HC Deb 21 March 1956 vol 550 cc1243-5
45. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will discuss the export of atomic energy plants and equipment with the Atomic Energy Authority and representatives of the British atomic energy industry in view of the need to compete with United States sales activity in the Commonwealth and other overseas markets.

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

As I told the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Moss) on 29th February, discussions have been going on for some time between the Atomic Energy Authority and representatives of the heavy electrical plant manufacturers to explore the possibilities of export trade in nuclear power reactors. I understand from my noble Friend the Lord President that the discussions, which have shown a substantial identity of view, are continuing and their scope is being widened.

Mr. Chetwynd

In view of the very real danger that we are falling behind the United States in this matter, can the Lord Privy Seal say whether we can expect more vigorous publicity from either the Government or the Atomic Energy Authority, and greater sales activity, particularly in Commonwealth countries, in these matters?

Mr. Butler

There is a reference to this point in the hon. Gentleman's next Question. I am satisfied that we are not doing quite so badly as the hon. Gentleman suggests. In fact, we are making a considerable surge forward. I will, if I may, answer the specific points about publicity in reply to the hon. Gentleman's next Question.

Mr. Warbey

Why is the Atomic Energy Authority, which has built up a very well equipped and highly efficient production division, to be debarred from engaging in the export market?

Mr. Butler

I have referred to this matter before to the hon. Gentleman. We feel that the arrangements already in hand are the best.

46. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Lord Privy Seal, in view of recent United States offer of material and technical assistance to other countries, and of the increasing competition developing in this field, what further action the Government is taking to tell the world of Britain's atomic energy achievements and to develop the export of the products of the British atomic energy industry.

Mr. R. A. Butler

Considerable publicity is being given to the United Kingdom's achievements and potentialities in this field, and technical assistance is being afforded to other countries. The United Kingdom has already established a substantial trade in the export of isotopes and new types of instruments for use in industry and research. The commercial development of nuclear power is, however, still in its infancy and there is unlikely to be a substantial demand for, or export of, power reactors for some years. My noble Friend and the Atomic Energy Authority are already giving consideration to long-term plans in this field, with my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Chetwynd

Can the Lord Privy Seal say whether our position is affected by the fact that we cannot make available the raw materials for this production, whereas the United States are in a position to do so? Could we not have some collaboration on that side of the matter?

Mr. Butler

I will discuss the question of collaboration with my noble Friend and with the Prime Minister. This is an important matter. I understand that there are adequate supplies of natural uranium but the supplies of enriched uranium are limited, and will have to be shared between defence and civil needs.

Mr. Stokes

In support of what my hon. Friend has said, may I ask whether the Lord Privy Seal can assure us that representations will be made to the United States Government to let us have a ton or two of enriched uranium, or uranium 235, or whatever they call it, because they have plenty of it? It will make an enormous difference to our costs of production if we can get some now.

Mr. Butler

That was why I distinguished between natural uranium and enriched uranium. While I cannot give a definite answer to the right hon. Gentleman, I will bear the point in mind and will discuss it.

Mr. Smithers

Does not my right hon. Friend think that, whatever the United States may propose to do, the suggestions of the O.E.E.C. Working Party for the atomic energy industry offer an admirable outlet for the industry of this country?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir, but that raises the question of the recent discussions in Paris of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject of Euratom, and I would rather not enlarge upon those at the present time.

Mr. Beswiek

If the position is—and the Lord Privy Seal is now admitting it to be so—that the United States' sales point is their ability to make available suitable fuel for the reactors, ought not that to be a reason why we should look at the division of our product as between civil and military needs to see whether we cannot release rather more for civil purposes?

Mr. Butler

I did raise, as the hon. Member will have observed, the difficulty of allocation between the two needs, civil and defence. We have these constantly under review. I will pay particular attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Callaghan

Is it not the case that under the arrangements made by the United States, a nation cannot be supplied with uranium if it is engaged in making atomic weapons? Have the Government approached the United States Government to see whether this restriction can be removed?

Mr. Butler

I would desire notice of that important question so that I could give a considered answer.