Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440 - 445)



  440. Can I thank you for giving me the opportunity and apologise that I was unfortunate enough to miss the evidence from Sir Robert Walmsley and Mr Coles two weeks ago due to an urgent meeting with the Minister for Energy over the closure of Scotland's only deep coal mine which is in my constituency along with Rosyth Dockyard, so I declare an interest that I have always taken a keen interest in issues affecting the dockyards and naval bases' future. I understand that at the Committee hearing on 25 April Mr Coles stated that the view was you only needed three naval bases and just one dockyard to accommodate the current warship refit workload, or two dockyard in order to maintain competition. Given your comments earlier about over-capacity, if with falling demand for naval refit work there is insufficient room in the market for all three current dockyards would you like to say if you have a view on which should close or is it something that you will allow the market to sort out?
  (Lord Bach) My short answer to that is the market will sort it out but I want to make the point that our view is that Rosyth, the one to which you particularly referred, has built up an extraordinarily high reputation for major refits—and I am looking to Mr Coles , in the last few years.
  (Mr Coles) That is right.
  (Lord Bach) It may well be, I know not, that none of them will close.

  441. Do you think leaving it to competition is sufficient given the strategic interests represented by the dockyards and naval bases?
  (Lord Bach) I think the market will have a say in this, but there is also a hold that we still have on the strategic importance of these various dockyards spread as they are around the United Kingdom. I will let Mr Coles answer.
  (Mr Coles) What I think I said to the Committee was that we could do it in one or we could do it in five but we have three naval bases. When pressed I said of course for competition you need at least two. In the time-frame we are talking about now there is enough work for all four sites—sites not dockyards—Carport, Faslane, Rosyth, Portsmouth and Devonport. In the medium term there is work for all four sites. Secondly, of course, they can supplement the work they get from the Ministry of Defence by competition through bringing work in themselves. That has been done very constructively at Portsmouth, at Devonport and at Rosyth. In the end it is a combination of how much work is available from us and how much they can bring in from repair and indeed in some cases in construction, so in the end it must be the market forces that determine it but in the short term there is enough work around to fill all four sites with some work from the private sector.

  442. Can I then go on to ask Mr Coles this: I believe you also said that the major savings from the Warship Support Modernisation Initiative were expected to arise in Scotland. We have Faslane on the West Coast and Rosyth on the East Coast. Given they are on two different sides of the country, how do you think those savings can be achieved and given the changes and the savings that I would argue have certainly been achieved already at the dockyard, are most of the savings seen to be coming in the future from Faslane?
  (Mr Coles) The whole Warship Modernisation Initiative is quite a large package. Half the savings come from traditional ship repair and the other half from restructuring and partnering within the naval bases. For the naval base element the largest element of that is the proposed partnering on the Clyde and therefore it does not affect the site specifically.

Syd Rapson

  443. The trade unions are now settling down after the decision and the reduction in threat of action. They are clearly not happy but they are accepting the sensible way it is going. Have you been able to debrief them on the rationale behind the choice of the Warship Support Modernisation Initiative and what has been their reaction to it?
  (Lord Bach) The debrief takes place tomorrow. That is not coincidental, if I may say so, which our appearance today. You know obviously about the joint statement of intent the company signed along with the MoD on this issue was described, as you have implied, by one of the unions as a breakthrough. So the full debrief will take place tomorrow and we will see what the reaction is. We think that this joint statement of intent and the wording that is used in it is of great significance. I do not think that is something that has escaped the attention of the, how shall I put it, very acute leaders of the trade unions involved in this particular issue.


  444. Will you keep us informed so that we can judge the reaction of the reaction to the reaction?
  (Lord Bach) Yes.

  445. If you can work that out, we would like to be kept informed.
  (Lord Bach) Certainly.

  Chairman: Thank you, gentlemen, so very much. Obviously, Minister, you enjoyed your occasional spat which maybe you were not permitted to do. I am sure we will give you future opportunities to flex your muscles. Certainly, as Mr Howarth is able to bring the experience of a front bench spokesman to our proceedings, maybe a rota could be devised amongst MoD Ministers that Ministers should be allowed to join the Committee too and maybe if the constitutional arguments can be overcome you might serve a counter balance to the Tory front bench. Lastly a tradition that has been growing up in this Committee is before you are allowed to leave you must leave your briefing book behind so that we are able to have the full flavour of your presentation even though time prevented us from exploring all the arguments. Thank you all very much. We shall meet again.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 10 July 2002