§ 11. Mr. Battle
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has any proposals to assist in the conversion of defence industries to civil production.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
No. British industry is perfectly capable of determining its own product ranges without Government assistance.
§ Mr. Battle
In the light of international developments, and in particular, reductions in defence, will the Minister reaffirm the statement of the Foreign Secretary that it is Government policy to turn tanks into tractors? What 720 long-term prospects does he hold out for workers in factories such as Vickers Barnbow in Leeds who are awaiting a Government decision on whether to order the tanks that they make? Or is he effectively telling them that their prospects are increased war work or no work?
§ Mr. Clark
That is complete nonsense. The Labour party is very hot on generating this smokescreen to conceal the probable results of the implementation of its plans. I suggest that the hon. Member has a quiet word with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) on the attitude of unions to this subject.
§ Mr. Batiste
Does my hon. Friend agree that, however optimistic a forecast one makes of future defence force reductions, British forces will need the latest, most modern and most effective equipment and that there will be considerable export opportunities? Will my hon. Friend therefore take this opportunity to repudiate the call by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) for the immediate abandonment of the programme for the development of the Challenger 2 tank at Vickers?
§ Mr. Rees
If there are to be changes in central Europe, is not it likely that tanks will not be required in the same number? We are all concerned about those who work at Barnbow, and the answers that we have had from Ministers so far do not enable us to talk with the work force there on any firm basis. Is there any chance of the Government talking to Vickers about transforming tanks into tractors, or something like that?
§ Dr. Hampson
Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that there is far greater opportunity for the work force at Vickers in Leeds since we sold the royal ordnance factory to Vickers and it built the new factory, which is an enormous investment? Can he offer us a time scale in which he thinks he will come to a decision on the number of tanks and accept that the development programme is working well, because there is much uncertainty and anxiety in the city?