Polaris Submarine Base

Oral Answers to Questions — Ministry of Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th November 1960.

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Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield 12:00 am, 16th November 1960

asked the Minister of Defence if he will lay on the Table of the House an official paper setting out the terms of the agreement between the British and United States Governments on the establishment of Polaris submarine bases in British waters.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I would refer the hon. Member to replies by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 8th November.

Photo of Mr William Warbey Mr William Warbey , Ashfield

As the Minister has admitted in a Written Answer to me that the submarine tender will be able to store nuclear missiles with warheads without any limit and that this may mean as much as 150 million tons of nuclear blast power concentrated in one spot at any one time, is he really saying that the Government are not prepared to lay the agreement for establishing a nuclear powder magazine in the Clyde before the House for debate and approval or disapproval?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's expansion of the Written Answer I gave him. I can only say that this matter has been fully debated and discussed in the House, and I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

asked the Minister of Defence what consultations the United States Government have had with the United Kingdom Government about the construction of a Polaris submarine base or bases in Great Britain, in addition to the Holy Loch project.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Are we to understand that there is no truth in the rumour and statements which have been conveyed to me that there have been consultations on the possibility of constructing a site at Portland near Weymouth in the south of England?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

The answer to that, if I may say so to the right hon. Gentleman, is that, of course, before Holy Loch was finally selected a great many possible sites were examined. For all I know, Portland was among them.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Are we to understand that this is to be the only site?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

Certainly; at present.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

asked the Minister of Defence if he will give the reasons for the selection of the Holy Loch as the base for the Polaris submarines.

Photo of Mr Thomas Steele Mr Thomas Steele , Dunbartonshire West

asked the Minister of Defence what are the reasons for selecting the Holy Loch as the base for the United States submarines carrying the Polaris missiles.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

asked the Minister of Defence whether alternative sites for the Polaris submarine base were offered to the United States for their consideration; and what were the factors which determined the siting now agreed on.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

asked the Minister of Defence how many Scottish lochs were considered for the Polaris base, before deciding on the Holy Loch.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

The choice of a site for these facilities depended upon a number of technical and other considerations. Other sites were considered, but Holy Loch was found to be the most suitable.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

Does the Minister realise that that is a most unsatisfactory Answer and that it certainly will not satisfy the very many people who are concerned about establishing this site alongside the biggest concentration of population in Scotland? Can he not give some more definite and clear reasons why the place has to be here?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

Yes, I am only too pleased to give a few more reasons. It is a very good sheltered anchorage. It is already a submarine operating base for the Royal Navy. It gives very good access to deep water exercise areas. There are good communications. I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I did a moment ago to the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), that a great many sites were most carefully examined throughout the whole country and that this site was the one which most nearly filled the very exacting requirements.

Photo of Mr Thomas Steele Mr Thomas Steele , Dunbartonshire West

Is the Minister aware that the whole Clydeside area suffered very severely from bombing during the last war and that there has been a natural reaction of anxiety among the people of Clydeside about siting the base there? Were those fears and anxieties taken into account when the decision was made? If so, in view of the need to take the population with him in his desire to safeguard the freedom of our country, why was not it possible for some more isolated loch to be selected?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I quite understand that. I was there myself for a certain time and know only too well what the Clyde went through during the war. It is very natural that people should remember.

In a nuclear war—God forbid that it should ever happen—the fact that one area or another is chosen for this purpose in Scotland, the Midlands or anywhere else will not affect the complete devastation which would follow. That is why we must do everything in our power to stop a war starting. This new weapon system makes an immense contribution to that task. That is why I think we were entirely right and justified in coming to this decision.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

Were other sites in Scotland, apart from the Holy Loch, considered? Can the Minister deny or confirm the rumour that one of the reasons why the Holy Loch was chosen was that the American families concerned wanted to be near a populated area, particularly a city? If that was one of the reasons, is it not scandalous that it should have swayed the issue one way or another?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I can confirm that several other lochs and harbours and areas in Scotland were very carefully examined. To my knowledge, they were all rejected on purely operational requirements.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Will the Minister say who rejected them and whether the Americans or the Minister chose Holy Loch? Is he aware of the statement in today's news from Washington that this submarine has as much destructive power as all the bombs dropped in the last war, and that there is and will be great anxiety in Scotland if the thing is put in any loch in Scotland?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

Its great power of destruction is part of the deterrent which we hope will stop a war starting before we can achieve disarmament. On the general considerations, as I have said, the decision was taken jointly by the United States and British Navies, as far as I am aware, on purely technical considerations.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee West

Whilst appreciating the right hon. Gentleman's point that probably the siting of the base does not affect the question of devastation, which would be overall and widespread, does not he appreciate the importance of the psychological factor, which is appreciated in America? A great many American commentators appreciate that it was very unfortunate to locate this base where it would creat great feeling among the local population. Will not the right hon. Gentleman consider a more isolated site, even if it is less convenient?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

All those things were considered. I want to make it plain that I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's first statement. This was a difficult decision to take, but I must say again that, in this balance of terror in which we have to live until we can get proper disarmament, we must see that an aggressor has not the slightest doubt of the retribution which will fall upon him. We are all in this thing together.

Photo of Captain John Litchfield Captain John Litchfield , Chelsea

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that anything which is likely to add to the operational effectiveness of the United States naval forces is also likely to add to our own security?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

Certainly. I agree entirely.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is not the point? If the base would be operationally as efficient at Scapa Flow or Loch Ewe, why choose a site on the Clyde which psychologically has an enormous effect and which. I should have thought, from the point of view of defence also has enormous effect? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why those two places which I have mentioned were rejected?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I thought that I had answered his point when I said that a very large number of possible anchorages were considered up and down the West Coast and were rejected on operational grounds. For example, the depot ship must be in absolutely still water for certain purposes connected with the loading and unloading of missiles.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

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

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

asked the Minister of Defence what consultations took place with the local authorities concerned before agreement was reached with the United States of America on the siting of the Polaris submarine base.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that, in his speech a week last Friday, he said that there was no time for consultation and that if we were to fit in with the timetable we had to get on without consultation? I think that that was the gist of his remarks. Is be aware that, in a Written Answer in the House yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), the Prime Minister said that this matter was raised during the meeting at Camp David in March this year? In view of the fact that these discussions quite clearly have been going on for some months, is there any rhyme or reason why local authorities in the area should not have been consulted before the decision was taken?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I think that the hon. Gentleman has misquoted me. It was because there was not time. We made the announcement when we did because there was a considerable leak in the daily Press. On the question why prior consultation did not take place, I dealt with that in my speech. I said that until some agreement had been reached there could not be public consultation.