Nuclear Submarines

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1989.

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Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth 12:00 am, 28th November 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has reviewed emergency arrangements for visits of nuclear submarines to British ports following the recent incident at Cardiff docks when a number of towropes broke; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

There was a minor incident in Cardiff on 10 October when a rope, which was attached to one of two tugs handling HMS Sovereign, parted while the submarine was being berthed. This rope was not of the type specified by the Royal Navy for use by tugs involved in submarine berthing operations. Steps have been taken to avoid such an incident recurring.

HMS Sovereign subsequently docked without further incident and in complete safety. There is no need for changes in our emergency arrangements as a result of the incident.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael , Cardiff South and Penarth

May I ask the Minister to check his facts as my understanding is that more than one rope broke? Does he not understand that the area of the city of Cardiff or of any other port affected would be a considerably wider area of population than is covered by the Government's present emergency plans? As we are dealing with safety and not security, does the Minister agree that the matter should be dealt with far more openly and in public discussion with the relevant local authorities?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I have checked my facts and the fact is that more than one rope did not break—the same rope was wrapped around three times. Opposition Members always cast aspersions on the safety of our nuclear-powered submarines, but if they are trying to revise their defence policy to bring it into line with NATO, they should place some value on our nuclear-powered submarines, which have to berth in ports around the country, and they should remember that the crews are very popular when they visit our ports.

Photo of Mr David Martin Mr David Martin , Portsmouth South

Does my hon. Friend agree that those of us who represent ports used by nuclear-powered submarines or submarines capable of being armed with nuclear weapons deprecate those who use incidents, however minor, to further their obsessions against nuclear weaponry of all kinds? Does he further accept that we wish to see all safety procedures carried out to the best of the Government's ability, but not to be used as vehicles for those who support the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and other organisations, given that if we had listened to them we would not have the disarmament in Europe that we have seen in recent times?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The hunter-killer submarines are of great value to our nuclear-powered submarines and capable of operating for extensive periods under water. There is no way of carrying out this function without them and it is about time that the Labour party treated the crews of those boats much better.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley , Caernarfon

Will the Minister look again at this matter and also consider the allegations that nuclear submarines have tangled with the nets of fishing boats in the Irish sea causing loss of life? Will he undertake an investigation into those incidents and their implications?

Photo of Sir Archie Hamilton Sir Archie Hamilton The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

There have been extensive investigations about nuclear submarines and other submarines snagging the nets of fishing boats. I assure the hon. Gentleman that all such claims are investigated with great care and that compensation is paid when it is proved that our submarines have been responsible. Such claims have always been investigated and we have always been happy to come forward and admit when we have been wrong. A number of so-called incidents, however, have taken place in water far too shallow for submarines.