Vote 7. H.M. Ships, Aircraft and Weapons, New Construction and Repairs

Part of Orders of the Day — Defence (Navy) Estimates, 1969–70 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th March 1969.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 20th March 1969

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was beguiled by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am talking about destructive power in terms of present standards. When I say that the destructive power of 41 submarines is an enormous one, I am speaking relatively. Our contribution to the strategic deterrent is almost negligible.

It is certainly not negligible from the point of view of finance, though. The Polaris submarines cost £350 million. This is at a time when we are finding it difficult to make both ends meet. In a fortnight we shall be talking about the financial crisis. In this Vote we are piling up £202,363,000. It is all adding to the problems that will confront my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Do other N.A.T.O. nations contribute any Polaris submarines to N.A.T.O.'s deterrent power? Norway would not have the American Polaris submarine in her waters. Holland has none. We need not talk about Western Germany. We are the only country in Western Europe which is spending this enormous sum upon nuclear submarines. If ever one of these nuclear missiles is fired towards Lake Baikal or somewhere in the centre of the U.S.S.R. or Siberia, there will come something back from a nation which is infinitely more powerful than we are in the matter of nuclear weapons.

I come to the question of the base in the West of Scotland. When the first Polaris programme was announced, we heard very little about the base. The base has now become a very expensive item. It affects our economy in many different ways. During the last four years about £40 million has been spent on the Polaris base at Faslane. If right hon. and hon. Members opposite would care to visit Faslane, they could see for themselves what an enormous project it is. In building this base there has been concentrated the energy and the raw material that should have gone into building up the economy, the factories, the schools and the hospitals that are so badly needed in the West of Scotland. I do not regard the Polaris scheme as an asset from any point of view.

The only other country in Europe that has a Polaris-type submarine programme is France. A recent article in the Daily Mail stated that France has had to put off her own Polaris-type submarine programme until 1975 because she is in a difficult financial situation. If France finds that owing to her financial situation she cannot afford one submarine, are we in such a good economic position that we can afford four?