HC Deb 15 October 1991 vol 196 cc142-3
11. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received about the refitting programme for Polaris submarines.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

I have received a small number of representations from hon. Members on the refitting, repair and maintenance of Polaris submarines.

Mr. Bennett

Can the Minister explain why he and his ministerial colleagues, and senior civil servants, continu-ally refuse to answer questions on Polaris in the House and in the Select Committee on Defence but are happy to allow Ministry of Defence officials to brief journalists and to appear on the "This Week" programme to comment on the Polaris submarine? Is not it time that we had open government, and that we were told clearly whether HMS Revenge will have a third refit and why Polaris submarines are not now considered safe enough to visit foreign ports, but are considered safe enough to operate in Scottish ports?

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that it is not the practice of this Government—or of previous Governments—to comment on the material state of nuclear submarines in Commission or refit, but I can assure the House that no nuclear submarine would put to sea without the approval and advice of the independent nuclear-powered warships safety committee. It is right to remind the House that, under Labour, there would be no SSNs: in his speech yesterday, the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) implied that Labour would build no more nuclear-powered submarines.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in sniping at the Polaris refit, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) underlines his opposition to the nuclear deterrent—unfortunately shared by two thirds of the Labour party?

Mr. Carlisle

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. We all know that the official policy of the Labour party is not to have an independent nuclear deterrent. That is the view of the majority of Labour Members and that is the view which the country will know when the time comes to make the decision.

Mr. Cohen

Is the Minister aware of the view of Greenpeace that there is a high exposure risk to workers on those Polaris submarines because of faulty reactors? Do the Government care anything for those workers' interests, or are they to be the nuclear test veterans of the next decade?

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman knows that we care deeply for the well-being of our workers. He should understand that we have just reviewed the allowed limits, which have been reduced to not more than 100 mSv over five years. If anyone receives exposure to approaching 15 mSv in any one year—and there are very few who do—we review his case very carefully.