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Mr. Keetch: I have visited constituents who have received excellent care at Selly Oak. Although the hon. Gentleman may have a view about the closure of Gosport, I hope that he will not conclude his remarks without paying tribute to the nurses and doctors who work at Selly Oak, from whom my constituents received excellent attention.

Dr. Murrison: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that I was criticising the siting of the Centre for Defence Medicine in Selly Oak, not condemning Birmingham hospitals or anything to do with the national health service.

Over the years, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) has been a champion of the Royal Hospital Haslar and rightly so. I had the pleasure and honour of working there when it was the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar. Post DCS15—defence cost study 15—this was promised as the core hospital of the DMS. It is about to shut at a time when France is opening its 15th military hospital. One of us has got it wrong; I wonder which.

The demise of the Royal Hospital Haslar stems from the no longer fashionable view of the medical royal colleges that small hospitals do not have a future because they cannot sustain postgraduate training. I am afraid that that was always an example of the tail wagging the dog. What we expect of our medical establishment is to titrate medical training to address the needs of patients. Clearly, that is not what was happening on this occasion. We now seem to be having a more mature debate of that view of hospital provision. I welcome, for example, the Government's recent stance on the creation of units to cope with cold surgery, particularly orthopaedics, in smaller hospitals and dedicated hospitals. It is perhaps important to remember that orthopaedics is an area in which the DMS has traditionally specialised and excelled, not surprisingly given the youthfulness of its client base.

We hear a great deal about joined-up Government, but, since 1997, this Government have missed a wonderful opportunity by failing to join up Fort Blockhouse, Haslar and Southampton university hospitals. It would have been much better had those three amalgamated, as we must have an amalgamation between the national health service and the defence medical services. It made no sense to break up that very obvious synergy. A great deal of the lack of morale and lack of service ethos in the DMS, which has contributed to a large extent to the reduction in numbers, can be attributed directly to that.

I conclude by issuing a cri de coeur. I think that there is cross-party support for the action in Afghanistan. I seek the Minister's assurance, however, that a full assessment

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has been made of the casualties that we are likely to take during the operation. That is important, because the country needs to be prepared for what might be in store. I am sure that the Government will have made a full and accurate assessment of the likely casualties, both from hostile fire, and, regrettably, from friendly fire. That is also important from a practical standpoint—that of the provision of medical services to support the casualties that, sadly, we are likely to take. When the Minister winds up, will he comment on whether he can provide us with the reassurance that the defence medical services and the field hospitals deployed in Afghanistan can support the operation on which we are embarked?

4.53 pm

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): I want to make a brief contribution on the MOD's recent decision to put many public servants into the private sector at naval dockyards, and to support the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). I apologise because, owing to prior commitments, I cannot be present for the winding-up speeches, but I hope that I obtain a response from the Minister then.

My main interest is in the decision that naval dockyard work on the Clyde, including work on nuclear submarines, should be done in a partnership between the Royal Navy and Babcock's. That has implications not just for the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton but for mine, because a substantial number of the workers live there. I am largely concerned about how the decision was announced and especially by the letter that was sent to some hon. Members about it. I was surprised that there was no statement in the House, although I concede that there were troublesome announcements to be made about Consignia and Railtrack on the same day. A statement should have been made because the decision constitutes a significant change of armed forces policy in that a significant number of people who will be responsible for our nuclear submarines at Faslane are going into the private sector.

Failing a statement, it would have been helpful if local Members had received a briefing on the implications of the decision. We could have asked questions that arose from the decision and obtained answers for our constituents. We did not receive such a briefing. There should have been a publication to show that the many concerns about this significant area of policy had been addressed. Instead, like my hon. Friend, I received a letter letting me know the Government's decision. It is interesting that, independently, we reacted in the same way—we felt let down. I did not find the letter as helpful as I would have wished. As the Minister said, the news had been well trailed in Scotland by the trade unions, which made the letter easier to understand as I had had the translation of the letter in advance, but it was not a clear letter.

The letter was not a serious attempt to explain and justify a major change of policy. Its most unsatisfying aspect is that it does not answer the question that we most wanted to be answered. The figures that in the newspapers about job losses varied widely: 500, 750 or 1,000 and so on. The basic information that we would have liked was

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how many jobs would be lost and when. I shall quote all that the letter says, on what is a major change of policy, about the Clyde. It states:

That was all the information that we received to cope with the protests that there would be in Scotland, on the Clyde, from constituents. That was what we were equipped with. We did not even have the basic information about how many jobs would be lost—the MOD refuses to say. We have already been told, however, that the whole project for all the yards will save the MOD £300 million. We have also already been told that Babcock's will consist totally of staff—not plant or equipment—and brings nothing to the party. How on earth can Babcock's put in a bill without costing for staff? If the Ministry knows the extent of the savings, it must know what staff savings would be made, so it must know, with some accuracy, how many jobs will be lost. However, it is unwilling to tell local Members and the work force what the figure is. We would understand if the figures that the Ministry gave covered a range.

Babcock's and the Government have agreed not to say how many jobs are involved. What on earth was the business case built on? How could the Government make this statement, which appeared in the letter that I received? They said:

How could that statement have been made in honestly if staffing levels had not been considered and approved?

The lack of openness has led to distrust. Mr. Howie, Babcock's chief executive, made a strange statement to the company's work force when he said:

However, the concern was caused not by the press but by the unwillingness of Babcock's and the Ministry to be open and honest. It seems that the jobs will be transferred to Babcock's, and that many will then be lost, but that the Government will avoid the responsibility. That has not worked as a tactic, and there is great bitterness.

Mr. McFall: In this case, perception is reality, and the trade unions believe that the Secretary of State told them in February that the transfer of jobs to Babcock's had nothing to do with the Government. They therefore feel cast adrift. There is an urgent need for close communication between the Secretary of State and hon. Members so that rumours are not allowed to gather.

Tony Worthington: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for identifying exactly what has been wrong with the approach. However, many other issues involved in this development have received no public debate, and no written explanation of what is going on has been offered. I have enormous respect for my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, and I believe that he will be able to win back the respect that has been lost, but a serious document that explains matters in full must be produced.

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What will be the relationship between Babcock's and the 500 Navy personnel who will be working for the company? What will be the command and control structure? It is obvious that it will be in Babcock's interest for a greater share of the work to be done by Navy personnel, and I bet that the company will not want the number of Navy personnel to be cut.

Can we accept the assurance from the Ministry that there will be no compromise in security when private-sector personnel are involved? The very short letter sent to me does not deal with that, but the public have the right to be shown that the Government have thought about such matters.

It is claimed that improved repair techniques will lead to savings, but the claim appears to be based on the fact that Babcock's will improve the skills of the existing work force. The gains from those skills will accrue to Babcock's, but such figures probably will not appear in the in-house bid.

In conclusion, I want to express my sadness at the way in which this matter has been handled. It is unfair to the work force, and especially to the local MP, that the letter sent out in respect of a major policy change should be only seven lines long. As far as we know, that change will cause major job losses in the area. I hope that that can be put right.

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