HL Deb 02 March 1989 vol 504 cc1141-2

3.20 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

What they estimate will be (a) the saving to defence Votes resulting from the withdrawal of troops from Gibraltar, and (b) the resulting effects on the Gibraltar economy.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, it is not yet possible to put a precise figure on this saving as the detailed studies are not yet complete and in any event the majority of the forces to be withdrawn will be deployed elsewhere. Any effect on the Gibraltar economy will be offset by the release of further land to the authorities there, thus facilitating the creation of new economic activity and additional employment opportunities.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that not particularly informative reply. If the further withdrawal following the closure of the dockyard adversely affects the economy of that British colony, will Her Majesty's Government look sympathetically at providing some additional investment by way of compensation?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the best contribution we can make is in the transfer of redundant facilities to the Gibraltarian authorities. As my noble friend will be aware, we shall be transferring further facilities to them, for the most part free of charge.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, in view of the Gibraltar Government's estimate that the Ministry of Defence generates 18 per cent. of the territory's income, and many of its jobs, what estimate is the Minister making of the increase in the social security budget which will be caused by the unemployment that will result from the departure of the troops? Is it not important that that matter should be settled before the troops begin to move, because the unemployment will be immediate and the consequences serious?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord is correct, if he will forgive me for saying so. A large number of Gibraltarian civilians are employed by the armed forces in Gibraltar. I fear that some of them may not be required after the force adjustments have taken place. However, as I say. the solution to that problem is in generating new economic activities in Gibraltar, thus providing the additional employment opportunities which I am sure the noble Lord will support.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the fact that it is possible to withdraw those troops is extremely welcome and that that trend should go on if possible? Did I understand him to say that he is now calculating the impact on the defence budget? Surely the right procedure is to make that calculation before reaching a decision.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, no, because the change in the force levels in Gibraltar is not related to the defence budget; it is related to the cost-effective use of our forces generally. We believe that there are more important places than Gibraltar in which to deploy our soldiers.