HC Deb 10 April 1963 vol 675 cc1255-6
13. Mr. Willis

asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what will be the extent of the delay in the hunter-killer submarine programme brought about by the Polaris programme.

Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing

There will be no interference with the construction of Oberon hunter-killer submarines. There will be a hiatus in the programme of nuclear hunter-killer submarines which will mean that in the short term we may lose three boats, as compared with our planned rate of build-up. How soon this hiatus could be made good must depend on a number of factors, especially (a) the number of building streams employed on Polaris submarines; (b) whether Her Majesty's Government decided to have four Polaris submarines or five; (c) how fast Her Majesty's Government decided to make good the arrears of hunter-killers. But in broad terms the gap could be closed and the programme of nuclear hunter-killer overhauled by a date somewhere between 1972 and 1975.

Mr. Willis

Does not that Answer make complete nonsense of what the Minister of Defence told the House about this programme? As the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) has just said, is it not deplorable that we have to stop this programme, which is extremely urgent in our anti-submarine preparations, to carry on with Polaris?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence said, I believe, that in the long term there would not be any interference. I tried to make clear in my reply that it was perfectly possible by between 1972 and 1975, if the Government of the day so willed, to make up the gap or the hiatus which will exist.

Commander Courtney

In his reply, my hon. Friend mentioned the Oberon class of hunter-killer submarine for, I believe, the first time in this House. Is he aware that this class of submarine has an underwater speed which is, perhaps, slightly over half that of the nuclear submarines which it is designed to hunt and kill?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I am equally aware that the vast threat which is now coming from the U.S.S.R. is, at this date, mainly in conventional submarines. I am also aware that not only this country, but Commonwealth countries—Australia in particular is buying Oberon submarines from us—have great faith that the Oberon submarine has a very useful and economic rôle to play for a considerable time to come.