HC Deb 09 April 1964 vol 692 cc1202-5
Q1. Commander Courtney

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the success of the Atomic Energy Authority in developing a nuclear reactor which, apart from capital cost, is comparable in fuel costs with conventional marine propulsion machinery, and having regard to the importance of nuclear propulsion to the future of the Royal Navy, the Merchant Navy and the British shipbuilding industry, he will authorise the construction of a replenishment tanker or other Royal Navy auxiliary vessel for the purpose of acquiring the sea-going experience needed for the development of a fully economic nuclear-powered merchant ship and without which the necessary information leading to the reduction of capital costs will not be obtained.

Q4. Mr. McMaster

asked the Prime Minister whether he will authorise the construction of a nuclear-powered ship for the Royal Navy, to be built in a shipyard in the United Kingdom.

Q11. . Mr. Wall

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the Padmore Report on nuclear-powered ships.

The Prime Minister (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

As I informed my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) on 17th March, a statement on the Government's future policy will be made as soon as Ministers have considered the report by the Working Group.

Commander Courtney

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that reply, one of a number, will be greeted with some disappointment because of the delays which have occurred and the conflicting nature of much of the information which is available on the subject? Can he say how this country expects to gain the practical sea-going experience which alone can bring down the capital cost of the reactor? Further, does not my right hon. Friend consider that £5 million is a rather small amount to allocate for this very important project in comparison with the hundreds of millions of pounds allocated to other fields of nuclear research?

The Prime Minister

The technical assessment of this question has proved to be very difficult, and we had to give the experts time to do their job properly. We have had the report of the Working Group, which included shipbuilders, shipowners and Lloyd's Register as well as officials, for only about four days. In order to get the decision right, we had better take a little longer.

Mr. McMaster

Will my right hon. Friend, in considering this problem along with his colleagues, bear in mind the importance of this country retaining her position as a leading shipbuilding nation and having the same amount of "know-how" as the Americans, the Russians and also the Germans are going to obtain in this subject?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Wall

Several committees have sat on this matter during the past four years. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that, even though a ship may not be economic, British shipbuilders and engineers can gain great credit by experience with this reactor afloat? Can he say when he expects to make a final decision on the matter?

The Prime Minister

As I have said, we have only just got the report of the Working Group and I think that we had better look at it. The matter is very complicated. Six types of reactor had to be considered. If my hon. Friends will allow me, I should like to have a few more weeks to consider it.

Mr. Albu

Is not the Prime Minister aware that on this matter as on the matter of the future electricity generating programme there has been a spate of rumour and counter-rumour for about six months which is very disturbing to all concerned and has serious implications for the Atomic Energy Authority? Will he consider publishing the technical advice which has been given to the Government on both matters?

The Prime Minister

I think that I have previously told the hon. Gentleman that I shall consider publishing a White Paper on the nuclear power programme. On this question, I want to look at the Working Group's report.

Mr. P. Williams

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although this is a matter of great technicality and difficulty, it is vital at this stage to find some way of getting a financial agreement between the Government, on the one hand, and the shipping or shipbuilding industries, on the other, on the methods of financing and operating ships when a particular reactor is chosen?

The Prime Minister

The first thing to know is what one has got to finance.