§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I am sure that the Committee would want me, first, to express good wishes to Earl Alexander of Hillsborough on his recovery, and also to express admiration for the persistent and pertinacious way in which he raised this question in another place.
This is another chapter in the discussions that we have had on nuclear propulsion for shipping. I asked the Government about this when we were discussing the Shipbuilding Credit Bill. I received no response from the Government. Lord Alexander pursued the matter in another place. It was only after, for the third time, that he had been unable to get any satisfactory response from the Government that we are resuming the debate here.
I want to put this debate in its proper context. We must remember that when the Conservative Party took office we were the biggest shipbuilding country in 211 the world. That is no longer true, and it has not been true for years. We allowed Japan to overtake us, and without question world shipbuilding is now dominated by Japan. Last year not only Japan, but Germany, overtook us in shipbuilding.
It is significant that these were the two nations we defeated in the war. There is not the slightest doubt that the rehabilitation of shipbuilding in both Japan and Germany was a matter of Anglo-American policy. Our criticism of the Government has been that they have not shown sufficient concern, sufficient positive interest, in the British maritime industries. It is clear not only that Japanese and German shipbuilding industries took their opportunity, but that they were backed by their Governments in taking their opportunity. It is equally clear that neither the Japanese nor the Germans could have built up or sustained their present shipbuilding capacity unless they had been supported by their Governments.
It is against this background that we are apprehensive about the disregard the Government have shown towards British shipbuilding. Both sides of the House of Commons welcomed the Shipbuilding Credit Bill, but that was to aid British shipbuilding at a relatively low level of activity. It was temporary. The latest Lloyd's returns show that new orders have already drastically fallen and that the outlook is far from encouraging.
It is against this background that we are apprehensive about the Government's attitude towards nuclear propulsion for shipping. We are apprehensive, not only because the Government have neglected our old traditional industries, but also because they appear to show far too little concern about the new industries. There is not the slightest question about the importance of nuclear propulsion to shipping and shipbuilding. When, eight years ago, I wrote about the prospects of shipbuilding I concluded with the qualification that nuclear propulsion might completely change those prospects.
May I say this to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary? This is faint praise. More sense has 212 been spoken from the Government benches on this subject by the hon. and gallant Gentleman than by his colleagues. Two years ago the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that nuclear propulsion might shake and transform the world of shipping. He said that—we might see a change-over to nuclear ships comparable in scale and in speed to the changeover to motor ships between the wars."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1962; Vol. 663, c. 1987.]There is a feeling abroad now that, sooner or later, the probably sooner than most of us think, shipping will go nuclear. The anxiety we feel today is aggravated by the fact that, in comparison with other competing shipbuilding countries, we seriously seem to be losing ground. This is not only the case of the United States and Russia. It is the case of other European countries and other shipbuilding countries. I am certain that the Committee will agree that there is no ground for complacency. Looking over past debates, it is surprising how complacent hon. Members opposite have been. There has been talk, for instance, of "retaining our customary lead over the United States." That is no longer true. It is equally no longer true that we are retaining our lead over other comparable shipbuilding countries.
The anxiety we feel about the present Government's attitude towards the problem of nuclear propulsion is aggravated not only by their disregard for our great maritime industries but also, as I have expressed in debate after debate—this is one of the major failures of the present Government—by their failure to provide adequate political, governmental, means for development exploitation, to provide for the technological development and research.
As I have said before, I myself do not complain of the scale and scope of research. What I complain about is that we do not get value for money. There is the failure of the Government in time to take advantage of and to exploit the opportunities provided by British research. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) spoke recently of £162 million of the taxpayers' money wasted on eight projects. Far more important than the financial waste, however great that may be, is the waste of opportunity. 213 We are living in an increasingly competitive world and we must keep pace with our competitors.
I concede immediately to the Secretary of State for Education and Science that not only is this especially true of nuclear propulsion for shipping, but that it is especially difficult in the field of nuclear propulsion for shipping. Different Departments are involved, with their different interests. Incidentally, I cannot think of a more undesirable combination than the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Minister of Transport. Apart from the personalities, there are different interests here which must be reconciled. There are different public corporations. I do not for a moment subscribe to all that Lord Coleraine has said about this, but this is a difficulty. There must be some governmental drive and initiative to deal with a problem like this.
It is a question not only of different Departments and different public authorities but the relationship of public authorities to private enterprise. We have here a new industry, a nuclear energy industry. We also have the conflicting interests of the different industries affected—for instance, power, and the maritime industries. There are these competing claims upon research.
In this context the Padmore Committee has done useful work, but what we have not had—this is what we have suffered from the whole time—is any serious effort to get the right instrument to promote the development we need. Instead—not surprisingly because the cardinal problem has not been tackled—we have had chaotic muddle and exasperating frustration expressed from all sides. This is not a partisan matter. Indeed, great concern has been expressed by all hon. Members.
The difficulties have not arisen because of the absence of political statements. There have been repeated political statements, but, unfortunately, they have, by and large, been irresponsible, have been made for political motives and have not related to the state of development. I remind hon. Members of the original project—the "floating power station," as it was to be—which, fortunately, never got off the drawing board. If it had it might have taxed the resources of even the British shipyards. As soon as we got over the Suez crisis, that was for- 214 gotten. That first project was the initial mistake of the Government—a proposition made for political ends; and the divorce between what has been expressed politically and what has been done by way of development has handicapped the development of nuclear propulsion right from the very first statement that the Government made.
The second phase or project came after years of progress reports in the form of statements from the Government Front Bench telling us that everything was going well. In the end the Government could delay no longer. Their bluff was called. They had to do something in view of the progress reports which had been given by the then Paymaster-General, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, it was only after years had gone by, when the Government were confronted with the lack of progress, that they resorted to the Galbraith Committee. That Committee eventually reported and, again—for the second time—it seemed that within the near future we would get a nuclear-propelled vessel afloat.
In February, 1960, the Minister of Transport invited tenders for a 65,000-ton tanker and by July of the same year five tenders had been received. Once again, we had a repetition of the cycle. Questions were repeatedly asked in Parliament. Evasive replies were given and, finally—18 months after the tenders had been invited—in November, 1961, the Government announced that they had decided not to accept any of the tenders.
This was the end of the second phase and the end of the second failure of the Government. It cost the taxpayer about £250,000 in compensation to the firms which had tendered. Far more important was the loss of time. If we are conducting this research in competition with other countries we cannot afford to waste time—
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Was not the failure to produce an economic reactor the failure of the scientists and not of the Government? Surely the production of such an item is the job of the scientists, so that the Government cannot be held responsible.
§ Mr. Willey
I was in the process of referring to the Government's second project. I was specifically dealing with 215 the amount of time that had been wasted. Time was obviously wasted because the Government decided not to accept any of the tenders, although it took them 18 months to arrive at the conclusion that they did not want to accept any of them.
By deciding not to proceed with those tenders the Government admitted that they had made a mistake. It is equally obvious that they made that mistake at the expense of research, because the Parliamentary Secretary said last year, when we debated this matter:It cannot truthfully be said that this contributed directly, in a technical way, to the present design of reactors."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1963; Vol. 674, c. 278.]Time was wasted by abandoning the project and it is for the Government to adduce their reasons for wasting valuable time. The Government conceded that they had wasted time, because when they announced that they had abandoned the tenders and were unable to accept any of them they said, in effect, We must pursue a vigorous programme of research as a matter of urgency."
Other countries which have pursued nuclear propulsion programmes have made mistakes and run into difficulties. I have looked into the development of nuclear proplusion in Germany, one country which has overtaken us in this sphere. The difference between the German development and ours is that they have far more rapidly put their mistakes right and have settled the differences which have arisen between those engaged in research and development.
The complaint against Her Majesty's Government is that, through their indecision, procrastination and delay, we have lost time. This complaint was really conceded by the Government when they stated that we must pursue a third phase of development. In November, 1961, they announced that we would pursue a vigorous programme of research costing £3 million over three years. This programme would, we were told, be conducted by the Atomic Energy Authority in conjunction with the nuclear industry.
About a year later, in pursuance of this research, the Government announced that they had reduced the research to two designs; the Integrated Boiling Reactor, promoted by A.E.A., and the Vulcain 216 Spectral Shift Reactor, also promoted by the Authority but in association with Belgo-Nucleaire. One of the interesting features about this which has never been satisfactorily explained is how the Authority negotiated that project with Belgo-Nucleaire about six months before the decision was taken and announced by the Government to proceed with the design.
The definitive phase of the third stage was reached on 11th February last year, when the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), said, in a dramatic announcement, that we were very near to the design being economically attractive. He added:My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will very soon be discussing with all those concerned the arrangements for the construction, ownership and operation of such a vessel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1963; vol. 671, c. 953.]So for the third time it appeared that the Government were about to promote the building of a nuclear-propelled vessel. Optimism ruled everywhere and, as usual, the Government were congratulated on at last having made a decision.
Some of us regarded that as a political stunt, in much the same way as we had regarded the first announcement as a political stunt in the wake of Suez. The right hon. Gentleman made that announcement in a debate on the breakdown of the negotiations with the Common Market countries. His statement was made at a time when there was high unemployment in Britain's shipbuilding areas. The impression created by his statement was that a decision had at least been taken and was about to be implemented.
The Ministry of Transport issued a Press statement the same day, headed:First U.K. nuclear merchant ship at sea in 1967.It is important, when considering the designs, to recall that the Ministry's Press statement that day said:Both these systems offer the prospect of being developed as economically attractive commercial propositions.Two days later the Minister of Transport told us that talks had begun. In the same month the Parliamentary Secretary went even further and gave September of last year as the date line.
217 The Parliamentary Secretary also said—and this appeared relevant to the discussions which were apparently taking place:I am not pretending for one moment that we can be certain that our present line of development will succeed and be economical But we can be sure of one thing, and that is that if we wait until we are certain, we shall lose the race."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1963; Vol. 672, c. 1256.]That was the position in February last year. Just to complete the account, it was during that month that the Minister for Science made what, until then, was the worst speech that he had made as Minister. He upset the Americans and the scientists and he made a violent attack on Captain Atkins, quite an unjustified attack, because he had been critical especially of the I.B.R.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Quintin Hogg)
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. What I attacked or criticised Captain Atkins for was saying that the Chief of the Atomic Energy Authority had procured his dismissal from Vickers, a statement which was strongly denied by Sir Roger Makins and which was not cleared up, supported, or withdrawn.
§ Mr. Willey
That was one of the matters dealt with by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He also dealt with the two designs which were then under consideration and the views about them expressed by Captain Atkins. He made a thoroughly unjustifiable attack on Captain Atkins personally.
§ Mr. Willey
In view of what has been said in another place, I should have thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would, on reflection, have had the grace to withdraw.
Last year, September came and passed and there was no action. At once, naturally, we had pessimism taking the place of the optimism which had followed the Prime Minister's statement. Last month, the Prime Minister said that a statement would be made as soon as Ministers had considered the Report of the Working Group. On 14th April, the Prime Minister said something which has great significance: 218…there are various reactors available and the question is to decide between them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1964; Vol. 693, c. 233.]In November, 1962, we were told that the designs had been reduced to two, I.B.R. and the Vulcain. Earlier last year we were told that not only had the designs been reduced to two, but that all the others were out. What, then does the Prime Minister mean? I understood that the designs under consideration had, in fact, been reduced to one because in spite of what was said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about Captain Atkins, in spite of his attack upon Captain Atkins, the I.B.R. has now been eliminated.
Last month, in another place, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, the Earl of Bessborough, said:The work by the Atomic Energy Authority on the I.B.R. had been suspended for reasons in connection with the contentions put forward by Capt. Atkins, whom we all recognise as an eminent naval engineer. The main reason was that the design of the fuel elements entailed a long-term development programme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 3rd March, 1964; Vol. 256, c. 113.]To be fair to Lord Bessborough, in a later debate he said that he had been misreported and, of course, we accept this—and that the decision to give up the I.B.R. was, in fact, unconnected with the views of Captain Atkins. However, the fact remains that the I.B.R. has now been abandoned and Lord Bessborough's tribute to Captain Atkins stands, in spite of the intervention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The fact also remains that whether it is for the reasons given by Captain Atkins—like Lord Alexander, I believe that this is so—or whether it is not, Captain Atkins warned us a long time ago that the I.B.R. would be abandoned and, in the event, he has been proved right.
Now let us turn to the Vulcain. Lord Bessborough said in another place that this project was proceeding very satisfactorily. He said this before the Working Group's Report. I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us whether this is the position. If it is, why has not progress been made since the Prime Minister's statement in February of last year in the construction of a merchant ship? Why have we not proceeded with the building of a ship, 219 if Lord Bessborough can tell us in another place that the Vulcain is proceeding very satisfactorily?
Does the position not first to test the Vulcain on land still stand, because the whole inference of the Prime Minister's statement last year was that to save time—this was stated outside the House, also—we were not subjecting the Vulcain first to being tested on land? Can the Parliamentary Secretary assure us that the reply to both these questions is that the Vulcain was proceeding satisfactorily in February of last year and that it has proceeded satisfactorily since? If so, why has no progress been made with the construction and the building of the ship itself?
I have other questions to put to the Parliamentary Secretary to which I should like to have replies. I join Lord Alexander in asking the Parliamentary Secretary what are the terms of the contract between the authority and Belgo-Nucleaire? The reason has been given in another place as being that this cannot be disclosed because of commercial considerations. This is a matter in which the public and the taxpayers are entitled to know what are the terms. I wish to remind the Parliamentary Secretary that I have asked him how it came that the authority entered into this association in May, 1962, although the announcement was not made, following the Report of the Working Group, until November of that year.
I also wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary how much the Vulcain will cost. He has a duty to clear up that point. While on one occasion Lord Bessborough appeared forthcoming, later—perhaps on advice—he seemed far less forthcoming when the matter was pursued again. It seems from the debates in another place that the Vulcain will probably cost £4 million. If so, how much will be paid to Belgo-Nucleaire? We are entitled to know. We have to think of the relationship between public authorities and the nuclear energy industry in this country.
There are two further questions which I put to the hon. and gallant Gentleman and which, I think, are equally important. It has been stated in reputable journals that the Vulcain project is considered for use at sea by Euratom and E.N.E.A. and by others and was 220 turned down. We ought to know about this. I have not seen such statements corrected. Dr. Edlund, the inventor of the spectral shift reactor, not Vulcain, has said that the spectral shift reactor was investigated by Babcock and Wilcox, who decided that it was unsuitable for use at sea and unseaworthy. I wish to know what the Government have done, in the light of that information expressed by people with considerable and successful experience in this field.
There is another matter which we have lost sight of, that when the Minister of Transport told us that we were to concentrate on vigorous research he also told us that we were to seek co-operation in the international field and explore and promote the possibility of a nuclear merchant ship on an international basis. If that was his declared intention, how does it come about now that E.N.E.A. complains that it was the British that killed its project for a £6 million nuclear ship?
Most important of all is the general question that I put to the Parliamentary Secretary. Is it now the fact that, once again, we are back where we started? Is it now the fact that Professor Diamond's panel, as a result of its visit to the United States, feels that we should look for experience beyond the Authority? Is it a fact that we are considering, or ought to be considering, the Babcock and Wilcox project? Is it a fact, or ought it to be a fact, that we are thinking again about the Mitchell Fairfield project?
It is rather more than a year since we had the flamboyant statement by the Prime Minister. We know that there has been no progress since then. More than a year has gone by, but is it worse than that that we are not only not making progress, but are falling back into indecision and uncertainty and do not know what our next step will be? Lord Alexander, I thought, expressed himself very moderately when he said that the whole situation is wholly unsatisfactory. It is wholly unsatisfactory because the Government have never been seized of this problem. They have never tried to institute the proper machinery to promote this development, but have vacillated between varying opinions. The result has been that there has been no action at all.
221 What is the view of the Government about what they have made their consistent objective, that there should be a prospect of economic success? What do the Government mean by this? How do they translate this effectively into a decision whether to develop or not? I remind the Parliamentary Secretary of what he said in the House two years ago:I do not say that we could not build a nuclear-propelled ship that would run at a small profit but the return on the capital invested would be less than that with a comparable ship propelled by conventional machinery."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1962; Vol. 663, c. 1983.]If, two years ago, he was able to say that we could build a ship which would run at a small profit but comparable with the profit on a conventionally-propelled ship it would be small, I think it scandalous that we have not taken the opportunity to promote a nuclear-propelled ship. If that was the position and we could envisage such a ship running at a small profit, I should have thought that we could have bought the experience not only of running the ship, but, perhaps, equally important, the experience of building it. If that is the position it seems scandalous that over the last few years we have lost ground so heavily to other countries.
That is not only the case in reference to Russia and the United States. We have to recognise that the United States can now afford to await the collation of operational experience with the Savannah because they are so far ahead. As Lord Bessborough said in another place, Germany and Japan have both announced their decision to build nuclear-propelled ships. The Germans have gone far beyond this. In co-operation with Euratom, they are to build a ship at Kiel by G. K.S.S., which will be afloat by 1967. That date is significant because it is the date which was given to us in February last year, when the Prime Minister made his announcement in this House. Not only Germany and Japan have overtaken us, but other shipbuilding countries, such as Holland, Italy and Norway, all appear to be tackling this matter more effectively than we are.
What we need now is a realistic appraisal of the state of research and development on nuclear propulsion for shipping in this country. We have had 222 these successive phases and successive changes of attitude by the Government. Now, particularly in the light of what has been achieved in other countries, we should have a realistic appraisal. If it be, as seems indicated by the Prime Minister's latest statement about nuclear propulsion, that we are now to look beyond the Atomic Energy Authority, if it he that in the light of such an appraisal we ought to do this, it is also clear that over the past three years there has not been a satisfactory association between the Authority and the nuclear energy industry.
Captain Atkins claimed that the Authority was both judge and plaintiff in this matter. It found in favour of the plaintiff. If it be that it found wrongly, there is all the more case for a reappraisal of the present position and for the certainty that from now on we should take the most expeditious course of development and make a serious effort to catch up with other countries. I would have dealt with the question of Dounreay, but I have not time and I have already spoken for long enough.
The Parliamentary Secretary will be aware of what Lord Alexander said in another place. I have had the opportunity of looking at that. From all I have seen and heard, what Lord Alexander said is confirmed. In the debate their Lordships talked about "equivocation" and "dodging". Those were strong words to be used in another place, but they were absolutely justified in the light of the history of the development of nuclear propulsion over the past few years.
I am not in a position to deal with the technical aspects. I think it a pity that we are not better able to deal with technical aspects. One of the failures of the Government is to provide information comparable to that provided in other countries. I do not for a moment impugn the good faith of the Authority or of the inter-departmental Working Group. On the contrary, I acknowledge the contribution they have made, but they have not been in a position to deal with this matter effectively. The Government have not provided the machinery, nor the will to keep with it as other countries have been able to do. This undeniably has been a major failure of the Government over the past few years.
223 It is a depressing record of lack of initiative, lack of responsibility, a record of muddle, incompetence, procrastination and delay, failure to face difficulties and to seek a solution. They run away from them and seek some other course of action. In this context, and in the context of the widespread dissatisfaction expressed by almost all those concerned with this problem, I hope that the Government will accede to the request made by Lord Alexander and will institute an inquiry. Until we have an inquiry we cannot be satisfied. This is a course which should be pursued in fairness to those affected in a matter in which we have such a vital national interest. It appears that we are losing out against other countries.
I hope that the Government will not further conceal the information from us, will not further procrastinate and delay, but will accept the challenge which has been made and announce this afternoon that they will institute an inquiry.
§ 4.18 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) made some play about the optimism of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, and also of myself, about a year ago. Of course, my right hon. Friend is a great enthusiast for getting things done. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the Opposition think that that is a crime, I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be proud to plead guilty to it.
The hon. Member said at the beginning of his speech that there was no question about the importance of nuclear propulsion to merchant shipping. Unfortunately, there is. The quotation he made from my speech was conditional. Before going further we ought to clear our minds about the precise object of developing nuclear propulsion for merchant vessels. It is not an end in itself, as it was in the case of nuclear submarines.
It would have been quite possible to have built a large ship with nuclear energy as its prime mover several years ago. Unfortunately, such a vessel would not have been economic. By "economic" I do not mean that the 224 ship would have been unable to operate at a profit. The best of the schemes put forward when we invited tenders in 1960 would have been profitable in certain circumstances. I was glad that the hon. Member made a quotation from an earlier observation of mine on the same subject.
When we talk of the marine reactor being economic we mean more than that. We mean that it must be economic relative to the best conventional machinery of comparable power.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I did not say immediately.
In attempting to make that comparison a large number of factors have to be considered. Some of these are obvious, and some not so obvious, and perhaps I may be allowed to give some examples. The capital cost of the two sets of machinery has to be compared and so have the fuel costs during the life of the ship. The cost of periodical refuelling is also an important factor in the case of a nuclear ship. Then there is the weight of fuel that must be carried in a conventional ship instead of so much extra cargo.
Similarly, there is the weight and the cost of the shielding and the collision protection in the case of the reactor. The number and the qualifications of the engine-room staff likely to be needed is also relevant as, too, are the probable maintenance costs during the vessel's life. Again, the cost of insurance can be an important factor. Even this list is not exhaustive, because there is also the question of the servicing installations ashore, which already exist for conventional machinery, but which must be provided before nuclear vessels can operate. There is no foreseeable shortage of oil, and we have been advised that there are no grounds for supposing that its price will rise.
I must, therefore, start by emphasising that there is no commercial future for marine reactors unless they are to be cheaper than conventional machinery after taking all the relevant factors into account. It follows from this that there is no point in building a prototype nuclear merchant vessel unless two conditions are satisfied.
225 First, we must have a reactor that offers a reasonable prospect of leading towards the development of better reactors which will eventually be economical in the sense I have just described. Secondly, we must be satisfied that trial in a sea-going ship is the next stage of development, rather than further research ashore. Contrary to what is so often asserted, we know of no nuclear ships—built, building or projected throughout the world—that fulfil these two conditions.
The American "Savannah" is, one might say, a demonstration ship. According to our advice, her machinery, in its present form, could never be developed into anything economic, and in this respect this vessel may, perhaps, be compared with the earlier "Savannah" which was the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. There is a Russian ice-breaker which has nuclear machinery for reasons that are doubtless fully justified by the nature of her service. We have little information concerning the projected Japanese prototype, but we are unaware of any type of reactor available for ordering now which would be more promising than those already considered by our advisers.
The Germans have just released—on Friday, I think—some details of their prototype which appears to be a good deal more conservative than what we ourselves have in mind.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
In view of what the Parliamentary Secretary has just been saying about the economic aspect, would he not tell us something about the results of the two recent successive reductions in the price of enriched uranium, and the resulting effect on the reactor, which has been reduced from a weight of 1,500 tons to one of 1,000 tons?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my speech I may be able to go some way to answering those questions, but this is a complicated subject and I have given a good deal of thought to what is, perhaps, the best way of developing the argument.
Having said this, I do not wish to give the impression that we are blind to the prize that would come to the first people who could develop an economic marine 226 reactor. We fully appreciate that. Speaking personally, I have faith that this will one day be achieved. This faith is widely, though not universally, shared, and it is really the reason for the time and money which we have already devoted to this great project.
Let me now turn to the criticisms that have been levelled against the Government, today in the the House by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North and also in the Press. It is said that our decision is over-long delayed; that we are ignoring the claims and expertise of private firms, both in this country and in America; that we have relied too much on the advice of the Atomic Energy Authority, and paid insufficient attention to the warnings of experienced marine engineers.
The last public announcement was made in February of last year—the hon. Gentleman has reminded us of it—at a time when we had just been advised that, if all continued to go well with our research programme, we could hope to take a decision in the autumn of the same year—last year—whether to order a prototype marine reactor for trial in a merchant vessel.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport immediately took a step that was announced at the same time—indeed, it was because he had to take the step that it was necessary for him to make the public announcement. He consulted shipowners and shipbuilders. The attitude of the shipowners was one of profound scepticism whether nuclear propulsion would be competitive in the foreseeable future. It has become clear that shipowners are unlikely to make much financial contribution towards the cost of a prototype nuclear ship until they have definite evidence that an economic marine reactor is likely to be evolved. Unfortunately, as I should like to explain a little later, such a stage is most unlikely to be reached until at least one prototype reactor has been built and evaluated afloat.
The approach of the shipbuilders, as was to be expected, has been more enthusiastic. They, of course, are deeply conscious of the danger to this country's shipyards if a foreign power establishes a commanding lead in the construction of nuclear merchant ships that are economically sound. At the same time, 227 after a long slump and with prices cut to a level which leaves little or no profit margin, it is scarcely surprising that the industry is in no position to finance a highly speculative venture at heavy and uncertain cost. This being so, it looks, on present form, as though a prototype ship, should it be decided to build one at all, will have to be paid for by the Government.
Sir Thomas Padmore's Working Group on Marine Reactor Research began last summer a review of the technical and economic prospects of a number of reactor designs. The group was assisted by a technical advisory panel under Professor Diamond, of Manchester University, membership of which included men drawn from the A.E.A., Lloyd's Register of Shipping, the Admiralty, the Yarrow Admiralty Research Department, the British Ship Research Association and the marine engineering industry. There was also a Ship Economics Working Party, on which shipowners were strongly represented.
These bodies were faced, for several reasons, with a more complicated problem than had been foreseen. First, at the request of the shipowners, the basis for comparison, which had previously been agreed, was changed. Previous calculations had assumed a higher price for oil fuel than the industry now felt was reasonable. More important, they asked that the comparisons should be made with diesel machinery instead of steam turbines, which had hitherto been regarded as more appropriate in the range of powers to be expected from a marine reactor. Secondly, forecasts of the cost of the fabricated fuel elements, which play an important part in the economics of any reactor, are difficult to obtain, and uncertain.
Thirdly, the claims made by the sponsors of rival reactors—rivals, that is to say, to those integral-type reactors with which we were particularly concerned—could no longer be ignored. These claims, backed by active lobbying and high-pressure salesmanship, led the group to have three American designs and one British design most carefully compared. Perhaps I should say, in passing, that one alternative A.E.A. design—the I.B.R. reactor, referred to by the hon. Member for Sunderland, 228 North—has been dropped for the time being, because it was found that more scientific research would be needed for that than for the Vulcain design. The reason for dropping it has nothing to do with the criticisms of the design made by Captain Atkins and his friends.
§ Mr. Willey
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman deal with the point that when the Prime Minister made his statement we were told that the ship would have one of two designs and that there were good reasons for thinking that they were economically feasible and attractive? The hon. and gallant Gentleman is now saying that by the summer of last year the Working Group was looking at other designs and that the I.B.R., one of the two designs on which the Ministry had commented so favourably in February, had been dropped. When were these decisions taken?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
The decision to concentrate on the two integral type designs, the I.B.R. and the Vulcain, was made about the time that the announcement was made, because the Authority and our advisers thought that they were the two best designs. I cannot give the hon. Member, "off the cuff", the exact date on which it was decided to let the I.B.R. drop out for the time being, but the decision was made, as I have said, because it was found that a good deal more scientific research would be needed to give a reasonable prospect of success with this design than had at first been foreseen. The reason why the group went further and investigated the three American designs and the other British designs were, as I have given, that the tremendous volume of lobbying and criticism that went on in the Press and other places made it desirable not only in the opinion of the group, but also of the Atomic Energy Authority, that Professor Diamond and his colleagues should examine these most carefully and compare them. I am sure that the House would agree that that is right.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
It is important to know when the I.B.R. was dropped. After 13th February, when the Minister emphatically stated that these two systems, the I.B.R. and the Vulcain were to be examined, despite the many designs put forward by private industry and by the Atomic Energy 229 Authority, after many years we decided on these two for more progressive research. It is absolutely essential that we should know when the I.B.R., one of the two designs, was dropped out.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I am not sure that I would agree that it is quite all that significant, but I am told that the date was September, 1963. In these programmes, the expression "dropped out" which I used is not quite the right one. My experience of these great projects is that some of the contenders tend to fade out in the course of time as discussions proceed, but the rough date is September, 1963.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I would prefer not to answer that question. It would be more appropriate for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to do so if he so wishes. We are concerned with work on a big development with an enormous experimental background. Anyone who is familiar with big experimental establishments must be aware that it is never sale to say that all research on a project stops. It is a question of the tempo varying up or down.
§ Mr. Willey
In the Ministry of Transport's Press statement the Minister said that it was envisaged that the project for a nuclear-propelled ship would embody one of these two types of reactor. I put it in a different way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Upon what grounds did his Ministry make that statement?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Because at that time they were considered to be the best two. [An HON. MEMBER: "A risk."] One has to take risks in all these things, but I will come to that point.
There was one final reason which gave the group a slightly bigger task than was foreseen, namely the much-publicised criticism of the whole prin- 230 ciple underlying integral marine reactors made by Captain Atkins and certain other marine engineers. All this widened the scope of the assessments that had to be made and the final report of the group was not received until the beginning of this month. This report contains only one clear and definite recommendation, namely, that beyond completing our own share of the joint work going forward on the Vulcain project there is little to be said in present circumstances for further research of the sort conducted hitherto.
The practical choice lies between giving up or carrying out a full-scale trial of a prototype nuclear reactor in an ocean-going ship. As between these alternatives we have simply been given a statement of the pros and cons.
§ Mr. William Small (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
How much is our share in the building of the second reactor?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I have not mentioned a share in the second reactor at all yet, but I will come to that shortly.
On the other hand, the report of the group contains a great deal of important factual information, parts of which might be held to be commercially confidential. It is for this reason that we have not published it up to now. We hope to publish it shortly substantially in the form in which it was received. Meanwhile, I will summarise a few of its chief points.
The group found that Britain is still well placed to be in the vanguard of progress, despite the vastly greater expenditure by America in this field. If we are to go forward with a trial, the group recommends an integral type reactor of which the Vulcain has at present the most advanced design. At the same time the group was very far from satisfied that any reactor can be developed to compete with conventional machinery. Finally, the group rejected the technical criticisms put forward by certain marine engineers and considered that the integral type of reactor is suitable for marine use.
I should like to say something about the Vulcain project, which so far has gone entirely according to plan, and that is the answer to one of the questions which I was asked a few moments 231 ago. As the House knows, the Atomic Energy Authority and a Belgian consortium call Belgo-Nucleaire are jointly working on this project. A joint company has been formed to own the results of the joint development programme. The company protects itself by filing patents of the results of the Vulcain work—they are owned on a 50–50 basis—and will be prepared in due course to grant licences to manufacturers in our two countries and elsewhere.
Thus, a position has been reached in which the Vulcain reactor is the only integral reactor at present available on which a significant amount of development has been done. In other words, it is a great deal more than a set of drawings. Furthermore, it is at least as promising as anything we know of that is projected in the foreseeable future. It is the partnership between Britain and Belgium which has enabled us to get as far and as fast. I should like to take the opportunity of paying tribute to the zeal and enthusiasm of our partners. I paid a visit to Belgium four weeks ago today to hear for myself the views of the chairman of Belgo-Nucleaire and the officials and scientists working on the project. As on a previous visit in September, 1962, I found an atmosphere of great confidence.
On the other hand, and we have to face this, there is no assurance that the gap between the best diesels and the Vulcain reactor in its present form can be bridged by further developments on this particular type of reactor. Therefore, the decision which now confronts us is whether an integral reactor of which the Vulcain is the most advanced is sufficiently promising to justify a full-scale trial at sea. This is something which is likely to take six years all-told and to cost several million pounds. It is bound to involve risks. There can be no certainty of success. There is no body of scientists or engineers from whom we could obtain clear and agreed advice on this point. This is the kind of decision which, sooner or later, has to be made in every great research and development project. It is a matter of judgment based upon a background of knowledge of the technical problems involved and coupled, one hopes, with an element of luck.
232 Not the least of our problems in this case is to arrive at an accurate estimate of what expenditure would be incurred. So far, we have spent less than £4 million, a small sum in relation to what is at stake.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
If the hon. Gentleman imagines that merely by spending more money one gets proportionately more research results, he is profoundly mistaken.
§ Mr. Ridley
Is it the intention, in working out whether a reactor is competitive or not, to allow some share of the development costs, or is that written off entirely, so to speak, in arriving at the figure for competitiveness?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I think that it is fair to say that we have largely disregarded developments costs. We have always tried to forecast what the cost of the ironmongery, to use that expression, would be when produced on a line of production.
As one goes on, one tries to foresee at what stage it would be reasonable to cut one's losses in the event of failure, how much would have been spent by then and how much might have been gained as a by-product of the work. These things are hard to assess at the best of times, as the Opposition must be well aware from their own experience when they were in office. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Certainly. This is nothing new. I remind the Opposition that, when they embarked on the surface-to-air guided missile programme, they were advised by their expert officials that it would cost less than £10 million. At the end of the day, over £100 million had been spent.
We on this side of the Committee have not reproached them for that. We have never pretended that the disappointments and, perhaps, on occasions, the shortcomings of scientists and engineers are a political matter. I confess that I do not understand the mentality of the Socialist Party in all this. Hon. Members opposite claim that they understand science. They are also the prophets of public enterprise, and, certainly, the days are long past when experiments on this scale are likely to be privately financed. Yet they must, surely, see that 233 scientific research is not helped by a running fire of questions and criticism. They must realise how ridiculous it is to represent each scientific disappointment and every technical delay as a political miscalculation. Their whole attitude is the strongest possible argument for returning to the days when this kind of project would have been paid for by the wealth of a great captain of industry acting alone, deciding everything alone, and consulting no one.
However, I repeat that those days have passed. We have to take things as we find them. We shall reach and we shall announce a decision as soon as possible. Meanwhile, to those who, in the Press and elsewhere, say that they are so sure that economical marine reactors are already available, I reply in this way. There is nothing to prevent a great shipowner or a consortium of shipowners buying one and giving it a trial. If this were to happen, the Government would be delighted.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Pentland (Chester-le-Street)
I think that the Parliamentary Secretary was unwise to be, at least at this stage, so sensitive to criticism from this side of the Committee. I assure him that he, or the Government, will be criticised by my right hon. and hon. Friends more forthrightly before the debate ends.
I followed the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech very closely, and I am still confused about certain aspects of this whole affair. I am uncertain why the particular types of reactor were chosen. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) put several questions to the Parliamentary Secretary which he has not attempted to answer, and neither did he attempt to answer the question directly posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). However, having said that, accept that there is an area of agreement among hon. Members on both sides about this proposal and the problems entailed.
It is recognised by hon. Members on both sides that the prospect of a nuclear-propelled merchant ship would be of tremendous importance for the well-being and prosperity of the shipping industry. No one doubts that. Indeed, 234 it would give a much needed boost, a shot in the arm, to an industry which, in my view, badly needs such an injection today. It is recognised, also—this has been said both today and many times previously in this Chamber—that our chief competitors abroad recognise the significant economic advantage to be gained from operating nuclear-powered merchant ships.
All of us have agreed from time to time that as Britain is one of the world's foremost maritime nations, we are in duty bound to produce a first generation of nuclear-propelled merchant ships and we are in duty bound also to undertake research and development in this field. I think that, by and large, hon. Members will agree with that assessment of the situation.
I come now to an area in which, I am sure, there will be disagreement, perhaps violent disagreement, between us. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North pointed out, when we try to assess the part which the Government have played in this affair over the past 12 months, we find that theirs has been a record of vacillation and contradiction all along the line. We have had no real information at all from the appropriate Ministers, and, on the basis of the skimpy information which we have to hand, probably everything that can be said to advance the argument for a nuclear-propelled merchant ship has been said over and over again in this Chamber during the past year or two.
It has been said in another place by noble Lords. As my hon. Friend said, noble Lords who sit on the Opposition benches in another place have tried vigorously in recent weeks to elicit information from the Government in order to find out exactly what was happening. They met with no more success than we have had in recent months.
All along the line, in every aspect of atomic energy policy, the Government have been extremely reluctant to give any worth-while information. Whether on the whole issue of the atomic energy industry or on the various aspects of it which have arisen, there has been a blank wall of refusal when we have asked for direct information. In other words, the Government have wrapped up all the important problems facing the 235 industry in a parcel of mystery and secrecy. No matter how we have tried to break through, we have never been able to penetrate the mystery and secrecy surrounding these issues.
§ Mr. Ridley
My hon. and gallant Friend has just told us that he is to publish the bulk of the Padmore Report. That criticism which the hon. Gentleman had already prepared in his notes is no longer valid.
§ Mr. Pentland
That is the obvious answer, that we have not had it yet. This is our complaint. We are still not aware of what has actually taken place.
I have watched with interest the efforts of hon. Members opposite over recent months to get some real information on the matter. I am thinking, in particular, of the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby), the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) and the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). They are three hon. Members, in particular, who have pressed vigorously for information from the Government, seeking to find out, by their pointed and forthright questions, what has been taking place in regard to nuclear-propelled merchant ships. I have no doubt that, if they have the opportunity to speak today, they will confirm what I have just said. They must be disappointed and disgruntled at the results of their efforts so far.
To emphasise my argument about the lack of information on atomic energy affairs, I mention, in passing, the White Paper on the Second Nuclear Power Programme. Here we have a report on the Powell Committee's findings on the technical, economic and other considerations involved in this country's future nuclear power programme. I should be out of order if I enlarged on that Report, but it is totally inadequate in providing the information necessary for hon. Members to understand how our future nuclear power programme will develop.
All hon. Members are aware of the conflict of interest raging inside the atomic energy industry both in marine nuclear 236 propulsion and in nuclear power endeavour. Yet hon. Members have to try to ascertain the true facts of what is taking place through sources outside this Chamber because we cannot get the real facts from Ministers inside the Chamber. I hold the view that it is shocking and dangerous that the Government have for so long deprived hon. Members of any worth-while information on the many serious issues involved in our atomic energy industry.
I say that for this reason. Hon. Members are aware that in the final analysis, in order to overcome the serious conflicts which bedevil our atomic energy industry, a political decision will have to be taken by the House of Commons. I therefore hope that, despite what the Parliamentary Secretary said today, we shall have more information from now on about these very serious problems. Most hon. Members are still completely in the dark about what is happening.
§ Mr. Pentland
I return to the specific question before the Committee. I was interested in a leading article which I read in The Times of 18th March this year, under the heading "Nuclear Merchant Ship". The theme of this article was to advise the Government not to be too hasty in reaching a decision on this matter and not to pay too much attention to the Opposition's oft-repeated request for a nuclear-powered ship, claiming that the Opposition were continually impressing on the Government the argument that Britain was falling behind in the race for an economic, or a potentially economic, nuclear ship.
That may or may not be fair comment—it depends on how one looks at these matters—but what amazed me most of all was the very last sentence in the article, which said:What is dear is that the sense of urgency with which the Opposition have invested the affair is quite artificial.The Times has not lived up to its reputation. Its leader writers have not been so meticulous in their research into what has been taking place on this very important matter.
It is true that we on this side have been pressing the Government for a long time to declare their intentions on a nuclear-powered ship, but it was the 237 Government alone, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North pointed out, who first introduced a sense of urgency into this matter. Therefore, let us look at some of the facts.
In reply to a Question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) as long ago as 5th December, 1962, the Minister of Transport said:Although the research programme is going well, the stage has not yet been reached of deciding whether to have a prototype nuclear ship built."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1962; Vol. 668, c. 180.]Ten weeks later we had the first optimistic statement by the Government. This has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North, and by myself on previous occasions in this Chamber.
I wish to refer to the speech made by the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), when he was opening the debate on the European Economic Community negotiations on 11th February, 1963. He said:The House has taken much interest in the prospect of a nuclear merchant ship. We have always been anxious, not merely to build a nuclear engine which could propel a ship—that, of course, can easily be done—but the Atomic Energy Authority and its experts have been concentrating on how to get a nuclear reactor which is economically attractive. We are now getting very near to this point"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1963; Vol. 671, c. 953.]I ask hon. Members to mark the last sentence:We are now getting very near to this point".As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North said, there was plenty of optimism then, but a sense of urgency was also injected into the debate because the previous Prime Minister, in his speech, was dealing with Britain's economic prospects. In my view, the impression which he tried to create was that we were then on the threshold of building marine nuclear-propelled ships. That is the impression which the country got. Every shipyard in this country was alerted to the fact that very soon they would be building nuclear-powered merchant ships. This is the disgraceful thing.
I claim that the Government themselves were the first to introduce a note of urgency into this matter. Numerous 238 Questions have been asked since 11th February, 1963. I could quote all night the Questions which have been put to the Minister of Transport, the former Parliamentary Secretary for Science, the Minister for Science himself and the Prime Minister since that time by hon. Members on both sides, because we were all anxious to know exactly when a final decision would be reached.
We were given a promise on 30th July, 1963, by the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry for Science, the hon. Member for. Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth). If my memory serves me aright, he was replying to the hon. Member for Dorset, West. During his reply he said that there would be a decision in the autumn on whether definitely to build a ship and which reactor to put in it. A definite statement was made and a categoric assurance given by the then Parliamentary Secretary.
I am not saying that he said this "off the cuff". He was definitely advised by the Government to make this reply. The autumn of 1963 has come and gone, and we are still in extreme doubt about the whole affair. It was, however, obvious to us that long before 1963 the Government were clamping clown on any real information. I am sure that Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries were advised to give non-committal replies to Questions.
I could go on, but many hon. Members want to speak and I close therefore by saying this. In my view, the Government stand condemned not only for the manner in which they have handled the problem of a marine nuclear-powered merchant ship, but on their whole approach to the many problems facing our atomic energy industry. It is well known to every hon. Member and to the country that as a result of the dithering and indecision on the part of the Government over the past two years on atomic energy affairs the many thousands of workers engaged in the atomic energy industry are working with a feeling of anxiety, insecurity and unrest. For that stare of affairs the Government must accept their full share of responsibility.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary 239 Secretary on the speech that he made this afternoon. He "came clean" and gave us a great deal of very valuable information. If some of his clear statements had been made earlier we might, perhaps, have felt a little happier about this whole position.
As an amateur, I have tried over a long period to take an interest in the problem of nuclear power for marine propulsion. I have arrived at some definite conclusions, which are not technical, but which, I hope, are at least common sense. The shipowners have to look to the prosperity of their industry, and, as my hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, they depend on conventional propulsion. Until they have something better offered to them, they are quite right to stand by conventional propulsion. But that means that the shipowners were not pressing Her Majesty's Government. The shipbuilders, presumably, were taking some action, but not very vigorously.
Casting my mind back to the original discussions and the exhibition that was held of nuclear reactors some years ago, I have always suspected that the Admiralty, which appeared to me to be very interested at the time, fell away, partly because it did not think that its techniques were threatened by any other country. We have got used to that kind of appreciation in the Service Departments and it is very right that it should be so.
Then the United States of America produced the "Savannah", and from its production its economic problems have become known through our Atomic Energy Authority and Ministry of Transport. We have far too many Departments mixed up in this whole matter. I should like to have seen a proper coordinated policy on this, so that we did not have to go from one Department to another, and one Department playing off another Department. I think that the whole conception has been extremely difficult, but I am fairly certain that the economic difficulties into which the "Savannah" ran had an effect on the allocation of money from the Treasury to the Atomic Energy Authority and that section of the Ministry of Transport which was concerned with nuclear propulsion. I believe that the whole 240 emphasis shifted from excitement to a rather dull pedestrian approach, and that is why the whole matter has taken so long to arrive at its present position.
Of course, Her Majesty's Government are very well aware that there are not a great many Members in the House who have any technical knowledge of these new interests and developments. But I believe that when the break-through comes, this country ought to be in a position to lead the world. That is my objective in interesting myself in this whole matter. I do not want us to fall behind, because I feel that when the break-through comes it will be a new interest for this country and that we can carry out this project better than any other.
I should be very grateful, when the Secretary of State winds up the debate, if he would give me a specific answer to a question which puzzles me. I accept the whole of the argument that has been put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend, but I find it very extraordinary that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) should have made the speech, which has been referred to by several hon. Members, on 11th February, 1963. Who advised my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley? It is not usual for a Prime Minister to come forward with a statement of that kind unless it has been provided from the appropriate Department.
I think that the Secretary of State would be well advised to clear up how it was that this information was given to my right hon. Friend, because, of course, good Conservatives took a lead from the statement of my right hon. Friend. I have always suspected that there has been weakness somewhere within the scientific organisation and that someone led my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley astray. I should like to know who it was.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland) quoted from the speech that my right hon. Friend made that day. I want to quote something more because I want to know about this. He ended what he was saying on 11th February in these words:My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will very soon be discussing with all those concerned the arrangements for 241 the construction, ownership, and operation of such a vessel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1963; Vol. 671, c. 953.]I want to know what has happened about that. I want to know whether we have a plan, whether we have decided who is to build the ship, and who will pay for it. I want to know all about it and whether the plan is completely ready following on those discussions, which, after all, took place quite a long time ago.
I want to know when the decision about this reactor which is the subject of recommendations from the Padmore working party will be taken, because many of us feel that the only way to test out the future of nuclear propulsion is to have a reactor installed in a ship at sea. I should be grateful to know specifically in clear terms—that is to say, in the kind of way that my hon. and gallant Friend spoke this afternoon—whether a decision is to be taken to make progress, and when we have a decision whether Her Majesty's Government will pay for the ship, and what progress will be made.
When the Admiralty was in charge of the the technical committee at the time of the exhibition, I remember the argument that I had at that time when Her Majesty's Government—I am not blaming them for it, because it is always important to get other people to pay for one's projects if one can—were arguing that the shipowners and shipbuilders ought to bear part of the cost. I think that has all gone by the board, or at least that is what it seems to me. This has to be a project taken on by Her Majesty's Government.
If we have spent all this money on research, and have now arrived at a reasonable conclusion, the Government should make the position clear that if we are to make progress in this matter, they will build a ship and take full responsibility for the expense. Nobody has said that. I should like to hear it said. That would fulfil the rather excited statement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley, who, I think, saw this whole project in the same exciting life as a great many of us have seen it for a considerable time.
I do not want to enter into the controversy of Captain Atkins. I supported him because in a free country everybody 242 has a right to be allowed to criticise the Government. Although I am devoted to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State—I cannot remember whether he is now science, education, or what he is called; but whatever his title, I dislike seeing those people torn to pieces, because it takes courage to come out on one's own and criticise the Establishment and the powers that be.
I should like to say this about Vickers. I happen to know the company very well, because Vickers have a great shipbuilding yard on the Tyne. When all this controversy arose, I wrote both to the chairman of the company and to the managing director and asked them to come and have a drink with me, which they did. I then told them in no uncertain terms what I thought of their treatment of Captain Atkins. I must say that they behaved perfectly and were very nice. I expect that they were furious internally, but I am quite used to that, because that is what the Government often are with me. They took it really well.
One of the reasons why I am a Conservative is that it is deplorable that any great firm or individuals feel that they cannot either criticise or take action against the Government in case the result is that they do not obtain necessary orders. I felt over the Captain Atkins affair that Vickers were terrified of their relations with the Atomic Energy Authority and future work which might go out to them. That is very regrettable.
I admire Captain Atkins. He may not have been right, but, like anybody in the country, he has a right to express an opinion. A great many marine engineers of great distinction supported the view which he put forward. When Captain Atkins appeared on television, it was regrettable that the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Authority was not prepared, I understand, to put up anybody on television to argue against Captain Atkins. That is not a very good thing. We should always hear both sides. If somebody does not have a good case, that is too bad, but if one has a good case, which is what is put forward by the powers that be, at least somebody should appear on television and state it.
That whole episode was not very good for what I call human relationships. I hope that in future, when people speak 243 out genuinely and with no particular axe to grind, their views will be held in respect.
§ Mr. Hogg
I should like, first, to express my gratitude to my hon. Friend for her expression of devotion to myself, which I reciprocate. If my hon. Friend will forgive my saying so, what Captain Atkins did was to make a quite inexcusable charge against Sir Roger Makins personally. Although everybody may have a right to criticise either the Government or the policy of a public authority, a personal charge of that kind ought either to have been substantiated or withdrawn. I felt that I should be doing less than my duty as the person in Parliament responsible for Sir Roger Makins, who could not have answered for himself, if I did not repudiate it in rather strong terms.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I do not disagree with that; that is very fair.
At the same time, I should have preferred my right hon. and learned Friend to have expressed also his view about the line taken by Vickers. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I still think that having expressed his views in that way, my right hon. and learned Friend might have taken a little more time and trouble to deal with the legitimate criticisms that Captain Atkins made. He got so excited about this allegation that the other side of Captain Atkins' contribution went by default, and I did not like that. Now that we have got the air cleared, it may be a good thing.
I want a clear statement to be made about what the future will be. Needless to say, I hope that we shall ask for tenders for this 65,000-ton tanker. Nobody will disagree with me when I say that it is well worth bearing in mind that in this new "know-how", we do not want all the experience to be concentrated on one side of the country. Barrow-in-Furness, being a magnificent place for building submarines, has a lot of "know-how" on nuclear propulsion for submarines. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will see that the "know-how" is spread. I cannot think of any better part of the world for it to be spread than the North-East Coast. I am delighted to put that on record.
244 My final comment concerns the extraordinary attitude in this matter of the Minister of Defence. Whenever anybody asked whether we could have a nuclear reactor in a naval replenishment vessel, which would have given us the experimental aspect of nuclear propulsion at, perhaps, much less cost than building a 65,000-ton tanker, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence would not "come clean" and never answered the question. I know nothing about the technical side of naval affairs, but it seemed to me extraordinary that with all the arguments that were going on about these reactors and about which one would have the best possibility of economic result, the Minister of Defence should at the same time decide on reactors for submarines.
Only the other day, he told me that our next three submarines to be built would have British reactors. I know that the circumstances of operating a submarine are quite different from a merchant ship—I know all that side of it—but I should be very glad to know what type of reactor has been decided upon by the Admiralty as being the most effective for use in our British-reactored nuclear submarines.
A great deal of the difficulty of this whole matter has been that everything has been divided between so many Government Departments. We started with the Admiralty. I should have been quite pleased to have had the technical development inside the Admiralty with the assistance of the people who were concerned with nuclear marine propulsion. First, however, we had an Admiralty technical committee, of which the Civil Lord of the Admiralty was chairman. That was all mushed up and we got into the Ministry of Transport. I was not particularly pleased about that, because the Minister of Transport has quite enough to do with the big jobs which he has on hand and I am not keen on mixing up shipping and shipbuilding with the Ministry of Transport. We could have done a great deal better had we had a co-ordinated Department.
I have nothing further to say except that I hope that the questions which I have addressed to my right hon. and learned Friend will be answered clearly and conclusively. I want to know who 245 advised my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and on what ground he was advised to make his statement. I also want to know whether, arising out of the conversations which took place in February, 1963, we have concluded an arrangement about the building of the ship provided that we have decided on the nuclear reactor which, I gather, has the recommendation of the Padmore Working Party of being the most economic.
I want to know whether we have made arrangements for the ship, for the Treasury to pay and how long we shall probably have to wait after the Report is published before we have the decision. I certainly hope that we have everything buttoned up before the General Election, because it would give my friends on the North-East Coast a great deal of pleasure to be able to say what the Government have achieved to help us to be a leading Power in nuclear propulsion in the years to come.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
I am surprised that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), who said that she was satisfied with the Minister's speech and thought that he was frank and forthright, should then have proceeded to ask him a series of questions which she has posed in the House many times before in order to extract from him information which she has always required. I did not find that the Minister gave us any new information at all. His speech was just a long apologetic list of figures, comparisons and reasons why we had not yet decided upon the nuclear marine reactor which we really wanted for nuclear shipping. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) seemed to be more with it than the hon. Gentleman, and particularly The Times, when he stated that shipping was going nuclear sooner than we thought. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Pentland) quoted from The Times editorial of 18th March, which dealt specifically with this subject and advised the Government to take their time The Times ought to be informed that naval-wise shipping really has gone nuclear.
Eleven years ago the Americans were trying out their prototype 246 for their nuclear submarines. They have now dozens of nuclear submarines, one merchant nuclear vessel and three or four nuclear military vessels. The Russians have numerous nuclear submarines and one nuclear ice breaker. We have one nuclear submarine and one on the stocks, and many more will follow. Undoubtedly in a few years' time we shall have nuclear surface ships, both military and merchant.
Japan, Italy, Germany, France and Norway are all taking an active interest. Consortia are being formed and Government subsidies have been received. Germany anal Japan, particularly, are taking very active steps to get one on the sea much quicker than we are planning to do. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street said and contradict The Times editorial, which also said:There may or may not be a nuclear age at sea. At present it is impossible to say.I say that the nuclear age at sea is already upon us. How backward and Conservative can The Times be? In my opinion, it is this type of ostrich-like Conservatism that has stifled progress in nuclear marine propulsion in Britain so far.
Let us look at the facts at home, because they add up to this, that it has been a tragic history of indecision and vacillation by the Government and there has been a disgraceful series of frustrations that has had to be borne by British industry as a result thereof. Evaluations on possible ship reactor designs began as far back as 1956 or 1957. The Galbraith Committee was formed and the Atomic Energy Authority put forward its ideas. Companies within the nuclear power consortia and other firms, too, submitted designs. By May 1959 nine designs had been submitted. A special exhibition of models was held in Whitehall. The hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) referred to this in the past. This was e exciting to industry. We thought that we were on the verge of designs and were going ahead with the project.
In 1960, however, at the invitation of the Ministry of Transport, five companies, after a great deal of thought and effort, were asked to send in tenders 247 and designs of two possible types of marine reactors. After being pigeonholed for 18 months, all these designs were turned down, mainly because, as the Minister stated, they showed little promise of ever becoming competitive. All the companies were bitterly disappointed, and they strongly resented the way the Minister had handled the matter. Design teams had been built up and during this frustrating waiting period they had all been held together. A fight ensued between the companies and the Ministry for compensation, and only in 1963, in the Supplementary Estimates, was it agreed that £250,000 should be granted to these five companies—£50,000 each—for the work they had done.
§ Mr. Ridley
Would the hon. Gentleman say that any of these designs should have been built? This is the only point he has got where he can conceivably differ from my right hon. Friend. Does he feel that on these tenders, which were clearly uncompetitive and incapable of further development, the Government should have started building the ships?
§ Mr. Mason
The hon. Gentleman keeps poking his nose in. He did exactly the same to my hon. Friend on the same question. If he will wait until the argument is posed he will see that it is specially being deployed to show that on every occasion that British industry, the nuclear power consortia or private companies have intervened they have been pushed back and badly dealt with by the Government and that the A.E.A. alone has come to the fore.
These five companies, having brought together their design teams and having spent some time in submitting their designs, and all of them having been turned down, were paid £50,000 each for all their trouble and for holding the design teams together for all that time. That, in my opinion, was unworthy of the Government and is, indeed, a typical example of how this Government have so often let down this new generation of scientists, technologists and engineers, and, in particular, design teams.
It is all right the hon. Gentleman opposite shaking his head. If he knows enough about the subject I hope that he will intervene and support me. Is 248 it not true that in the case of missile aircraft Blue Streak and Blue Water millions of pounds were spent on them and that design teams were scattered in the end? Millions of pounds of public money were wasted. This is also an occasion where the Government exploited British industrialists' designs and tenders and then turned them all down and later decided to spend public money with the Atomic Energy Authority.
After this the Galbraith Committee, which had been specially set up to recommend to the Minister of Transport the types of marine reactors that should be encouraged for marine propulsion, suggested two special types—a boiling water reactor and an organic moderated reactor.
These five companies submitted designs for these two types of reactors as suggested by the Minister. Of course, having done that, the projects were turned down. The Galbraith Committee, having done its job, naturally had now died. In November, 1961, the Government decided to set up a working group on marine reactor research which had to report to both the Minister of Science and the Minister of Transport. The group was given £3 million of public money and asked to search for an "economically promising design". Bringing in the British Shipbuilding Research Association and the Atomic Energy Authority under the chairmanship of Sir James Dunnett, they were now described as a joint project team. Not long after they had been set up they formed another committee, the Technical Advisory Panel, under the leadership of Professor Diamond. Between them, they went through the whole procedure again, and, in the end, examined five reactors. One was the Vulcain, a joint effort by Belgium and Britain, an Atomic Energy Authority reactor; the second was the integral boiling reactor, another Atomic Energy Authority reactor. There were three designs coming in from industry, from Mitchell's, Vickers, and Babcock's. Recommendations were made then to the Minister by the Working Group under the new chairmanship of Sir Thomas Padmore.
I think that throughout all this it is essential to remember that on 6th May, 1962, an agreement had been made 249 between the Atomic Energy Authority and its equivalent in Belgium that they were going jointly to develop this Vulcain reactor. Then, on 11th February, 1963, the Minister of Transport announced that the Vulcain and the I.B.R., both A.E.A. reactor designs, were the most promising. By this time, I am led to believe, the expenditure had risen to nearly £5 million on research by the working group, and so it is right for us to ask what has happened since February, 1963.
Because the Committee must know that on every occasion the consortia of nuclear energy groups and other interested companies have many times been asked for designs, tenders, information, exhibition of models, and so on, and on no occasion—not once—have they met with success, and even after all that co-operation those five companies to which I earlier referred had to fight for some financial recognition from the Government, in spite of the work they did and the designs they submitted.
This is a disgraceful history and, what is more perturbing, it is a suspicious one. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman laughing in his cynical fashion, but I want to consider seriously the history of what has happened. Shortly after the Minister of Transport made his statement, Mr. Kinsey, head of marine propulsion of the Atomic Energy Authority and a member of the Technical Advisory Panel, a week after the announcement by the Minister, said:If the research programmes continues to progress favourably Reactor and ship specifications can be prepared and construction of reactors started in the autumn, 1963.He also said:Ship specifications are to be decided finally by the end of 1963.He was specifically referring to Vulcain and the I.B.R. What the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth is so pleased about I do not know, because she was thanking the Minister for what he had said.
§ Mr. Mason
Nothing was revealed today apart from the fact that officially I.B.R. has been dropped. So there is another one out of the race, and we still have no idea of the potential of Vulcain.
250 Has the decision been taken? Is it to be in weeks or months? Or is it that it may be imminent? It may be that now they dare not reveal it because of the imminence of a General Election. The statement, which the hon. Lady was anxiously a waiting, that we can go ahead and build a ship which will be responsible for a break-through in nuclear marine propulsion, may be contrary to what she expects.
We do not know yet. We know one has been dropped out, and Vulcain remains. I.B.R. went out in September, exactly at the same time that the head of marine propulsion of the Atomic Energy Authority said that the decisions were going to be taken. If a decision has been taken about that reactor, that design, has it not been taken about Vulcain? Why should we not know? Why should this Committee not be informed? For the hon. and gallant Gentleman to come to that Box and just let us know that like an old soldier I.B.R. faded away is not good enough. Is not the Committee aware that we are spending public money on this research? If the I.B.R. has been dropped, it has been dropped, and no more money should be spent on it, and the Minister should be frank in telling the Committee, and, if it is continuing, let us know, and know what the expenditure, is, and why. We also want to know the future of Vulcain.
I address my remarks to the Secretary of State for Education and Science. We have had the Atomic Energy Authority for 10 years and ten or eleven Reports have been submitted to the House, but we have not had one debate on atomic energy in the House. Therefore, it is right that we should ask these questions now and that we should get authorised replies.
We also know that following that statement by the Minister of Transport in February there was a violent disagreement between a man of no mean experience in marine engineering, Captain Atkins, and the Atomic. Energy Authority What happened, I do not have to go into, but there was an embarrassing disagreement, and the Minister for Science was touched by it and jumped to his seat in another place and replied and brought on a personal slanging match. However, there was a disagreement, which cannot be 251 denied, and it came from a man of authority.
I think we ought to know a little more why it is that every submission by British industry in the nuclear consortia has been dropped—every design. We also ought to know this. The Atomic Energy Authority has been receiving lots of information from these private industries and consortia—ideas and designs and information. To what extent has it used it? To what extent has there been pinching of information going on of materials, designs, technique, research, which may have been done by private industry and has gone to the Atomic Energy Authority?
When are we going to get the final recommendations of the Padmore Committee?
§ Mr. Hogg
Before we pass on to that, I think that if the hon. Gentleman is going to make allegations against the good faith of the Atomic Energy Authority he should either substantiate them or at least say exactly what allegation he is making, or else not make it. As I understood him—I may be wrong, and I hope I am wrong—he was suggesting that the Authority had—I think he used the word—pinched confidential commercial information from firms without compensation. If that allegation is to be made, I should like to know exactly what it is in order that I may refute it.
§ Mr. Mason
Without going into all the specific terminology used in every nuclear journal, special journals—Nuclear Energy, Nuclear Engineering, and so on—in the last few months I would point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that from there he may see that these companies are really upset about this. The theme running all through is that there is growing suspicion—the right hon. and learned Gentleman can look for himself—that although they have freely provided to Ministerial Departments, the Minister of Transport, the Admiralty, possibly the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself now that there is joint responsibility—because we have made away with the Admiralty—and the Atomic Energy Authority, and although they have done a lot of work, and submitted a lot of information, they have got little return. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman 252 looks through these papers he will find out that there is the question of royalties running through it. If they had submitted it, and it had been recognised by the Authority, royalties would have been written in. Are they going to get royalties for information they have submitted? I take it no further than that, but this is plainly there.
§ Mr. Mason
There is no need for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to be so touchy about the subject. He will have time to reply. All I am telling him is that many of the companies which have submitted information and designs are themselves saying this, and if he reads all this matter he will find that out. There is this suspicion, and it should be cleared up once and for all.
§ Mr. Mason
The right hon. and learned Member always has a nettle in his bottom and wants to jump to his feet in touchy fashion. He brought even the Captain Atkins affair down to a disgraceful scraping of the barrel in answering.
The trouble is that the Government have caught themselves in the cleft stick of indecision. They have dallied too long to be in with the forerunners and gain some operating experience. Now they want to catch up with an economically operational nuclear ship, but we have not a nuclear unit that will satisfy the tests.
The first such ship will not be economic no matter what the Government decide, and we will not be able to launch one before 1968 or 1969. We 253 shall be several years behind the Russians and the Americans on all the other factors governing marine nuclear propulsion. This should have been done as an interim measure, as Russia and the United States did it and as Germany has done it by putting a ship on the stocks. Nor will the Japanese be caught napping. The Japanese have decided to go ahead and build a nuclear ship as well. If we had gone forward with an interim project—and we could have done it based on some of the 1960 designs put forward by industrialists at the request of the Government—we could have had a ship launched this year, a floating laboratory that would have been operational as well.
The whole history of the Government's efforts to develop a satisfactory nuclear marine unit, with the abysmal failure to get an operational vessel at sea, has been riddled with vaccilation and indecision. British industry—the nuclear consortia and the other industrialists involved—feel that they have been let down. Then there are the articles in Nuclear Engineering and Nuclear Energy, which reflect the suspicion that they are being fobbed off in preference to the A.E.A. Public money amounting to £5 million is being spent by a working group on nuclear research in which three Ministers and the A.E.A. are also involved.
Because of all these factors, this matter should be referred to the Public Accounts Committee for an inquiry. Indeed, in view of what has been happening and of the little information this House has been given, a committee of inquiry is called for.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
Hearing the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), I have the feeling that he listens to few speeches other than his own. I paid close attention to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and I felt that it was, contrary to so many speeches in this Committee, as full of information as an egg is of meat. Indeed, one of the troubles about these debates is that we have had very little information to go on. We have constantly needed from a Minister the sort of information we have been gven today, which is complete but needs time to digest. Unfor- 254 tunately, we have not that time in trying to contribute to the debate.
This is a question of the greatest national importance to a maritime nation like Britain. I do not propose to enter into the political considerations brought up by hon. Members opposite. I shall confine myself to the future and to how best we car take advantage of the favourable situation in which our nation is slightly ahead of our competitors, as my hon. and, gallant Friend has reason to assume is the case. There are immense economic benefits awaiting the nation first at sea with an economic nuclear-powered merchant ship, and I do not intend to enter into the details of capital costs, depreciation, and all these other considerations which come into this very complex problem. I suggest, however, that we broaden the outlook slightly in order to take in two naval aspects of marine nuclear propulsion which also have a contribution to make to the general solution of the problem.
First, there is the submarine reactor. This has a ready been developed by the Americans. Secondly, there is the surface ship reactor. We have so far dealt almost exclusively with the problem of an economic reactor for merchant ships. Surely there is a connection between the requirements for a naval surface ship and a fast, nuclear-powered cargo liner. I believe that these nuclear considerations may be approaching one another and that we are perhaps losing by separating the purely Admiralty interests from the purely commercial ones. As has been said on both sides of the House today, I believe that we should get back more closely to the naval aspects than we have been recently.
We have, of course, the Japanese warning, to which a number of hon. Members have drawn attention. Not only are the Japanese ahead of us in the design of large tankers and in building capacity but they may be well ahead of us, if we do not watch out, in every aspect of shipping and shipbuilding, unless we can achieve the type of technical breakthrough represented by this possibility. As we have heard, it remains a possibility and what one might describe as a "good bet" on which this country should take a chance, and it is to that question that we should be addressing ourselves today.
255 We need answers to two specific problems, and have received one of them today. First, is there a reactor available to us which shows the promise of eventually being competitive economically with the conventional system of propulsion, taking into account all the immense design and cargo-carrying advantages resulting from the elimination of the bulk carrying of fuel supplies? All these considerations are the subject of the calculations which it is not our business to discuss in great detail today because we have not the detailed information available.
Secondly, have we arrived at a point when we must apply the technical lessons we have learnt, where we must develop the technical advantages which we believe we have gained, by sending this prototype reactor to sea? The second question is the all-important one facing us. We have already had an assurance about the first question, for we have been told that one reactor, the Vulcain, which shows definite promise, and has a chance of giving us what we require for the development of this unique system of propulsion. On the second question, there are many important considerations which we are justified in discussing today. Doubts have been thrown on the integral principle. The Padmore Committee and the Diamond Technical Panel have stated quite categorically—and we know that it is new information—that the integral principle is considered to be perfectly practicable in sea-going ships.
We have the problem of the weight of the reactor vessel and the stability which that represents in a prototype merchant ship fitted with a reactor. We have the problem of collision protection. We have the problem of the training of engineer officers to a new type of spectral shift moderation of this reactor. As hon. Members probably know, spectral shift consists of mixing two types of water, which may prove quite impracticable when the reactor is taken to sea. This is one of the vitally important reasons why we must—to use an expression which my hon. and gallant Friend does not like—get our feet wet and take this reactor afloat.
We still lead—another important point which has emerged in the debate—but 256 others are undoubtedly close on our heels, others such as the Germans—and again the information has just been given to us—who, with a more conservative type of reactor than we are developing have decided to get their feet wet. They have laid down the keel of a ship. It is no new thing, as many of us know from before the war, that surprisingly little information about the Japanese construction problems is available. Who are we to say that we know precisely what the Japanese are doing in this respect and whether our supposed lead is real? That makes the urgency of the matter all the greater.
We have to decide what speed of ship, what class of ship and what size of ship we should construct. Again referring to the Admiralty, we must consider two factors. First, the Admiralty is already geared to a nuclear type of thinking and assuredly could make some contribution to the solution of this common problem. Secondly, the operation of this ship must require in the national interest a form of strict correlation of effort among the Atomic Energy Authority, the Ministry of Transport, the Admiralty and private enterprise, by which I mean the ship owners and the shipbuilders.
We should have one cautionary thought. It is that in the parallel event of 130 or more years ago, in the changeover from sail to steam, those who opposed the introduction of the new method of propulsion were the ship owners themselves. Without going into too much detail, we should always carry that thought at the back of our minds.
The object of such a prototype ship would be to obtain the maximum experience in typical merchant ship operating conditions with the optimum type of merchant ship selected for the purpose. This is something which cannot be left entirely to competitive private enterprise. I will not develop all the arguments in support of this view, but I believe that a solution to the problem is for the Ministry of Science and the Ministry of Transport to delegate responsibility for the operation of the ship to the Admiralty Board of the Ministry of Defence. The ship itself might usefully be some type of naval auxiliary manned by a mixed scientific, Ministry of Transport, merchant 257 and naval crew operating under the administration of the Admiralty Board and under the direction of the Padmore Committee and probably also of the Diamond Technical Panel. A type of naval replenishment tanker would be the lowest common denominator for all the operating requirements and interests which are represented, in an effort to produce the best answer to this vitally important problem.
Finally, there comes the 64,000 dollar question of who is to pay. If this project is technically feasible and the financial risk is worth taking, it must not be held back by the reluctance of any individual Department to foot its share of the bill. It is here that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his capacity as First Lord of the Treasury, should say yea or nay, this is to be, this is not to be, regardless of individual financial considerations.
I am sure that the Committee will agree that we are undergoing a long period of malaise in British maritime affairs which goes far wider than the decline of our shipbuilding and shipping interests and this is due to causes to which I have drawn attention in other debates. This possibility—it is no more—of nuclear marine propulsion can put an entirely different face on our maritime development which we shall neglect at our peril. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to give the greatest consideration to this decision. Perhaps the time is upon us. We in this Committee now know more than we did a couple of hours ago. I believe that the chance is worth taking and I ask that it should be taken and taken now.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney), in what he said at the end of his speech. If we are discussing money in this Committee—and I believe that we are—it is worth taking a look at some of the things which the Financial Times, the bible of the Conservative Party, tells us. On 4th March it had an article called,Time for decision on nuclear ships".I have read many of these articles over the years since 1958. This article ended with these words:One thing is, however, certain and that is the need for decision… If there is much delay, the financial loss will be incalculable.258 In this Session of Parliament we have passed the Shipbuilding (Credit) Bill by which the Treasury is to provide £70 million—I do not know whether it will get it all pack in time—for the wellbeing of the shipbuilding industry and to keep Britain's place among the world's shipbuilding industries. Today, the Parliamentary Secretary has told us that the cost of a nuclear ship would be several million pounds. The Financial Times said that if we did not get into this matter quickly, did not get our feet wet, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman put it, we as a nation would lose a great deal of money.
I have never understood why the Government have hesitated for all these years. The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) and a number of hon. Members have said that this was a matter more properly dealt with by the Admiralty. It is hardly fair for them to make that criticism when, with the possible exception of the hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East—he may not have been here at the time—they were among those who voted with the Government on the Transfer of Functions Order in the winter of 1959, an Order which took responsibility for shipbuilding entirely out of the compass of the Admiralty. Since then we can mark our calamities in shipbuilding. The Admiralty did a far better job for it than the Ministry of Transport has ever done.
I join with those who have asked about the use of a fleet replenishment tanker, or some other naval vessel, as the first surface vessel owned by Great British to have a nuclear reactor aboard. Why do the Government constantly dodge this issue? Why do they not give an answer to the many questions which have been put to Ministers, including the Prime Minister? Why cannot we have a straight answer as to why it is inappropriate for a naval surface vessel to be the first vessel to carry nuclear propulsion?
It seems to me that there is a common denominator of propulsion between naval and merchant surface vessels. Since the Committee accepts—although I am surprised to hear it—that we shall actually make money, though not as much as we would if we went about it 259 in some other way, why cannot a decision be taken to go ahead with the building of this ship? It is said that it would not be economic, but it seems to me that something which makes money is better than something which loses it. I always thought that the case for building a nuclear vessel now was that it was worth losing money now to gain money in the future. Now we are told that it is a question whether we should gain only a little rather than gain a great deal later. The longer this argument continues, the more impatient I become with the Government in the way they have handled the matter.
It is a matter of regret that shipbuilding and the development of marine nuclear propulsion does not still rest with the Admiralty. Harry Truman had a very simple motto displayed on his desk. It said, "The buck stops here". All that we have seen since 1958, when we first became excited about the possibility of nuclear propulsion, is the buck being passed from innumerable committees through innumerable reports with innumerable recommendations, without any action being taken.
Even today, having been told for many years that the matter was being considered by various committees, the House of Commons does not know where it is. It was not a party manoeuvre when one of my hon. Friends suggested raising this matter with the Public Accounts Committee. He raised a legitimate issue. Considerable sums of public money have been spent, but we do not know what we have received in return. On Thursday the Leader of the House was asked several times whether he would arrange to have the Report of the Padmore Committee published in time for this debate. All that he said was that he would think about it, or that he would have second thoughts about it, or that he would look at the matter again. But the Government did not publish.
If the Parliamentary Secretary were here, I would remind him that it was hardly worth ending his otherwise good speech with a peroration which was completely partisan in its reference to my hon. Friends. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the fusillade of questions which had been hurled at him 260 and at his fellow Ministers over the past few years. I would remind him that his hon. Friends have joined in the attack on Ministers on this issue, and quite rightly, too.
This Government are remarkable for not telling the House what it ought to know. Today we are discussing a Report which we have not seen. I do not know whether the rules of the House require that a report should be before us when we debate it, but I certainly thought that that was the procedure. Yet here we have the Parliamentary Secretary telling us what he thinks the Padmore Report contains, and of course we cannot check his statements.
The hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East began by saying that he was very glad that he had been given reason to believe that the Padmore Committee was satisfied that we—that is Great Britain—were ahead in the development of nuclear propulsion. I assume that we are ahead of everybody, but who says so? The Parliamentary Secretary says that that is what the Padmore Committee says, but we have still to see the Report to be able to judge for ourselves.
The House of Commons is treated like a child. We are given no information, yet we are expected to decide an issue of this kind, and to trust the Government. I certainly do not trust the Government after all these years of indecision. This is not a party political issue. The political and ideological issues have long since been removed from this question of the building of nuclear ships. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, this vessel will be constructed by public enterprise.
He reminded us that shipowners are entitled to come forward at any time now and build any number of nuclear propelled ships on which they care to spend money. The fact is, however, that they will not build these ships. It follows, therefore, that the Government must build them if we are to keep our position as a shipbuilding nation.
There is no political argument in this issue, apart from the administrative one about the enthusiasm of Ministers which, to use the words of the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth, has become dull and pedestrian. But, in 261 spite of that, the hon. Lady will probably vote for her Government and for her dull pedestrian Ministers rather than join us in the Division Lobby.
§ Dr. Mabon
The hon. Lady is very fair-minded. She ought to give us the chance to show what we can do. That is all that we ask for, and she can then judge the results.
As I said, the hon. Lady considers that the Ministers in charge of this issue have become dull and pedestrian, and have lost their excitement over this matter. That is the only point of political interest, because hon. Members on both sides of the Committee are united on the fundamental objective of this exercise. It is to get Britain into this race swiftly, and having done that, to make this country once again the finest shipbuilding nation in the world with the finest merchant shipping fleet. No one disagrees with that objective, even though the Secretary of State for Education and Science may have his reservations about the patriotism and loyalty of hon. Members on this side of the Committee. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that no one on this side of the Committee, or, I hope, on that side, runs away from that as the object of this exercise.
This is not a question of whether this project can be carried out best by Socialism or by Conservatism. This is a project which only the British nation, the British taxpayer, can undertake satisfactorily. What we are complaining about is that Ministers have kept the House of Commons in the dark over what has happened. They have avoided all the questions which have been asked, and they have avoided telling us what is happening. If public money is involved, why are we not entitled to be told the various points of the argument?
Is it because we are technically ill-equipped to make these assessments? If we are, so are our Ministers. Even though I have a better scientific education than the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I would never pretend that I knew more than he did about nuclear propulsion. He arbitrates on these matters, but, of course, he does so with the help of his advisers. Why cannot 262 hon. Members on both sides of the Committee be given information from libraries, from White Papers, from Blue Books and from sources which are at the Minister's disposal so that we can make up our minds about whether the Government are wise in deciding to continue to postpone the financing and launching of a nuclear propelled merchant ship?
That is what I cannot understand. I hope that in the next Parliament we will begin to appreciate that so-called specialist committees are not to be despised, and that the Congressional system in America, with all its weaknesses, might find some attraction in discussing the spending of public money, which is why we are here anyway.
We are debating the building of this great ship of the future, yet hon. Members still do not know the full details of the argument. The time is coming when, if great sums of public money are to continue to be spent, Parliament must review its processes of discussion and debate to ensure that the decisions we make are wise ones. Part of our frustration tonight is based on the fact that we are being asked to trust Ministers who over the past eight years have shown us nothing but inadequate White Papers and recommendations, and have given evasive answers at Question Time. We are being asked to trust Ministers who have not confided in the House of Commons, as they ought to have done. The newspapers are full of the nuclear energy debate, not only in relation to the building of power stations but in relation to the building of surface craft.
I agree that shipowners will be the last people to come forward and finance the experimental stages of this work. Only last year near my constituency we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the "Comet". The "Comet" was an idea copied from the Americans. Indeed, it was pinched from the "Savannah" itself.
Yet the "Comet" was the symbolic beginning of all these great efforts to make the Clyde and all the great United Kingdom rivers the shipbuilding rivers of the world. Unless in this century we can get in on the ground floor of this development we shall not gain the place in the world which British shipbuilding and shipping deserve.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) represents a fine shipbuilding town. I pay tribute to the work that has been done there in the past. The hon. Member is right in wishing to see British shipbuilding in the forefront, and Britain once again the first world shipbuilding nation. I agree with him that the Admiralty looked after the shipping industry well, and I share his regret that it was taken away from the Admiralty and placed under the Ministry of Transport, which is very busy with problems of road and railway.
In this all too short debate we are discussing something which I do not regard as a political question. A great deal is at stake for a maritime country like ours, with its great shipbuilding industry. We are discussing the question whether the right decisions have been made, and all through the debate hon. Members have complained about not being sufficiently informed on a technical subject such as this. As long as seven years ago I was on the other side of the table when the Admiralty was dealing with this question, but as a back bencher I must agree that Members are in some difficulty in being able to get to know enough of what is going on.
I realise that it is difficult to publish technical details which will be suitable for Parliament. Some secrets must be involved. Nevertheless, I hope that it will be possible for us to be given a little more information. The Ninth Annual Report of the Atomic Energy Authority devotes only three pages to a marine nuclear reactor, which is the equivalent of one page for each £1 million spent. I think that we might have been told a little more about that.
If there is any argument about the difficulties involved in technical judgments and in arriving at the correct technical decisions, all that needs to be done is to look at all the talk that there has been about our new nuclear power programme. We find the Atomic Energy Authority at loggerheads with the Central Electricity Generating Board, which is undecided whether a graphite modified reactor or some other type of reactor is the best one to go for.
I want to refer to the advances that we have made in the last seven years. I 264 would be the last to dispute the fact that decisions have been difficult, and that technical advances have not been as fast as we would have liked. Nevertheless, we have moved forward to some extent. The Atomic Energy Authority Report discusses the question whether an integrated system of reactors is a good one. Up to now I have been very sceptical about this, but I am somewhat reassured by what we are told in the Report.
Another subject touched upon is the question of the need for pure enrichment of marine reactors and whether the decision announced the other day that less plutonium will be required for military purposes will be a help in this respect, together with the fact that the Americans have, for the first time, fixed a commercial price for plutonium lower than some people expected.
During the past seven years other countries have advanced quite a long way. References have been made to the fact that the Germans and Japanese are going ahead with the building of nuclear-propelled ships, and we know that Russian and American nuclear-propelled ships are already in use. The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) made a good point when he said that the American Navy now has a large number of nuclear-propelled ships. Considering that the American Navy has 60 or 70 ships—mostly submarines, I agree—propelled by nuclear propulsion, it is to be wondered whether this will be the type of machinery that is required for the future, and whether the "know-how" acquired by all this experience will be sufficient to make nuclear propulsion a commercial proposition.
In a room at home I have stuck up a comparative chart taken from a nuclear engineering magazine, showing the different types of nuclear reactor in operation in various European countries. It is an interesting list. Comparing the situation today with that of seven years ago, it is not difficult to see that other countries are going ahead fast. The A.E.A. has been preoccupied with a graphite moderator. Captain Atkins referred to it as a "slippery graphite slope." If less attention had been paid to the graphite moderator I wonder whether more time and money would have been devoted to other types which 265 would have been of more use to us in marine propulsion.
At the moment there is a lack of enthusiasm among ship-owners because they are doubtful whether nuclear propulsion is a commercial proposition. The same situation existed seven years ago. There are also doubts concerning our possession of a system which has real possibilities as an economic proposition. As a layman, it is not easy to judge of that matter. But we read in the Report that it is hoped to reduce the price of a reactor by between £500,000 and £750,000 apiece for a series, and that does not sound a very terrifying figure.
If we apply a rigid commercial test for ships, why should not we apply the same test for power stations? We had a huge programme for nuclear power stations, none of which was economic. At this moment we are going to have a further programme of eight or 10 more nuclear power stations, and it is doubtful whether they will be truly commercial. I know that it can be pleaded for the C.E.G.B. that other factors are involved. There is a shortage of fuel. But if we are prepared to plunge £450 million into the building of nuclear power stations, should we begrudge the small amount of £4 million involved in building a nuclear ship, if we are to call ourselves a maritime nation? It seems that we are a little out of balance if we take that attitude. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear that point in mind when he makes this very difficult decision.
There are other factors which might be argued to warrant a further delay, but we can go on delaying almost indefinitely because of technical details. The time has now come, or it must be very near, when we should be able to take a step further. I do not know how successful Vulcain has been, and how far we have got with it. We have heard that a long time ago conversations took place with shipowning and shipbuilding interests. Surely the time has come when it should be decided fairly definitely what kind of ship we are going to have and who will own it. Presumably the Government will have to find most of the money.
We know, too, that more than one design of ship is in being. Cannot we 266 move a stage further, so that when the word "go" is given for the ship, a reactor can be built at the same time? All the other countries who are operating reactors are gaining a lot of experience, which we are not getting. I do not suppose that we shall reach finality with the first reactor when we place it in a merchant vessel or a fast replenishment tanker, but we should put it to the test soon. I hope that as soon as we have a reliable reactor system the Government will not hesitate to use it for marine purposes and risk £4 million or £5 million, when they are hazarding so much for the sake of nuclear power.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I should like to declare a personal interest in the debate. It is not a financial one, but as the hon. Member for Govan I have the Fairfield shipbuilding yard in my constituency, and the Fairfield Company, in association with Mitchells, have been deeply interested in nuclear development and have produced a reactor which in my view ought to merit most serious consideration from the Government. I hope that it will be only after the most serious thought that we bring to our use nuclear reactors from another country when within our own borders there are people who claim to have produced reactors which are unmatched anywhere else. In the display five or six years ago, which has been referred to during the debate, the work of the Fairfield-Mitchell consortium was highly praised. I hope that that will be kept in mind by the right hon. Gentleman when he replies.
I must also make a confession in that I made a mistake when I interrupted the Parliamentary Secretary to point out that as a result of the decline in the cost of producing enriched uranium there had been consequential changes which were resulting in the production of a reactor which weighed 500 tons—not 1,000 tons, as I said—compared with the 1,500 tons weight of the previous type of reactor—a reduction of 1,000 tons. That, I said, was a most significan and revolutionary advance; but I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary grasped the significance of that change.
The hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East (Commander Courtney) 267 gave us far more information and knowledge in a few of his sentences than the Parliamentary Secretary gave us in the whole of his speech. The hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East, reminded us that when we passed from sail to steam there was tremendous opposition. There was even great opposition when we changed from wood to cast iron. People feared sailing in cast iron vessels because iron sank when put into water.
As a result of the change from wood to cast iron, there was a fundamental change in design. We proceeded from the U-shaped ship in wood to the V-shaped ship in cast iron. I am told by my advisers that in the change from oil-fired to nuclear-driven ships there will not necessarily be any change in design—and this is one of the points which puzzles me in the debate. The nuclear-driven ship will follow the design of ships sailing at present. It might, therefore, have been emphasised that if we go ahead and build a ship driven by nuclear power, even if the nuclear unit is not successful we shall still have a ship which can be driven by the usual power unit and which can be used like an ordinary ship.
If the right hon. Gentleman keeps that in mind he may be able to carry out a promise which was made as far back as 1959 when the Prime Minister informed us in Glasgow that the Government proposed to build two new Cunarders. Parliament sought to honour that promise by providing the Government with money to help build one new Cunarder. Today, on the eve of another election, we have no new Cunarders. If the Government wanted to do something of benefit to the country they could use the money which they are saving in breaking their promise about the Cunarder by applying it to build a nuclear-propelled ship.
If I cannot carry the right hon. Gentleman with me on these suggestions, at least he will not dissent when I say that on both sides of the House there has been agreement that nuclear power is threatening to displace the oil-fired boiler in merchant ships. He will also agree that it will be difficult to make the break-through unless we have progressive experience in the construction and operation of nuclear-propelled 268 vessels. The hon. and gallant Member for Harrow, East made a point of that and said that we must have the vessels in which we can see how the nuclear unit will work.
Submarine experience has been mentioned, but in my view the submarine is not a boat. It is a weapon. No one wants to use it to travel from here to there. It is of little help to us in gaining experience for use in merchant ships. Experience gained in operating the nuclear submarine is of no use in solving the difficulties of the merchant ship. For example, the fuel used in the underwater vessel is highly enriched, and this disposes of such problems as the size of the reactor and the weight of shielding in an uneconomical way which is not at all acceptable in a merchant vessel and which can be justified only on the grounds of military needs. Further, the hull of the submarine is a pressure vessel. The crew are all on military service, and the need for a separate structure to contain fission products in the event of an accident is obviated.
In my view, and it is the view of some hon. Members on both sides of the House, operation with Service naval vessels would have been more apposite in contributing experience to the problem of merchant shipping. It is a matter for regret that this avenue of development has not been explored in Britain. It was of great help in developing America's merchant ship the "Savannah" and the Russian ship "Lenin" the reactors of which are of military design.
I may pose the question, why is it that today we have been pressing the Government so vigorously about the need to build a nuclear-powered merchant ship? It is for one simple reason. The break-through which some have doubted and for which many have been looking has been achieved. There have been two successive reductions in the price of enriched uranium. These reductions result in certain important consequences. First, we are now in the position where, for the same fuel cost, we can get a greater degree of enrichment. This means, secondly, a reduction in fuel weight, which by itself is of great economic significance because, thirdly, less fuel weight means a more compact core. Fourthly, many other 269 consequential advantages, which I cannot go into now, follow, and result in the elimination of most of the equipment occupying the containment vessel, except the reactor itself.
In the end, the snowballing character of this sequence expresses itself in a weight saving of about 1,000 tons in the reactor. This is a revolutionary change. The figures I have quoted refer to a unit of 20,000–25,000 shaft horsepower. As a result of this development, the improvements which have been made could be used to ensure that re-fuelling would take place every three years, instead of once a year as at present.
The tremendous change which has taken place in the outlook for nuclear propulsion of merchant ships means that the Government must now go ahead. They cannot play the part of Lot's wife. If they do not go ahead, years will be lost, years which will never be reclaimed, for other countries such as Japan and West Germany will forge ahead, and we shall never overtake them.
The situation in regard to nuclear propulsion of ships at the moment could be compared with that of the beginning of the diesel engine 30 or 40 years ago. It was developed outside Britain for many years. As a result, Britain lagged behind and lost her predominant place in the ship engine market. If we are to succeed in this venture, the first ship to be constructed must be Government-sponsored. I hope to hear that declaration from the right hon. and learned Gentleman later.
At this stage we must not expect complete parity with conventional propulsion. When the Parliamentary Secretary repeatedly said that a nuclear unit would not be economic, he was evading the issue, and he knew it. Economic compared with what? We cannot expect it to be economic compared with conventional propulsion. We shall still be in the period of experiment. The ship might go trading as far as the Middle East, but that would be part of the experiment. When it returned from such a voyage, it would remain in home waters, and there the economic study of nuclear propulsion would be proceeded with. Another longer voyage might be undertaken, but it must not be forgotten 270 that between voyages we shall have to experiment with the ship to gain the experience that is necessary for adjustment and assessment in reaching a final judgment, and for providing the pattern which will determine the nuclear ships which we will be building in the future.
This will mean the expenditure of a great deal of money. But it is investment in the future, investment which will secure the shipbuilding and shipping future of Great Britain and perhaps restore us to the world position in these two great industries which has slipped from our grasp.
To achieve that claim in respect of the nuclear ship there must be parity of treatment with aviation. Development in aviation is Government-sponsored. We are investing enormous sums to secure our future in the air so that we may build aircraft which will sell on a worldwide scale. To do this we construct first our prototype aircraft. Five of them may be built, to begin with. We fly long distances. We experiment with them on engines, instrumentation, hydraulics, wheels, and so on. When all the trials are complete; all the adjustments made; all the errors eradicated, and the assessment of their worth finalised, we proceed with mass production and hope in that way to get a return on what we have spent.
Our approach to the problem of a nuclear ship must be on somewhat similar lines. We may not build five of them. I am not suggesting that. I am merely making a comparison. At least we can build two, so that we may test different types of reactors against one another. I know that when the matter is viewed in terms of the £ s. d. which will be involved, as the debate has shown some people become somewhat timorous. However, we can gain some help from American and Russian experience. They have met with nuclear problems and to a large extent they have cured their problems. With the help of the "Lenin", the northern seas and the Russian shores are now kept open 12 months of the year. I admit that at the moment we do not hear much about the American ship, but I believe this is due, not to technical or technological faults, but to labour differences within the ship.
271 Tonight we are faced with a great issue—whether or not to go forward with this new development. My view is that we must advance. We must have confidence in ourselves because we feel that confidence, and because we have other examples of progress in this type of development to guide us into the future; which in my view is not quite so dark as some hon. Members opposite, particularly the Parliamentary Secretary, have tried to paint it today.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Quintin Hogg)
I agree with those hon. Members, of whom there have been several, who have said that this is not a subject which very readily lends itself to polemics, because it must depend in the long run upon a technical assessment of the future of nuclear marine propulsion in general and of different reactor systems in particular. I hope that the Committee will bear with me if I attempt to place squarely before it one or two of the technical considerations which I think we must bear in mind.
Before I begin to do that, I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I say one personal thing. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) began by congratulating Earl Alexander of Hillsborough on his recovery. I should like to endorse that. The noble Earl very bravely and vigorously led the Opposition in another place for three years when my place was opposite him. I hope, that during that time, he acquired a respect and affection for me. I certainly had a great affection and respect for him and I was deeply distressed the other day to read that he had been taken ill during the course of his duties. I was glad to hear from the hon. Member for Sunderland, North that he is now restored to health. I hope that he will now be able to enjoy the Garter as the latest in the long series of honours which have been bestowed on him.
The first thing I want to say on this subject tonight is that up to and including the present we have been following the weight of expert opinion as expressed in recent years by the Padmore Working Group. If that has 272 been wrong, although I do not believe that it has, we cannot be criticised for following what we believed to have been the weight of expert opinion, particularly since the Padmore Committee is widely respected and has been carefully composed.
I also agree with hon. Members who have said that we are under a real handicap in not having the report of that Committee before us. It is no more than right that I should say that I will do my best to see that that committee's report is placed before Parliament and the public during the next month—more or less as we have received it. My hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out that various signatories may have signed that report without a view to its publication. We must, therefore, consult them, for there might be matters about which there is a commercially confidential element. I appreciate, however, that it is of great importance that hon. Members should have the information available, and I hope hon. Members will agree that this is the right course to take.
As my hon. and gallant Friend made plain in his admirable opening speech, the burden of the advice we have received from that committee is that we shall shortly be faced with an important commercial and political choice. Up to now we have taken technical advice, but we shall be faced, as I say, with the important commercial and political choice either to abandon altogether—at least for the time being—the kind of research we have been undertaking in the immediate past or else to take the next logical step, which is the development and construction of an experimental ship.
Before hon. Members form a view on this matter, I am sure that they will wish to see the technical assessments, of which there are several, in the report on which the advice of the committee is based. Hon. Members will find that the arguments are rather more nicely balanced than the enthusiastic supporters of marine nuclear propulsion have led us to believe. All I would say at this stage is this. We could, of course, have put a reactor into a merchant ship at any time one likes to mention during the last four years—and probably for a longer time than that. Some hon. Members—though I think not on the Front Bench opposite—have suggested that we should have done that. 273 I am myself convinced that we were right not to do it. There would have been marginal advantages in so doing, and they can be summarised under two heads.
The first is that when one is using a novel type of propulsion then, obviously, whatever one does, there will, from the point of view of the naval architect, be substantial changes in constructional design. The mere fact that there are safety hazards to be considered—the possibility of collision at sea—means that one cannot simply put a propulsion unit into the place which would have been occupied by conventional machinery without constructional changes. We would have gained marginally, by putting a reactor into a ship and launching it, certain additional advantages from the point of view of the naval architect. The second is that we would have gained seagoing experience with nuclear propulsion.
These advantages would have been gained and there were people who thought that we should have made the effort some time ago. If we had intended to do it the right time to do that would, I think, have been about four years ago. However, I am sure that we would have been wrong to do that. The reactor, to begin with, which we would have used would have been of a type which offered no further chance of development. It would have been an obsolete type and when the ultimate form of commercial type is found, if it is, much of the experience we would have gained, even on the two marginal points to which I have referred, would have been completely wasted. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That, at any rate, is the advice we received and this is my conviction about the past. Those who think that we should have built into a ship an obsolete reactor of American technology are making an error of commercial judgment.
§ Mr. Willey
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a critical point. He has said that four years ago, about 1960, was the time when this might have been done. Is he aware that at that time the Government invited tenders and then spent 18 months considering them? It seems that his remarks confirm the allegation I made about the Government having made a crucial mistake on this issue.
§ Mr. Hogg
Although I said four years ago I really meant five years ago, at 274 approximately the time when the exhibition took place in Whitehall; several hon. Members have referred to this exhibition.
I am convinced that that would have been a mistake. There was no system in existence then which was capable of commercial development and I am sure that we were right then, and also after the experience of the tenders, at any rate to go forward to see whether a more advanced type of reactor was available so that we could make up our minds about it. I am sure that that would put us, and will put us—if we make the choice to which I have referred—in a better position vis-à-vis the other nations than if we had attempted to build, in effect, another "Savannah".
Of the various types of reactor systems, two were selected for further consideration. The Padmore Group—and if I am allowed to publish the report, which I will do my best to do, hon. Members will see that this is so—has come to the conclusion that we were right to select those. Clearly, only one of them, because they were similar reactor systems, ought to have been proceeded with, and we have decided that of those two the Vulcain is the one to be proceeded with and is most likely to be a success within a reasonable period of time. The other would require a very substantial and much more protracted research and development programme.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman had longer than I have in which to state his case.
I am sure that, first, we were right to investigate those two systems, and, secondly, that of those two we were right to choose the Vulcain. I am equally sure that, thirdly, we were perfectly right—in view of the public criticism which had been levelled—to examine the other types, both the American and British reactor systems side by side, as well as being right in our 275 choice between the two which we have selected.
I may say that although there is not a great deal between the six choices in the field, the Padmore Group has, for one reason or another, come down in favour of the Vulcain as being the most likely. The Vulcain shows two distinctive marks of a reactor system: the first is its integral character, and the second is its reliance on the device called the spectral shift.
Speaking only for a moment of what Captain Atkins has said, his only two criticisms on the technical advantages or disadvantages of the reactor we have selected were directed, first, to its integral character, and, secondly, to the feasibility of the use, in seagoing conditions, of the spectral shift. The unanimous view of the Padmore Group has been that on both issues Captain Atkins was mistaken, and that any future reactor system that has a chance of success will incorporate the integral factor; and that the spectral shift, although there is some dispute about this, will be a perfectly feasible device to use in seagoing conditions.
This device consists simply of adding a little fresh water to the moderating water of the reactor at intervals of, perhaps, three days, at one stage of the burner. I cannot believe that it is beyond the capabilities of a reasonably intelligent man to do that, even if, as I believe will be the case, a machine to do it automatically has not been devised by the time the ship is ready to go to sea. I therefore think that we were right to select those two types for further investigation, and to include other types in our investigation.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) referred to the Mitchell reactor. Again, this is one of the six candidates, but it is fair to say that, like the I.B.R., it is not a piece of hardware, but a piece of paper. In the judgment of those advising us, it would involve a longer period of research and development if it were to be put in a ship than would the Vulcain.
It is fair, and I must say it in order to put the position candidly before the Committee, to say that there has been a shift against the economics of nuclear 276 marine propulsion in the last 12 months. My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) asked me about the advice received by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan). I am not aware that he received any advice except from the Padmore Group, but, of course, Prime Ministers can seek advice, and sometimes obtain it, from other sources—or, indeed, their own inspiration—but I think that it is worth while for me to say a word about the relevant economics at this stage, and as at the present date, of nuclear and conventional marine propulsion.
All nuclear reactors, which are at present only ways of heating steam to go in a boiler, compare with conventional sources of power in being very much more expensive to install. This is true of both the land reactor and the marine nuclear reactor. The marine nuclear reactor has one advantage that the other does not possess, which is that the ship is thereby saved the trouble and space involved in storing fuel. But it also has two disadvantages not possessed by the land reactor. In the first place, the greatest economy can be obtained from running a nuclear reactor at base load, which is always done in our land schemes. The ship cannot do this, because it spends a great deal of time in port. Secondly, the land reactor can operate on a much bigger scale than can a marine nuclear reactor and, on the whole, the best economy in running is obtained by nuclear reactors of a larger size.
During the past year there has been a considerable and significant improvement in conventional machinery. In particular, the advice we have received is that the correct comparison is with large diesels, and no longer with turbines. Secondly, bunker fuel has reduced in cost, and our advice is that the cost of running conventional ships has gone down. I am afraid that, despite the change to which the hon. Member for Govan referred—and as will be seen when we publish the report—this has shifted the balance slightly against nuclear ships, and I must again tell the hon. Gentleman that whatever advantage the nuclear ship may have in future it is unlikely to oust conventional machinery, if at all, except in the very large and 277 very fast class of vessel. It is, therefore, not comparable with the change from sail to mechanical propulsion, either in the way that has been suggested from this side of the Committee or in the way suggested from the benches opposite.
I am not frightened of the various steps taken by our various rivals in the field. The "Lenin"—I think that is the name of the Russian icebreaker—is a ship that does not pretend to be economic, and has no economic development potential. It is there for an operational requirement—as an ice breaker. I do not think that we need be afraid of that from the point of view of our Merchant Navy. The "Savannah", again, is an obsolete vessel, in my judgment, with an obsolete reactor—in spite of its great beauty and its fine appearance. I do not believe that the Americans will be able to develop the "Savannah", and as a result of their unhappy experience with it they are showing remarkable lack of enthusiasm for further developments.
The Germans are putting into their ship a reactor which, in our judgment,
§ is behind the Vulcain. Of course, if what is wanted is seagoing experience, we would choose, like the Germans, one of the American reactors; but we believe that, if we are to go on with this, a more advanced type of reactor is desirable. The Japanese are selecting a smaller vessel than we would think appropriate, and still have not selected the type of reactor.
§ I am convinced that the right course now is to publish the report. What we are faced with is a political and a commercial judgment, and in the light of the information, which is the best that we can make available, the House, the country and the Government can make up their minds.
§ Mr. Willey
I think that my right course now is to move, That Item Class IV, Vote 11 (Minitsry of Transport), be reduced by £5.
§ Question put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 200, Noes 261.281
|Division No. 87.]||AYES||[7.0 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Dodds, Norman||Janner, Sir Barnett|
|Ainsley, William||Doig, Peter||Jay, Rt. Hon, Douglas|
|Albu, Austen||Driberg, Tom||Jeger, George|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Awbery, Stan (Bristol, Central)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)|
|Barnett, Guy||Evans, Albert||Kelley, Richard|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Finch, Harold||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Beaney, Alan||Fitch, Alan||King, Dr. Horace|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Fletcher, Eric||Ledger, Ron|
|Benn, Anthony Wedgwood||Foley, Maurice||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Benson, Sir George||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Blackburn, F.||Galpern, Sir Myer||Lipton, Marcus|
|Blyton, William||Ginsburg, David||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||McBride, N.|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics, S. W.)||Gourlay, Harry||McCann, J.|
|Bowles, Frank||Greenwood, Anthony||MacColl, James|
|Boyden, James||Grey, Charles||McInnes, James|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mackie, John (Enfield, East)|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Gunter, Ray||McLeavy, Frank|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Mahon, Simon|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hannan, William||Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Callaghan, James||Harper, Joseph||Manuel, Archie|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Mapp, Charles|
|Cliffe, Michael||Hayman, F. H.||Marsh, Richard|
|Collick, Percy||Healey, Denis||Mason, Roy|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)||Mayhew, Christopher|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Mellish, R. J.|
|Cronin, John||Hill, J. (Midlothian)||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Crosland, Anthony||Hilton, A. V.||Millan, Bruce|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Holman, Percy||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Darling, George||Houghton, Douglas||Monslow, Walter|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Howell, Charles A. (Perry Barr)||Moody, A. S.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Morris, Charles (Openshaw)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hoy, James H.||Morris, John (Aberavon)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Moyle, Arthur|
|Deer, George||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Neal, Harold|
|Delargy, Hugh||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Dempsey, James||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)|
|Diamond, John||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||O'Malley, B. K.|
|Oram, A. E.||Rodgers, W. T. (Stockton)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Oswald, Thomas||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Owen, Will||Ross, William||Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)|
|Paget, R. T.||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)||Thornton, Ernest|
|Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Tomney, Frank|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Silkin, John||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Parker, John||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Warbey, William|
|Paton, John||Skeffington, Arthur||Watkins, Tudor|
|Pavitt, Laurence||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)||Weitzman, David|
|Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Peart, Frederick||Small, William||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Pentland, Norman||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Whitlock, William|
|Popplewell, Ernest||Snow, Julian||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Prentice, R. E.||Sorensen, R. W.||Willey, Frederick|
|Probert, Arthur||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Spriggs, Leslie||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Randall, Harry||Steele, Thomas||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Rankin, John||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Redhead, E. C.||Stonehouse, John||Woof, Robert|
|Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)||Stones, William||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Reid, William||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Rhodes, H.||Stross, Sir Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Swain, Thomas|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Swingler, Stephen||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Robertson, John (Paisley)||Symonds, J. B.||Mr. Lawson and Dr. Broughton.|
|Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Taverne, D.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Dalkeith, Earl of||Hope, Rt. Hon. Lord John|
|Allason, James||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Hopkins, Alan|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian||Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.||Hornby, R. P.|
|Arbuthnot, Sir John||Doughty, Charles||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Douglas-Home, Rt. Hon. Sir Alec||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)|
|Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham)||Drayson, G. B.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John|
|Barber, Rt. Hon. Anthony||du Cann, Edward||Hughes-Young, Michael|
|Barter, John||Duncan, Sir James||Hulbert, Sir Norman|
|Batsford, John||Eden, Sir John||Hutchison, Michael Clark|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Bell, Ronald||Elliott, R. W. (Newc'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Emery, Peter||James, David|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Errington, Sir Eric||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)|
|Bidgood, John C.||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey|
|Biffen, John||Farr, John||Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith|
|Bingham, R. M.||Fell, Anthony||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Fisher, Nigel||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.|
|Bishop, Sir Patrick||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Kerby, Capt. Henry|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Forrest, George||Kerr, Sir Hamilton|
|Bossom, Hon. Clive||Foster, Sir John||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Freeth, Denzil||Kimball, Marcus|
|Box, Donald||Gammans, Lady||Kitson, Timothy|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Gibson-Watt, David||Lagden, Godfrey|
|Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Braine, Bernard||Glover, Sir Douglas||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Brewis, John||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Leather, Sir Edwin|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Goodhart, Philip||Leavey, J. A.|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Goodhew, Victor||Legge Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Browne, Percy (Torrington)||Gower, Raymond||Lilley, F. J. P.|
|Buck, Antony||Grant-Ferris, R.||Linstead, Sir Hugh|
|Bullard, Denys||Green, Alan||Litchfield, Capt. John|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Grimond, Rt. Hon. J.||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'dfield)|
|Burden, F. A.||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Longbottom, Charles|
|Campbell, Gordon||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Longden, Gilbert|
|Carr, Rt. Hon. Robert (Mitcham)||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Loveys, Walter H.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Chataway, Christopher||Harvie Anderson, Miss||McAdden, Sir Stephen|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Hastings, Stephen||MacArthur, Ian|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Hay, John||McLaren, Martin|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Hendry, Forbes||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Bute&N. Ayrs)|
|Cole, Norman||Hiley, Joseph||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Cooke, Robert||Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)||McMaster, Stanley R.|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Maddan, Martin|
|Costain, A. P.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Maginnis, John E.|
|Coulson, Michael||Hocking, Philip N.||Maitland, Sir John|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Quintin||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Crawley, Aidan||Holland, Philip||Marlowe, Anthony|
|Critchley, Julian||Hollingworth, John||Marshall, Sir Douglas|
|Crowder, F. P.||Holt, Arthur||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Hooson, H. E.||Maude, Angus (Stratford-on-Avon)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Mawby, Ray|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Ridsdale, Julian||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Rippon, Rt. Hon. Geoffrey||Thomas, Peter (Conway)|
|Mills, Stratton||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Thompson, Sir Kenneth (Walton)|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Robertson, Sir D. (C'thn's & S'th'ld)||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool, S.)||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Robson Brown, Sir William||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Morgan, William||Roots, William||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Morrison, John||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon|
|Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Neave, Airey||Russell, Sir Ronald||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Scott-Hopkins, James||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Seymour, Leslie||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Noble, Rt. Hon. Michael||Sharpies, Richard||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard||Shaw, M.||Wade, Donald|
|Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Skeet, T. H. H.||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek|
|Osborn, John (Hallam)||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)||Wall, Patrick|
|Page, Graham (Crosby)||Smyth, Rt. Hon. Brig. Sir John||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher||Webster, David|
|Peel, John||Spearman, Sir Alexander||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Percival, Ian||Speir, Rupert||Whitelaw, William|
|Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Stainton, Keith||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Pitt, Dame Edith||Stodart, J. A.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Pounder, Rafton||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch||Storey, Sir Samuel||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Studholme, Sir Henry||Wise, A. R.|
|Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho||Talbot, John E.||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Pym, Francis||Tapsell, Peter||Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard|
|Quennell, Miss J. M.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. Sir Peter||Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)|
|Rees, Hugh (Swansea, W.)||Taylor, Sir William (Bradford, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Rees-Davies, W. R. (Isle of Thanet)||Teeling, Sir William||Mr. Chichester-Clark and|
|Renton, Rt. Hon. David||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret||Mr. Finlay.|
|Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
§ It being after Seven o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair, further Proceeding standing postponed until after the consideration of Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business).
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have a point to raise with regard to the proceedings in the debate which has just concluded and which I raised mildly in my speech but not as a point of order at that time.
May I direct your attention to the fact that, in the last debate, the Minister—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
Order. I cannot deal now 282 with anything which happened in Committee.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. That may be so, but I cannot deal with anything which happened in Committee. The hon. Gentleman must seek another way or raising the matter.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I am sorry, but I have given my Ruling that I cannot deal now with what happened in Committee.