HC Deb 29 May 1963 vol 678 cc1323-6

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Civil Lord of the Admiralty whether he will make a statement about the future load of work on the Royal Dockyards.

The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. John Hay)

With permission I will now answer Question No. 60.

The Admiralty is at present engaged on an examination of the expected workload on all the Royal dockyards for the next year or so. So far as Rosyth is concerned, it has already been announced that this dockyard is being developed for refitting nuclear submarines and is to be ready for emergency work in 1965 and for planned refits as soon as possible thereafter. There is no question of any reduction of the work-load there.

The work-load on the three southern dockyards is, however, affected by the completion next year of the modernisation of H.M.S. "Eagle" and the conversion of H.M.S. "Triumph". No new single tasks of comparable magnitude remain to follow. Some classes of refit work are likely to increase to offset the decline in modernisations and conversions, but it is not yet possible to estimate exactly what the load on each of the individual dockyards will be.

Apart from the overall effect of any changes in the work-load, there may be some imbalance between trades. But the order of magnitude of the problem is such that we expect normal wastage, the adjustment of overtime, a fall in the number of men employed over 65 and restriction of adult entry to go a long way towards its solution. It is not possible at this stage to say whether, in addition, any actual discharges on redundancy will be required. This possibility cannot be excluded, but it is already clear that large-scale discharges will not be necessary.

As soon as our examination has reached a sufficiently advanced stage, the trade unions will be brought into consultation.

Mr. Critchley

In thanking my hon. Friend for his statement, may I ask whether he is prepared to give an assurance that he will work with the unions throughout the whole of the arrangements that he will have to make during the next eighteen months or so, so that the arrangements may be made as smoothly as possible and the number of people who may have ultimately to lose their jobs will be as few as possible?

Mr. Hay

Yes, Sir, I certainly give that assurance. We have admirable machinery for consultation with the unions, both at national level and in the yards. We will certainly bring them fully into consultation on this problem.

Mr. Willis

What exactly does the statement mean in terms of jobs? How many jobs are to be lost at each dockyard?

Mr. Hay

I cannot yet give any precise forecast. It would be not only unwise, but misleading, if I tried to do so. When our examination has gone a little further, we should be able to reach some idea of the figures. Then, as I have said in my Answer, we shall seek to bring the unions into consultation over the whole matter.

Miss Vickers

In view of the geographical position of Devonport Dockyard and the fact that the City of Plymouth has been dependent on the yard for 300 years, can my hon. Friend assure us that he will give adequate notice of any change so that we may try to become a development district, because it will be particularly difficult to get other industries to take up work there?

Mr. Hay

I hope that action of that kind will not be necessary. As I hope I have made clear in my Answer, this is a limited problem. We do not foresee any large-scale discharges. But certainly, as soon as we are in a position to say anything further, we will, of course, wish to do so.

Mr. Awbery

Is the Minister aware that the island of Malta depends almost entirely upon its dockyard? Can he give an assurance that there will not be a large number of redundancies in the dockyard there, where things have become so serious in the past few years?

Mr. Hay

No, Sir. My Answer is confined solely to the Royal dockyards in this country.

Mr. Burden

Is my hon. Friend aware that many informed people, quite apart from those connected with the dockyards, are convinced that it is neither wise, desirable nor necessary to reduce the labour complement in the Royal dockyards at this time in view of the closure of overseas dockyards, the closure of Sheerness and the absolute necessity of maintaining a British Fleet big enough to ensure the free passage of our shipping throughout the world, to which the Polaris programme in no way contributes?

Secondly, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that workers in the Royal dockyards are paid much less for comparable jobs than workers in private yards? Will he urgently consider the question of an examination of the whole wages structure in the Royal dockyards?

Mr. Hay

The answer to the first part of that question is, "Yes, Sir". As to the second part, I understand that wage negotiations are in train over the whole of this field.

Mr. W. Hamilton

Does the Minister recognise that Fife will be gratified that there is to be no run-down at Rosyth? Can he, however, tell the House whether he had any consultations with hon. Members on his side of the House many weeks ago on this problem and that redundancy figures were leaked to the Press, and that it was considerable pressure by hon. Members opposite who represent dockyards that compelled the Minister to revise his policy on this matter? Can he confirm or deny those allegations?

Mr. Hay

As to the first part of the question, I am pleased to know that the position of Rosyth gives satisfaction in Fife. In reply to the second part, the hon. Member should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers.

Dr. Bennett

While many people will, I am sure, be greatly relieved to hear that what has appeared to be some sort of sentence has been largely mitigated by a firm statement, may I ask that, while we hope that there will be no question of development districts in the dockyard ports, if there is to be a net reduction in the labour force my hon. Friend will keep in the closest touch with his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade so that industrial development certificates may be encouraged to be awarded should that be necessary?

Mr. Hay

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my noble Friend work in complete harmony in these matters, as always.