asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many ships, RN or RFA, will be overhauled, repaired, etc., in the Merseyside shipyards from the present date to the end of 1975.
Royal Navy ships are normally refitted and repaired in the Royal dockyards. None is presently scheduled to be dealt with in a commercial shipyard.It is planned, however, to refit about 15 Royal Fleet Auxiliaries in commercial shipyards during the remainder of 1975. Tenders for these refits will be invited from suitable shipyards, a number of which, like the Merseyside shipyards, are located in development areas.
While I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information, may I ask him whether he is aware that there has been a serious shortage of this type of work in Merseyside with the result that at one time in the recent past there was the possibility of lay-offs and closures? Is he further aware that the way in which this work is distributed is unfair to Merseyside? Will he look at the questions raised about contract prices and delays, all of which have been strongly refuted by unions and management in Merseyside shipyards?
While I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern, I am sure he will recognise that a reduction in defence expenditure inevitably has consequences in this area as in others. We are at pains to put work of this kind with firms situated in development areas. When deciding how to award tenders, we have to take into account points like price, delivery dates, the loading of the shipyards concerned and the previous performance of shipyards.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it shows how ludicrous is the argument of those who seek to do away with all our defence forces that they start bleating only when they do not get work in their own areas? Would he not have expected my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) to be delighted that we do not have any naval ships which require to be repaired on Merseyside?
That is a question for my hon. Friend himself to answer.