HC Deb 08 April 1964 vol 692 cc1003-5
27. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Transport if he will now make a statement about the laying down of a British nuclear-propelled surface ship.

Mr. Marples

The Working Group on Marine Reactor Research has just finished its report which the Government have started to consider.

Mr. Wall

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a growing body of opinion that we can make no further progress until a prototype is launched, and that even if we take action now, several countries, including Germany and Japan, are likely to have nuclear propelled surface ships afloat before us? When will he announce a decision?

Mr. Marples

I cannot say when it will be, but it will be as soon as possible. It is a complicated and complex subject. Again, we want to make the right answer rather than a very quick one which may be wrong.

Mr. Pentland

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on 11th February last year the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), informed the House that we should soon have an economic nuclear reactor for a British merchant ship? Can he tell the House why it was that his right hon. Friend was so sadly misinformed and, indeed, on that occasion deceived the House and the country?

Mr. Marples

I have not seen the actual quotation from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) said, but the technical assessment in this matter has proved to be a very difficult task. We were asked by the experts that they should have more time to do their task, and we agreed that they should. If they say they need more time, I think they ought to be given it.

Mr. P. Williams

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the time has arrived for the Government to make it clear on what conditions they will co-operate with the shipping industry in the construction, maintenance and operation of a nuclear-propelled surface ship at a moment when it is suitable to proceed with it?

Mr. Marples

I agree. We shall have to have consultations with both the Shipbuilding Conference and the Chamber of Shipping as to how to co-ordinate their activities with ours. We have already seen the Shipbuilding Conference and the Chamber of Shipping; we saw them when this research was started.

Mr. Strauss

No doubt while the Padmore Committee has been considering the technical problem of which type of design to adopt, the right hon. Gentleman has been having discussions about finance and so on. Therefore, now that the Padmore Committee has reported to him on the design, can we have an assurance, that decision having been taken, that it will not be long before we get a definite decision about relevant policy?

Mr. Marples

I agree that one must arrive at a definite conclusion in the matter as soon as possible. But we have only just received the report, and it is a little premature to ask me now at what precise date one could take a decision on it.

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