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Thursday, 17 November 1983
Page: 2891


Mr HOWE (Minister for Defence Support)(4.30) —It ought to be said that over a period there has been a substantial commitment for reform at the Williamstown Naval Dockyard. That commitment really goes back to 1973-74 when we were last in government. Over the last 10 years there has been a commitment to the modernisation of the Williamstown Naval Dockyard, to the improvement of management practice and to the strengthening of the senior levels of management particularly, to create, as the Hawke report sought an organisation review of Williamstown Dockyard, a much greater degree of autonomy for the Dockyard so that decisions could be made there and generally to improve the climate of industrial relations. Very often people suggest that industrial relations at the Williamstown Naval Dockyard had been catastrophic and had perhaps constituted the most serious problem there. I do not think that any fair reading of the Hawke report would suggest that.

I think it is recognised that there were many problems in the Dockyard-problems of capital, problems of management practice and problems concerning the interface of responsibilities between the Department of Defence and the Dockyard . There have been a great number of problems. I am pleased to say that the actions of the previous governments over a period and, more recently, the responsibility I have taken as Minister for Defence Support and the actions of the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes) have resulted in further progress being achieved.

I am not sure that it would be appropriate to table all the agreements. I certainly do not want to give that commitment today. There are a number of agreements, the most recent of which will be the subject of a statement by the Government on its commitment to the continuation of reforms. That statement of commitment will add some new matters but essentially it will bring together a whole range of agreements that have been achieved particularly over the last two years. There are additional clauses. I think it is reasonable that after these matters have been fully resolved and the exchanges occur a report be brought to the House giving some indication of the substance at least of the various agreements. Of course, the agreements do not go only to the responsibilities of the trade unions but also to the responsibilities of management and, indeed, government departments. There are a number of aspects to this matter. I will certainly consider the request of the shadow Minister for Defence and undertake to bring a further report to the House on the nature and content of the agreements.