HL Deb 26 October 1965 vol 269 cc557-63

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to intervene to repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my honourable friend the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy on behalf of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence, about the future of the Joint Anti-Submarine School at Londonderry. The Statement is as follows:

"My right honourable friend the Home Secretary and I"—

that is, the Minister for the Navy—

"have visited this establishment, and we have given long and careful consideration to the representations made to keep this Training School at Londonderry by the Prime Minister and Government of Northern Ireland, the Mayor of Londonderry, the honourable Member for Londonderry and other honourable Members"—

and, perhaps I may add, by noble Lords in this House, in particular, my noble friend, Lord Haire of Whiteabbey.

"Nevertheless, we have come to the conclusion that the advantages in economy and efficiency to be gained by moving the school to Plymouth are so great that they must be accepted. The move will save between £400,000 and £500,000 a year, and will also make available well over 200 officers and ratings for service elsewhere. The rundown will not take full effect for about three years, and during that time, in conjunction with the Government of Northern Ireland, Her Majesty's Government will make every effort to bring new employment to the area.

"This was a hard decision to take, because it must break a strong and fruitful link between the Royal Navy and this part of Northern Ireland, and will be a blow to the city and people of Londonderry. Nevertheless, quite apart from the substantial economies I have mentioned, the move will have decisive operational advantages, not only for the Navy but also for the R.A.F."


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating this Statement. The saving he has described in men and money is considerable. I suppose that we can take it that the savings are in absolute terms—that is to say, at least 200 officers and ratings fewer will be employed at Plymouth, for the same result, as are now employed at Londonderry, and also the operational costs at Plymouth, for at least the same result, will be between £400,000 and £500,000 less than at Londonderry. But even if this is conceded, as I assume it is, there is still no reference in the Statement to capital costs. Will the installations to be dismantled at Londonderry have to be re-created from scratch at Plymouth, and, if so, at what capital outlay?

I should also be grateful if the noble Lord could be a little more explicit, for the benefit of a landlubber, on the "decisive operational advantages" referred to in his closing words. Can he reassure us on this point—because I understand that the School at Londonderry is held in very high repute by the Services concerned? I am sure that he will have answers to these questions. I put them merely in order to clear my own mind.


My Lords, first of all, on the noble Lord's point as to whether good results will be obtained for the money, let me say that very much better results will be obtained for the money. The capital cost will be paid for in the course of one year's saving—in other words, it will come within £500,000. The noble Lord asked for the "urgent operational reasons". This is a fairly complicated subject. The majority of submarines available for this training, and the majority of ships, are in the South, and it has been calculated that this move will save the equivalent of 1½ submarine hulls and 1½ anti-submarine ships in sheer time of passage and convenience. In addition the Anti-Submarine Tactical Trainer is in the south. There are many valid operational reasons why this should be done. I should add that it has been only with the utmost regret that the Government have taken a decision which, in total effect, if we add savings of ships, is probably not £400,000 to £500,000 but £1 million a year.


My Lords, having been First Lord of the Admiralty for five years, may I be allowed to pay my tribute to the Joint Anti-Submarine Training School in Londonderry, which was a model of what a school should be and was much envied by the Navies of other nations? It is very sad that it should be closed, but I think that the noble Lord has certainly made out a financial case for doing so.

May I ask the noble Lord three questions? He spoke of "operational advantages", and in answering my noble friend Lord St. Oswald, he spoke of the saving in passage time. My recollection, which of course may be at fault, is that one of the reasons why Londonderry was chosen for the Anti-Submarine School was that it was much nearer deep water. If my recollection is correct, will not that operational disadvantage discount the advantages, whatever they may be? Secondly, may I ask the noble Lord whether he can tell me where the new School is to be at Plymouth? And, thirdly, could he tell the House how many men and women now employed at the School at Londonderry will find themselves out of a job as a result of this decision?


My Lords, my noble friend will hardly expect me to be wild in my welcome of this Statement. I am satisfied that he and the other Ministers concerned have arrived at this serious decision only after the most careful thought and consideration. I am satisfied that only questions of defence costs, and of the economic re-deployment of the forces concerned, and no other social considerations whatever, have led to this decision. The proposal to delay action until 1968 will, of course, be welcome to everyone in Londonderry, and especially to the men concerned. Northern Ireland will surely feel that the axe has not fallen too suddenly and without due notice. The proposals to find alternative employment—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but we are on questions on the Statement and he is beginning to make a speech.


My Lords, the proposals to find alternative employment for the men concerned lead me to ask whether new industries have been found for Londonderry in order to provide this new employment; because, clearly, we must give thought to the many men concerned who are, and have for long been, associated with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force at Londonderry.


My Lords, as a Member of your Lordships' House who has visited the Submarine School at Londonderry, may I say that I was highly impressed by the facilities provided for submarine courses and also by the attitude there of the NATO Navy personnel. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether the numbers of NATO personnel which will use these training facilities will be less at Plymouth than they are at Londonderry.


My Lords, first of all let me deal with the question of the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale. It is up to NATO to make use of these facilities, if they wish. I hope very much that they will desire to continue to make precisely the same use of these facilities when they are at Plymouth. This is a point which has been clearly recognised.

I understand the feeling of my noble friend Lord Haire of Whiteabbey as a Northern Irishman—or Ulsterman, whichever he prefers to be called—on this matter. There is no doubt that the problem of employment is a serious one, and it is strongly recognised by the Government. Clearly, in view of the extremely important defence economies, there is a limitation to the extent to which the Defence Budget should carry what is essentially a social cost, but it is the intention of the Government, as part of their general plans for Northern Ireland, to do their best to bring new employment to Londonderry. But, as my noble friend has said, it will be some time before the run-down is completed.

Dealing with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, certainly the presence of deep water close to Londonderry has been an operational advantage, but I should like to correct him historically. I think I am right in saying this—and my memory of the Anti-Submarine School probably goes back farther than that of the noble Lord—that it was placed in Northern Ireland during the war, when the Western Approaches in that area made an ideal centre, rather than anywhere in the South-West. I remember it when it was the Joint Anti-U-Boat School at Maydown, because the Navy were unable to provide intelligence for their own base and the R.A.F. had to provide it.


My Lords, I was saying that its closeness to deep water was one of the reasons why the School was kept at Londonderry.


I appreciate that. The point raised by the noble Lord has been taken into account, but it is small in comparison to the saving which I exemplified in terms of actual ship-time. I think the argument is that the operational advantages, from the point of view of both the Navy and the R.A.F., and also taking into account NATO requirements, are quite overwhelming.


Will the noble Lord answer my other two questions? I asked where the school would be at Plymouth, and also how many men and women would lose their jobs as a result of this decision.


My Lords, the reason why I did not answer the question about Plymouth is that I do not know the answer.


It seems to be quite important.


We have two or three years in which to plan. I think that, for the moment, Plymouth is near enough the geographical point. I appreciate that it will be of interest to have this information, and I will let the noble Lord know it.

The number of people whose jobs are at risk is different from the number who actually lose their jobs. The total number of civilians who will be affected in Londonderry is 481, which is a quite considerable number. Of these, 249 are established and will be offered jobs elsewhere in the Government service, possibly in Northern Ireland, in which case they have priority over unestablished civil servants in Northern Ireland. But I should not wish to deceive the House in suggesting that these jobs will necessarily be forthcoming within Northern Ireland. The remaining 232 are unestablished. Whether or not they will be discharged as redundant will depend partly on normal wastage.


My Lords, could the Minister confirm that when the School moves to Devonport its scope and capacity will be roughly the same as it has been at Londonderry over the last fifteen years or so?


My Lords, the capacity and scope will be increased. I do not want to press this point, but there is great difficulty at the moment in carrying out the courses they want. The number has been cut from eight to six, and the length of the course has been cut from four to three weeks. We hope to restore the position. Perhaps I should say to the noble Lord that, although we said that the Joint Anti-Submarine School is leaving Northern Ireland, it is not closing down: it will continue with greater efficiency elsewhere.

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