HL Deb 19 October 1961 vol 234 cc549-52

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to repeat to you a statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend, the Minister of Transport. This is the statement:

"With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement about the replacement of the 'Queen Mary'.

"The Government have considered the statement which the Cunard Company have made public to-day of the reasons why the company do not feel able to place an order at the present time for a ship to replace the 'Queen Mary'.

"The company have expressed to the Government their hope that until they have completed the reappraisal referred to in their statement, and have been able to advise the Government as to the action which in their opinion should then be taken as regards the replacement of the 'Queen Mary', the question of financial assistance from Her Majesty's Government should be held open pending a final decision.

"The Government's agreement to assist the building of a ship to replace the 'Queen Mary' was based on the understanding that an order for the new ship would be placed this autumn, and that the ship would be in operation at the earliest possible date thereafter. The decision which the company have now reached creates a new situation and the Government must reserve their right to consider, without prior commitment, any proposals which the company may put forward at a later date."


My Lords, we are much obliged to the noble Lord for giving us the statement which is being made by the Minister in the other place. May I say, first of all, that it is absolutely right for the Government, in view of the circumstances, not to be committed in advance of any new proposal. As regards the reappraisal, the noble Lord, Lord Mills, knows quite well that we have had a certain amount of criticism to offer with regard to the original subsidy proposed. Nevertheless, we are not unmindful of the rather threatening conditions in some parts of the shipbuilding industry, and I take it that we should all withhold our judgments until the reappraisal has been made. If any proposal then is submitted we can consider the matter perhaps in advance of a decision by the Government, and not have the kind of acceptance, apparently, by the Government in policy, which came after the committee had sat and reported, but which report I believe we never saw. I think that if the Government will take into account some of the things said then, it will be helpful all round.


My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his helpful reply. I am sure the Government will take into account all the debates there have been in your Lordships' House and in another place before arriving at a decision, and, so far as I am able, I will do my best to keep your Lordships acquainted with any moves there may be; but I cannot, of course, pledge the Government not to make up their minds before the matter is discussed in your Lordships' House.


May I take it, with regard to the element in the grant which might have been used—I know this is disputed—to assist financially the Cunard Eagle Air Line, which unhappily has been in some misfortune during recent months, that the Government do not intend to make a grant in such a way as will act as a subsidy to the Cunard Eagle Airline in its Transatlantic flights in competition with the British Overseas Airways Corporation?


There was never any intention in the original consideration to make a grant or to assist a grant to Cunard Eagle Airways, and there certainly would not be in the future.


May we take it from the noble Lord that that means no assistance, either directly or indirectly, in view of the close association of Cunard Airlines with the Cunard Shipping Company?


My Lords, it is of course easy to construe the word "indirectly" in any way you wish, but I repeat that in considering this matter of assistance to the Cunard Company to build a replacement of the "Queen Mary" there was no other consideration and no other intention in the Government's mind; and there would not be in the future.


My Lords, may we take it that the noble Lord's answer means that, although the Government may make up their mind on the reappraisal and the new facts, they will not make a final decision until this House and another place have had the opportunity of considering it? Otherwise we should be merely faced with a fait accompli.


I cannot give an assurance. It depends whether the proposal then comes within the Act which has been passed this year. If the proposal comes within that Act, then the Government are at liberty to proceed. If it does not come within that Act then Parliament will be fully consulted.