Outcry over dockyard's future

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GORDON BROWN, Labour's economics spokesman, last night demanded a meeting with the Prime Minister and the full disclosure of bids following reports that the Devonport dockyard had beaten the Rosyth dockyard in Scotland with a lower bid for Royal Navy refitting work on nuclear submarines, writes Colin Brown.

The Government has said it would keep open both dockyards, to achieve savings through competition. But Mr Brown, the MP for Dunfirmline East, which covers Rosyth, said he feared the dockyard could become 'another Swan Hunter', which was forced to close last month when it lost a defence contract. 'I want to see all the figures,' Mr Brown said last night.

A confidential report on the bids has gone to Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, who is keen to maintain both dockyards. The Prime Minister's office denied it would go before the Cabinet on Thursday, but a decision on the contract for refitting the nuclear submarine fleet is imminent.

Labour MPs believe Rosyth is a victim of government efforts to boost Tory support in the Portsmouth area, where Tory seats could be at risk at the next election if Devonport were denied the contract.

Mr Rifkind, MP for the Scottish seat of Edinburgh Pentlands, is adamant that Rosyth will remain viable with work on conventional Royal Navy vessels, without the nuclear contract, and believes substantial savings are being achieved by competition between the yards.