HC Deb 14 December 1982 vol 34 cc115-6
10. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the implications for organisation and control of the Royal Navy dockyards involved in the reduction in the number of yards.

Mr. Nott

These matters continue to be the subject of internal study. We are at present in consultation with the trade unions on the initial results of this work. Meanwhile, our own consideration of certain aspects of the organisation for the management of ship repair and maintenance matters is continuing.

Mr. Douglas

Does the Secretary of State agree that one consideration is the removal of "Dreadnought" from Chatham to Rosyth? Will he give an assurance about safety in relation to that type of decision and also an assurance that the decision is based on safety, not on political considerations?

Mr. Nott

I can give the hon. Gentleman a complete assurance that the future of "Dreadnought" and the decision that we take about her will be based entirely on grounds of safety.

Mr. Peter Griffiths

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the interests of the remaining dockyards and fleet maintenance bases, it is essential that they have sufficient resources in terms of locally autonomous management and manpower to provide an efficient and cost-effective backup to the Fleet?

Mr. Nott

Yes. I agree with that. My hon. Friend will be glad to know that we are issuing a consultative paper today, which should now be in the hands of the trade unions. This sets out our ideas about the future of Portsmouth dockyard. It is now clear that we snail need additional support at Portsmouth. We are therefore issuing this consultative document to the unions.

Subject to the satisfactory outcome of talks and agreement on flexible working practice, we now envisage 2,800 civilians being employed at Portsmouth naval base—I emphasise the words "naval base"—for essential repair and maintenance tasks, including the updating of weapon systems. There will still be some redundancies at Portsmouth, but what I have stated amounts to a substantial increase of about 1,500, subject to agreement on useful working practices, representing an increase from 1,300 to 2,800 in the naval base at Portsmouth.

Sir Frederick Burden

As it was the obvious intention of the Secretary of State to concentrate full repair facilities overall for surface and underwater vessels at Devonport, will he take account of the fact that "Swiftsure" has been at Devonport for three years and is not yet completed? In view of the necessity for keeping SSNs operational, will he reconsider the situation at Chatham, which can provide those facilities?

Mr. Nott

As my hon. Friend knows, I accept that Chatham has undertaken a valuable task over the years. I am afraid that we cannot give any reprieve to Chatham. It must close in accordance with our previously announced plan. "Swiftsure" is the first of a new class of submarine. The refitting is proceeding in parallel with the development of a new refitting complex at Devonport. One has to consider the effects of the 1981 civil servants' dispute. The management at Devonport has a learning curve, just as Chatham had a learning curve when it started to undertake that work.

Mr. John Silkin

As the Ministry of Defence was saying in 1981 that it would keep Chatham open, what new factor has occurred between 1981 and 1982 that means it has now to close?

Mr. Nott

There has been a substantial change in the manner in which we are planning to look after and support naval ships. We have ended the practice of mid-life modernisation. Devonport had already been expanded to deal with further SSN refits. The pattern of working at all the dockyards has changed. There is nothing to be gained from continuing to have more support for naval vessels than is necessary for the front line.