful dole money that the Government provide for the so-called unfortunate unemployed.

What happened to the grand statements made by the Government about diversification? They have done nothing for the former workers at the Royal Ordnance factories. I can assure the Minister that the workers were delighted to hear today's announcement. However, why was there a huge delay? The announcement could have been made months ago, and we would not have lost all of the jobs that have gone.

I heard the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) talking about jobs that were created in his constituency, including "75 bean counters". I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I would be quite happy to get some of those 75 bean counters jobs in my constituency. Do hon. Members remember what the Minister said? He replied to his hon. Friend that, in a previous life, he had been a bean counter. I can tell the House that he is certainly not working for a bunch of smarties now.

I have never seen such a dummy Government. They cannot manage the economy and they cannot look after the nation's defence in a sensible way. Thousands of dedicated people who have worked sincerely in our arms industry are looking now at the Government who have mismanaged the economy, run the country into a £50 billion deficit and are now looking to cut their jobs to make a saving for the Government's mismanagement.

During the Falklands crisis, the Bishopton factory workers worked 24 hours a day and sweated blood. That was not just to ensure that they kept their jobs, but to ensure that the soldiers, sailors and airmen had the best equipment and the most accurate weapons, provided by British workers. We must recognise that, when our people produce arms for our people, they work to produce the best. Britain should buy the best. It should not go for the lowest bidder.

It is a joke to say that we should go to foreign people in a war and ask them to provide our weapons. I would not chance it. The people of this country would not like it. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) can smile all he likes, but I am sure that if he wanted a bullet to put in his gun to fire at the enemy he would prefer a Royal Ordnance factory worker's bullet to anyone else's bullet. He would want one which would work; one which would explode and make sure that his head was not blown off.

Today I met a group of shop stewards. They were men who have worked almost all their life at the Royal Ordnance factory. They have skills. They recognise the changing world more than the Government do. But they also recognise that they have a right to receive a wage to pay their rent, electricity and food bills and to pay for a house, a holiday and all the things that go with a salary. The workers say, "Tommy, if the Government continue in their mad, blundering way, are we going to have a job? Are we going to face the dole?" They do not see the Government doing anything to diversify from products for war into meaningful civil products. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what the Government intend to do.

I intervened lightheartedly in the Minister's speech about the ladies who are training as helicopter pilots. Funnily enough, I mentioned the military helicopter that the Tory party in my area used to raise funds. I received deep, sincere apologies and was told that it would not happen again. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallic) intervened later to say that I had cast a slur on our helicopter service.