HC Deb 24 April 1963 vol 676 cc219-23

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Civil Lord of the Admiralty if he will now announce where an operating base will be constructed for the Polaris submarines.

The Civil Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. C. Ian Orr-Ewing)

After careful consideration of all possible sites in the United Kingdom it has been decided that development of existing submarine operating facilities at Faslane in the Gare Loch offers on balance the greatest advantages for a Polaris operating base. A new armament depot will be constructed at Coulport, on the eastern shore of Loch Long, about 8 miles by road and 13 miles by sea from Faslane.

The operating base for the Royal Navy's Polaris submarines needs to be near deep water; to offer easy navigational access; and to be a short distance by sea from the associated armament depot.

All the Royal dockyards fail in some degree to meet these basic requirements, but Rosyth will, of course, refit Polaris submarines as well as the nuclear hunter/killer submarines.

Survey and similar work will start at Faslane immediately, and the base will be completed by 1968.

Provisional estimates at this stage put the cost of developing the base and armament depot at between £20 million and £25 million, including between £12 million and £15 million for construction work. This work is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works.

When the base is finished it is expected that about 1,700 officers and men will be based or stationed there, together with their families.

Civilian staff employed at the base and armament depot will probably number about 400, of whom about half are expected to be recruited locally.

Mr. Stodart

Is my hon. Friend aware of the great satisfaction which will be felt at the fact that the operational requirements of the Royal Navy coincide with the particular interests of Scotland at this time? Can he say how much Scottish labour will be required actually to construct the base?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I agree with my hon. Friend on the first part of his remarks.

In reply to the second part, between 500 and 1,000 workers will be needed during the construction period. I cannot say more closely than that. It is thought that about half the 400 civilians who will be needed will come from local labour sources; that makes about 200 for the running of the base.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman already knows our views about this programme. Is not this an example of how the costs of this programme will snowball? Is he aware that this very vast expenditure will still further increase the fears of those who are really concerned about the effect of the Polaris programme upon our conventional naval forces?

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the demand for this base arises solely out of the Polaris programme, or would it have been necessary in any case for our hunter-killer programme? Is the £12 million to £14 million solely for the armament depot, that is, for construction? Does the figure of 1,700 officers and men include any part of the 1,200 estimated for the crews of these submarines?

Finally, can the hon. Gentleman say to what extent—[Hon. Members: "Oh."] Certainly. This is exceedingly important. Can he say to what extent this further demand for very skilled manpower will accentuate the already very grave shortage that there is in the Service?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

First, it is not a question of the costs snowballing. The figure I gave during the debate on the Estimates was that the total overall cost of this programme would be about £300 million. This figure comes within the total I then gave and is not additional to it.

Secondly, I would concede that there are obvious economic advantages in amalgamating the administration of both hunter-killer and Polaris submarines in the same base. We are examining the pros and cons of this problem at the moment, but I cannot give a categorical statement at this stage.

Thirdly, the £12 million to £15 million for construction includes the costs of the armament depot.

Fourthly, the figure of 1,700 includes the 1,200 people needed for manning the submarines on a two-crew basis.

Lastly, we are certainly well aware of the manpower problem, and we are now examining a programme for increasing our intake of technical personnel and training them to meet the very carefully worked out date of 1968, when these Polaris submarines must be at sea.

Mr. Brewis

I welcome the extra employment which will be provided in Scotland. Did my hon. Friend look at all existing ports, not only Royal Naval dockyards, before choosing a location? In particular, did he look at Cairnryan Port, in Wigtownshire, before deciding to build a new port?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Yes, Sir. We certainly examined all possibilities, not only in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but also in England. It was on the operational considerations that we finally decided, as the Americans decided before us, that this area was operationally most suitable for this particular project. I would add that this expenditure is not unique. We are spending in Scotland, on N.A.T.O. projects which are being built for us by the Ministry of Public Building and Works, £14.9 million, and on naval works alone £8.4 million in our present programme. Therefore, this is a very large amount of support for Scotland.

Mr. Steele

Apart from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) about our policy on Polaris, this means bringing many new people to my constituency. Is the Civil Lord having any discussions with the local authority on this matter? What will this mean in relation to accommodation? Will the Admiralty itself provide the houses for these people and their families? What about education? I have already put a Question to the Secretary of State for Scotland today about the problems of education in this area. Surely this matter will have to be looked into as well.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Yes, Sir. We certainly intend to consult the local authorities. I thought that the House of Commons would want to know first. As we are starting our survey this very week, I thought that it was right to make this announcement today. I am well aware of the pressure on educational facilities in the area. We are to start discussions straight away with the local education authority about extra schools to meet the need.

We shall be constructing a housing estate for the Royal Navy and we shall be in consultation with the local authorities about houses for the civilian personnel for this project.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Government on this decision. I am sure that it is the right one, following, as he said, the American example. Will my hon. Friend clarify what work is now to be done at Rosyth? Is it to be only a question of refits for these submarines at Rosyth so that very little extra work will actually be undertaken there?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Yes, Sir. The Polaris submarines will off-load their missiles, which will be taken care of at Coulport where they will be maintained, and the boats will then go round to Rosyth where they will be maintained and refitted.

Mr. Healey

Are we to understand that it will be at least five years, even if everything goes well, before the first Polaris submarine is operational?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Yes, Sir. The target date we gave earlier was that we should launch the Polaris submarines at the end of 1967, and they will be operational about five years from now.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's Answer, I give notice that I will raise the matter at the earliest possible opportunity.

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