HC Deb 17 August 1991 vol 195 cc353-67 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Tom King)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Government's intentions for rationalisation of the Royal Navy support arrangements. The Government—

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Apologise for yesterday.

Mr. King

If anybody has to apologise—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is you."] Many hon. Members know that I have asked to make a statement. I was told that it was not for the convenience of the Opposition. I was ready to answer a private notice question. If anyone has to apologise, it is not me. I have to make the announcements, and if I cannot make them in the House, I will make them in the most convenient way. I make that clear. If the Opposition cannot sort out their act on whether they want a statement, I would be grateful if they would tell the truth in the House—[Interruption.]

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I can understand what the hon. Gentleman wants to say. He should make his submissions when he asks his question.

Hon. Members


Mr. O'Neill

The House has been challenged. The Secretary of State has had 24 hours in which to get his facts correct, yet he is still carrying on the questioning that he raised yesterday. It was not substantial yesterday and it is not substantial now.

Mr. Speaker

I am not part of any discussions that go on through the usual channels. I am concerned with the way in which we proceed in the House. Let us proceed.

Mr. King

The Government have been examining all aspects of the armed forces' support to achieve the most efficient support infrastructure and to make savings in line with the front-line force level reductions confirmed in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1991", "Britain's Defence for the 90s".

The closure of the Royal Navy leadership school, HMS Royal Arthur, the Royal Navy diesel repair depot at Blackbrook Farm, and the accommodation and administrative headquarters, HMS St. Vincent, at Furse House, London, have already been announced in Hansard, 16 January 1991, at column 500.

Following a thorough review of basing arrangements, I have decided that when the new force structure is in place, ships of the Royal Navy will continue to be based at each of the naval bases at Portsmouth, Devonport, Rosyth and Faslane. Although Portland is not a base port but an operating base, I see a continuing need for a naval presence there also. We will now proceed to rationalise the support activities in each of those naval base areas and changes will also be made to the current arrangements for basing ships at Rosyth.

The Rosyth-based squadron of four type 42 destroyers, HMS York, Glasgow, Liverpool and Edinburgh, will be redeployed to Portsmouth, which will become their base port. That will allow the support activity for type 42s to be concentrated in Portsmouth, with consequent economies. The move to Portsmouth will take place progressively from mid 1993 to late 1994. In addition, the four ships of the Northern Ireland squadron will move to Faslane in 1993.

Rosyth remains the base port for the 1st, 3rd and 4th mine counter-measures squadrons together with the fishery protection squadron.

As a result of the changes, about 1,100 service personnel will relocate to Portsmouth and 100 to Faslane. Some 900 civilian posts will also be affected, with a number moving to other establishments, but also with some inevitable redundancies. Employment at Rosyth will then number around 8,500 including employees at the dockyard.

Current plans to conduct major refits of submarines —including Vanguard class SSBNs—and surface vessels at Rosyth remain unchanged. The £500 million investment currently being made in the dockyard for new refit facilities for Trident submarines will itself provide a further significant number of construction industry jobs.

A range of other measures designed to rationalise support facilities elsewhere in the naval shore infrastructure have also been decided. They include the closure of the royal naval air station HMS Daedalus at Lee-onSolent and the relocation of the air engineering school and other units to other establishments in the Portsmouth area; the closure of the royal naval stores depots at Lathalmond in Scotland and Copenacre in Wiltshire—although some offices will remain in Copenacre—the closure of the royal naval armaments depot at Trecwn in Wales, and the partial closure of the armament depot at Ernesettle, Plymouth. They will also include the closure of the oil fuel depot at Invergordon and withdrawal of Royal Navy facilities at the Finnart oil fuel depot; and the sale of the Gunwharf site at HMS Nelson, Portsmouth.

Some 1,900 civilian posts will be affected, with some inevitable redundancies, but it is hoped about a third will be relocated to other establishments. The closures will take place progressively over the next five years.

The measures carry forward the policy already announced of making reductions in the support area proportional to those in the front line. They are an essential part of ensuring the best use of defence resources and providing a structure appropriate to the needs of our Navy in the 1990s and beyond.

Mr. O'Neill

I welcome the Secretary of State to the House, whatever the reason for his non-appearance yesterday. Today we have the opportunity to examine the substance of his statement rather than the circumstances surrounding the announcement.

I welcome the decision not to close the base at Rosyth. I leave others to decide who was most responsible for that decision, but the Opposition know that such an outcome would not have been achieved without the unique campaign led by the work force, the service men's wives and the local communities and their representatives at district, regional and parliamentary level—especially my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown). Those people were all critical in alerting Scottish public opinion.

No one in Scotland was unaware of the campaign led by the Labour movement, and such was the breadth of support for it that Conservative Back Benchers, too, gave it their full backing. Even the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he eventually heard about the proposed closure, gave his support.

Does anyone believe that, if the campaign had not been waged, a statement such as we have just heard would have been made shortly after 28 March, when the original decision to close Rosyth was to have been approved by Ministers? Within 20 days—the minimum period allowed —the process of consulting those affected would have been completed.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, as a result of the transfer of the four type 42 frigates, the Royal Navy, in the words of Admiral Livesay, could well be in danger of losing a large number of good people who will not be prepared to make the move, and that these craft, the type 42s, are "full of first choice preferences"? Does the right hon. Gentleman also recall that, in the words of the admiral, when he suggested a plan to save Rosyth, the number of jobs that were to have been lost was only 400, not the 900 at present suggested? Can he tell us the reason for the disparity between the Livesay figures and those that he has announced?

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the decision to delay the order of a further seven Sandown class minehunters will not create a reduction in the size of the minehunting fleet in the near future, thereby undermining the cost-effectiveness of the Rosyth base by the mid-1990s? Can he further confirm that the Government have abandoned all plans to privatise the Scottish fishery protection squadron, and guarantee that there will be craft in Rosyth capable of undertaking work in the North sea oilfield in times of emergency?

As for the other naval bases, will the Secretary of State confirm that their capacity to accommodate the remaining Rosyth craft will be there in the near future in the event of Rosyth being closed? Will he also confirm the long-term plans for Rosyth within the general framework of Britain's and NATO's maritime strategy and, for the benefit of the House, can he tell us what he considers to be Britain's present part within that maritime strategy?

The whole House will recognise that the statement covers other facilities, too. I see that the Secretary of State for Wales is on the Front Bench. May I ask him what discussions have taken place about the future of Trecwn, Pembrokeshire, which is one of the few centres of industrial employment in a predominantly rural area whose economy is extremely fragile? It has been suggested that the depot could be used as a forward supply depot for United States rapid reaction capabilities into Europe.

Another idea which I believe has been canvassed—I should be interested to hear the Minister's view—is that a tri-service explosive disposal facility could perhaps be expanded at Trecwn. I understand that that is already taking place there, and when I had the opportunity, through the good offices of the Secretary of State, to visit the depot a few weeks ago, I was able to see some of that work being done.

Finally, can the Secretary of State describe what forms of assistance will be given to the areas affected, what resources will be made available and whether they will come from his budget or from the budgets of other Ministers?

Mr. King

I will deal first with the Welsh point that the hon. Gentleman raised, on the question of further steps to help to deal with what is obviously a serious matter in west Wales—I recognise that. The hon. Gentleman will know the time frame, which is helpful. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is already taking action, with the Welsh Development Agency and the TEC, to become involved in these matters. What is proposed at Trecwn will not start before 1994–95, and the loss of jobs will be loaded slightly later, with the main concentration occurring nearer to 1995–96.

The purpose in making the announcements is to allow us to get ahead with our plans and with the consultations. I am sure that the House will support that principle. The right way to approach such changes is to give the best possible chance for the individuals concerned to prepare and for the Ministry of Defence and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to do all that they can to help over the change.

I do not know how Admiral Livesay worked out the earlier figures that he gave. The transfer of type 42s makes good sense, although he deprecated the approach, because it means that, at one base, Portsmouth, we have all the type 42s. There are four in Rosyth and eight in Portsmouth. That means that we can concentrate spares, and servicing and support capability, in one place. Those are the figures, and I do not know what validity the earlier figures that were worked out had. I suspect that they were not arrived at following a full examination of what was involved. The figures also involve—I would need to check whether this aspect was covered by Admiral Livesay—the transfer of the Northern Ireland squadron to Faslane, which I dealt with.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) asked me several questions. As other hon. Members would not have a chance to contribute if I answered them all now, I shall write to him if I leave out the answers to any key questions. I should, however, like to deal with the central point. The hon. Gentleman has again sought to peddle at the Dispatch Box the story that has been peddled around Scotland that the decision had already been taken when, in fact, it had not. We were reviewing the options. Considerable alarm was caused in Scotland to many people—[Interruption.] Yes, I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) on achieving that scale of publicity, which caused huge alarm to many people who were led to believe that decisions had been taken when they had not.

I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition will be concerned about the way in which leaked documents can be used, and about the fact that somebody at the Rosyth site can be disloyal. I stress that that is a Ministry of Defence site for the refitting of nuclear submarines. The right hon. Gentleman must realise that these are grave matters. I am sure that he is concerned about the fact that those on his Front Bench have used leaked documents from such a source as though this was not a matter of considerable gravity. Anybody who purports to lead the future Government of our country must take seriously the point that he should not appear to be condoning the fact that people who might work for that Government in the future are free to leak any document that they like, whatever its nature.

While the hon. Member for Clackmannan stood at the Opposition Dispatch Box, anxiously inquiring about jobs for people in Scotland, many of whose main hope of employment will be to work on the refitting of our nuclear deterrent—our Trident submarines—he was surrounded by those whose lapsed CND memberships are written all over their faces. Those people in Scotland have the certain knowledge that they could have no confidence in there being a job for any single one of them if the Opposition ever came to power. Their prospects of jobs in the future are vastly better under this Government than under any of the alternatives.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that it is a very good thing that he has produced such a comprehensive answer to his survey of naval support before the recess, thus ending the uncertainty with which everyone has been having to cope? Is he in a position yet to tell us how much per annum will be saved once the changes are implemented and, if not, could he let us know as soon as possible? If one is a politician, it is difficult to blame the Opposition for using the publicity that they did, but is it not a fact that the man who leaked the confidential document has done the greatest disservice to his own organisation? Will my right hon. Friend issue a further reminder to all at the Ministry of Defence about where their loyalties lie?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The answer to his first detailed point is that the re-basing of the type 42s will save £70 million over the next five years, which is the biggest saving that could be achieved from any of the available options. That was an important consideration. As I have said, I do not have the details of the others, such as those at Trecwn and Copenacre, but in any case those closures are four or five years ahead.

My hon. Friend has raised a serious point. I hope that those on the Opposition Front Bench will recognise it as such. The use of leaked documents is a serious matter—[Interruption.] It is known to the House that one person has already lost employment at an alternative naval base over the leaking of the document. In the past week, two people have been in court because of a fairly amateur attempt to leak nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Minister leaked the document to the press yesterday. What hypocrisy.

Mr. King

I can well understand the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) trying to shout me down on this point. It is a serious matter. If the Opposition treat leaked documents from the Ministry of Defence and naval establishments as a matter of no consequence, they do no service to the nation and send a bad signal to the people who work in such establishments.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

In the light of yesterday's events, may I express the hope that the Secretary of State will find it possible in the future to consult a little more widely than with the official Opposition in determining whether a statement is necessary or desirable?

The Secretary of State's statement rightly acknowledged the importance to the dockyard of the refitting of the new class of Trident submarines. What guarantee can he give that the refitting will go to the dockyard? Does he care to say whether a four-boat, as opposed to a three-boat, fleet is likely to give rise to more opportunities for the dockyard?

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his first comment. I have certainly learnt a lesson in that respect. I entirely understand why he made that point.

It is our plan to go ahead with the nuclear refitting at Rosyth. The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that I referred to the £500 million investment plan. As he knows, the base work is already under way on the foundations and excavations. Actual construction is due to start next year. Only last week, we issued an invitation to tender for the fourth Trident submarine. I should like confirmation, from any Opposition Member who might choose to give it, that the Opposition support going ahead with that construction programme when it is drawn up at Barrow. That is certainly our programme.

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the important statements that he has made this afternoon will not inhibit the capability of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines to meet any threat within or outside the NATO area?

Mr King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose interest in this matter I very much respect. He will be aware that, as we move from, for example, a destroyer-frigate force of about 50 to one of about 40, it is absolutely essential that we reduce support facilities proportionately. If we wasted money on support, that money would not be available for the front line. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends attach great importance to that.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

The Secretary of State mentioned the panic that was caused. Was not it started by the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), when he said on Plymouth Sound radio that it was evident that it is Rosyth that "we want to close"? That is what caused the panic and prompted the political response.

Following up the question of the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), the naval support budget is £2.5 billion. Under "Options for Change", the Secretary of State said that he wanted to achieve a 20 per cent. Saving—about £500 million. What savings will he have achieved as a result of the statement?

Mr. King

I have just given the answer to that question. I said that £70 million would be saved over the next five years. The hon. Gentleman's remarks were an interesting rewriting of history. He appeared to write his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) out of any responsibility for causing the alarm and confusion that he did among many people in his constituency.

Dame Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm, absolutely clearly and without leaving any doubt, that both the Devonport naval base and the Devonport royal dockyard have a continued and firm existence and future? Will he bear in mind the number of jobs that have been lost and will continue to be lost after today's announcement? What plans do the Government have to assist in that regard?

Mr. King

In respect of the naval base, my statement made it clear that, while we shall certainly wish to keep Plymouth, Devonport as a naval base—I give that clear statement to my hon. Friend—obviously in all defence establishments we shall seek to ensure that they do not carry excess on the support side or have unused facilities. The cost of them is money which is therefore not available for our front-line capability.

I certainly hope that I can say that the dockyard will have a continued role. My hon. Friend will be well aware that there can be no blank cheque for the dockyards or guarantee that, irrespective of how competitive and efficient they are, they will have work in perpetuity. However, provided that they remain efficient and competitive, my hon. Friend will obtain the reassurance that she needs.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

In view of the loss of 5,000 jobs already from Devonport dockyard, the further 380 jobs lost from the armaments depot is serious. Can the Secretary of State give an assurance that HMS Illustrious's refit will go ahead within the next few weeks or months? Will he give some extra flexibility to encourage skilled workpeople to move, given the high cost of housing, particularly outside the areas? There needs to be more flexibility between redundancy payments and encouragement to move.

Mr. King

I well understand the right hon. Gentleman's last point, and particularly his point about the Ernesettle jobs. There is a little time to come on that. It will not start before 1993–94, so we shall have some time to see whether we can make adjustments there. If the terms can be agreed, the refit of HMS Illustrious can go ahead without loss of time. She is in Plymouth, and commercial negotiations are continuing. We hope that they will be satisfactorily resolved, in which case the refit will go ahead.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I am glad that my right hon. Friend has had the opportunity to come to the House and give this statement. I understand the confusion caused on the Opposition Benches by certain people not talking to those on their Front Bench.

Could my right hon. Friend expand on the one sentence about Portland? I assume that it means that there will be no job losses or worries for any of my constituents. Because the written answer yesterday had so little detail, there is a great deal of speculation. Can he confirm that the Lynx helicopter base, HMS Osprey, will stay open, that the Flag Officer Sea Training Board will continue to do its excellent work there, and that the royal naval dockyard will stay open? Can he say anything about moving other jobs into the area to use the excellent facilities which are somewhat underutilised in Portland harbour?

Mr. King

I understand my hon. Friend's concerns about Portland, but I cannot add to what I have said. I have given my response. We are looking at every base and I cannot give a guarantee that every job will stay at every base. That is why I cannot give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. We are looking to see whether the bases operate efficiently. We have to make savings proportionate to the reductions in the front line.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

After the Secretary of State's little outburst on loyalty, does he accept that the loyalty of service men should be to the Crown and Parliament rather than to any petty party politician such as he has shown himself to be during the past couple of days? Does he agree that the point made by his hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to the Select Committee on Defence on 12 June, when he said that all the naval bases had been subjected to a similar review about their future, is less than convincing? Will he admit that only Rosyth was lined up for closure and that it was only the campaign led by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) that ensured Rosyth's future?

Mr. King

Rosyth was not lined up for closure. It was precisely the repetition of that sort of statement in the early months that caused so much alarm. That sort of statement has been quoted, as though it was proved, on the back of leaked documents which did not prove it in any sense. The truth is that we have reviewed all the naval bases. Rosyth was the only one that was studied in detail—[Laughter.] They are not simply three equal naval bases. In reality, both Portsmouth and Plymouth are three times the size of Rosyth. In addition, Portland is not a base port; it is an operating base, and bears no comparison to the other three. That is what happened. A great deal of mischief has been stirred up by people wishing to cause trouble who themselves, through their party policy, would be able to give the least guarantee to anybody of any jobs in any base in Britain.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

May I welcome the increased commitment to Portsmouth that the changes represent? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is better to press one's case with reason and common sense than to resort constantly to counterproductive carping, criticism and scaremongering, which appeal to Opposition Members? Their policies would not bear scrutiny should they ever have responsibility for the defence of the country.

Mr. King

If I were living in Scotland and were concerned about my job, I would far rather that that concern was in the sensible and intelligent hands of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has worked tirelessly on this matter with his colleagues. I would not want my concerns to be subject to the alarmist and deeply worrying approach that has been adopted by certain Opposition Members. That attitude has caused real problems in the handling of this difficult problem.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

We note the relocation of the Northern Ireland squadron, which has now moved approximately 60 miles closer to Northern Ireland—some day it might get there. Is it not the case that the net effect of the changes has been to accentuate the geographical distortion in defence spending? Is it not the case that the bulk of the defence budget operates as a massive subsidy for the south-east of England?

Mr. King

I do not quite know how the hon. Gentleman works that out. However, I can see the point about the transfer of the destroyers. One can only make a comment about distortions in defence spending if one is prepared to ignore the massive investment that has been made in the facilities at Faslane and Rosyth, which represents a substantial transfer of resources to Scotland.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the net result of the announcements that he has made so far will be an increase in the number of uniformed posts in the Gosport-Portsmouth area and an increase in civilian posts? That will be welcomed by the service personnel, many of whom have made their homes in south Hampshire, and by the civilian population, who greatly value their strong links with the Royal Navy.

My right hon. Friend will understand my keen sense of loss at the proposed closure of the royal naval air station, HMS Daedalus. If that base is closed, will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be the closest consultation with local authorities so that some amenity value will accrue to the local population?

Mr. King

I certainly give my hon. Friend assurance on his latter point. He will know that the closure does not mean a loss of jobs so much as the transfer of activities, particularly those of the air engineering school.

On my hon. Friend's first point, the net effect of the announcements will be an increase in the number of uniformed and civilian posts in the Gosport-Portsmouth area. I should make it clear to my hon. Friend, as I have to other hon. Members, that it is important to ensure that the support side is organised on the most efficient, cost-effective basis. I know that my hon. Friend appreciates that. There will be some job losses in the support side to ensure that we have a lean and cost-effective support base suitable to the somewhat reduced level of our front line.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Is the Secretary of State solemnly telling the House that there was no Rosyth closure study? Is he solemnly telling the House that there was no timetable for closure? If the right hon. Gentleman is so worried about people peddling rumours, why yesterday did the Secretary of State for Scotland allow his lackeys to say that it was he who had saved Rosyth? If there was no fight, why was it necessary for the Secretary of State for Scotland to make that intervention?

The Secretary of State for Defence referred to the Admiral Livesay plan. Why did he not accept the recommendation about 400 jobs? Does he not accept that the loss of 900 jobs in central Scotland, with all its repercussions, is a great blow? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, but for the efforts of the work force and of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), matters would be a great deal worse? If he does not believe that, why does he not make a firm commitment today about the long-term future of the base?

Mr. King

I tried to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman exactly what the position was, and I am sorry that he does not appreciate or accept it. I made it clear that studies were done and that a number of options were considered. However, I also made it absolutely clear that decisions had not been taken and that we were considering a number of options. Nevertheless, stories continued to be peddled that those decisions had been taken.

The hon. Gentleman is standing up and expressing his concern again. If I can give a measure of assurance about the future of jobs, it would be much nicer for all concerned if those working in defence had some confidence that the whole House shared the determination to see those people continuing in employment. As a member of the Labour party, which has no defence policy at all—the prospect of a future Labour Government has caused great alarm in the defence industries—the hon. Gentleman should pay far greater attention to that issue.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Scottish Conservative Members, who concentrated their arguments where it mattered and achieved maximum effect by doing so, are pleased with the outcome? We believe that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues have listened carefully to the representations made by the work force, and we commend the way in which they have done so. We understand the concern that is felt in the Ministry of Defence among uniformed officers and civil servants about some of the ghastly leaks that have occurred. We took no part in those leaks and are not associated with them. Consequently, on behalf of the Scottish people, we thank my right hon. Friend and his team for responding so well.

Mr. King

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, whose assessment is precisely right. Attempts that were made to advertise the fact that there were leaks from Rosyth damaged the prospects for that base. They were extremely damaging to the good reputation of the overwhelmingly loyal work force there, and those concerned were singularly unwise.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the Secretary of State try to help us on one or two matters? If he thinks that he has won and those on the Opposition Front Bench think that they have won, why have 2,000 jobs been lost? If we add the 700 jobs that were lost at the dockyard, that makes 2,700 jobs that will be lost over a period in that area. What consultation has he had with the Secretary of State for Scotland to ensure that adequate investment is made in the area to take up the slack?

The right hon. Gentleman should not expect us to be so naive because I have visited the naval base and had discussions with Admiral Livesay. I shall not breach the confidential discussions that we had, but it was clear that Rosyth was the most vulnerable of the naval bases. The transfer of four type 42s to Portsmouth makes the naval base at Rosyth most vulnerable in the future. The Secretary of State must come clean on that. Everyone at Rosyth must know the position. To put it colloquially, their jackets are on a slack nail—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can "haud his wheesht" over defence policy. I do not go round with a CND card in one hand and a Trident missile in the other. Will the Secretary of State make it extremely clear that those jobs are secure?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions should be to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Douglas


Mr. King

I have already spoken to the hon. Gentleman about the studies and the review that have been carried out. Rosyth is the smallest of the "main" bases. The studies were examined, and the decisions that were taken have now been announced to the House.

I well understand the hon. Gentleman's outburst, because I find it pretty appalling to stand here and be challenged over the number of jobs that are being lost. We regret every job that is lost in that area, and are doing all we can to ensure that we maintain the country's defences. We then face Opposition Members who do not have a defence policy worth the name. They cannot guarantee to anyone in our armed forces—in naval or any other bases —or those supporting our nuclear deterrent, that there will be a single job for them in the future. The hypocrisy is absolutely mind-blowing.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we deeply appreciate the care, concern and detailed attention that he pays to making decisions of the sort announced today, which we know are in the great interests of the defence of this country? We cannot implement "Options for Change" unless savings are made in the support spheres, so that we can maintain strong front-line forces as well. Is he also aware that we were far more impressed by the care and attention that he gave to the problem at Rosyth and by the careful, reasoned, calm and cogent arguments put to us by representatives of the Rosyth management and work force than we were by the noisy clamour and misleading information put out by Opposition Members?

Mr. King

I think that my hon. Friend puts that point clearly and shares opinion on the stench of hypocrisy that reeks across the Chamber; I find it particularly nauseating.

Mr. Henry McLeish (Fife, Central)

I am sure that most people in Fife agree that the statement brings to an end one of the shabbiest and most disgraceful episodes of ministerial incompetence seen in the Chamber. More importantly, will the Secretary of State give us a rational explanation of why the Livesay plan of 400 has become the King plan of 900? If there is no prospect of further reviews to reduce that number, will the Secretary of State give an assurance to the people of Fife that steps will be taken and, along with his lackadaisical right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, make serious efforts to tackle the problems of unemployment in Rosyth, and put people first? In view of the Secretary of State's performance this afternoon, will he tell the House who leaked the closure announcement to The Sunday Times on Christmas eve?

Mr. King

The hon. Member referred to the end of a shabby episode, and I agree with that entirely; I think that the episode has been incredibly shabby. The hon. Gentleman's intervention shows the sort of voices that exist in Fife and the surrounding districts, and the sort of abuse that the hon. Gentleman passes on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has worked extremely hard on the issues. I pay tribute to the sensible and balanced way in which he did so. Faced with the difficult issues that exist in some sectors, if I had to make a choice between arguing with Opposition Members such as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) and discussing the matter rationally with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, there would be no question as to who would be most likely to help me get the right answer for the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

Will my right hon. Friend remind those of my constituents who work in Rosyth that, had the Labour party policy proposed in the past three elections been adopted and the Labour party elected to power, more than 5,000 people who work at Rosyth would have been made redundant? Will my right hon. Friend help me with the puzzling trichotomy that we face this afternoon now that the CND lapse has occurred? How is it that CND members were against Rosyth in the past three elections because they wanted to abolish the Trident force, were against our fighting troops fighting—which is their purpose—in the Gulf war, and are now suddenly in favour of keeping all the employees at Rosyth, regardless of CND and Trident?

Mr. King

The Opposition operate a very clear defence policy in a sense. They want substantial cuts in public expenditure—they made that clear, and the proposal was overwhelmingly carried by a mandatory majority at Labour party conferences. They clearly want to question our nuclear deterrent and, also, to argue for every single job in every base, for every weapons programme and for every new piece of expenditure that they can possibly find to criticise us on.

That is a policy lacking in integrity and intellectual content. We see the Opposition spokesmen sinking further and further from view. I think that it was the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) who said on the subject of CND: I am still a member, but I don't think people want us to comment on this.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

Did the Secretary of State base his decision on the fact that, although a fifth of the ratings in the Royal Navy are recruited from Scotland and the north-east of England, only 12 per cent. of the officers are recruited from those areas, or did he base it on the fact that type 42s, which are forward air defence-dedicated destroyers, should be sent more than 24 hours steaming south of the main air threat, which would come from the north?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman seems to imagine that ships should be kept in harbour all the time. Ships are deployed occasionally. Under Labour's defence policy, they would not be able to afford the fuel and would probably be permanently tied up in the south of England. We intend to deploy our ships, and in that context the hon. Gentleman's fatuous question falls.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The House knows that I have to protect subsequent business on the Order Paper, which is a Plaid Cymru Supply day. I shall allow questions to continue for another 10 minutes, and then we have a ten-minute Bill. I hope that hon. Members will ask brief questions.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

Will my right hon. Friend take note that there will be considerable relief that he has gone through this exercise? Will he confirm that his announcement will enable the Royal Navy to remain the third most powerful navy in the world, and far and away the world's best? Will he continue to point out the gross hypocrisy of the Opposition, who demand defence cuts in general but always seem to oppose rationalisation?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. Our objective is precisely to ensure that we maintain the best possible Royal Navy with the best possible support. It is my duty to see that we get the most efficient use of resources. That is a balanced and responsible approach, and it is the approach of integrity. We modestly claim that it is not reflected elsewhere in the House.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I have enjoyed watching the Secretary of State trying to make smoke, and I am sorry to have to break through his screen. Will he take the opportunity afforded by his statement to answer the question determinedly evaded by his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces whom I asked to scotch the idea of closing in October the royal naval detention quarters at Portsmouth? Will the Secretary of State assure us that the RNDQ at Portsmouth will not be vacated until proper provision has been made for females at the military corrective training centre at Colchester? Or does the Department intend to turn the female institutions of the services into the same sorry state as our civilian establishments?

Mr. King

I am afraid that I cannot comment on that, but I shall look into the matter.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's robust promotion of a powerful role for the Royal Navy and the British nuclear deterrent, which contrasts with the policies of ex-CND and continuing CND Opposition Members. Will he confirm that the Royal Navy and the mercantile marines of the international community will continue to benefit from the work of the Hydrographic Department in Taunton, and will that work be effectively resourced by his Department?

Mr. King

I certainly hope so. As my hon. Friend knows, under its new agency status, the department is making an encouraging start. I had the pleasure of opening it a short time ago with my hon. Friend, and I hear encouraging reports of some of its new freedoms. It is obviously a centre of excellence, and we recognise its significance.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that one of the reasons why it would have been wrong to close Rosyth is that it would mean concentrating all these bases on England's south coast? Does he accept that that argument applies particularly to Rosyth, not just because of its geographical location but because of the Scottish people's proud history of participation in all Britain's armed services? That crucial argument will have as much force after the election as it has now, regardless of who is in government.

Mr. King

My decision was based on a consideration of what I thought were strategic grounds. It also made good sense, in that it achieved the savings that are necessary to maintain the most effective front line and, compared with the alternatives, it involved less disruption for the people concerned. We looked at a range of options, one of which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, was the possibility of closure. I chose the most sensible option on a range of considerations. My decision also took into account, as I made clear that it would, the overall impact and the economic impact on the area, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland made sure that I recognised well. We also recognised the significant contribution that Scotland makes to the Royal Navy.

Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. You might well have expected it to be too late for me to be interested in what happens to the Royal Navy dockyards, having had in my constituency one of the first to close under an earlier peace dividend. Will my right hon. Friend accept that I share his anger at the hypocrisy of Opposition Members, who for weeks have been bleating about the peace dividend, but when it happens in a little rationalisation in their dockyards they want to know why. My dockyard, Nelson's dockyard, was the most famous in the country. Will he offer Opposition Members the consolation that, before the recession, unemployment in my constituency had been reduced to 3.7 per cent.?

Mr. King

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I entirely understand her preamble and her feelings at this moment. It is incredible that the Opposition—with respect to those on the Opposition Front Bench; I do not mean this personally—do not even think that defence justifies a seat in the shadow Cabinet.

Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

Will the Secretary of State confirm the allegation that yesterday, en route to the naval base at Rosyth, a major convoy carrying nuclear warheads broke down in my constituency at Castleside? I understand that this is the second incident of that nature, and my constitutents—

Mr. Speaker

Order. With great respect, the question must be related to the statement. I think that this refers to a different matter.

Ms. Armstrong

The convoy was on its way to Rosyth. [Interruption.] I too have loyalty to my constituents, and they are concerned that they may have been prey to a terrorist attack because the convoy was not proceeding in a proper manner.

Mr. King

That question does not arise on the statement, but I will look into the hon. Lady's point.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)

Do not the vigour and concern expressed this afternoon convey a clear message to a distinguished visitor to our shores, President Gorbachev, who has come to the west seeking real resources which he would presumably describe as a peace dividend in Russia? Are the Government confident that the real resources released in the United Kingdom will not be devoted to the Soviet Union at a time when it is not releasing resources from a diminution of the Russian Navy? Is he confident that if the evidence about the strength of the Russian navy which is reaching the Government at all times disproves the allegations the policy will not be continued?

Mr. King

There seems to be some story that the Russian navy is increasing in size. That is not correct. A considerable scrapping programme is taking place. However, I accept that new vessels and new submarines that have been launched are highly capable and worthy of full respect. Having said that, I was told that about 50 per cent. of the present Soviet GNP was going into defence. Given the scale of the burden that it is carrying, it is unthinkable that we should engage in any economic support if that scale of military investment continues.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

As a fellow Scot, Mr. Speaker, I apologise for the behaviour of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) in complaining about people carrying cards.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I would prefer the hon. Member to ask a question.

Mr. Ewing

Over the past year, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West has carried more cards than I have credit cards. He has never forgiven my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) for winning back the safe Labour seat that he threw away.

The Secretary of State for Defence has just announced that 1,000 people will lose their jobs at Rosyth, making 2,500 jobless altogether. Is that not cause for alarm? Has the right hon. Gentleman become so blasé and unconcerned about unemployment that the prospect of 2,500 people losing their jobs does not give him cause for alarm?

Mr. King

I said that I take any job losses very seriously, but the hon. Gentleman's question misrepresents the situation. He said that 900 people will lose their jobs, but I have made it clear that we hope that a significant number of them will be relocated in other Ministry of Defence posts. The hon. Gentleman will understand why I enter that caveat.

I hope that it will be of some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman to know that the Northern Ireland squadron will not move until 1993. The type 42s, which account for the bulk of the jobs, will not move until 1993–94, and then progressively. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is concerned to see that every assistance is given. He is active in other parts of Scotland as well, to ensure that help is given to whatever number of people may lose their jobs.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Does not my right hon. Friend consider it grotesque that he should be criticised over job losses when the Labour party conference has twice voted by an overwhelming majority to reduce defence spending by £9 billion? How many jobs would such a cut cost? For Labour to criticise possible defence costs carries about as much conviction as if the devil were to come to the House to criticise a decline in virtue.

Mr. King

I regret having come to the House to announce that the changes made under our programme will affect 900 civilian jobs. However, I hope that a number of those affected will be relocated in other Ministry of Defence posts. There are arguably 50,000 jobs in Scotland alone that are totally connected with or affected by defence. Any independent assessment of Labour's defence policy—although we know little of it—must suggest that, under it, 25,000 of those jobs would go.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Secretary of State confirm the authenticity of the allegedly leaked documents? Is it not sheer hypocrisy, when documents come to light showing the Government's intentions, that Ministers try to distort the issue by smearing hon. Members, rather than answering the questions that such documents raise? Will the right hon. Gentleman say, yes or no, whether the document to which he referred gave the timetable, the date, and the identity of the base as Rosyth? Does he deny that?

Mr. King

I made it absolutely clear to the hon. Gentleman that studies were made, and I repeatedly said that no decision was taken. I draw to the attention of the House that another member of the Opposition Front Bench shows no embarrassment about a leaked document from a naval base.

Mr. O'Neill

Take it—here.

Mr. King

I do not touch leaked documents, thank you very much. I explained to the hon. Gentleman that studies were undertaken, and that they contained possible timetables, and so on. A range of options were considered. They came before Ministers, and Ministers took decisions.