Parliament and Politics: Scottish Tories fear loss of Trident work

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THE Government's handling of the attempt by Rosyth naval dockyard to keep the Trident submarine refit contract, including claims of misleading information being supplied to the yard by the Ministry of Defence, threatens to damage the Conservatives in Scotland, a Tory MP told John Major yesterday.

A decision on the refitting work, being contested by Rosyth in Fife and the Devonport naval dockyard, is expected next week. Scottish Tories are echoing the alarm expressed by Labour and the Rosyth unions, who claim that 18,000 jobs are at risk if Devonport wins the refitting work, the result favoured by the Treasury.

Bill Walker, MP for North Tayside, warned the Prime Minister in a letter: 'The Government and the Conservative Party continue to get appalling press coverage as a result of announcing decisions which are not properly thought through. The dockyard decision is extremely sensitive and will affect our future prospects in Scotland.'

Mr Walker claimed there were indications that the Ministry of Defence had misled Rosyth managers and 'significantly damaged their case'.

Rosyth had been promoting two options - a new nuclear facility and upgrading existing docks - since November 1991, Mr Walker said. 'The MoD consistently discouraged Rosyth from pursuing the upgrade . . . It now appears at the last moment that they have opted for Devonport's upgrade solution. This appears to both the managers and the public as unfair, especially as the MoD now wish to discount Rosyth's upgrade as insufficiently developed.'

Rosyth's upgrade bid could be pounds 15m lower than the rival yard's, he added. Similar claims of MoD bias against Rosyth have been made by Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor and MP for Dunfermline East.

As a Scottish MP and Secretary of State for Defence, Malcolm Rifkind faces a dilemma. While an alternative to the closure recommended by the Navy has been mooted by Mr Rifkind and received some ministerial backing, the Scottish yard could still be left with, at most, small contracts and a blighted future. But there are more Tory seats in the West Country and, it is argued, fewer alternative industries.