HC Deb 15 March 1957 vol 566 cc1555-64

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]

4.1 p.m.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

On Tuesday of this week, in both Houses of Parliament, a most important statement was made on the Government's nuclear power programme which aimed at a nuclear capacity of at least 5,000 MW to be in operation by 1965. In fact, we were told that should certain conditions, which were mentioned, be favourable, no less than a 6,000-Mw output could be achieved by that date. On the very same day an announcement was also being made by the Government of Northern Ireland that a 150-MW nuclear station would be built by the Electricity Board for Northern Ireland and would be operating in 1963 or 1964.

In another place, it was also announced that huge sums of public money, ranging from £810 million to £1,460 million, would be spent on this programme between now and 1965–66. But we Welsh Members were shocked to learn that our country had been completely ignored. I say emphatically that no consideration at all has been given to Wales in the making of this plan. The statement to which I have referred was worded in identical terms in both Houses, and said: The Government, in conjunction with"— and I emphasise this: the English and Scottish Electricity Authorities and the Atomic Energy Authority have now— and this is really ominous to us: completed their re-examination of the nuclear power programme outlined in the White Paper of February, 1955… To some of us Welsh Members, the linking of the English and Scottish Electricity Authorities without mention of Wales was humiliating, but when, later, Northern Ireland was also mentioned as a venue for a nuclear power station we felt that that, indeed, was adding insult to injury.

On Wednesday this week the Lord President of the Council issued a statement from 10, Downing Street, after meeting a deputation of Welsh Members, saying that he had explained to the Welsh Members that there was no immediate intention of setting up a new establishment"— that is, a nuclear power station— but that the claims of Wales would be borne in mind in any future plans. We have already been given news of a plan complete to the year 1965 to 1966, that is, for the next eight or nine years. Wales will, presumably as an afterthought, be considered after that plan has been fulfilled.

May I be told why Wales has been totally excluded from this great revolution in the technical and technological world? Why was the Paymaster-General, who made the statement in this House on Tuesday week, so surprised when the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) asked him whether any consideration was given to Wales in this matter?

The Paymaster-General recovered from his astonishment sufficiently to imply that no suitable site had been found in Wales. He added what I can describe only as a fatuous statement, that the Minister for Welsh Affairs was keeping—I am not quite sure what was the exact word he used. There was some noise coming from Welsh Members at the time, I admit. However, his words, as I have them, were that the Minister for Welsh Affairs was keeping a close or closed eye on Wales.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. David Renton)

My right hon. Friend said: …a very close eve on this."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1957; Vol. 566, c. 188.]

Mr. Davies

If that is the case, then, though I do not wish to be harsh, I suggest that an eye specialist should examine the right hon. Gentleman immediately.

We in Wales are entitled to far greater information on this most important matter than we have had up to now. Why is Wales to be ignored? I say, as one who presumes to know his country in more senses than one, that it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that Wales could not provide suitable sites. The Parliamentary Secretary has to "hold the baby" today, and needs all the encouragement we can give him, but I ask him to tell us what are the prerequisites of a suitable site for a nuclear power station.

Wales has its varied geological formations, of course, I mean exposed. It has abundant potential supplies of water. It has a population four-fifths of whom have adapted themselves to an almost infinite variety of forms of industrial activity. It has heavy and up to now insoluble pockets of unemployment. It suffers continuously from a vicious depopulation of its rural areas.

Are we to be told that, despite all these conditions, a suitable site cannot be found in Wales? I remind the Government, who are apparently so pathetically ignorant of our country, that we have also a university with four constituent colleges, a young and virile university, flexible and adaptable enough to make further research into the development of nuclear energy. Why not use our Welsh university?

I must confess that the attitude of this Government is in this matter exasperatingly true to form as regards the interests of Wales. We are entitled to have an answer to these questions. Will it be necessary to drown any more of our Welsh valleys to provide water for some new English nuclear stations? Will the necessary labour for such stations outside Wales be drawn from our country? I say with all seriousness that the people of Wales strongly resent this deliberate outrage and unpardonable insult. Our presence as a nation has been contemptuously disregarded in this tremendously important matter.

These questions are the principal subject matter of discussion in Wales today. Even our Welsh Press, which is never too favourable towards this side of the House—I am not complaining—has been most outspoken on this matter in its strong resentment at the way we have been treated. We are tired of being just a milch cow for the convenience and wellbeing of areas in England. We are tired of seeing Welsh valleys being drowned, and Welsh communities, with all their Welsh traditions and culture, being destroyed for the pleasures of an alien people whose Government is so contemptuous of us.

Our country is good enough for this and similar Governments to take extensive areas of it and to destroy them for the pleasures of people who are not the people of Wales, using our land as battle-training areas where some people derive peculiar pleasure in playing soldiers as we did back in the days of the Boer War. We are bitterly disappointed and angry.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary please tell the House why no efforts have been made to find sites in Wales? What do the Government mean by a "suitable site"? What are the prerequisites? Has Wales been excluded from the present plan to be carried out between now and 1965–66, that is, excluded for the next eight or nine years? May we have blunt answers to our questions? We have had, from more than one place, a good deal of woolly generalisations and promises. May we be told this afternoon why we have been excluded from this great plan? Wales will have to contribute to the vast sums of money to be spent. May we please not be told that no suitable sites can be found in Wales? That would be too absolutely idiotic an answer to come from any part of the House.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) has displayed a natural and urgent anxiety about the development of nuclear energy establishments in Wales and has expressed his anxiety with characteristic vigour. This anxiety and concern is widespread in the Principality, because, prior to the announcement of the extended programme for nuclear generating stations on 5th March, in both Houses, although plans were laid for nuclear generating stations in England and Scotland, there was no mention of Wales. In this great, new revolutionary development we do not wish to be left out in the cold.

This gave rise to considerable public comment in Wales, especially among local authorities. Hon. Members from the Principality have been equally concerned for a very long time. The Welsh Labour Members have made a special study of the matter and have sent deputations to the Central Electricity Authority and to the Lord President of the Council to stress the Welsh viewpoint. I was a member of both deputations, and my impression was that we succeeded in impressing both authorities with our concern and dissatisfaction. We now have an assurance from the Minister of Power that the intention is to put one or more atomic power stations in Wales, if suitable sites can be found.

My hon. Friend has dealt with the question of sites; there are obviously plenty of sites in Wales. There are sites, away from the coal bearing areas, which fulfil all the requirements. We have been told what those requirements are. The major needs are—plenty of water for cooling purposes; proximity to the sea or to a tidal estuary; firm rock foundations, and so on. All that is necessary is for agreement to be reached with the planning authorities of the counties concerned, and such is the need in parts of Wales for permanent new sources of employment that I think that county councils will give every possible cooperation to the Central Electricity Authority. It will, of course, be the responsibility of that Authority and not the Government to choose the sites. I believe that suitable locations can be found which will not interfere with our amenities.

I should like the Government to be a little less vague than they have been up to now. Why do not they say that there will definitely be two nuclear generating stations, one in the north and one in the south of Wales? They never make reservations of this kind about England or Scotland; they just say that the stations are to be built there. Why should we in Wales always be left in an aura of uncertainty in matters of this kind?

Further, we believe that we should be given priority in these new schemes. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will impress this upon his noble Friend. We are not dealing today with projects under the Atomic Energy Authority, but Welsh Members are watching developments there very closely as well. As we see it, all the arguments are in favour of siting these stations in Wales and I hope that no time will be lost in taking the appropriate action.

4.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. David Renton)

I welcome the opportunity which has been provided by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies), in raising this matter on the Adjournment this afternoon, to remove any misunderstanding that there may be in his mind or in the mind of anybody else in Wales about Government policy in this matter. I think that I can quickly set any fears at rest.

I wish to state clearly and emphatically that it has never been the Government's intention to deprive Wales of her share in the nuclear power station programme. On the day before yesterday, in another place, my noble Friend said: The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, asked about Wales. I thought that he was going to utter a plea that we should not put an atomic power station in Wales; but no, he voiced his anxiety for the well-being of Wales. I can assure him that the intention is to put one or more atomic power stations in Wales, on the assumption that suitable sites can be found."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 13th March, 1957; Vol. 202, c. 560.]

Mr. S. O. Davies

No time is given. It was not stated that they would be constructed within this period, as part of the plan which we now have, which ends in 1965.

Mr. Renton

The global programme has only very recently been announced. It is for the Central Electricity Authority, exercising its statutory responsibility and on the advice of its engineers and other technical experts, to find sites and then, in the light of that advice, to reach decisions about the sites for which it wishes to apply for the building of power stations. My noble Friend's responsibility for the particular sites does not enter in at all until the Central Electricity Authority has put its proposals to him.

My noble Friend and the C.E.A. have good reason to be conscious of the desires of the people of Wales. I understand that the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) himself and others have approached the Central Electricity Authority already. We in the Ministry of Power have received representations from a considerable number of county councils and other representatives of organisations in Wales. It is interesting to reflect that if we were to accede to all the requests that we have had for the placing of power stations in particular parts of Wales, there would have to be at least 9 power stations built there out of a total programme of only 19 for the whole of the United Kingdom. In other words, Wales would be adorned by a necklace of nuclear power stations. However, these representations will be borne in mind by the C.E.A. and by my noble Friend.

I am no expert on the question of siting, but, as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil has indicated, siting depends upon a number of factors. Water, which the hon. Member mentioned, is one of them. Another important factor is that it is necessary to find a level site of several hundred acres with a really firm subsoil on which exceptionally large buildings can be erected without danger. There are other factors of a more technical kind with which I will not trouble the House.

As I have said, it is for the Central Electricity Authority to find the sites. I understand that during recent months the C.E.A. has been fairly busy considering the possibilities throughout the United Kingdom, including Wales, in anticipation of this expanded programme. Until particular proposals are put forward, it would be inappropriate for me to say anything further.

I wish, however, to assure the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, and the hon. Member for Anglesey, too, that there is no question whatever of Wales having been ignored at any stage either by my noble Friend, by the C.E.A. or by any of those who are advising. Such misunderstanding as there may be—and it is not shared by everybody in Wales▀×—

Mr. Davies

We have not been ungenerous as regards time. We must not be blamed for our indignation. No mention of our country was made either here or in the other place. We took particular note of the mention, not merely of Scotland and of England, but of Northern Ireland too. We were not responsible for that.

Mr. Renton

I quite agree that there was no mention specifically of Wales. I think it was due to the accident, which is, perhaps, to be regretted, that the C.E.A. was referred to in the Government statement as the English authority in a compendious way. These were the words used: The Government, in conjunction with the English and Scottish Electricity Authorities and the Atomic Energy Authority…"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1957; Vol. 566, c. 184.] That was a neat, compendious way of describing the various electricity authorities in the United Kingdom who are concerned. Later in the statement, there was mention of the Northern Ireland Authority, which is quite separate. As the hon. Member knows, however, the Central Electricity Authority is responsible for the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity throughout England and Wales.

If an apology is needed for the use of that expression in the Government statement, I make it, but, quite candidly, I should not have thought, in the circumstances, that many people would have been offended. May I say that I have a great fondness for Wales and a great respect for the Welsh people? I have spent many happy days in Wales, and no one is more anxious than I to see that the people of Wales are not overlooked in this question of atomic power stations.

There are two very important factors which I would ask the hon. Gentlemen to bear in mind in their further thoughts on this subject. In mentioning these two further factors, I am not departing in any way from what I have already said, but we must bear in mind, first, that it would obviously be wasteful of the national resources to site nuclear power stations too close to the coal fields while we are still using coal-burning power stations. I think that the hon. Gentleman accepts that.

Mr. Davies

Absolutely.

Mr. Renton

I am most grateful for that assurance.

I would further seek the hon. Gentleman's co-operation on the question of amenities. Wales, as we all know so well, is a beautiful country, and power stations are not pretty things. On previous occasions, when hydro-electric schemes, power stations, and so on, have had to be erected in Wales and elsewhere the amenity societies have made representations and put forward objections about them. It will need the balanced co-operation of all concerned to ensure that, if power stations have to be sited in places where there is some threat to the amenities, as there will inevitably be, we get the enthusiastic support of those who, like the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, have been pressing us.

I hope that with those assurances I have succeeded in removing any misunderstanding and any fears that there may be on the part of the people of Wales as to the future of the nuclear energy programme. I wish to repeat emphatically that, as my noble Friend said in another place the day before yesterday, Wales will get one or more nuclear power stations, though exactly when it is too early to say at this stage.

Mr. Davies

Are we to understand that it is intended to give Wales one or more of these power stations within the period covered by the plan up to 1965?

Mr. Renton

That is so. That is what my noble Friend was referring to in another place on Wednesday. The plan up to 1965 was the one under discussion.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Four o'clock.