HC Deb 15 February 1965 vol 706 cc817-8
2. Commander Courtney

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he intends to place further orders for S.S.K. attack nuclear submarines; to what extent this type of vessel is essential for convoy and task group protection in time of war; and if he will make a statement.

53. Mr. Hamling

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the present programme for nuclear submarines; what further orders are envisaged; and what will be the operational rôle of these vessels.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what would be the saving in capital cost, including the cancellation charges, of cancelling the fifth Polaris submarine.

Mr. Healey

The Government have now completed a review of the programme, set in hand by the previous Administration, for the construction of nuclear propelled Polaris submarines. In the light of the stage now reached in the programme, they have concluded that the right course is to complete the four submarines already under construction, but not to proceed with the fifth submarine. This decision will save about £45 million in capital cost—less the cancellation charges which have still to be negotiated. We are now considering the possibility of resuming, earlier than otherwise, the nuclear-propelled hunter-killer programme, to which the Government attach great importance. The increased speed and endurance of these vessels give them not only advantages over the conventional submarine in an attacking rôle, but also a potential capacity for close support for a convoy or task group.

Commander Courtney

I welcome the implication of the right hon. Gentleman's last statement. Will he agree that there is a growing volume of opinion that the S.S.K. submarine is by far the best counter immediately available to potential commerce-destroying nuclear submarines belonging to foreign Powers?

Mr. Healey

Yes, this is the view of the Government. That is why, as I say, we hope to resume the hunter-killer programme earlier than otherwise would have been possible.

Mr. Hamling

I thank my right hon. Friend for his Answer. Will he also bear in mind the extreme cost of hunter-killer submarines and that fast frigates could still perform very useful service in this sphere?

Mr. Healey

Certainly there is always a place for fast frigates.

Mr. Digby

Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether this reduction in the number of submarines will prejudice conversion from the A3 missile to the Poseidon missile?

Mr. Healey

No, not in any way.

Mr. Burden

When considering the question of the construction of hunter-killers, will the right hon. Gentleman give very serious consideration to laying down the keels of some of these submarines in Chatham Dockyard, which is highly fitted for this job?

Mr. Healey

When deciding where to place contracts for these hunter-killers we shall bear all relevant considerations in mind.