HC Deb 01 February 1961 vol 633 cc956-7
1. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Minister of Transport if he is yet in a position to make a detailed statement on the progress made towards the construction of British-built nuclear merchant ships and fishing trawlers; and when he expects the first of these to be sea-going.

4. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Transport when he will announce the award of a tender for the construction of the first British nuclear-powered merchant ship.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

Examination of the tenders for a nuclear reactor and propelling machinery suitable for installation in a tanker of 65,000 tons deadweight is proceeding as quickly as possible, but I am not yet able to say when a decision will be made. Nuclear propulsion cannot reasonably be considered for any but large ships at this stage.

Mr. Hughes

Is there any insuperable technical objection to the use of nuclear propulsion for smaller ships, or does the reply of the Minister mean that it can never be used in that way? If so, would the right hon. Gentleman make a categorical statement about it in order to save wasting time, energy and material in wasteful experiments?

Mr. Marples

It would be silly, I think, to say that certain technical feats such as that could never be achieved, but I think the first thing to do is to take the optimum size, which is about 65,000 tons dead weight, make that, if we possibly can, an economic proposition, and see where we go from there.

Mr. Wall

Does my right hon. Friend recall That it is two years since the Galbraith Committee was appointed, and it is six months since he received tenders? Further, does he agree with the view that, until Britain has practical experience with a ship at sea, she is unlikely to obtain any lead in this new development? Cannot he say when he will make a decision in this matter?

Mr. Marples

I do not think that an undue length of time has elapsed. The five tenders were received on 29th July last, and the technical committee has considered them. It is a very complex subject, and we must not make any mistakes in our construction of a nuclear ship. The technical committee has practically concluded its assessment and it will be meeting shortly to draw up its report.

Mr. Mellish

The time has surely arrived when the House as a whole is entitled to know what is the shipping policy of Her Majesty's Government. This is only one small part of it. Does the right hon. Gentleman fully appreciate the concern which has been expressed on both sides of the House about this matter? When are we to learn from the Government what their intentions are for shipping in this country?

Mr. Marples

That is another subject, and there is a later Question on the Order Paper about it.

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