Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:34 pm on 1st July 1982.

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Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare 9:34 pm, 1st July 1982

I accept my hon. Friend's word, and I should have included Gibraltar, too.

The Secretary of State explained earlier that it is not yet possible to assess precisely the extent of the task. However, we know enough to say broadly how each yard is likely to be affected. As my right hon. Friend said, the planned expansion of Devonport and Rosyth will continue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham chooses to leave before I make my comments about his dockyard. That is somewhat discourteous.

We have concluded that there is sufficient flexibility within the existing dockyard organisation to cope with the aftermath of the Falklands operation. In the longer term the capacity of our dockyard organisation must be dictated by the requirements of the Fleet and our refitting policy. We see no reason to alter the plans for Chatham and Gibraltar as announced last year.

However, the industrial staff who received redundancy notices at Chatham before the Falklands crisis will have them extended if they so wish, generally by the period for which notices were suspended. The decisions to which I have referred should remove much of the uncertainty which has caused anxiety to the dockyard staff affected. It will allow a number of matters affecting industrial and non-industrial staff to be resolved.

I have already referred to industrial staff. The steps that can now be taken for non-industrial staff include 200 to 300 individual transfers to other dockyards, to other establishments in the Department and to other Government Departments. We can also resume the process of giving notices where necessary to over-sixties in the dockyards, and where clear surpluses are foreseen some offers of voluntary premature retirement can be made.

The Government recognise the problems that North Kent faces over the closure of the naval base at Chatham. We are establishing a jobcentre in the dockyard in conjunction with the Department of Employment. That is alongside the dockyard's personnel centre which gives advice to members of the work force on the prospects for transfer within Government service. The dockyard personnel departments hold training courses for managers and other matters associated with redundancy, employment, removals and so on.

In view of the time and my hon. Friend's absence, I shall curtail what I plan to say and let him have details of the physical things that we hope to do to ease the problems as a result of closing that large employer in the area.

In particular, the apprentice training school that Kent county council has sought to use at Collingwood should be available at a pepercorn rent for up to four years so that skilled training can continue to be provided. I am pleased to say that, subject to the resolution of certain points, of detail, we expect soon to seek parliamentary approval of such an arrangement.