HC Deb 31 July 1963 vol 682 cc448-9
20. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Minister of Transport what progress has been made towards reaching a decision on the building of a nuclear-powered merchant ship.

65. Commander Courtney

asked the Minister of Transport whether he is now satisfied that technical considerations justify the placing of an order for one or more British nuclear-powered merchant ships; what progress has been made in his consultations with British ship owners; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Marples

The technical and economic studies are continuing according to plan. Shipowners and shipbuilders are taking part in them. I still expect that we shall be able to decide before the end of the year whether to embark on developing a reactor and building a ship to install it in.

Dame Irene Ward

May I ask my right hon. Friend how he interprets "according to plan," because am I not right in saying that we were promised that we would hear the answer before the House rose for the Recess? I think that that was the last promise. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he noted yesterday that the Minister of Defence said that he could not have a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier until we had experimented with surface ships on a smaller scale? May I ask whether my right hon. Friend's Department is in touch with the Minister of Defence, and may I ask whether there can be a general speeding up on this matter? Government Departments are getting terribly slow.

Mr. Marples

I very rarely disagree with my hon. Friend. She frequently disagrees with me, but I rarely disagree with her. But we never said that we would make a statement before the Recess, and it is wrong of my hon. Friend to imply that we did. We have always thought that by the end of this year we should be able to say something definite, and we are working according to plan. If we are to have a nuclear ship, the first ship has to be of a reasonable size and not a major ship which may lead to difficulties. To build such a ship would be complete nonsense, and, with due respect and humility, I am surprised that my hon. Friend suggested it.