HC Deb 04 February 1970 vol 795 cc420-1
41. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what effect the suspension of the production of the Mark 24 torpedo will have on the operational efficiency of the fleet submarines; and when he expects production to be started.

Mr. John Morris

Our Fleet submarines will continue to be armed with the existing anti-submarine torpedo until the Mark 24 enters service: their current operational efficiency is unchanged by the decision to suspend production of the Mark 24. Re-starting production of this torpedo will be dependent on the progress of development and acceptance trials.

Mr. Wall

Is it not a fact that subsequent to the cancellation of the carrier replacement programme and the F111 the Minister spoke of these vessels as the main striking power of the Navy? Is it not a matter of national concern to find that this main striking power now consists of torpedoes designed in the 1930s?

Mr. Morris

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The problem has arisen because of a delay in development due to design difficulties. Some of the remarks that have been made about the situation are inaccurate, in that the anti-submarine torpedo now in use, the Mark 23, entered service as recently as 1964.

Mr. Brooks

Does my hon. Friend recognise that there is anxiety about the delays? It is a very expensive submarine. A great deal of effort and research has been put into it, and continues to be put into it. As it is supposed to be responsible for, among other things, safeguarding our Polaris submarines against very sophisticated Soviet weaponry, may we at least be given an assurance that work on this new torpedo will be accelerated?

Mr. Morris

No one is more concerned than I am to ensure that this new torpedo gets under way—[Laughter.]—that is, that the production of the torpedo gets under way. As soon as the seriousness of the situation became apparent, we took urgent steps to ensure that everything possible was done, by setting up a project-type organisation of the same pattern as that which proved so successful in the Polaris programme.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

Will the Minister explain why the main torpedo armament for the Royal Navy should now be suspended, which also means that an ordance factory in Scotland employing over 1,000 men is closing down? Has he instituted an inquiry into this?

Mr. Morris

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that every possible step has been taken to ensure that the operation is properly looked after and that we have the right type of organisation to make sure that we succeed in meeting for the Royal Navy this urgent need for a torpedo. With regard to Alexandria, I have had long talks with the trade unionists concerned and with my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Thomas Steele). It is very regrettable that this excellent factory, on which aspersions have been cast, is unable to continue in production. It is no reflection at all on the factory or the labour force. It is due entirely to design difficulties that we have had to suspend production at the factory.

Mr. Wall

On a point of order. I wish to give notice that I will raise this matter on the Adjournment.