HC Deb 11 April 1956 vol 551 cc208-9
45. Sir D. Robertson

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he is aware that a 68-hour week is being worked at Dounreay; that other essential building work on housing, schools, slum clearance, and agriculture cannot be manned unless similar excessive overtime earnings are paid; and if he will direct the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority to operate two 8-hour shifts per day at Dounreay in future.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I am informed by the Atomic Energy Authority that the single shift system at present operating at Dounreay is necessary to complete the work in time for the station to fulfil its function in the nuclear power programme. Recruitment of two 8-hour shifts, if this were possible, would mean an increase of at least 40 per cent. in the labour force, amounting to 800 more men at the peak period. In the Authority's opinion this would cause more local disturbance than the present arrangements.

Sir D. Robertson

Is the situation not wholly unsatisfactory when the economy of Caithness and Sutherland is completely distorted because of a cost-plus contract which causes the men to work excessive hours and makes it impossible for other essential work to be carried out? Why do the Government support a policy so inflationary and harmful as this? When other civil engineering contractors are able to work two 8-hour shifts, why is it impossible for that to be done at Dounreay?

Mr. Butler

It is not impossible to work a two-shift system, but I have indicated that the Authority has informed us that it would mean the introduction of some 800 more men at peak periods, and that would do more to upset the economy of that part of the world my hon. Friend represents. Moreover, the information the Authority has provided my noble Friend and me is that the economy is not, in fact, distorted, and although there are obvious local objections from one point of view and another, this is probably the best way in which we can make progress in a singularly difficult problem.

Mr. G. Wilson

Can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that no steps will be taken which will in any way delay the Dounreay project, which is absolutely vital to the future of our country?

Mr. Butler

That is one of the reasons why this rather exceptional course is being followed and why these rather exceptional hours are being worked.

Mr. Callaghan

Over what period is the 68-hour week being worked? Does the right hon. Gentleman think he can get value for money or really get the work well done if a 68-hour week is worked for any length of time?

Mr. Butler

I have gone into this in some detail, because I anticipated that hon. Members would ask me such a question as that. The usual leave periods occur every eight weeks. There are the usual remissions which occur when such long hours have to be worked. If the hon. Gentleman would like me to, I will send him particulars of the way the hours are spaced out and of the amount of leave allotted to the workers.