HC Deb 08 April 1965 vol 710 cc662-4
Q4. Commander Courtney

asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the prolonged delay in the provision of a prototype nuclear ship for trial purposes, of doubts regarding the most suitable reactor for the purpose and of the importance of this programme to both the Royal and Merchant Navies, he will transfer responsibility for this development from the Board of Trade to the Admiralty Board of the Ministry of Defence as the authority which is best equipped for the purpose in terms of design capacity and marine nuclear experience.

Q7. Mr. Wall

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that four countries are now building nuclear-powered surface ships, he is satisfied with the machinery for co-ordinating the activities of the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Technology, Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Treasury regarding the development of a British prototype nuclear-powered surface ship, which has now been under consideration for a number of years; and if he will now centralise this responsibility.

Mr. George Brown

The proposal that the Government should provide finance for the design and construction of a prototype nuclear-powered merchant ship is under review. My right hon. Friend sees no reason to alter the responsibilities of the Ministers who are concerned with the various considerations affecting this proposal.

Commander Courtney

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is nearly a year since the Padmore Committee reported and that since then the Government have done absolutely nothing to advance this project except to attempt concealment of a matter which is becoming increasingly evident—namely, that they have had to give up their favoured type of reactor employing a moderator principle which was discarded by the Americans and the Germans three years ago? Is it not time that the Government handed this business back to the Admiralty?

Mr. Brown

We have spent six months on it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite right—his Government spent two years on it and reached no decision. We will do better.

Mr. Wall

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this question has been under consideration by committees for six years and that the last committee reported that no further information could be gained until we had a prototype at sea? Since then, the right hon. Gentleman has set up another committee under the Atomic Energy Authority. That was four months ago. Is it not about time that we had some coordination?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman is right. We have been responsible for the last four months. His Government were responsible for the previous five years and eight months.

Mr. Woodburn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that tremendous benefits will flow to the country whose scientists first break through the problem of making economic nuclear equipment for merchant ships? Can he give us any information as to whether our scientists are making progress in this development?

Mr. Brown

It is an exceedingly difficult question. It is assumed that the delay is perhaps due to the fact that the Government or the Civil Service do not want to reach a decision, but that is not the case. It would be very difficult to answer the last part of my right hon. Friend's supplementary question, but the subject is being taken seriously. If we do not want to score political points off each other, perhaps I can say—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—if right hon. and hon. Members opposite score off us we shall score off them. As I was about to say, members of the last Government know that this is a very hard matter to decide. We have taken into account what was done under the last Government and will make a decision as soon as it can sensibly be made.