This has been a useful and timely debate, and I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms. Squire) not only on her good fortune but also on her tenacity in securing it. I pay her a genuine tribute, because for months she has campaigned with commendable vigour on behalf of her constituents through correspondence and by coming to see Ministers —and now by securing this Adjournment debate.
I took especial note of the fact that the hon. Lady, with the leader of Fife regional council and other local authority leaders, and with the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), who is on the Opposition Front Bench tonight, came to see me last week to argue on similar lines and with great force the case that she has made so eloquently tonight.
I have visited both Rosyth and Devonport to see for myself their facilities and plans and their blueprints for the future, and I have been impressed, as it is easy to be, with the efforts and the determination of the management teams and the work forces at both dockyards.
Like all my colleagues in the Government, I am deeply conscious of the great importance of the royal dockyards at Devonport and Rosyth to the economies of their areas. Both employ several thousand people and sustain employment for many thousands more in firms throughout their regions. The companies are also among the largest trainers of apprentices in their areas; and I was glad to hear the personal contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), who speaks with the experience of a former apprentice at Rosyth royal dockyard.
We are conscious that when we make our proposals in due course we shall be taking some important decisions, and we recognise the enormous significance for Fife and for Scotland of the issues which have been raised tonight.
However, we must also recognise that the subject generates strong emotions in the other part of the country likely to be affected. As I shall make clear to the House, our future plans for ship refitting and repair will have great and wide implications for the communities both of Devonport and of Rosyth. We have to be very careful how we reach our decision.
At the end of the day, we can be influenced only by hard facts of the kind that we have heard tonight. We are approaching the decision with scrupulous fairness and impartiality. To some extent, I am almost in purdah tonight because we are fairly close to reaching our decision and, as far as Ministers are concerned, this debate must be something of a listening exercise. However, I will answer all the questions asked by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West.