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Volume 641: debated on Sunday 7 May 1961

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Nuclear Power


asked the Minister of Transport if he will now make a statement on the application of nuclear power to merchant shipping.


asked the Minister of Transport what decision he has made on the proposals to build a nuclear-powered tanker.


asked the Minister of Transport if he can now make a statement about the award of a contract for the construction of a nuclear-powered tanker.


asked the Minister of Transport whether he will now make a statement on the building of a nuclear-propelled merchant ship.

I regret that I am still not in a position to announce the Government's decisions in this difficult matter. I will make a full statement to the House as soon as possible.

Is the Minister aware that this Answer must be added to the growing list of Answers which have given something less than complete satisfaction to the House? Is he aware of the anxiety being caused at the mounting delay in this matter? Can he give a firmer indication when this statement will be made?

I am afraid that I cannot. It raises complex and very complicated issues. We want to make absolutely certain that we are using our limited resources to the best possible effect.

Is the Minister aware that the problem is not in designing a ship which might be most economical in use but in giving the British shipbuilding industry some experience of the technique of building ships capable of using a nuclear reactor? Is he aware that if we do not make progress soon British shipping will be even more backward than at present?

I cannot accept that from the hon. Gentleman. The matter was more clearly put in a leader in The Times which stated that the truth is that a truly promising reactor for merchant shipping has not yet been developed anywhere and that we ought to use our limited resources for developing one.

After all the steps have been taken with the contractors to get estimates and so on, is there really a possibility that no contract at all will be given? Is it a matter of delaying for a short time to see which contract should be given or whether the contract should be amended, or is there a possibility that no contract at all will be awarded by the Government?

Is not the important thing here not the question of building a ship but of designing a commercial nuclear-powered reactor which is suitable?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is one of the things which has been exercising my mind.

Is not the Minister aware that his inability to take a decision is disturbing the shipping and shipbuilding industries? May we assume from the fact that his hon. Friends have withdrawn their Questions from today and transferred them to next Wednesday that he will make a statement next Wednesday?

The hon. Gentleman must ask my hon. Friends about their intentions. I cannot tell him what they are. The real point in this matter is that we should make the correct decision, not necessarily a speedy decision.

May I ask my right hon. Friend to circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the number of occasions on which he has told us that he is going to give us an answer "quite shortly"? Can he define what he means by "quite shortly"? Why has he altered his technique and when will the answer be given?



asked the Minister of Transport what action he proposes to take arising out of the Report of the Sub-Committee on Prospects in the Shipbuilding Industry and the Report on Research and Development Requirements in the Industry made by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.


asked the Minister of Transport what action he has taken about the Report of the Sub-Committee of the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee.

Most of the recommendations in the Report of the Sub-Committee of the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee are addressed to the industry, and I will keep in touch with the industry about their implementation.

The further improvements in the services of the Export Credits Guarantee Department announced by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in April are relevant to the recommendation about credit facilities. I am considering the other two recommendations addressed to the Government, which relate to possible scrapping schemes and to orders for Government ships.

My Department and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research are pursuing the studies recommended in the latter's Report.

Does the Minister not agree that both these Reports were compromise documents, not objective studies? Is he aware of the facts behind the Reports, on which they were based? Particularly, is he aware of the very severe criticisms made of the marine engineering industry in the Report by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research? What action does he propose to take to make improvements in that industry?

I am aware that to some extent they are bound to be compromise documents with all the interests on the Sub-Committee of the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee, but we are holding discussions with both shipping and shipbuilding interests and the D.S.I.R. on the question of research, which I think most important.

One again, will the right hon. Gentleman try to face taking decisions on these matters? Now that he is scrapping a large section of his legislative programme, will he give more time to these urgent problems of British shipping and shipbuilding?

The question of a decision in this case does not rest with the Minister alone. For example, one of the recommendations of the General Council of British Shipping is that more research should be done. Therefore, I asked it for a list of the research it had in mind. So far I have not received a list. When it comes it will be studied straight away.

Can the Minister say in particular what is likely to be the future of P.A.M.E.T.R.A.D.A., which has been criticised as an organisation which is more likely to restrict than to promote new ideas?

I cannot say what the outcome will be, but that is one of the things being considered by both sides.

When my right hon. Friend talks about scrapping shipping, will he be careful not to engage in a policy which will lead to a decline in the gross tonnage of the British Mercantile Fleet?

That is one of the things which the shipbuilding employers have asked me to discuss with them and I am discussing it with them.

Will the Minister look back over his record and that of his predecessor in this matter and realise that it is some years since the Government promised to give precedence to consideration of this problem, which affects not only the prestige of Britain but also employment in Britain's shipyards? Will he say why the Government are dragging their feet? Is it the scientists or the Government who are dragging their feet in this matter?

Government Assistance


asked the Minister of Transport whether, in view of the fact that the Government have decided that aid to the Cunard Steamship Company in relation to the maintenance of an express passenger service on the North Atlantic is desirable in the national interest, he will consider other cases where equally cogent reasons can be shown for Government help.

The Government's view is that the circumstances which impelled them to help in the maintenance of the British trans-Atlantic express passenger service are unique.

Is the Minister aware that the suggestion in this Question is one of the recommendations of the General Council of British Shipping? I think it is also supported by his own sub-committee on shipbuilding. Will he not agree that it would be helpful if he could say to the other shipping areas, Belfast and Tyneside, that when the new Cunarder comes to Clydeside, as already promised, they too will have his attention with regard to this sort of development?

In reply to the second part of that supplementary question, the new "Queen" has not been promised to any particular yard. It will go according to merit. In regard to the first part of the supplementary question, if the General Council of British Shipping has any application to make no doubt it will make it, and we shall look at it when it is made. I do not think it can find comparable circumstances.

Goole (Dock Appliances And Machinery)


asked the Minister of Transport whether he is aware of the complaints from all sides of the industry that the dock appliances and machinery at the port of Goole are inadequate and unsatisfactory and that in consequence there is a loss of efficiency and trade; and whether he will advise the Rochdale Committee to extend its investigation so as to include the port of Goole, the only port in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

I am aware that the British Transport Commission has received certain representations about the maintenance, improvement and further development of the port of Goole. Such matters are primarily for the Commission's own commercial judgment and decision It is for the Rochdale Committee to decide whether to extend its inquiries at a later stage to include the port of Goole.

Is not the Minister aware of the importance of the port of Goole, not only to existing Continental and coastal traffic, but also in the framework of the Common Market negotiations and discussions?

Yes, Sir, I am; but it is common sense and logic that the Rochdale Committee will go to those ports which have the heaviest volume of foreign dry cargo traffic, and thereafter, I have no doubt, they will look at Goole.

Government Policy


asked the Minister of Transport whether he will now make a further statement of the Government's policy towards British shipping.

My discussions with the General Council of British Shipping on the recommendations made in its Survey Report are not yet complete.

While recognising the difficulty of pursuing this matter at Question Time, and also recognising that it is not strictly the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, may I ask him if he can give an assurance that he will support the idea of a debate on shipping and shipbuilding before the Summer Recess?

I would rather leave that to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Cannot we have something more specific from the Minister? He is to leave the question of traffic wardens to the Home Secretary and the question of a debate to the Leader of the House. When is he going to do something himself? Cannot we have a debate soon?

I accept the implication, and, as the hon. Gentleman has Supply Days at his disposal, no doubt he could put that subject down for debate.