HC Deb 16 November 1960 vol 630 cc359-61
10. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Defence whether, in view of the establishment of the Clyde base for United States Polaris submarines, he will authorise the immediate laying down, or acquisition, of a submarine of this type for the Royal Navy, so that the earliest opportunity can be taken to gain experience of them in co-operation with the United States Navy.

Mr. Watkinson

The Royal Navy will obtain experience of nuclear-propelled submarines from "Dreadnought" and from the second submarine of this type which has been ordered. The Government's plans for the British contribution to the Western nuclear deterrent are based mainly on the V-bombers for the period of the 1960s. There is no need to decide at present whether we shall require a Polaris-type submarine.

Mr. Digby

Is there not increasing evidence that this is both a very efficient way of delivering the deterrent—which we hope will never be delivered—and also the least subject to surprise attack? Should not an island nation like ours give high priority to a naval development of this importance?

Mr. Watkinson

In general, I do not disagree with anything my hon. Friend has said. This is a very good weapon for the very reason that it preserves the right of retaliation; but at the same time the essential basis on which we hope to stop war starting—that is the task to which we are devoted—is that one must have a very great diversity in the means of delivering nuclear weapons. We must play our part in adding to that diversity.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister's estimate for this vessel was between £50 million and £60 million, about twice the cost of the Cunarder and approximately the cost of more than 20,000 houses in the west of Scotland? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider seriously the fact that this country needs houses before a Polaris submarine?

Mr. Watkinson

I confirm that this is a very expensive weapon system.

Mr. G. Brown

In view of the enthusiasm which the Prime Minister showed for this weapon as a means of delivering the deterrent, is the Minister of Defence now saying that it was the financial cost which led us to decide that the only two atomic submarines we are building should be so built that they could not carry it?

Mr. Watkinson

Not at all. The first thing to do is to remember that the answer to the submarine menace in general, which, after all, is of considerable concern to our country as an island, faced with the immense number of Russian submarines now available, is this kind of nuclear hunter-killer submarine. These submarines, therefore, are rightly built as part of our main antisubmarine defences, and as such they have a vital rôle to play.