Rosyth Dockyard

Part of Petitions – in the House of Commons at 9:57 pm on 25th November 1992.

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Photo of Mr Jonathan Aitken Mr Jonathan Aitken , South Thanet 9:57 pm, 25th November 1992

Before responding to the questions of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West, I want to pay a genuine tribute to the work forces at both dockyards who have given long and devoted service to the Crown over many years. Rosyth has carried out all the refits of Britain's Polaris submarines, including that of HMS Renown whose rededication ceremony took place a few days ago. In particular, I pay tribute to both companies which have reacted positively and enthusiastically to a requirement to complete warship refits ahead of time and to convert vessels of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary to war time use in preparation for the Gulf conflict and, before that, the Falklands conflict. The whole country has good reason to be very grateful to all those who work in the royal dockyards.

I want now to respond to some of the specific questions that have been raised in the debate, and I will do so in reverse order. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, whose contribution as I said, was very valuable from his perspective as a former apprentice at Rosyth, quite rightly highlighted improvements in productivity and competitiveness at the yard. He praised the great reservoir of skill and knowledge in Rosyth dockyard. I entirely accept his points.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) set out eloquently the military and security case for two locations. We are well aware of that. However, I thought that he was a little far-sighted when he envisaged the possibility of missiles raining down on Devonport. I suppose that stranger things have happened in the military world and it was perfectly valid for him to make out his case about the importance of two locations rather than one.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), who has long been a staunch and vociferous champion of strong military defences of this country—more so than the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West, who acknowledged her recent Damascus-like conversion to Trident submarines—ran through a list of questions. He asked whether we would take into account environmental considerations, and the answer to that is yes; whether we would properly consider the dual-site proposal, and the answer to that is yes; whether we would take into account the recent special reports, particularly that from Fife council, to which the answer is yes; whether we would take into account the money that has already been spent on the RD57 project at Rosyth, to which the answer is also yes; whether we would take not just a military decision but a wider decision, and the answer to that is also yes, we will take all those broader factors into consideration. Finally, he asked whether I would be willing to receive consultations, and the answer to that is also yes.

We do not seem to have done much but receive representations from every possible viewpoint. In addition to representations in respect of this debate, I met a delegation this afternoon from Devonport and, a few minutes before the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West opened her debate, we heard a petition tabled from Devonport. We are trying to carry out a genuinely even-handed approach. Lack of consultation has not been a problem.

I want now to consider the specific questions of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West, many of which referred to dates. She wanted to know when Rosyth and Devonport would be ready to undertake the first Trident refit. We are confident that the facilities at either Devonport or Rosyth will be ready in time for the first Trident refit. We estimate that Devonport could take over all nuclear work at approximately the end of 1996 and that Rosyth could do the nuclear work nine months earlier, in the spring of 1996.

The hon. Lady asked what Government savings there would be if Rosyth was closed. Given the unemployment increases that she predicted, I cannot give her a precise figure, but, as I said in answer to a question from her on 27 October, all relevant considerations will be taken into account. The amount of spending that might be necessary on unemployment benefit will be roughly the same in both areas.

The hon. Lady asked me when the decision will be made and announced. It is our firm aspiration and intention to announce our proposals by the end of the year, but I should enter the caveat that, if more time is needed to get those proposals right, we will take it, because it is a decision of some complexity and wide significance. If we need to take a little longer in the interests of checking more carefully, I do not think that the House would begrudge such extra time, but we hope that it will not be necessary.