HC Deb 22 June 1993 vol 227 cc159-61
7. Mr. Tyler

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what examination he has made of the decision-taking process on the Trident refitting contract with a view to improving the consistency and orderliness of such processes.

Mr. Rifkind

The issues involved are complex, and involve significant sums of public money. A wide range of factors bear on the issues, and I am satisfied that the assessment is being properly conducted.

Mr. Tyler

Is that not the most extraordinarily complacent reply? It is 13 months since the bids had to be in from the two yards. Before Christmas, the Minister of State told me from the Dispatch Box that the decision would be out in a matter of days, perhaps weeks. The loyal work forces at Rosyth and Devonport have waited patiently for months. They are on tenterhooks—their livelihoods are at stake and their families do not know what will happen. The whole economy of that area of Scotland and the south-west of England has been waiting for this hide-and-seek game to end.

Mr. Rifkind

I understand the points made by the hon. Gentleman, but I make no apology for the time that it is taking to reach the proper conclusion. That time has already resulted in savings to the taxpayer and the Royal Navy that are likely to be in excess of £250 million, compared to what the original cost of the nuclear refitting was expected to be. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Royal Navy will benefit substantially from those savings, so it is right and proper that we should address those matters in that way.

Mr. Streeter

As someone who has always supported Trident, may I ask whether my right hon. and learned Friend is aware that the delay in awarding the contract is seriously undermining the morale of my constituents, and holding back the recovery that would otherwise be bursting forth in the south-west? Is he aware of what the people of Rosyth and Plymouth are going through while we await the decision? When will it be made?

Mr. Rifkind

I appreciate the points made by my hon. Friend. He will appreciate that the two companies involved—one in Plymouth and one in Rosyth—have, over the past six months, sent several refinements of their proposals, which inevitably have required time for consideration. Ministers are now considering the conclusions that should be reached, and I hope that an announcement can be made in the near future. It is important that the matters are properly addressed. I am anxious, as is my hon. Friend, to bring the uncertainty to an end.

Mr. Foulkes

The Secretary of State must realise that it is now over four months since he announced in a written answer that he planned to continue with two dockyards, but without saying how that would be achieved. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) rightly said, that is causing dismay and increasing division between Scotland and the south-west of England.

Can the Secretary of State at least say, first, that he will continue a submarine refitting capability at both yards and, secondly, that the yard that does not get the Trident refit will get at least 10 years' guarantee of submarine and surface refitting? It is in the strategic and employment interests of the United Kingdom to keep both yards fully operational.

Mr. Rifkind

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares our desire to see a decision on this matter, which hopefully will be possible. I simply do not believe that it is. possible to continue nuclear submarine refitting at both yards. The cost of the Trident work is so substantial that the expenditure required to provide a nuclear submarine refitting capability at both yards would be a gross waste of public funds, and I cannot endorse the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. Gallie

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm the wisdom of the last four Conservative Secretaries of State for Defence, who assured Rosyth's future based on the successful achievements in the refitting and servicing of Britain's nuclear deterrent fleet?

Mr. Rifkind

Both Rosyth's and Devonport's future are assured, because some time ago we said that, in the interests of ensuring competition and therefore the best benefit to the taxpayer, we proposed to continue with two royal dockyards. I know that that will give great pleasure not only to my hon. Friend but to those who are anxious to ensure that the taxpayer and the Royal Navy get the. most competitive bids not only for its submarine work but for its surface ship work.

Forward to