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

There is no question of any kicking for touch or unreasonable delays on the part of the Government. As I have said, it is our firm aspiration and intention to reach a decision and to publish our proposals before the end of the year. I entered the caveat because more information is still coming in and further representations are being made. Only this afternoon, I saw people from, I presume, the hon. Gentleman's constituency or from neighbouring constituencies, and it is only fair to make sure that everyone has his say. I accept that we have already tarried some time in reaching this stage in our considerations.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West asked whether there would be a future for the naval base if the dockyard closed. That is a hypothetical question. The decision that we have to take is primarily about the future location of nuclear refitting work. Of course we will take into account the implications for all other installations at Devonport and Rosyth, but those are not directly germane to the issue.

I was asked about reports from the Navy Board. I cannot comment on advice that the board might or might not have given in confidence to Ministers, particularly as that advice is still continuing. We receive advice from a variety of sources, and some of it is still in progress. I was asked by the hon. Lady why the Ministry of Defence had rejected Babcock Thorn's proposal to take over all nuclear refitting work three years early in 1994 and to save, allegedly, £150 million. We have neither accepted nor rejected any proposal, although we had reservations about a timetable from Babcock because it would have involved deferring the refit of one SSN.

The hon. Lady asked whether I accepted that Rosyth could handle the whole operation from 1994. We accept that Rosyth would have the facilities available from the end of 1994 to handle all nuclear refitting work, but a key factor would be the nuclear programme of the other yard which might be continuing for some time.

I have done my best to answer those broad questions. I hope that I have not left out anything. However, let me say a word about the reasons for and the conduct of the review, because the crux of the matter is our review of future refitting strategy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), the former Secretary of State for Defence, made it clear in his original statement on "Options for Change" in July 1990 and in his statement on fleet support in July last year that there has been a fundamental change in the level of readiness, infrastructure and support that we now need to defend this country and our overseas interests.

Against that background it would be irresponsible if the Government failed to give the most careful consideration to whether the investment that we make in defence is giving good value for money to the taxpayer. That applies as much to the support area as to the front line, and we have, as the House knows, engaged in a thoroughgoing assessment of our future needs in the fleet support area, including the dockyards.

A particular factor has been the consideration of the future size of our nuclear submarine fleet, which now comprises 13 hunter-killer submarines besides the four ballistic submarines, which carry Britain's independent nuclear deterrent.

Our original intention was, as the House knows, that Trident submarines should be refitted at Rosyth. The hon. Lady reminded the House of statements made by Ministers some years ago, but they were made when our submarine force levels were rather higher, and there was no doubt that two refitting facilities would be required.

However, studies done in my Department, on the basis of proposals by each of the existing dockyard contractors, have shown that it would be feasible and cost-effective to concentrate nuclear refit work at one dockyard.