Rosyth Dockyard

Part of Petitions – in the House of Commons at 9:39 pm on 25th November 1992.

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Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside 9:39 pm, 25th November 1992

I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms. Squire) on, first, attaining this debate and, secondly, being kind enough to agree—as have my hon. Friends—to my speaking in the debate. I have no hesitation in contributing to debates on defence matters. Many hon. Members know that for many years it has been my job to defend the reasons why we maintain our nuclear capability on the Clyde. I have believed in deterrence for many years, and I still do. We must examine how to maintain the submarines that will be based in the Clyde for the next 30 years.

The Minister will be aware that the Babcock Thorn proposals which he and the Government have received, as well as the modified versions, are financially sound. Babcock Thorn's two-dockyard proposal was not dreamed up simply to save jobs. It is a management proposal made on sound management lines that clearly demonstrates that one can manage two facilities more effectively and efficiently than one.

Another huge and important advantage of having the submarines serviced at Rosyth and the surface ships serviced at Devonport is that the proposals are environmentally sound. A purpose-built, earthquake-proof dry dock facility for nuclear submarines at Rosyth must surely be safer than a modified facility at Devonport. The absence at Rosyth of a high-density population makes it a much better choice. It cannot be wise to put nuclear submarines into a modified facility right in the centre of a large, waterfronted city, particularly when a more suitable, less populated site at Rosyth is available.

Can the Minister confirm that this aspect of the environmental considerations will be fully and adequately addressed before any decision is made? Can he also confirm that the Babcock Thorn single management proposals for both dockyards will be fully and properly examined, again before a decision is taken? Will the independent report that supports these views also be considered?

Furthermore, can the Minister confirm that the real and full cost to the public purse, in the event of that facility being closed, will be made known? I refer to the money already spent at Rosyth as well as to that which has been committed and that will not be recouped. There will also be the cost of redundancies and the unemployment and social security costs. Will the Minister ensure that the figures submitted by Fife regional council and the Fraser of Allander Institute are part of the package that the Treasury must properly examine before just a military decision is taken? My view, and that of independent experts, is that the cost to the public purse of closing the Rosyth facility would be far in excess of the cost just to the Ministry of Defence.

Can the Minister also confirm that, before any decision on the future of the Rosyth dockyard is made, proper consultations will take place with all those involved? I have particularly in mind the trade unions and the management.

I remind my hon. Friend—the hon. Member for Dumfermline, West drew attention to this—that at present not so many engineering apprentices are being trained as one would wish. In Scotland the number of engineering apprentices is slightly more than 600. When one remembers that more than 300 of those apprentices are trained in the dockyard at Rosyth, one realises that the cost in the training budget would be massive if we had to find alternatives. That is important. Such matters must be taken properly and fully into account before any decisions are made. One should be in no doubt what the economic consequences will be for central Scotland if the dockyard closes. The consequences will be horrendous. One should have no doubt about that at all.

I have no hesitation whatever in standing behind my hon. Friend and saying that I do not need to be persuaded that it is wise to keep Rosyth. I have always believed that Rosyth is one of the great jewels in the crown of defence, and I still believe that. That is why I argued in 1985, and earlier, that we must keep both the dockyard and the naval base. I still believe that the retention of the dockyard and the naval base is an essential military requirement.

It is worth noting the proposal of Babcock Thorn to have submarines serviced at Rosyth. That is sensible because submariners have their homes in central Scotland and the submarines are based on the Clyde. Anyone who has studied such matters knows that submariners spend a lifetime in the service. Many of them buy homes in central Scotland and put down roots there. If submarines are required to be serviced, it makes sense to have them serviced in a convenient place so that submariners do not have to move from home. They can travel daily because Rosyth is as near to where many of them live as the base on the Clyde. That matter must be taken into account. It is equally true that the service fleet is largely based in the south of England. The sailors who man the surplus ships have their homes in the south of England, so it makes sense to have the ships serviced in the south of England. That must be another important matter.

I now turn to yet another important matter. [Interruption.] It is not a matter about which anyone should mutter or be foolish. I refer to one of the most important defence decisions that we will make, probably this century. It is also one of the most strategic and economic decisions that Scotland will face. If we do not retain the facility, the consequences are too horrendous to contemplate.

As the Conservative Member who has been charged with the responsibility of looking after defence matters on behalf of the Conservative party, I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind, as the Government will, the fact that there are bound to be political costs which I would hate to contemplate if we considered closing Rosyth. The peace movement has given free reign in Scotland to oppose the location of a nuclear deterrent on the Clyde. The big factor that has undermined from the beginning the peace movement's campaign against nuclear deterrence—the hon. Lady put her finger on it—has been the jobs at Rosyth. The jobs at Rosyth were our deterrent. When I say "we", I refer to those of us who believe in nuclear deterrents. The Rosyth jobs were the trade-off for trade unions supporting the retention of nuclear deterrents on the Clyde.

We must examine the matter carefully, together with all the other political considerations. I would not look foward to appearing on radio and television to defend the retention of the nuclear base if I could not constantly remind people of the massive number of jobs that generated from the maintenance of submarines at Rosyth.