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Nuclear Propulsion

Volume 645: debated on Wednesday 26 July 1961

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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.