HC Deb 01 November 1983 vol 47 cc726-7
4. Mr. Latham

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what progress is being made in closing down the royal naval dockyard facilities in Gibraltar.

9. Mr. McQuarrie

asked the Secretary of State for Defence, pursuant to the reply of 12 July, Official Report, c. 766, what progress there has been in discussions with the Gibraltar Government about the implementation of the decision to close the Gibraltar naval dockyard.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. John Lee)

We have not yet started closing down facilities. In accordance with the spirit of the agreement announced by my predecessor on 27 July, we are continuing to run the dockyard until the end of 1984, unless we and the Government of Gibraltar agree on an earlier date for closure. A phased programme has been prepared for withdrawal from those facilities which will not subsequently be required by the commercial operator, and for the relocation of certain other facilities within the naval base area. In addition, a state of redundancy has been declared in the royal dockyard. Although no compulsory redundancy notices have yet been issued, some employees have volunteered for redundancy.

Mr. Latham

Is my hon. Friend, whom we welcome warmly to his new position, aware that some of his hon.

Friends are still far from convinced that closure of the dockyard is wise on defence strategic grounds? Will he assure us that under no circumstances will the wrong signal be sent to Spain, which so far has done little to implement the Lisbon agreement?

Mr. Lee

I thank my hon. Friend for his warm welcome. I know that he has taken a continuing interest in Gibraltar. I emphasise that the dockyard closure is part of the Government's overall rationalisation policy and that the naval base, the RAF and Army presence will remain. The Government remain committed to supporting Gibraltar's economy and to honouring the wishes of the people of Gibraltar.

Mr. McQuarrie

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on his appointment to his new office and wish him every success. He will be aware that the dockyard closure was agreed by the dockyard workers, but that a few weeks ago two prominent British trade union members—Alec Kitson and Mike Murphy — went there and by their rabble-rousing speeches overturned the decision, which means that the dockyard closure has not been agreed by the workers. Will my hon. Friend take an early opportunity to visit Gibraltar to sort out the position and ensure that the commercialisation of the dockyard goes ahead fairly quickly?

Mr. Lee

At times I have felt that my hon. Friend represented Banff and Buchan and Gibraltar, so great a champion has he been of Gibraltar's cause. I understand that only about 25 per cent. of the dockyard work force attended the meeting addressed by Mr. Kitson. I do not regard his reported comments as being particularly helpful or constructive. I note the point made by my hon. Friend about my visiting the Gibraltar dockyard, but as yet I have no plans to do so.

Mr. Duffy

I, too, extend congratulations to the Minister on his new appointment. I remind him of the concern caused by his predecessor's statement on 27 July when hon. Members from both sides of the House asked questions about the impact on jobs, notably on Tyneside, as Royal Fleet Auxiliary work was switched away during the first three years of the new commercial operator's life, and about the content of the new working practices upon which it was believed the commercial operator would insist — a cut in numbers and wages and a no-strike clause. Can the hon. Gentleman give a greater assurance to the House on both those matters than his predecessor did?

Mr. Lee

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. Naval work in the form of Royal Fleet Auxiliary refits will be allocated during the first three years of the commercial yard. During that period the volume of RFA work going to Gibraltar will be less than it would have been had we decided to keep the naval dockyard open. Therefore, United Kingdom yards will be better off, not worse off. Work going to Gibraltar will represent about 12 per cent. of total RFA refitting work during the years in question. The method of operation of the dockyard will be up to the new commercial operator. We shall not stipulate that a no-strike clause should be in operation.