HC Deb 28 November 1957 vol 578 cc1288-90
The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

With permission. Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement.

Her Majesty's Government have decided to close the naval dockyard in Hong Kong. The rundown, which will extend over two years, is expected to end by 30th November, 1959. This decision has been taken with very real regret in view of the long association of the dockyard with Hong Kong and the loss of jobs for many employees which must inevitably result from the closure. It has been necessitated by the current reorganisation of naval forces and their shore support throughout the world in the light of Government policy outlined in the Defence White Paper. The future requirements of Her Majesty's ships in the Far East will no longer justify the maintenance of a full-scale dockyard in Hong Kong.

The closure of the dockyard will not mean the disappearance of Her Majesty's ships from Hong Kong and Far Eastern waters. A number of naval vessels which will be based upon Hong Kong will continue to discharge the responsibilities of Her Majesty's Government for the protection of British shipping and the security of the Colony. A small naval base from which ships can be serviced and operated will be retained in Hong Kong island. In addition, other ships of the Fleet in the Far East will continue to visit Hong Kong from time to time.

Mr. Bottomley

For the moment I will confine my questioning to the naval implications of the Minister's statement. Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the saving which will arise from the closing of the dockyard in Hong Kong are in addition to those already made known in the published White Paper?

Secondly, is he aware that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the home dockyards, with the result that many valuable employees are leaving the Service? Can the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be reasonable stability in the home dockyards in the future?

Mr. Galbraith

We expect to save about Eli million a year as a result of closing the dockyard at Hong Kong. I am sorry that I have nothing further to add at the moment about the other dockyards.

Mr. C. R. Hobson

Will the Joint Industrial Council be notified of the closure? Is there a possibility of people who have gone out there to repair ships being made redundant, or will they be absorbed into the remaining dockyards; and are negotiations likely to take place with the unions on this matter?

Mr. Galbraith

There is no question of the base being closed; it is only the dockyard that is being closed. The development of trade union relations in Hong Kong is still in a somewhat elementary stage and only one small union has been formally recognised. If the hon. Gentleman is interested in the British personnel, I can say that they will, of course, be brought back to this country.

Mr. S. O. Davies

As there is admittedly very substantial unemployment in Hong Kong at present, can the hon. Member give an assurance as to the possibility of finding other employment for those who will be displaced by the closing down of the dockyard?

Mr. Galbraith

The Admiralty is very well aware of this problem and so are the Government of Hong Kong. A committee has been set up representing employers, the Admiralty and the local Government to try to arrange that these men will get new jobs.

Mr. Bottomley

Cannot the hon. Member give an assurance that, in fact, there will be no closing of the home dockyards? This uncertainty is causing great trouble among the men employed there.

Mr. Galbraith

That is another question.

Mr. J. Griffiths

The hon. Member said that a committee has been set up in Hong Kong to consider alternative employment. Do not Her Majesty's Government recognise that they have a greater responsibility than that? We have permitted many thousands of people to go to Hong Kong, where there is serious unemployment, and this will add to it. Are Her Majesty's Government prepared to support financially, and in other ways, the establishment of alternative industries in Hong Kong after the closing of the dockyard?

Mr. Galbraith

That is a question for my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary. We are doing everything we can, in consultation with the Government of Hong Kong, to minimise the difficulties.