HC Deb 26 October 1960 vol 627 cc2337-9
8. Mr. P. Williams

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will make a statement about the implementation of the proposals in the Chandos Report.

22. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will make a statement on the arrangements made with the Cunard Company for Government assistance in building a transatlantic passenger ship.

Mr. Marples

As announced on 10th October, the Government have decided to assist the Cunard Company in the construction of a replacement for the "Queen Mary". I hope to inform the House in more detail very shortly.

Mr. Williams

Can my right hon. Friend assure us that not only will he inform the House of these extremely important details but also that there will be an occasion for a debate, more particularly as there is some hesitation about the principle not only of giving a subsidy to private industry but to a particular firm? Will he in particular note the statement in the summary of the Chandos Report: … Cunard have available only £12 million from their own resources …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st June, 1960; Vol. 624, c. 1441.] This situation has arisen largely because of over-taxation on the shipping industry for a very long period. Anything my right hon. Friend can do to alleviate the position will be well worth while.

Mr. Marples

My answer to the first part of the question is that full details will be given to the House very shortly. My answer to the second part is that, if my hon. Friend wants a debate, that question should be addressed to the Leader of the House and not to me.

Mr. Wyatt

Will the Minister reconsider this very grave mistake, which only arises out of an election pledge given by the Prime Minister in the heat of the moment before the last General Election? As I am sure he knows, every person in the ship-owning business knows that this ship will be out of date before its keel is laid. Does he not agree that it is a highly uneconomic proposition which no other shipowner supports, except the inefficient Cunard Company? To waste £18 million of the taxpayers' money when there are so many other things needed is a very serious matter indeed, even for an election pledge.

Mr. Marples

I do not think that the majority of the country, especially Clydeside and other places, will agree with the hon. Gentleman's remark that this is a waste of money.

Mr. Popplewell

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, when this tender is put out by the Cunard Company, it will be open to free competition from all the yards capable of building the ship? Will he deny the rumour so widely circulated, and almost to be inferred from his reply, that it will necessarily go to John Brown's on the Clyde? Will he confirm that Tyneside and other shipbuilding centres will have the opportunity of tendering?

Mr. Marples

I understand that the Cunard Company is hard at work on the invitations to tender and hopes to issue them during the next few months.

Mr. Albu

Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that the placing of an order for one obsolescent ship in one yard is the best way to deal with the very serious problems of technical backwardness in the British shipbuilding industry at present, when there is so much money to give away?

Mr. Marples

This was not so much on the grounds of helping shipbuilding; it was to help our prestige across the Atlantic and earn valuable dollars for this country.

Mr. Benn

Will the Minister give an assurance that the House will be given time for a debate, particularly in view of his use of the word "prestige", which in our view entirely explains the Government's approach?

Mr. Marples

As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams), any request for a debate is, as the hon. Member knows, not for me but for the Leader of the House.

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