HC Deb 14 March 1956 vol 550 cc376-8
45. Mr. Warbey

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he is now in a position to make a statement regarding the relationship between the State and private industry in the field of atomic energy: if he will give details of the arrangements entered into between the Atomic Energy Authority and private firms, such as Associated Electrical Industries; what payment is to be made by private firms for use, data and expert knowledge obtained from the establishments and personnel of the Atomic Energy Authority; what public control is to be exercised over the activities of private firms in the field of atomic energy; what will be the supply from military stockpiles of plutonium and uranium 235 for use in more advanced types of civil power reactors; and if he will make a statement regarding a general review of the nuclear power programme.

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

The hon. Member has included several points in his Question. The information required is necessarily lengthy, and, with his permission, I will circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I can, however, tell him now that the current civil allocation of plutonium and U 235 is sufficient for the programme of more advanced types of civil power and research reactors now in hand. The main limiting factor in this programme is the shortage of suitably qualified scientists and engineers both in the Atomic Energy Authority and in industry. As to the hon. Member's last point, there is at present no reason to expect any radical departure from the White Paper of February, 1955 (Cmd. 9389), on the nuclear power programme.

Mr. Warbey

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that all the points covered in this omnibus Question are matters on which he has been promising statements during the past three or four weeks? Can we be assured that the statement he is now circulating will show that the Government have at last made up their mind on the important matters of policy contained therein?

Mr. Butler

The Government, of course, always knew their own mind on these matters. The question was how to impart that mind to the hon. Member and to the House. The hon. Member says that all these matters are questions on which I have promised information; that is precisely why I have attempted, in summarising them in the circulated statement, to give the hon. Member and the House some of the information they desire. I hope that the hon. Member will therefore study my replies, including the original oral reply I have just given to him.

Following is the information:

The Government consider that the relationship between the State and private industry in the field of atomic energy should be one of close partnership, subject to the maintenance of a proper degree of Governmental control on the lines indicated in the reply to the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey) on 29th February.

A great deal of the necessary research, development and production will have to be carried on by the Atomic Energy Authority, if only because of the high cost of the capital facilities required. Moreover, some activities, such as the import and processing of uranium, and the separation of U 235 in the diffusion plant, must remain responsibilities of the Authority alone, because they concern defence as well as civil requirements. Where nuclear fuel is required by industry it will be provided on loan. For the rest, however, it is the Government's hope that both private and nationalised industry—which started late in this field in the United Kingdom as compared with the United States of America—will enter as rapidly and extensively as possible into the atomic energy field to develop commercially the civil applications of these discoveries. For example, the nuclear power stations to be built for the electricity authorities will be designed and constructed by private industry; and private industry, and not the Authority, will fulfil export orders. The Authority are very willing to give industry the maximum of help which their technical resources will permit, subject to safeguarding two points:

  1. (i) That they should, where appropriate, be paid for commercially valuable information (including the use of patents owned by the Authority) which has been acquired at considerable public expense.
  2. (ii) That firms are not enabled to use the assistance afforded to them by the Authority to build up exclusive rights for themselves.

The access agreements made by the Authority with private firms contain provisions to cover these points. They will naturally vary according to the nature of the transaction, and it would not be consonant either with sound commercial practice or with the Authority's freedom to manage their day to day business on commercial lines that they should be required to publish such details or that the Lord President should be answerable for them.

46. Mr. Callaghan

asked the Lord Privy Seal what decision has been reached about publishing a White Paper stating the conclusions of the Government on such matters as the control of the private development of atomic energy, the release of enriched uranium for civilian and export needs, and the attitude of the Government towards the Euratom proposals.

Mr. R. A. Butler

Her Majesty's Government do not consider it necessary to publish a White Paper on the subjects raised in this Question. The first two points raised by the hon. Member are covered by my reply to the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey). The third point was dealt with by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury in his reply to the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) on 8th March (Cols. 217–19 (W)).

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Lord Privy Seal not aware that, however much the Government may know their own mind on problems that have been decided in the past, there are a number of new problems and that to embed the Government's policy in the pages of HANSARD really will not satisfy the situation? Will the Lord Privy Seal please reconsider the matter and see whether the time has not arrived to publish a new statement of the Government's plans in relation to the new problems that are building up every day?

Mr. Butler

I do not think there is anything I can add to the last point made by the hon. Gentleman, that is, on Euratom. That was considered by the O.E.E.C. in Paris, as announced by the Economic Secretary. The only other new aspect is the relationship to the Authority of private industry in so far as it is cooperating with the Authority. On that, I have attempted to outline certain points in the published statement in answer to the hon. Member for Ashfield. We will certainly watch the situation, but up to now I do not see that it is necessary to make any further statement.