HC Deb 08 May 1963 vol 677 cc432-5

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

67. Mr. ATKINS

To ask the Civil Lord of the Admiralty whether it has yet been decided to which shipyards the building of the Polaris submarines will be allocated.

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

Subject to satisfactory contract arrangements to be concluded, Messrs. Vickers Armstrongs (Barrow) will construct two Polaris submarines and provide lead yard services. The second firm, who will also construct two submarines, will be Messrs Cammell Laird, of Birkenhead.

The decision to place the contracts with these two firms was taken only after weighing all the factors most carefully.

Mr. Atkins

Can my hon. Friend say what were the considerations which led him to choose Cammell Laird? Is it the case that, as a result of this decision, Scotts, of Clydeside, will have a better chance of getting the orders for the four Oberon class submarines for the Commonwealth of Australia?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

The considerations which led to our choosing Cammell Laird were, first, that it was a rather larger yard and we therefore felt that it might be able to keep to the very strict timetable necessary in this project; secondly, that it had rather more of the capital facilities which were needed; and, thirdly, that it offered rather better financial conditions.

I do not think that I can comment on the second part of my hon. Friend's question. It might well be so.

Mr. Short

Will the hon. Gentleman use his good offices to ensure that as many components as possible for the submarines to be built in Barrow will be made in the Newcastle factory of Vickers Armstrong, where there is now a great deal of redundancy? Is he aware that this is a process which has been followed with other orders in Barrow and might well be followed in this case?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

We will certainly try to see that sub-contracts are placed in other areas, and particularly in Scotland.

Mr. J. Henderson

Is the Civil Lord aware of the very great disappointment which will be felt in Clydeside and Glasgow particularly, and in Scotland generally, at the by-passing of the Clyde for this work? Is he aware that there is an abundance of skilled labour, and very heavy unemployment, on Clydeside? In view of the statements of many prominent Ministers about the Government's determination to decrease unemployment in, and improve the economy of, Scotland, does he think that by-passing the Clyde and Scotland is in any way implementing those promises?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I have announced successive measures which we have been able to provide in Scotland. We are making Rosyth the refitting yard for Polaris submarines, which will employ an extra 400 men; we are making Faslane the operating base for Polaris submarines, and during the constructional period we shall employ between 500 and 1,000 more people there; and the total amount to be spent there is between £20 million and £25 million; and in Scotland no less than £55 million is being spent on warship orders placed with Clydeside firms. That surely shows that Scotland has done well in general out of the naval programme and particularly out of the Polaris programme. This is only a reflection of what every Government Department is trying to do for unemployment in Scotland.

Dr. Dickson Mahon

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that it is in the national interest that there should be a distribution of the technical knowledge and skill required for building nuclear propelled ships, whether for peace or war? If he does, would he accept that there is a case for considering the hunter-killer submarine programme with a view to trying to locate the building of nuclear ships in rivers such as the Clyde?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Yes, Sir. I would agree that in the long term it would probably be desirable to spread the knowledge of this new technology of nuclear propulsion widely, but here we are concerned with a short crash programme to provide Britain with an independent deterrent, and that is why it is necessary to concentrate it in two areas.

Commander Kerans

Can my hon. Friend say what further measures he can take to increase employment in the North-East? Is he aware that this announcement is a disappointment to the North-East? Can he do something to help the shipbuilding industry there?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I am well aware of the anxieties in the shipbuilding industry in the North-East and we have arranged with Vickers, at Barrow, that it should transfer the order for the construction of one new Leander frigate from Barrow across to its Tyneside firm.

Mr. Lawson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one-third of the shipbuilding capacity of Britain is concentrated in Scotland and that that should be kept in mind when he talks about how much shipbuilding is being done in Scotland for the Admiralty? Will he also bear in mind that ordering this important submarine building elsewhere than in Scotland when the danger point is located in Scotland, because the base is centred there, will be regarded in Scotland with antagonism?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

Many Scottish people who have never been afraid to bear their burden of the defence of this country will welcome what I have said.

Mr. N. Pannell

While keenly regretting the impending departure of my hon. Friend from the office which he has served with such distinction, may I ask him whether the decision which he has announced and which will be warmly applauded on Merseyside is an indication of improved labour relations in the shipbuilding industry on Merseyside? Is there a prospect that labour and management will co-operate enthusiastically to fulfil this contract as soon as possible in the national interest?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

The House will know that when we went to these three firms we asked particularly that they should have talks with their trade unions about shift working and demarcation issues because of the importance of the time factor in this project. We have had some assurance and I am sure that we shall get a measure of co-operation. This order is worth about £20 million to those working in the Merseyside shipbuilding area and at its peak the programme will employ about 3,500 extra people on the Polaris project.

Mr. Paget

Will the hon. Gentleman take very great care, as he has been saying, to see that the contracts and work on Polaris submarines are used to mop up unemployment, since the net result is not in the least likely to be any manner of use for any other purpose?

Mr. Orr-Ewing

For the five years I have served in the Government, I have always been able to rely on the hon. and learned Gentleman for the most original views.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I think that we must move on to the next business.