§ 9. Mr. Willis
asked the Secretary of State for Defence to what extent the placing of orders for new ship construction is being delayed by the shortages in certain categories of naval skilled manpower.
§ Mr. Willis
Are we to understand from that that the Admiralty never considers whether it will be able to man a ship before building it? Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that cruisers are at present laid up because we do not have the manpower and that in February 60 commissioned ships lacked the necessary skilled manpower and that we are now to absorb about 1,000 skilled men into the Polaris programme? Does he mean to say that this makes no difference to the Admiralty's consideration of ship construction?
§ Mr. Hay
I suggest the hon. Gentleman looks again at his Question. He wanted to know whether the placing of orders for new ship construction was being delayed by present shortages in certain categories of manpower. It takes a good many months and even years to build a ship and we are planning for the crews to be there when the ships are built.
§ 10. Mr. Willis
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what naval construction programmes are being held up because of the Polaris programme.
§ 49. Mr. Cronin
asked the Secretary of State for Defence what modifications he envisages in naval construction programmes in order to facilitate the construction and equipping of the Polaris submarines.
§ Mr. Hay
The only construction programme which is suffering, or which I expect to suffer, significant delay because of Polaris is that of the nuclear hunter-killer submarines. As my predecessor informed the hon. Member on 10th April last year, there will be some shortfall in hunter-killer numbers round about 1970 but it should be possible to make that up by 1975.
§ Mr. Willis
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, as has already been stated two or three times this afternoon, there is a widespread feeling that our Forces are far too thinly scattered over far too wide an area and that naval construction programmes are diminishing, which many people attribute to the Polaris submarine? Are we to assume from the fact that he has said that there are no significant delays, except in the hunter-killer programme, that this is in fact true?
§ Mr. Hay
The Answer means what it says. The effect of the Polaris programme upon the conventional Navy is comparatively small and I made that perfectly clear in my speeches on the Navy Estimates earlier this year. The only programme which is being delayed—and we have never made any secret of this—is the nuclear hunter-killer programme. The rest are going along in the normal way.
§ Mr. Cronin
Is there not a strong body of senior naval opinion which has grave misgivings about the delay in the hunter-killer construction programme, particularly bearing in mind the political uncertainties of the delivery from manufacturers of the missile with which the 418 Polaris submarine is equipped, remembering that it is manufactured completely in the United States?
§ Captain Litchfield
Has any estimate been made of the cost and of the strategic implications of the unhappy event of the policy of the party opposite to abandon the Polaris programme ever being implemented?