Transport and Technology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th November 1965.

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Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire 12:00 am, 16th November 1965

I hope that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) will forgive me if I do not follow in the debate his most interesting speech. I want to turn the debate for a few minutes to Scotland and to technology. In the same way, I hope that the Minister of Transport will forgive me for not taking up some of his points, because whereas his heart is in Scotland his responsibility for the roads is not. That lies with the Secretary of State for Scotland, whom I should have liked to ask, had he been present, what roads in Scotland outwith development districts are being postponed under present Government policy.

I am certain that the key to Scotland is communications and transport, and that any postponement, whether of the A.74 dual carriageway from Glasgow to Carlisle or of some first-class or even second-class road, is of equal importance. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he hears these words in some other place, to bear in mind that the dual carriageway to the Scottish border is of tremendous importance and that the delays which I fear are taking place cause great concern. I know that the Minister of Transport would like to help his country. If he could in any way accelerate the construction of the M.6 from Kendal to the Scottish border he would be doing a great service, because the conditions on that road are becoming intolerable. The Carlisle bypass is urgently required. I go to Carlisle regularly and I find that even the back streets of Carlisle are becoming quite impossible. We want industry and tourists to come up to Scotland but at the moment that movement is being strangled.

I am sure that the Minister of Technology knew when I rose to speak what subject I would bring up. It is the Atomic Energy Authority in Scotland, which means, of course, Dounreay and Chapelcross. Those responsible for both these stations, which are of great importance to Scotland, are crying out to know what the future holds for them. I speak particularly of Chapelcross. It is possibly one of the least known but most efficient of the atomic energy stations in the country. It now employs about 850 people so that in a rural constituency such as mine it is a major industry. In terms of power it is carrying a load factor of about 98 per cent. Hon. Members can read all about it in the Eleventh Annual Report of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. The staff are held in the highest regard. They were used in the commissioning of the Hunter-ston station and for the Tokai Mura reactor in Japan. Like all who are interested in the prototype fast reactor, they want to know when an announcement will be made about that reactor and where it will be sited.

The Minister came to the area this summer to see and to listen. I hope that he was captivated by the possibilities of Chapelcross. We now await impatiently and expectantly for this decision. The Eleventh Annual Report states on page 26 that the design, the specifications and the estimates were completed for the prototype reactor. This Report was written up to the end of March. Surely now, eight months later, the Government are in a position to tell us their intentions. I know that they had to await a report from the Atomic Energy Authority but I think that they have had ample time now to make up their minds.

On 27th July, in answer to Questions, the Minister said that the prototype fast reactor as a producer of energy for transmission to industry must be adjacent to an industrial area. Chapelcross is geographically in the centre of Great Britain with industry to the north, south, east and west of it. Surely that is a far better geographical situation than obtains at other possible sites in the south of England or at the northern tip of Scotland. It is also on the national grid and there will be no need for unsightly pylons.

I emphasise that geographical position should be a paramount factor in the making of the decision. There is also ample room on the site, ample water, ample labour, a first-class apprenticeship scheme, good housing, good schools, first-class recreational facilities, good communications and, above all, a real warm welcome awaiting the fast reactor. This has not been always so with atomic energy projects, but not in Dumfriesshire. The people there would welcome it, but there is no word about this or other developments. There is nothing to encourage retention of existing staff—indeed there is a small but steady wastage —and nothing to encourage new staff, which we would like to see. This is creating a despondent frame of mind. There is no word of increased generating capacity, of laboratory extensions, or of a desalinisation plant. The Minister set up an advisory committee on technology in Scotland. Has this committee considered the Atomic Energy Authority within Scotland in the concept of the regional surveys?

To turn for a moment to the computer industry in Scotland, is the advisory committee considering the situation at Edinburgh University? The authorities there requested in 1964 that they should have a computer. They set up a Department and then we had the Flowers Committee appointed. This Committee should have reported in April but we heard later that it would report in June or July. When shall we have a computer at the University? The talented group of scientists there have to take a bus trip to Glasgow University to work on a computer. This seems to be a retrograde step in a technological age.

Scotland requires industrial development. We urgently desire to have the prototype fast reactor sited in Scotland or, failing that, one of the A.G.R. systems mentioned in the country's future fuel policy. I trust that I have impressed upon the Minister that Chapelcross should be the site, on every possible technical count. It is up to the Minister to tell us tonight when and where we shall hear some news about this fast reactor. Scotland is urgently awaiting his decision.