That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the installation of smoke detectors in domestic premises.
If 1989 is a year like any other, by 31 December about 650 people will have died from accidental fires in dwellings and more than 8,000 will have been injured. Colleagues who have attended the scenes of fatal fires will have seen the gutted house, the upset firemen and distraught families and will need no reminding how awful these incidents can be.
On Christmas day 1984, nine people lost their lives in a house fire in my constituency, and the shock of that led me into the search for greater family safety from fire. It is in that spirit, and remembering those people, that I present my Bill to the House. Following a campaign inside and outside the House, the Government have introduced legislation to control the sale of foam-filled furniture. Welcome though that is, it has its limitations and will take some time to have an effect. Families will not instantly discard their furniture, so the risk in many houses remains.
There are also many other sources of accidental fires in homes, and it is time to turn our attention to the earlier detection of fire. The greater use of smoke detectors in homes throughout the country could have a profound effect on protection from fire. These items retail from under £10 and the average price is between £12 and £15. Studies and surveys show why the introduction of smoke detectors is now strongly supported by fire brigades and consumer and safety organisations, insurance companies and house builders.
The crucial facts to remember in considering house fires today are the tremendous temperatures produced quickly from today's furniture, and the danger from fumes, which kills before individuals are affected by flames. The earlier the detection of fire, therefore, the better the opportunity of escaping and surviving.
The assistant chief fire officer for Greater Manchester fire brigade, Mr. Bob Graham, who was rightly honoured with the MBE in the new year's honours list for his services to fire safety, has examined the fire statistics dealing with fatal and injurious fires. He concluded in a 1986 report :
"For 83 per cent. of fires in dwellings the interval between ignition and discovery of the fire was estimated to be at least five minutes and for 48 per cent. of the deaths the interval was estimated to be over 30 minutes. On the face of it at least 48 per cent. would have received an early warning of the fire if detectors had been fitted, and probably this applies to most of the remainder. There is little doubt that detectors would have improved the situation." In the United States and Canada, smoke detectors are in much more widespread use. I have seen in Los Angeles the efforts undertaken by chief fire officer Ed Beneda in his area. A survey in 1985 in the United States revealed that 75 per cent. of all households have detectors. By contrast, a survey commissioned in 1988 by the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority, which kindly supports the Bill, revealed that only 13 per cent. of households in London were fitted with smoke detectors.
The experience of the United States is described in a study that investigated a decade of widespread use of detectors in the United States. It was published by John Hall, junior, the director of the United States National Fire Prevention Association. He concluded :
Column 160"The USFA's national fire incident reporting system has been used to estimate the risk of dying in homes that have detectors as well as those that do not. Most such analyses estimate that detectors cut the risk of death in half. That is, a person who has a fire at home but does not have a detector is twice as likely to die in a fire as another person who is protected by detectors. This two-to-one ratio has stood up with little or no variation since it was first calculated from 1979 data."
He directly relates this ratio of success to the early discovery of the fire. The chance of death is increased by delay. That is exactly the same conclusion as Bob Graham reached.
I have a quotation from last Friday's edition of the Bury Times, my local newspaper, which says that, on the Tuesday before, firemen in Bury went to deal with a kitchen blaze. A fire brigade spokesman said afterwards :
"We would like to stress that the lady only knew about the fire after an alarm in the kitchen was activated. We would not like to say how severe the fire could have been had the woman not been made aware of it sooner."
The Bill would divide domestic property into three types. First, I propose that, three months after Royal Assent, all newly built domestic property will be required to be fitted with smoke alarms. Secondly, in the rented sector, I propose, bearing in mind the cost to private and public landlords and the need to ensure a sufficient supply of detectors, that from a date to be agreed, all rented property must be protected by smoke detectors. I hope that that would occur as soon as it was feasible. Thirdly, in the owner-occupied sector, I propose that, from a set date three months after Royal Assent, smoke detectors must be fitted before sales of domestic property can proceed.
The provision ensures that there will not be a sudden effective date for all owner-occupied houses, which would produce an explosion of demand difficult to satisfy. It would also ensure that enforcement was achieved in the usual process of buying and selling houses. At present, the Government prefer not to legislate. They are co-operating in a scheme in Greater Manchester to fit smoke detectors in local authority housing. I very much welcome their interest. The Government have said that they will examine the results of that scheme. They believe that the voluntary placing of detectors is better than legislation, bearing in mind the motivation needed to maintain alarms.
That is not enough. The statistics of effectiveness in reducing death and injury, potentially by 50 per cent., speak for themselves, and there are a number of reasons why we should legislate. One is that this House has a good record in passing safety legislation. We legislate to protect children from cruel, unsafe toys and flammable nightdresses. Why not legislate to save them from the fear of death while they sleep?
Experience tells us that the households most likely to suffer these tragedies are those least likely to fix detectors without being required to do so. The maintenance required is no more complicated than changing the cassette in a video recorder. Just because it is impossible to force such maintenance to be done is no reason to shy away from protective legislation.
I have been enormously encouraged by the widespread support for the Bill both inside and outside the House. A growing number of building and construction companies now fit smoke detectors in their newly built properties. I welcome the support of companies such as Lovell Homes, Barratt, Wimpey, Costain Homes and Bellway, which fit
Column 161detectors. The National House-building Council is considering changes to the building regulations, and a decision will be made this summer, after consultation with the Home Office and the Department of the Environment, on whether to require all newly built property to be equipped with smoke detectors. I hope that that happens.
An increasing number of insurance companies are offering smoke detectors at a discount to their customers. The Prudential, the Commercial Union and Norwich Union have told me of this, and they too support my Bill. I have received support from all manner of consumer and safety associations. The British Safety Council, the Consumers' Association, Age Concern, the British Standards Institution--which is seeking to ensure a common high standard for detectors--and many others all support the Bill.
The fire brigades support the measure. Greater Manchester fire brigade is a sterling champion of smoke detectors. The Surrey, Royal Berkshire, Hampshire and West Midlands brigades have done much. But perhaps the most moving letter of support I have received has come from an individual west Yorkshire fireman, who wrote saying : "on 25 December 1988 we were called to a flat fire in an area of Halifax. I was in the team which were first on the scene. We gained entry to the premises and found the body of a young man in his early thirties. It was yet another distressing statistic in the ever growing list of fatalities caused by asphyxiation by smoke at a fire scene. This death, like many others, could have been prevented by the purchase of a domestic type smoke detector maybe one day my colleagues and I will have less pathetic figures to pull out of a fire situation. It's not very nice, and even us firemen have emotions."
For generations, this House has been at the forefront of protecting the people of this nation, but too often it has taken action after tragedies have occurred. It is time now to take the next step forward in fire safety. For a lesser
Column 162price than many people spend on burglar alarms to protect their homes, the safety of their families can be increased significantly. With or without legislation, I hope that many more smoke detectors will, with the passage of time, be found in British homes, but I hope that the House now feels sufficiently moved by the weight of public opinion in favour of this cheap and simple device to give my Bill a First reading so that the reassuring noise given off by a smoke detector such as the one I hold aloft now-- [Interruption.]
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Alistair Burt, Mr. John Wheeler, Mr. Michael Colvin, Mr. Alfred Morris, Mr. David Sumberg, Mr. Ken Hargreaves, Mr. Conal Gregory, Mr. Tony Lloyd, Mr. Ian McCartney, Mr. Charles Kennedy and Mr. Simon Hughes.
Mr. Alistair Burt accordingly presented a Bill to require the installation of smoke detectors in domestic premises ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 21 April and to be printed. [Bill 87.]
Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 131(2) (Liaison Committee), and agreed to.
That this House agrees with the Report [23rd February] of the Liaison Committee.-- [Mr. Fallon.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Fallon.]
[Relevant documents : Sixth Report from the Defence Committee of Session 1987-88 on the Future Size and Role of the Royal Navy's Surface Fleet, HC 309, and the Government Reply, Cm. 443.] 3.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Tim Sainsbury) : I am pleased to open the debate on the Royal Navy. Today we have the first of the three days during which we discuss each of our armed services. It is normal on these occasions to start with an account of the work and activities of the Royal Navy, and this I intend to do.
However, I shall speak more briefly than is usual about that work for two reasons. First, my hon. Friend the Minister of State will, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, have more to say, both about the achievements of the Royal Navy and about its current activities. Secondly, I intend to give rather more time than is customary to the ships and equipment of our Navy. It is, of course, as Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, my particular area of ministerial responsibility. Moreover, we have a large number of new classes of vessel and new types of equipment coming into service and we are in a period of rapid technical development.
It is perhaps appropriate in this context to note that, on this day 123 years ago, the Navy finally declared grapeshot obsolete, after well over a century in service with the fleet. I doubt whether much of the new equipment we are now bringing into service will stand the test of time quite so well as that. Such are the lengthy time scales of naval procurement that we are only now beginning to see the full fruits of the major investment in the Royal Navy that this Government first began nearly 10 years ago.
The Royal Navy continues to plan an essential part in ensuring the defence of the United Kingdom and her allies. The numbers and sophistication of Soviet maritime forces have continued to increase. To give just one example, the latest Kirov class nuclear-powered battle cruiser, Kalinin, was commissioned last year. It is equipped with surface-to-surface missiles and guns, and carries up to three helicopters. Its displacement is seven times greater than that of our latest ship, the type 23, and its crew is nearly five times as large. NATO clearly must be ready to respond to the threat that this and other Soviet forces might pose to the Alliance's northern flank and to our transatlantic and cross-channel lines of communication. The Royal Navy has a crucial role in this task. Forward maritime defence is vital if we are to prevent Soviet submarines from breaking out into the Atlantic to attack reinforcement shipping and break our vital sea lines of communication. In the event of hostilities or a crisis occurring the Royal Navy would provide nearly 70 per cent. of the NATO maritime forces immediately available to deploy forward into the Norwegian sea and cover the eastern Atlantic and Channel areas prior to the arrival of United States reinforcements. In addition, throughout the past year, as in every year since 1969, the Royal Navy has continued to maintain at least one Polaris submarine on patrol at all times, thus ensuring the constant readiness of our nuclear deterrent.
The Royal Navy and Royal Marines, ably assisted by
Column 164their respective reserves, also make an important contribution to the direct defence of the United Kingdom by countering the threat of mines in coastal waters, defending ports and anchorages and protecting key points. Within home waters, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines also help to safeguard the United Kingdom's fishing interests and offshore gas and oil platforms, as well as contributing to the vital role played by our search and rescue service. The Royal Navy also supports the Royal Ulster Constabulary by patrolling the Province's coastline.
Although the majority of the Navy's commitments are in the NATO area, experience since 1945 shows that actual operations occur more fequently out of area. We continue to maintain a naval presence in the Caribbean, the south Atlantic and Hong Kong, while the Armilla patrol remains in the Gulf area, ready to render assistance to entitled merchant shipping if needed. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed forces will, I hope, be able to enlarge on these aspects of the work of the Royal Navy later. All these roles will be familiar to right hon. and hon. Members, but they remain as important and valid today as they have ever been.
Again in 1988, as throughout its long and very distinguished history, the Royal Navy has continued to discharge its
responsibilities. We sometimes forget the professionalism, dedication and sheer hard work that underlies that phrase "continues to discharge". Our Navy represents tremendous value for the nation, and the Government in turn aim to provide value for money both for the navy and the taxpayer in the way we equip and support it. The new plans for the Defence Budget set out in the 1989 public expenditure White Paper include increases in the defence budget of £175 million in 1989-90 and £610 million in 1990-91 over and above the previous planned provision. The 1991-92 provision is £910 million above that for 1990-91.
That means that the budget is now set to grow by about £1 billion a year in cash terms over the next three years. On current forecasts for inflation, the plans allow for real growth in defence spending over the next three years. They provide the money judged necessary by the Government to fund defence properly over that period and to allow us to maintain capable forces in all of our major defence roles and commitments. That gives us a sound framework for confident planning into the 1990s.
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) : Are the Minister's assumptions based on the rate of inflation on which last year's Budget was based, or on the current level of inflation which appears to be of the order of 7 per cent.?
Mr. Sainsbury : As the hon. Gentleman would expect, they are based on the public expenditure White Paper. He should bear in mind that the influence of the mortgage interest rate on the rate of inflation does not necessarily apply to procurement of defence equipment. [ Hon. Members :- - "Why not?"] I should have thought that hon. Members would realise that not many defence contractors have mortgages on their factories which would be subject to that effect.
Up to the end of the financial year 1987-88, over £4.5 billion more had been spent on the Navy in real terms, taking account of GDP inflation and excluding Falkland Islands and Trident costs, than if spending had continued at the level inherited from the previous Labour
Column 165Government. That has meant that £4.5 billion more has been made available for the conventional role of the Royal Navy.
We may, if previous experience is a guide, expect to hear some criticism from the Opposition Benches of aspects of our defence policy. I very much doubt whether we shall hear a great deal about their own policies. I dare say that Opposition Members will try to persuade us that their policies are in preparation. I would suggest that they are more likely to range from the incoherent to the profoundly implausible. In any event, I suspect that we shall not hear much of the defence policies of the Social and Liberal Democratic party or the Social Democratic party. They probably have enough on their plates defending themselves from each other to spare much thought for other defence issues.
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : The Social Democratic party's defence policy is clear. The Minister will find that it does not vary in any major particular from that of the Government. But have the Government no obligation to society? How can the hon. Gentleman justify taking 7,500 jobs out of Devonport and suddenly now announcing that he will not even put HMS Southampton into Devonport to redress in some way the damage that has been done to the regional economy of the south-west?
Mr. Sainsbury : I have not announced that. The right hon. Gentleman should wait to hear what I have to say about the dockyards. The Royal Navy remains the second largest NATO navy, deploying some 200 vessels of all classes. That represents a very substantial investment in all areas of maritime capability. Each year, for example, we spend approximately £3 billion on equipment procurement for the Navy. It is worth recalling that 64 new ships have been ordered by the Government since 1978-79. Vessels currently on order include no fewer than five first of class vessels, of which three are planned for acceptance in the coming year.
We have provided for the updating of the strategic deterrent and currently have two Vanguard class submarines on order. VSEL has recently submitted a tender for the third, planned for order later this year.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : When the hon. Gentleman talks about updating the strategic deterrent, could he tell us exactly what extra extent of extermination power the Trident nuclear weapons have over Polaris and give us an idea of the number of people that the Government are prepared to kill on a mass scale by use of Trident, which they are prepared to use, as I understand it?
Mr. Sainsbury : All hon. Members will be familiar with the hon. Gentleman's lack of comprehension of the nature of a policy of deterrence. I have to remind him that a deterrent, in order to be an effective deterrent, must be a credible deterrent. That is what Trident is.
Three aircraft carriers will continue in service with the Royal Navy, all of which have now been modified to increase their complement of Sea Harriers from five to eight. As has always been our intention, two carriers will be available for operations immediately or within a short period, and the third will be maintained in refit or standby.
The Government have also been able to maintain a balanced and capable surface fleet and remain committed to a force of about 50 destroyers and frigates. Significant
Column 166improvements have been achieved in the capability of the escort force as new type 22--and soon type 23--frigates enter the fleet, and as existing ships are updated with new weapons systems and sensors. In 1988 four new type 22 frigates entered the fleet. A fifth ship, HMS Campbeltown, was accepted only last Friday from Cammell Laird, and HMS Chatham, the last of the type 22 frigates, is planned for acceptance at the end of the year, bringing to an end the build programme for this class.
destroyers/frigates may not be in the pristine order in which we would expect them to be. In particular, some of our newer ships have not got the modern equipment which anyone would agree to be necessary. What can he say to give us some encouragement about these matters?
Mr. Sainsbury : What I am about to say will, I hope, give my hon. Friend the encouragement he seeks. In general terms, the capability of the fleet as it now exists is greatly in excess of what it was in 1978-79.
Last July, when I announced the order for three new type 23 frigates, bringing the number currently on order to seven, I told the House that we intended to invite tenders for a further batch of type 23s later this year.
The first type 23, HMS Norfolk, is to be accepted from her builders later this year. She will carry a number of new weapons and equipments--notably, vertical launch Sea Wolf to meet the air threat, Harpoon anti-surface vessel sea-skimming missiles, sonar 2031 towed array, and a helicopter. It will be more economic to build and will have a 25 per cent. smaller crew than the type 22s.
Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe) : The whole House will welcome the Minister's reference to the type 23s and hope that there is more and better news to come. Can he tell the House if the first of class, the Norfolk and the Marlborough, are yet capable of the central command control system operation?
I will expand a little on the additional capability represented by the vertical launch Sea Wolf and the additional capability to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) referred. Sea Wolf is a fully automatic, all-weather, day and night naval point defence system for the protection of surface ships from missile or aircraft attack. It is a derivative of earlier Sea Wolf systems, the main difference being that the missiles are housed in a vertical launch silo structure in the ship, which replaces the conventional trainable six-barrel launchers. That method of launching missiles improves system reaction times, eliminates launcher blind arc problems and provides an improved capability of defending against "saturation" attacks.
The house is aware that there have been problems in the development of the command system to which the hon Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) referred. The CACS 4 programme was cancelled when it was realised that the computing power and capacity of the original design would be inadequate for the planned weapon and sensor fit and that the realiability goals--to which we rightly attach a great deal of imortance--were most
Column 167unlikely to be achieved. The new type 23 command system will incorporate the rapid advances in computer technology that have been made in recent years. It will be based on modern, distributed computing architecture and will have many times more computing power than CACS 4. It will also incorporate adequate redundancy and resilience to satisfy stringent availability, reliability and maintainability requirements.
New project definition studies were recently undertaken, and the results are being evaluated. I am sure the House agrees that while it was a difficult decision to cancel CACS 4, it was also the right one. Although a number of early type 23s will spend some time in service without an integrated command system, each weapon and sensor system will be capable of independent operation. The absence of a command system in the type 23 does little to impair intrinsic performance of its main defensive armament but will impose a number of limitations on its use.
Mr. O'Neill : Am I to infer from the Minister's remarks that the first five type 23s will not have the CACS and that there is not to be any announcement yet as to when contracts for that system will be signed? Am I right in thinking that April 1989 is no longer the target date for the signing of such contracts?
Mr. Sainsbury : As I said, the definition studies were recently completed and are now being examined. I should not like to forecast how long it will take to complete that examination and to lead on to a contract. It could be by the date to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I repeat, there will be a period when a number of ships will not, on initial fit, have the new command and control system. I explained why that is, as well as the improvements that will be derived from the new system and the capability of the ships meanwhile. Those ships will still provide a very much more effective contribution to our maritime forces than the Leander class frigates that they replace.
The Government remain committed to maintaining an amphibious capability in the longer term. Last autumn, we invited tenders for an aviation support ship to provide dedicated helicopter support for amphibious operations. We expect to receive tenders for the vessel in July. The ASS will have the primary role of embarking, supporting and operating a squadron of naval support helicopters, and carrying a commando group of Royal Marines, together with the support vehicles and equipment they require. The ship will be capable of landing troops in battle-ready formation both by helicopter and landing craft. That will provide a most useful increase in capability. In addition, we are currently assessing the results of feasibility studies into the replacement of the assault ships, Fearless and Intrepid, in parallel with the results of a study into the option of extending their lives. We shall make a decision on the way ahead in plenty of time to ensure that the capability that those vessels represent will be replaced when the ships reach the end of their current useful lives in the mid-1990s.
Events in the Gulf have increased awareness of the threat from mines. This year sees the entry into service of HMS Sandown, the first of the Royal Navy's new class of
Column 168single role minehunters, which is to be accepted from Vosper Thornycroft next month. Four more of those highly advanced vessels are on order from the same yard.
The SRMH is designed to hunt for mines in conditions where minesweeping would be impossible. It can operate, for example, in deeper water throughout the continental shelf, and is equipped with a sophisticated sonar in advance of anything comparable being used in that role elsewhere. It is also highly manoeuvrable, and has a smaller complement than the vessels it will succeed. Its GRP, non-magnetic hull is designed to reduce the threat from modern mines. Its cost is only 75 per cent. of that of a Hunt class minesweeper, and its procurement has clearly demonstrated the benefits of batch ordering. I can fairly say that that represents excellent value for money.
Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North) : That is welcome news, because the Royal Navy's minehunting and minesweeping capability is of vast importance. In view of my hon. Friend's earlier remarks about the Royal Marines and helicopters, can he say whether the Royal Navy is also considering minesweeping by helicopter, as has been done by other nations? Such a development might tie in with my hon. Friend's welcome news about the possibility of replacing Intrepid and Fearless in due course, and the continuation of our amphibious capability.
Mr. Sainsbury : Our experience in the Gulf indicated that our minesweeping and minehunting techniques were superior to those of nations using helicopters. I advance the Sandown class as being equal or superior to any form of minehunter or minesweeper.
HMS Quorn, the last of the highly competent Hunt class mine countermeasures vessels, was delivered by the builder in January. The aviation training ship RFA Argus also joined the fleet during the past year.
We have maintained and modernised our mixed nuclear and conventional fleet of submarines. This month saw the entry into the fleet of the SSN HMS Trenchant, bringing the number of nuclear fleet submarines to 16 as compared to 11 in 1979. Four of the new class of diesel electric patrol submarines are currently on order. The first, HMS Upholder, is planned for acceptance around the end of this year. We have, and will continue to provide, modern and capable aircraft to enable our platforms to fulfil their role. Further orders of Sea Harriers are planned, and major updates are in hand to upgrade existing naval aircraft, including mid-life updates to the Sea Harrier to improve its weapons capability, and improvements to the Sea King helicopter's sonar that will enhance its anti-submarine warfare capability. The development of the Anglo-Italian Merlin or EH101 helicopter continues.
Another area where significant progress is being made is in our sonar capability. Sonar 2050, for example, is a new state of the art, hull- mounted sonar for surface ships. It is to be fitted on build to all batch one and two type 23 frigates, and will be retrofitted to the type 22s and the later type 42s at refit. The contracts for the development and initial production of 17 equipments were placed following competition. A third production order, covering a further 10 fits, will be put out to competition shortly.
By taking full advantage of the latest research into signal processing conducted by the Admiralty research establishment at Portland, sonar 2050 is both a far more capable system than its predecessors and, by using the
Column 169latest technology, considerably smaller and cheaper--and we believe that it will prove to be more reliable than its predecessor, sonar 2016. Further savings were achieved by designing the new sonar to work with the ARE-designed sonar 2016 transducers already fitted to the type 22s and 42s, thus avoiding the costs of replacing those expensive assemblies. The first two ships, HMS Brilliant and Broadsword, have been fitted and early reports are of much improved detection capabilities. Having mentioned sonar 2016, I acknowledge the Comptroller and Auditor General's recent report on reliability and maintainability of defence equipment and the favourable comments on sonar 2016 as a project that should be emulated. Sonar 2050, I am pleased to report, is designed to surpass sonar 2016 in that regard. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the invaluable work of our scientific and technical staff at the Admiralty research establishment, whose expertise and hard work has kept the United Kingdom among the world leaders in those and other areas of naval technology.
There has, understandably, been a good deal of interest in all parts of the House in the future of HMS Southampton, following her collision while on operational duties in the Gulf. Today, I can announce that, for technical reasons, we have decided to combine the repair of HMS Southampton with her refit, which was originally scheduled to begin this autumn, and to seek competitive tenders for the expanded work package.
Mr. Sainsbury : I am very surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman saying, "Shame," at hearing of competitive tenders. He does not seem very interested in the idea of obtaining good value for money for the Royal Navy or for the taxpayer. This decision accords with the Government's policy of seeking to increase the proportion of naval shipwork exposed to competition, as recently endorsed by the Public Accounts Committee. In the light of the wide interest shown by the private sector, we expect to receive bids from both the shipbuilding and the shiprepair industries, a well as from the commercially managed royal dockyards. Tenders will be issued shortly, and, subject to a satisfactory price being obtained, we expect to be able to award a contract by the early summer, which would enable HMS Southampton to return to operational service in 1991 with an enhanced capability.
I appreciate that this decision will disappoint the work force at the Fleet Maintenance and Repair Organisation. Southampton's refit had been expected to form part of the programme at the FMRO. All those concerned are aware that we have been undertaking studies into the future of the FMRO, and this work is continuing.
I should like to confirm that today's announcement does not imply that any decision has been taken on the long-term need to retain a refit stream in Portsmouth. I should also like to emphasise that the role of Portsmouth as a major naval base is not in doubt. Our present plans do not envisage a reduction in number, or a change in type, of the ships base-ported there, and the fleet will continue to need a local capability to support operational ships and submarines with programmed maintenance and unprogrammed work for repair or operational enhancements. In this context the Government recognise the excellent record of the FMRO since its establishment in 1983.
Column 170As I said in the corresponding debate last year, however, there can be no guarantee that the current level of employment at the FMRO will continue indefinitely. Whatever the outcome of the current studies into its future role, some manpower reduction will be necessary to reflect efficiency targets and the drop in total naval production load available since the FMRO was established in 1983. This reduction would have been necessary irrespective of the decision on HMS Southampton. The normal process of consultation with the trade unions will take place, but the number of redundancies is likely to be small, and they will be achieved on a voluntary basis.
I would like next to say something about the royal dockyards, which, together with the FMRO at Portsmouth, currently undertake some three quarters of the refit and repair work for the fleet. The efficiency and manning levels of the dockyards have understandably been a matter of concern to the House.
There has been a general recognition that the period immediately before and after the change to commercial management was bound to be difficult. The difficulties were increased by the further changes that have been taking place in the total refit, repair and maintenance workload. As I have explained on other occasions, this reduction was the result of a number of factors, including the much reduced maintenance requirement of modern warships, and a move away from restorative refits that nearly amounted to rebuilds, which were found not to be cost-effective. I am glad to report that as we move out of the transitional period--it is now nearly two years since vesting day, and only a couple of refits that started before the handover are left outstanding--we are now seeing the benefits of the new system.
Both companies have made important progress : organisationally the yards have been restructured ; the advent of commercial accounting and information technology-based planning systems has led to improved control of costs and greatly improved management information ; and pay and effectiveness agreements have been negotiated with the work force, rationalising the complex structure of ex-Civil Service allowances, and introducing flexibility between crafts and grades. Individual ship refits are now being completed within budget, with few exceptions. This process has been reinforced by encouraging movement, particularly at Rosyth, towards the achievement of full-risk pricing, which gives the dockyard a greater incentive to complete a refit within time and budget.
I should like to extend my congratulations to both DML and BTL for the determined, yet sensitive, way in which they have conducted industrial relations, which has produced, locally, changes that could not have been achieved so readily under the monolithic Civil Service structure before vesting day. The work force, too has played its part in adopting a constructive approach to the changes that are necessary to compete in the commercial market and secure a more prosperous and soundly based future.
Another aspect of our overall pursuit of value for money is the reviews that we have been undertaking of the organisation and location of the sea systems controllerate, which is that part of the procurement executive responsible for ships, submarines and their equipment. The reorganisation of the controllerate into project-related groups which reflect more fully the latest procurement practices has already largely been implemented. The sea
Column 171systems controllerate is now undertaking a study into the possibility of collating its staff in order to improve the integration of procurement activities. Sea systems controllerate project staff are currently dispersed between Bath and Admiralty research establishment sites at Portsmouth and Portland. This study is thus distinct from other studies in hand, which are looking into the feasibility of relocating other parts of the department away from London. The results of the preliminary in-house investment appraisal have convinced me that collocation is the best way forward. I have endorsed the conclusions that this approach would be both practicable and cost-effective, but further work is necessary to refine the initial costings and to produce firm recommendations for a preferred site option. This further work is expected to be completed by the end of August, and I expect to be able to take a decision before the end of the year.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : With regard to centralisation of the sea systems controllerate--putting 4,000 people on a single site--does the Minister not believe that it is very foolish to allow a three-year delay in getting the organisation working efficiently? Should we not be looking at the way in which we run this organisation on the three separate sites? After all, 10 years ago we moved it off a single site because it was inefficient there.
Mr. Sainsbury : Understandably, my hon. Friend takes a very close interest in this issue and in the welfare of those of his constituents who are involved. No doubt he appreciates that one is always dealing with a changing situation and with changing requirements. As he knows, the work that the sea systems controllerate had to do 10 years ago was very different from the work that it has to do now. The points that my hon. Friend has mentioned will certainly be taken into account in the study to which I have referred.
On this occasion, as on others, I have taken the theme of value for money. I am confident that the whole House will agree that we do indeed get exceptional value for money from the skills and commitment of the officers and men of the Royal Navy and its Reserves. I have explained how we seek to provide that same value for money throughout all those parts of the Ministry of Defence that support the Royal Navy, including the procurement of ships and equipment. As a result, I believe, we have a Navy continuously improving in capability, in which we can all take pride.
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) : Like the Under-Secretary, I welcome the debate. The fact that it is taking place on the Adjournment affords hon. Members on both sides of the House an opportunity to pursue a wide range of issues. While, traditionally, these debates cover strategic concerns--the nature of the threat and our ability to meet it ; the state of the service ; morale, pay and conditions ; and constituency procurement concerns--it is often difficult, in opening, to find a coherent line to take. The Minister's concentration on procurement was understandable, especially in view of his responsibilities, but it is regrettable