HC Deb 14 June 1961 vol 642 cc422-4
31. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will now make a statement with regard to the building of a nuclear-powered ship for commercial purposes.

47. Mr. F. Willey

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will make a further statement about the construction of a nuclear-propelled merchant ship.

50. Mr. Strauss

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will now make a statement on the development of a nuclear-powered tanker and the award of a contract for its construction.

30. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Transport when he expects Britain's first nuclear-propelled merchant ship to be launched; and how many foreign owned nuclear-propelled merchant vessels will be in service by this date.

Mr. Marples

As regards a British nuclear-powered merchant ship, I cannot yet add to the Answers I gave hon. Members on 7th June. The only foreign nuclear merchant ships now built or building are the United States' merchant ship "Savannah" and the Russian icebreaker "Lenin". So far as I am aware, no decisions to build any others have been taken.

Dame Irene Ward

May I ask my right hon. Friend if he is aware that he has gone on giving the answer to the House of Commons that he would be in a position to give us a statement quite shortly? Is he aware that he has made that statement, I should think, for the last three months? Can I have a firm assurance on what date he would like me and my colleagues to put down a Question, because we feel that the time has come that we ought to be able to give a proper lead in this matter?

Mr. Marples

I do not think I have ever used the words which the hon. Lady attributed to me. The wands I used were very carefully selected, and they were that I would give the answer as soon as possible. The hon. Lady misses the whole point. The question is whether this is the best use of our limited resources and whether we should get the best value for money in this country by doing it.

Mr. Willey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the industries affected are thoroughly fed up with him and wish that he would give up his job? Is he also aware that this is a matter on which a decision has to be taken, and that it is now believed that the right hon. Gentleman is awaiting a decision by certain European countries which are discussing this matter? If that is so, does he realise that it is thoroughly unsatisfactory and that we must take the initiative in this field?

Mr. Marples

With regard to the second part of that supplementary question, the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. With regard to the first part, I should be very grateful if he would give me the names of the industries which are completely fad up, when I will get in touch with them and convey to them the hon. Gentleman's words.

Mr. Strauss

Will the Minister remember that on 1st March he told the House that he would give the answer to the question in the fairly near future? Those were his very words. Will he tell us what he means by "the fairly near future"? In view of the fact that tenders were called for in 1959, what possible excuse can there be for holding up the award of the contract right up to the middle of this year, or maybe later?

Mr. Marples

This is an entirely new field of work. The tenders may have been called for at that time, but they were not received until fairly recently. I repeat to the House that I think that here we should get the right decision, and not necessarily a quick decision.

Mr. P. Williams

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the important thing here is that we should be able to develop something of a commercially applicable nature, but, if it is decided as a prestige venture, then it would be better to switch the money from the Cunard to nuclear-powered ships?

Mr. Marples

I will not go into the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. With regard to the first part, I agree with him. The real point of nuclear power in ships is that, to be effective, it must be economic.

Dame Irene Ward

On a point of order. May I ask whether there has been an alteration? Why is it that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary who is responsible for shipping and shipbuilding does not answer?

Mr. Wiley

He is fed up.

Dame Irene Ward

Why is the Minister answering?

Mr. Speaker

It is not very clear to me what point of order or procedure arises.

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