Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

HMS Tireless Submarine

Delivered in Plenary 14th December 2000

Mr President

My colleagues and I extend our deepest condolences to the family of the victim of the senseless ETA terrorism in Spain. As one of the six MEPS nominated to represent Gibraltar until direct elections are held in four years time, it has been partly my responsibility to liaise with the Gibraltar authorities and the London Ministry of Defence to establish the truth of the situation regarding the repairs to the nuclear submarine HMS Tireless. The facts are that a single crack in the cooling system was discovered with a leak of water, described in the Spanish press rather inappropriately as radioactive.  Although this is technically correct, the level of radiation is so low that it is actually fit to drink.

The reactor has been fully shut down as preparations are made to cut out a circular section of the main pipe and to return this to the UK for thorough examination before coming to a final decision as to how best to weld or remove it in the defective pintle area of the ship. There is absolutely no immediate danger or emergency of any kind, or any threat posed to the surrounding population of Spain.

The interests of the people of Gibraltar and southern Spain are identical in this regard.  Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, has wisely asked a panel of experts to report directly to him.  The panel has recommended allowing the next stage to proceed, while stipulating that the Ministry of Defence must fully understand the cause of the defect before commencing the essential repairs.  Repairing a submarine in situ remains by far the safest option available: towing it would not only be dangerous but would, in any event, require considerable repairs to be done beforehand.

The Spanish Government has until now shown considerable maturity in its response to this situation.  I would point out with regard to references in the motions for resolutions to the role of the Commission that it is not the view of the UK Government that the Euratom Treaties are applicable in military situations of this kind.

Nevertheless, the British authorities have endeavoured to be as open as possible with their Spanish counterparts.  Lack of spending on new military hardware because of defence cuts by the British Labour government will no doubt in future result in more frequent episodes of defective military equipment being taken out of service for essential repairs.  That said, I hope that this debate will not degenerate into an attempt to attack either Mr. Aznar or the Royal Navy, whose resolve this century against threats of tyranny from the right and the left is an important reason why all of us in this Chamber are able to enjoy the freedoms that we share.