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Raf Sydenham Base: Redundancies

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 24 November 1977

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has persistently refused to meet a delegation of trade unionists who represent workers at the RAF Sydenham Base and desire to discuss with him the redundancies with which they will be faced due to its proposed closure in April 1978.

My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister of State met representatives of the trades unions at RAF Sydenham on 18th March and again on 4th October. The redundancies caused by the decision to close the base, and the prospects of finding alternative employment for the workers, were fully discussed. I understand that the unions are not seeking a further meeting at this time.

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for his reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that a large proportion of trade unionists, particularly in the non-industrial sector, were not in fact consulted; nor was the Whitley Committee consulted? Is he further aware that when his honourable colleague the Minister of State visited the RAF base at Sydenham late one afternoon last March many trade unionists were not acquainted of the fact that he was present, allegedly on security grounds, and would he not agree that consultation and communication is not only what good industrial relations are all about but also what good government is all about?

My Lords, I would certainly agree with the final remarks made by the noble Lord, but I would not accept that the consultations and discussions which my honourable friend has had with those representing the work force at Sydenham have not amounted to good and thorough consultation. So far as I know at the moment the trade unions are not seeking a further meeting with my honourable friend, and indeed they are extremely appreciative of the efforts which the Government are making on many fronts, both to find alternative employment and to re-train those affected by the closures. At the meetings on 18th March and 4th October the four main industrial unions were represented, and on the 4th October the Industrial Whitley Panel was represented at the meeting in addition to an AGTWU representative.

My Lords, in further thanking the noble Lord for his reply, and in continuing to hope that the Secretary of State will yet change his mind, but in case he does not, may I ask my noble friend whether he will now very kindly explain the logic behind a policy of, with one hand, pouring millions of pounds into Northern Ireland with a view to creating new jobs while at the same time, with the other hand, axing hundreds of specialist, skilled jobs in an area of high unemployment, thus forcing premature retirement on many of those concerned? And will he also very kindly declare the estimated cost of transferring the operation to St. Athan, which still does not seem to have the capacity to handle the relevant contracts?

Several noble Lords: Order!

My Lords, I was asking the noble Lord a question, namely, would he kindly tell us the cost of that operation?

My Lords, I am afraid I do not have the information on the costs, which I think is rather wide of the noble Lord's original Question. As the noble Lord knows, the decision to close RAF Sydenham was taken by the Secretary of State for Defence, and the necessity to cut back public expenditure and expenditure on defence made the closure necessary. My understanding is that the representatives of those workers at RAF Sydenham are satisfied with the extensive steps which the Government are taking to attempt to find alternative employment and to re-train those who are affected.