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Volume 645: debated on Wednesday 26 July 1961

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Nuclear Propulsion


asked the Minister of Transport whether he will now make a statement about the award of a contract for the building of a nuclear-powered tanker.

I will make a statement as soon as I can.

Can the right hon. Gentleman give the reason for this very long delay? The shipbuilding industry is very anxious about this. It is over a year since tenders were invited, yet the right hon. Gentleman, week after week and month after month, refuses to give any indication of whether the whole project is to be abandoned or of what the situation is. Why the delay? Cannot he at least answer that?

The reason for the delay is the complexity of the technical considerations. The question exercising my mind is whether our limited resources should be used in another way.

In view of the progress that has been made by the United States and Russia in this, will my right hon. Friend make a statement before the House rises for the Summer Recess? Will he bear in mind that quite a lot of technical information was assembled by the Galbraith Committee, and that the decision was taken to try to embark on the building of a commercial ship to collect commercial data? Is my right hon. Friend's difficulty related to the fact that the shipbuilders do not want to find the money and neither do the Government?

I said during my speech during the recent debate on shipping and the shipbuilding industry that I hoped, but could not promise, to make a statement before the House rises. As for the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I am bound to say that neither the shipbuilders nor any shipping firms want to make a contribution. We have to decide whether it is worth while to spend money this way or upon trying to find a reactor which is economic.

In view of the slack in the shipbuilding industry—when we have considerable unemployment in the yards and berths lying empty—is not this a glorious opportunity in physical terms to undertake some experimental construction of this kind?

If this project were agreed to it would hardly make any difference to the shipbuilding industry. The great thing is for that industry to be competitive, because there are quite enough orders going about if it can get them.

Foreign Orders


asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware of the drift of shipbuilding and ship-repairing orders from British shipyards to continental shipyards; and what steps he now plans to counteract this drift of British finance and employment away from Great Britain.

I am aware of this development. I told hon. Members in the debate on shipping and shipbuilding on 13th July of the independent inquiry which I have arranged for Messrs. Peat, Marwick, Mitchell and Company to make into the reasons why British ship-owners have ordered ships abroad.

Why did not the right hon. Gentleman act earlier? Is he aware that this drift has been going on for far too long, and that during the last three months alone the tonnage that has gone to foreign shipyards from British yards amounts to over 250,000 tons? That is a very serious loss to British employment and to British finance. What is he doing about it?

I am finding out the real answer, firmly and impartially, as to why these orders are going abroad. Then perhaps we can see that our own industry is made more competitive.

In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said during the recent debate on the shipbuilding industry, is he aware that the leaders of the industry still maintain that their major handicap in getting orders is absence of credit facilities comparable to those granted by other Government and foreign banks to their own industries? Will the right hon. Gentleman look into this further?

I have myself recently seen about 15 ship-owners, and not one of them has given as a reason the fact that they could not obtain credit. No case like that has been brought to my notice. The inquiry will soon find out whether that is the reason, but I do not believe it is.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he will be able to get the sort of information from the foreign yards that he is to get from British yards? Unless he gets that information and is then able to make a direct comparison, the whole operation will be valueless.

I do not agree that it will be valueless, but the firm will try to get what information it can from abroad.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the British ship-owners who have placed orders for vessels in foreign yards are recipients of the 40 per cent. investment allowance? If they are, is it not time to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to inform these owners who are so unpatriotic that they will not receive this relief at the expense of the public?

Any owner who buys a new ship is entitled to the 40 per cent. investment allowance.

Passenger Liners (Accommodation)


asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware of the inadequate provision of accommodation on some British passenger liners; and if he will take steps to ensure that reasonable standards are maintained for passengers on all ships.

The standard of accommodation in British post-war passenger liners is extremely high. There are, however, a few pre-war ships, now near the end of their useful lives, in which some of the accommodation is not up to present-day standards. If the hon. Member will let me have particulars of the ships he has in mind, I will look into the matter.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have a very serious complaint, concerning the s.s. "Orontes", that six men are sleeping in bunks in a cabin in which they have 70 inches by 40 inches in which to dress and undress and do everything else they wish to do in that cabin? There are also six women in another cabin with six bunks with only 70 inches by 40 inches free space. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is less than the space provided for quality animals in transit?