HC Deb 11 February 1969 vol 777 cc1122-6
Mr. David Price

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Technology whether he will make a statement about his appointment of Sir Arnold Lindley to undertake an assessment of the faulty turbines in the QE2.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Technology (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend appointed Sir Arnold Lindley, President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, to undertake an independent, technical assessment of the faults in the turbines of QE2 and the measures being taken to correct them.

With permission, I will circulate a copy of Sir Arnold's terms of reference in the OFFICIAL REPORT. He will have consultations with all the parties involved and is, in fact, arriving in Glasgow this afternoon.

Sir Arnold will have access to all the reports that have been made and will be free to consult anyone he wishes.

The full engineering resources of the Ministry of Technology and the Board of Trade will be at his disposal and his report will be made to my right hon. Friend, who will make it available to all the companies involved.

I have spoken to my right hon. Friend on the telephone an hour ago, at John Brown Engineering, in Glasgow, where he is himself having discussions with the company. He asks me to apologise for his absence today and to express the hope that the House will feel that those involved in this difficult technical task will now be allowed to get on with it.

Mr. Price

Is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House share the legitimate public concern about these turbine difficulties, and, therefore, concur in the decision to ask Sir Arnold Lindley, as President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, to make this independent assessment?

Will the Minister answer two questions. How long are Sir Arnold's inquiries expected to take, and will the hon. Gentleman confirm that an independent assessment of the viability of the turbines can be made without sea trials of the QE2?

Mr. Mallalieu

It is difficult to give an answer. The answer to the first part of the question is that I should hope about three weeks. I think that the final test will have to be sea trials.

Mr. Rankin

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the statement that he has made, in view of the fact that on two occasions he refused, at my request, to hold the inquiry which he is now undertaking? Are we to conclude from that that he is now recognising and admitting that the attempt to blame the men for the troubles that befell the Cunarder was quite wrong, and that blame rests where it has rested all along—with management, not only in John Brown but also in Cunard?

Mr. Mallalieu

This assessment has nothing whatever to do with apportioning blame. It is to find out what is wrong and to help to put it right as quickly as possible, which is an entirely different proposition.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

While welcoming this appointment and recognising that the cause of the trouble could be in the propellers or in the ship, may I ask whether it is correct that these turbines were not fully tested on land, as has been stated, and, also, that there are facilities for testing turbines of this type on land?

Mr. Mallalieu

So far as I understand, they were tested on land, but the hon. Gentleman knows that the final test must be at sea.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will my hon. Friend say what will be the additional costs, if any, to public funds?

Mr. Mallalieu

I could not, off hand, but very small.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

While the technical inquiry is going ahead, will the Minister encourage all concerned to realise that the kind of headlines which were published yesterday can cause a great deal of unjustified damage to a firm which, only yesterday, was given an award for its export efforts with gas turbines, and might also affect the commercial future of this great ship when it sails?

Mr. Mallalieu

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The matter has been mentioned to the parties concerned in appropriate language.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the Minister aware that we welcome the appointment of Sir Arnold Lindley, who is an extremely distinguished engineer? Will he say whether the report which Sir Arnold will submit to the Minister will be published, so that we may learn lessons for the future?

Mr. Mallalieu

It will be sent to the companies involved. We had better leave the matter of publication until we have seen the report.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that this inquiry will be essentially a technical one and, secondly, that, if Sir Arnold comes to the conclusion that to give a correct assessment it is necessary to publish the Chandos Committee's Report on the earlier QE3, he will be at liberty to do so?

Mr. Mallalieu

I would like notice of the latter part of the question. In reply to the first part, it is a technical assessment.

Mr. Woodburn

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that every step ahead in technology involves risk of unknown factors causing trouble such as this, and that there has been much exaggeration in the matter of blame?

Mr. Mallalieu

Certainly, advances in technology involve risks. I must repeat to the House that we are not concerned in any way with apportioning blame, but in finding out what mistakes were made and how they can be put right.

Mr. Albu

Would not my hon. Friend agree that what has taken place only confirms the inadvisability of giving contracts on the basis of political considerations and not on the basis of the lowest tender?

Mr. Mallalieu

I very much doubt that assertion; this is a technical problem and not a political one.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker


Following are the terms of reference:

  1. (a) To receive reports from Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Ltd., John Brown Engineering (Clydebank) Ltd., and the Cunard Steamship Co., Ltd. about the faulty performance of the turbines during the recent trials of the QE2;
  2. (b) To receive reports from the three companies about their investigations of the causes of these faults together with the advice given them by independent experts;
  3. (c) To receive and assess reports from John Brown Engineering (Clydebank) Ltd., on the measures they have taken to correct these faults;
  4. (d) To ensure that the information available to him is also available to the three companies;
  5. (e) To report to the Minister whether, in the light of the remedial action being taken, the further sea trials should, in his view now take place;
  6. (f) To make any further recommendations that may seem desirable in the light of the facts revealed.

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