HC Deb 10 December 1964 vol 703 cc1802-3
13. Mr. Wall

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the progress of official negotiations with business firms interested in constructing the first British nuclear-powered merchant ship.

14. Commander Courtney

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on his policy with regard to co-operation with the shipping, shipbuilding and engineering industries on the design and construction of a prototype nuclear-powered merchant ship or naval auxiliary vessel for experimental purposes.

Mr. Mason

The Government are undertaking a review of the subject of nuclear ship propulsion. Discussions with the various interests concerned will be arranged as appropriate.

Mr. Wall

Can the hon. Gentleman say how many groups of firms are interested in this project? Can he also assure the House, as it is likely that a prototype nuclear ship will not be economic, that the Government are prepared to make a reasonable contribution?

Mr. Mason

Apart from the interest of Her Majesty's Government, two consortia are interested. As to the future interest of Her Majesty's Government, I think that we shall have to wait until the review is complete, and then we can decide whether any public money should be spent on a research and development programme, or whether there is the possibility of an economic nuclear marine propulsion unit.

Commander Courtney

Will the Minister of State recall all the modernisation promises on this subject given by his party at the General Election? Does he appreciate that the Americans and Russians have had nuclear marine ships for years, that the Germans have launched one with an American reactor, but that we ourselves show not the slightest signs of following them—we, an island nation?

Mr. Mason

The hon. and gallant Gentleman would have been wise to apply a little more pressure on his right hon. Friends who, in spite of 12 months questioning by him, never made a decision. We intend to examine this matter a little more thoroughly before making up our minds.

Mr. Rankin

Will my hon. Friend also assure us that the Government will proceed with some speed in this matter, since probably within two years the shipbuilding industry may be facing a serious crisis?

Mr. Mason

We have that very much in mind.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Will the Minister state when this further review of reviews is to be completed?

Mr. Mason

I cannot see any reason why Her Majesty's Government should apologise for taking a little time over this very important matter. Public moneys may have to be spent on the project, and we want to review it very thoroughly before a decision is taken.

Commander Courtney

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.