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Royal Dockyards

Volume 78: debated on Tuesday 30 April 1985

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on discussions between his Department and relevant trade unions on the future of the royal dockyards.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had recently with trade union representatives from royal dockyards.

My right hon. Friend had discussions with trade union representatives at Rosyth and Devonport during visits this and last year. I met local representatives of industrial trade unions when I was in Rosyth on 17 April, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement and I plan to hold further separate discussions at Devonport and Rosyth shortly. Consultations by the Department with trade unions at national and local level are under way, both on the options for the future and on the interim measures necessary to improve performance.

May I tempt the Minister to ask the Secretary of State to have a much more open discussion about this matter? In view of the Secretary of State's liking for debates, will he come to Dunfermline and debate this matter with local Members of Parliament so that all the issues can be properly ventilated? Will be confirm that the sole assets of the companies that he will create will be the labour and skills of the work force? The companies will have no other assets.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's second point, that is not necessarily the case, although under the preferred solution the assets of the dockyard would remain in Government hands. However, it does not preclude the contractor company from having its own assets in addition. As to consultation, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall be in Rosyth in May, when I hope to meet representatives of all the unions concerned. I made it clear when I was there in April that my mind is open and that I am prepared to listen to what they say. They have already argued their case in a document, but I made it clear then, as I shall in the future, that the Government's preferred option is that of commercial management.

Has the Minister read reports of a packed protest meeting in Plymouth guildhall last Friday night when the Government's proposals were met with outrage and even fury? Will he comment on the reported view of the Government's consultative exercise by Mr. Bill Goffin, a senior industrial trade union representative in the dockyards? He described their consultation intentions as pure and absolute hypocrisy?

I reject that absolutely. There have been suggestions that the consultation period will be neither genuine nor long enough. I have already assured the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) that the consultations will be genuine and that they will certainly be long enough in the light of the considerable discussion and debate about this matter that has taken place in the last year. I had a report of the meeting to which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) referred. It is clear that virtually everybody who has an open mind on this issue is fully persuaded that the present situation cannot continue and that some change must be brought about. The debate is now about which option is finally decided on. As I say, the Government have made clear in their consultative document the way in which they see the road, but there are other points of view.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the greatest assets that any company can have is the skill of its work force, but that another asset is the attitude of that work force? Is it not a fact that all the experience, for example, of British Aerospace since privatisation is that the attitude of the work force is directed to increased productivity and the increased sales penetration of the products?

It is clear that the future workload of the dockyards, and therefore employment in the dockyards, will depend on efficiency being improved and on that constructive attitude to which my hon. Friend refers. The reports that I have had in recent days of the attitude in the dockyards is, generally, of such a constructive attitude on the part of the men.

Is the Minister aware that the questions that have been asked on this issue have been put by Labour Members, on whom the task of arguing on behalf of the workers in the dockyards has fallen? Does he agree that it is significant that the right hon. Gentleman who was bullying his way to the Dispatch Box last week, the leader of the SDP, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who represents one of the constituencies affected, has not found time to come to the House to represent his constituents today—[Interruption.]—even though there is plenty of room on these Benches?

Order. I do not think that the Minister can answer that; it is not his responsibility.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is perhaps more capable of making the point than I am. I was about to draw attention to the fact that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) was not in his place. I am certain that the workers at the dockyards in Plymouth and the voters of the area will have noted that.

Is it not a fact that 9,700 people will also be absent from the consultation process, namely, the 9,700 who have lost their jobs in the naval dockyards since the Conservatives came to power in 1979? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that it is with some cynicism that the dockyard labour force views the Government's proposals, having gone through the pain of such massive redundancies in the recent past?

I am persuaded that at least the dockyard workers in Rosyth are much happier at the prospect of the Conservatives continuing in office compared with the prospect under a Labour Government of the Trident programme being scratched.