HC Deb 26 July 1988 vol 138 cc240-2
4. Mr. Pike

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if, in the light of the projected redundancies at Devonport and Rosyth, he will reconsider the balance between the core programme and unallocated work for the royal dockyards.

10. Mr. Ray Powell

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if, in the light of the projected redundancies at Devonport and Rosyth, he will reconsider the balance between the core programme and unallocated work for the royal dockyards.

Mr. Sainsbury

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer questions Nos. 4 and 11 together.

The balance between the core and unallocated programmes is kept under regular review.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that since privatisation it has been proved that the Government gave incorrect information at that time? Has not half the work force been destroyed in job terms since privatisation, and is it not a fact that another 1,500 jobs are in jeopardy at the Portsmouth repair yard? Will the Government reconsider the question of allocation and look at the situation again in order to safeguard the remaining jobs?

Mr. Sainsbury

I totally reject the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we gave inaccurate information. We gave the information on job losses that was available to us at the time. The level of employment in the dockyard is a matter for DML. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should suggest that we re-examine the balance between the core and unallocated programmes, because about two dozen firms throughout the country benefit from the jobs provided by the unallocated programme. It would be totally inappropriate and destructive of our urge to seek greater competition to deprive them of the opportunity of tendering for that part of the work that is in the unallocated programme.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister mentioned question No. 11, but I believe that he meant question No. 10.

Mr. Powell

Have not the Government's assurances to the Devonport workers before privatisation proved to be more useless than a bent penny? They were promised 60 per cent. of the core naval refit and repair programme, but that work has since been slashed. Will the Government give an assurance that the cuts made to the naval refit programme will be reviewed and that some jobs will be saved?

Mr. Sainsbury

I apologise to the House, Mr. Speaker. We have had rather a large number of changes in questions. I should have referred to question No. 10.

It was known at the time of the contractorisation tender that we were maintaining a core programme to give a base work load for the new contractors. The royal dockyards, DML and BTL have an opportunity to tender for the work that is in the unallocated programme. As I have already said, it would be totally wrong to take that work back into the core programme and deprive a large number of other ship repair yards of the opportunity of obtaining work from the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Robert Hicks

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is still genuine anxiety locally about dockyard capability to respond in an emergency? If he is not prepared to increase the core programme, will he consider lifting the artificial restraint placed on the dockyards in respect of the allocated work?

Mr. Sainsbury

I appreciate that there is concern in my hon. Friend's constituency about the dockyard's work load. As I have said previously, we keep under review the ship repair industry's total capacity, which covers not only the royal dockyards but the private sector as well. One of the factors taken into account is the opportunity in an emergency to transfer workers from refitting to repair work, because that could provide a considerable surge capacity. In those circumstances, we are confident that there is sufficient capacity in the dockyards to meet any crisis.

Mr. Brazier

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the purpose of offering all that repair work for tender is to obtain the best possible value for money for the Royal Navy rather than to provide local jobs in any particular area? Will he further confirm that the remaining core programme for Devonport is of a size and scope that almost any other naval repair facility in Europe would greatly envy?

Mr. Sainsbury

We have a substantial capacity in both the former royal dockyards and in the private sector, which we believe is sufficient to meet the Royal Navy's needs and to ensure that its ships are maintained to the usual high standards.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Minister review what he has been saying to the House, in the light of the evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee and to the Select Committee on Defence about the rate of redundancies at Devonport and Rosyth? Will he confirm that the rate of redundancies at Devonport is far in excess of what was anticipated, and that the crux of the matter is that the core programme has been diminished and the dockyard at Devonport has not found itself capable of obtaining additional work? We are finding it difficult to keep up an adequate repair and maintenance service in the Navy. Will he come clean on the issue?

Mr. Sainsbury

I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we are confident that we have an adequate ship repair capacity throughout the country in both the public and the private sectors. We have ample capacity to meet any surge of demand in a crisis, for the reasons that I have already advanced.

There has indeed been a more rapid rate of job loss than originally anticipated. We have discussed the matter in the House. The reasons include the lower maintenance needs of modern ships, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware. The total naval work load has been reduced, and that has been reflected in a more rapid reduction in the number of jobs available at Devonport than was first envisaged.