HC Deb 31 May 1954 vol 528 cc1039-42

Lords Amendments considered.


Lords Amendment: In page 13, line 8, leave out from "not" to end of line 10, and insert: terminate on security grounds the employment of any officer of, or person employed by, the Authority. In this sub-paragraph the expression 'security grounds' means grounds which are grounds for dismissal from the civil service of Her Majesty, in accordance with any arrangements for the time being in force relating to dismissals from that service for reasons of national security.

10.38 p.m.

The Minister of Works (Sir David Eccles)

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

When the Bill was being debated here we could not find satisfactory words to define the grounds on which an employee of the Authority would be referred to the purge tribunal as a bad security risk. We need such a definition to write into the Bill safeguards for requiring the Lord President's consent to dismissal if the tribunal should recommend it and the Lord President agrees with it.

Nobody liked the reference to a man's political associations: they were clearly not the words we should wish to see in the statute, and on behalf of the Government I accepted that view. On the other hand the Amendment moved by the Opposition went rather too wide, because the words "on the grounds of national security" would have brought in a number of cases that were outside those which the tribunal deals with in the Civil Service.

The Amendment does precisely what I believe the House wished to see done. It defines the reasons for requiring the Lord President's consent as those which are in force under the existing Civil Service procedure. In that way we get some flexibility, because the employee will be no worse off than he would be if he were a civil servant in the Ministry of Supply, for example, and if, as we may hope. the purge procedure is relaxed one day, the employee of the Atomic Energy Authority will automatically come within the scope of that relaxation. The Amendment was moved in another place by a spokesman of the Opposition. It was welcomed by my noble Friend, and I hope that it will be agreed to by the House.

Mr. George Porter (Leeds, Central)

Does what the right hon. Gentleman has said mean that the employees concerned will be found alternative jobs, as is the case in respect of civil servants?

Sir D. Eccles

No; the Amendment refers only to the grounds on which they may be dismissed. I cannot add anything to what I said at a previous stage of the Bill in relation to their being found alternative jobs.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

There was general difficulty when we were discussing this matter on the Report stage. It was agreed on all sides that the wording of the Amendment put forward by the Government was not satisfactory, and there was also a strong objection to the Amendment which we had drafted. It was not easy to find a solution.

The solution has been found after further consideration, and my colleagues and I are perfectly satisfied with the proposal now put forward, which was moved by a colleague of ours in another place and accepted by the Government. It puts the employee working for the Authority in exactly the same position as the civil servant working in the Ministry of Supply or in any other Government Department. We are fully satisfied with this solution, and think that it is best possible one in the circumstances.


Lords Amendment: In page 15, line 6. at beginning, insert: In section ninety-seven of the Explosives Act, 1875, references to a department of the Government, except the second such reference in paragraph (5) of that section, shall be construed as including references to the Authority.

Sir D. Eccles

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House will remember that it was necessary at several places in the Bill to provide that the Authority should be treated as though it was a Government Department. This was done because of the dangerous and most secret nature of the work on the atomic project. For example, the local valuation panels are not to make the valuation for rates; the Treasury valuer has to do it, because it would be unwise, on security grounds, to reveal the nature of parts of the plant to persons who have not been selected for the job.

On the other hand, we certainly do not want the Authority to enjoy the privileges of a Government Department unless there are really unassailable reasons for it doing so. Therefore, in Clause 6 (5), it is stated that: … save as otherwise provided in this Act, the Authority are not to be treated ‖ as a body exercising functions on behalf of the Crown. 10.45 p.m.

When the Bill had gone to another place we found that we had left out one function of the Authority which should have been included among the exceptions to the subsection from which I have just quoted. We found it essential, for the purposes of the Explosives Act, 1875, that the Authority should be treated as a Government Department. This old statute is an Act To amend the law in respect of the manufacturing, keeping, selling, carrying, and importing of gunpowder, nitro-glycerine, and other explosive substances. Furthermore, by Section 3 of that Act, the term "'explosive" means Nitro-glycerine and every other substance manufactured to produce a practical effect by explosion. The explosives then known were much more limited than those now known. But some of these things may be produced by the Authority in order to secure" a practical effect by explosion," and if that is so, it will be necessary to exclude the Authority on security grounds from the operation of the Act of 1875, which provides that magazines have to be licensed, and that there should be public inquiries and inspection by local authorities of the magazines. It is not thought wise that the Authority's works should be open to such inspection.

Until now the code of inspection for the work to be undertaken by the Authority has been the same as that for the Service Departments, and I can give the complete assurance that, although we cannot apply the provisions of the 1875 Act in this connection, it does not mean that the precautions for employees, or for the public, will be any less stringent or less carefully observed. The Lord President of the Council has already stated in another place: I should therefore like to make it clear that I intend to ensure that the Authority shall comply in detail with such Magazine and Explosives Code of Practice as is from time to time in force in Service and Supply Departments."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 19th May, 1954; c. 802.] These have worked very well up to now, and they will be very carefully adhered to in the future. It is for security reasons that we ask for this Amendment, while at the same time I give the complete assurance that it will not in any way lessen the security precautions.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

After that explanation I think we can all agree that the right hon. Gentleman has made his case and say that we should agree with their Lordships in this Amendment.