HC Deb 09 February 1959 vol 599 cc861-938

Order for Second Reading read.

3.31 p.m.

The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a rather complicated Bill on a rather technical subject, but I hope to explain to the House that it is a relatively simple Measure. As the Title explains, it is concerned with the licensing and insurance of nuclear installations. Broadly speaking, its purpose is to ensure the maximum safety in the construction and operation of these installations and also to ensure that, should an accident occur, anyone damaged thereby shall be properly compensated.

I will start by stressing that the likelihood of radioactive damage or hurt to an individual arising from a nuclear installation is very remote. As the House is aware, there are many interlocking safety devices designed to prevent either human or mechanical error giving rise to a serious accident. But, of course, no one can guarantee complete safety in any human contraption, and the fact remains that in nuclear reactors large quantities of radioactive, and, therefore, potentially dangerous substances will be employed. There is always the possibility, however remote, of something happening in the course of operation or in the disposal of waste or in the treatment of the irradiated fuel elements which may give rise to injury to human beings, or to damage to property.

So I start by emphasising that the danger we have in mind is extremely remote, but should, by any unfortunate occurrence, an accident occur, the damage that would be occasioned might be serious. Therefore, it seems to the Government that we need, first, to take all possible precautions by instituting a licensing control and safety system, and, secondly, that we ought to deal with the question of insurance against and compensation for an accident. The very special problems of insuring against an accident—the possibility is extremely remote, but should one occur it might be very serious—are unique in the general experience of insurance.

The installations concerned are likely, first, to be those owned by Government Departments or by the Atomic Energy Authority; or, secondly, installations owned by a nationalised industry, which is at present the electricity industry; or, thirdly, nuclear reactors or installations owned by private enterprise or by private organisations. There is at present one research reactor privately owned, and I understand that there may be more. Also, as the House is aware, there are several nuclear power stations under construction and planned for the electricity authorities.

The present position of the law is not fully satisfactory either as regards control or liability for damage. To take, first, the Atomic Energy Authority, this has to obtain planning consent for what it does but there is no code laid down by the Government at present for the obtaining of planning consent, for the provision of safe construction or safe operation. The Atomic Energy Authority, however, already has absolute liability and that is the precedent we are taking and applying to privately owned or nationalised industry owned reactors. Government Departments have at present the normal liability under the common law which, I think I would be right in saying, is probably liability only in case of negligence.

Nationalised industries and private enterprise owners of reactors and other installations are subject to planning control and they are, at any rate, theoretically, subject to a possible control under the existing atomic energy legislation. We do not consider that this possible control is adequate to give the kind of regular and definite assurance needed that reactors are constructed and operated in accordance with the highest standards of safety.

On the question of damage, what would be the exact legal liability of private owners is a matter of same doubt. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) will have a better opinion on this point than I have. Whether Rylands v. Fletcher would apply, I do not know, but we feel that this is a matter of doubt which should be resolved, and that we should make quite clear the legal liability of private owners of nuclear installations to anyone who is hurt or damaged by an accident.

Finally, there is the fact that under the existing legislation the limitation of claims for damage is three years in the case of personal injury and six years in the case of damage to property. That is the general rule which, in the nature of the special risks that arise in the emission of radioactive substances, we do not think is adequate.

So, for all those reasons, the Government feel that the Bill is necessary to clarify the position and to make it absolutely satisfactory in the public interest. I will not take up too much of the time of the House, but I would like to explain the main effect of the Bill and the details we shall be considering during the course of the Committee stage.

The main principles of the Bill are as follow. First, it will apply to nuclear reactors, as will be seen by Clause 1 (1, a). It can also be applied by regulation to a wide range of other installations designed for the production, disposal or treatment of radioactive matter. The problem is that one cannot be certain at this stage what types of installation may be devised in the future which will involve the use of large and dangerous quantities of radioactive matter. Therefore, one cannot define them entirely at present. It is desirable to leave it to be settled by regulations—which, according to the Bill, are subject to the control of Parliament—what further installations or equipment we should make subject to this licensing system.

In theory, I agree, it will be possible to extend the control even to the possession or storage of small quantities of radioactive material in hospitals or universities. That is certainly not our intention—we have no intention of introducing regulations to that effect—but it is important to give power to extend the general scope of the control to cover in the future those cases where it is clear that the radioactive material will be present on such a scale as to give rise to a risk of serious damage should an accident occur.

The first effect of the Bill is to say that no one shall construct or operate a reactor on any site without a licence from the Minister. The Minister will set up an inspectorate to advise him and to ensure that his licensing system is effective, and the conditions of the licence will be variable according to the circumstances, and revocable if necessary, and will cover the whole field from design and construction through to operation and maintenance.

In establishing his inspectorate my noble Friend the Minister of Power will, naturally, work in close consultation with the Atomic Energy Authority, which possesses the greatest pool of expert knowledge on this subject. He intends, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland, to set up a nuclear safety advisory committee of eminent and qualified people who will be able to keep them fully in touch with development of thought in this field. So there will be a full and, we believe, effective control over the construction, operation and maintenance of these nuclear installations.

This will not apply in the same form either to Government Departments should they establish nuclear reactors or to the Atomic Energy Authority, and I suggest that there are good reasons for this. With regard to the Departments, I suggest that it would be contrary to all practice for the Crown to license itself, for one Government Department to license another; but the Ministers concerned have a responsibility to this House, which seems to me to be the right guarantee in this field.

So far as the Atomic Energy Authority is concerned, it is really a question of "quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Its people know most about this thing. One could not possibly have a safety organisation which would tell them what to do about their experimental reactors without knowing as much as they do about the experiments. In other words, as they are dealing with experimental reactors and not the normal commercial type of reactor; and as they have the greatest fund of knowledge about these things, it seems rather pointless to subject them to this statutory licensing system. But the intention is that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister responsible for these matters, will issue a directive to the Authority to co-operate with the licensing body and to follow as far as practicable the code of practice which the licensing authority will establish.

Mr. Farey-Jones (Watford)

My right hon. Friend mentioned an advisory committee. Will the committee advise the Minister or the Atomic Energy Authority?

Mr. Maudling

It will advise the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Another problem is the discharge of waste from reactors. The intention in that case is to apply to all owners of reactors the provision which by the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954, are applied to the Authority, namely, that it is subject to the control of the Ministers of Housing and Local Government and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England and Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland in Scotland in what it is permitted to do in the handling of waste.

The question of the transport between two sites of irradiated fuel elements will be dealt with under the Radioactive Substances Act, 1948.

I come next to the question of liability. I take, first, the licensees, namely, the nationalised industries or the private enterprises which own the installations. There will be placed on them an absolute liability towards everyone, including their employees, who may in any way be hurt or damaged by the emission of radioactive substances from their installations, and this absolute liability will replace or subsume their common law liability, which is now limited to cases of negligence. The only qualification of this absolute liability is the natural qualification where contributory negligence can be established. If so, that can be pleaded in mitigation of damage.

The absolute liability will apply to everything that happens on the site of the nuclear installation and anything that emerges from it whether by reason of the operation of the reactor or the discharge of waste, and it will also apply to any hurt or damage caused in the course of the transport of irradiated fuel elements.

We therefore feel that the Bill, as drafted, will place upon the people concerned an absolute liability for hurt or damage in all cases where, conceivably, hurt or damage can be caused by radioactive substances.

The other extension which the Bill provides is in the period of claim, which is extended to thirty years in the case of both damage to an individual and damage to property. That contrasts with the periods of three and six years respectively which, as I mentioned earlier, are the rule under existing law. The reason for this extension is the fact that hurt or damage caused by radiation can take a very long time indeed to become apparent. I think that it is now agreed by all concerned that the limitations in this case should be very much longer than the normal rule.

Under Clause 8, the Atomic Energy Authority and Government Departments will have precisely the same liability, an absolute liability towards anyone, including their employees, hurt or damaged. The only small difference between the two is that in the case of licensees enemy action is excluded, but in the case of the Atomic Energy Authority and the Departments enemy action is included.

So the second stage of the Bill—after the first stage, which provided for the licensing and the safety regulations—is to provide that, should anyone be hurt or damagd despite the safety precautions he or she shall be absolutely entitled to compensation.

The third, and, in effect, final, stage of the Bill is to ensure that adequate cover is provided so that people who have a claim to compensation can be confident that that claim will be met. The Atomic Energy Authority and the Government Departments, do not insure and any claim falling upon them would have to be met automatically out of public funds. So no special provision is made in their case.

In the case of the licensees—the nationalised industries or private owners—the Government consider that this is a commercial risk, a risk which will arise in the course of commercial operation, and that it should, therefore, be the responsibility of the owners of the installations to provide insurance to cover them against the risk of having to meet this absolute liability for either hurt or damage. It is, however, not possible to provide insurance cover of an unlimited amount or over a period so long as thirty years. This is not only experience in this country. It is experience in some neighbouring countries as well.

I think that hon. Members who are aware of the nature of the insurance market will readily appreciate that a risk of that kind is really not an insurable risk in the normal commercial sense. We have, therefore, provided in the Bill that the owners of the installations must hold themselves covered, by insurance or other means to the satisfaction of the Minister, up to £5 million.

This figure has been settled in the light of an assessment of the possible damage which might be caused in the very remote possibility of a serious accident and of the possibilities of the insurance market. Beyond that, should a major disaster occur—which, I must repeat, expert information at present finds inconceivable, but cannot guarantee is impossible—it would appear to be a matter for consideration by Parliament and devolving upon the responsibility of the Government. So the Bill provides that, beyond the £5 million figure for which the owners of the installations are responsible to hold themselves covered, provision will be made by Parliament.

This, it seems to us, is the practical way of dealing with the problem. Should a disaster of unforeseeable magnitude occur, then Parliament will have to make provision. Equally, in the case of the length of claim, it is, as a practical matter, impossible to ensure against claims arising more than about ten years ahead. Should claims arise after ten years up to a period of thirty years, these, again, will devolve upon Parliament for settlement.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Cleveland)

Would the Minister make it clear, because there does seem to be some doubt even now, that employees in the plants as well as the general public are covered by this general insurance?

Mr. Maudling

I thought that I had mentioned that. I am very glad to repeat it. The liability of the owners of the installations is absolute to their employees just as it is to the general public. Therefore, the employees could not possibly be more clearly and completely covered.

The insurance provisions of the Bill are designed to ensure that the absolute liability resting upon the owners should be sustainable and that people can be guaranteed not only their right of action, but also that where they have a right of action the necessary compensation will be forthcoming. We decided that this was a matter which should be the proper commercial responsibility of the people concerned, but that, on the other hand, it was not practicable for them to carry the entire risks up to unlimited amounts and over a very extended period. Therefore, it is on the basis of those principles that the Bill provides how compensation shall be settled.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

My right hon. Friend said "by insurance or other means". Will he elaborate on the "other means"?

Mr. Maudling

Theoretically, they could hold enough cash themselves available to meet it. In practice, insurance will be the means. In drawing up a Statute one has to cover all possibilities. In practice, one would expect this to be a matter of commercial insurance.

To sum up, without going into the details of these matters, which, I think, are more appropriate for the Committee stage, I have tried to deal with the main principles and purposes of the Bill. As I said at the beginning, the existing law is either inadequate or uncertain to cover the whole of this problem. Therefore, we have tried to provide, first, for maximum safety in construction, operation and maintenance of these installations; secondly, to clarify the law as to liability and impose an absolute liability in respect of all the people who enter or operate reactors; and, thirdly, to ensure that people who are hurt or damaged can be confident that they will receive the compensation to which they will be entitled.

I should like to conclude by emphasising once again that an accident on a serious scale is considered by all expert opinion to be a very remote possibility, and that every possible safety device is being installed in all the reactors and similar installations. But, despite that, the Government thought it right to provide against a contingency that might arise, first, through the licensing system, to make the contingency even more remote, and, secondly, through the insurance system, to provide that, if an accident should occur, anyone hurt or damaged shall be properly compensated.

3.55 p.m.

Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)

We should all be grateful to the Minister for the clear way in which he has explained the purposes of this Bill. We all agree with him that almost, as we are, at the outset of the large scale development of the use of nuclear power it is desirable to get down to the task of formulating general comprehensive safety measures.

I understand from the Minister that he contemplates that some kind of code will gradually be evolved and that a direction is to be given to the Atomic Energy Authority that it is to be observed; and I presume that conditions attached to licences will in due course become comprehensive in form and cover all the various safety precautions that would be necessary in given conditions, in the case of different sorts of installations and in different sites. That is a purpose of which we all very much approve. Whether we know enough now to be able to foresee all the possible risks is very much open to question, but that is not a reason for not beginning to do what we can.

I should like, at the outset, to call attention to some of the features of the Bill. The licensing provisions are extremely wide. Clause 1 (1, a) relates to plant which at present, it is thought, will mean ordinary nuclear reactors. The licence which is to attach to a site is one which will enable the plant to be installed and also to be operated. The purpose for which it can be operated includes the actual production of atomic energy through a maintained and controlled fission process.

As the right hon. Gentleman says, subsection (1, b) is designed to apply to types of installation which we cannot yet foresee and which will, in due course, be prescribed, I suppose by Statutory Instrument. It may include any type of nuclear installation. The language of paragraph (b) will cover installations which are designed not merely for the production of, but also for the use of, atomic energy. As the right hon. Gentleman says, it is not only the installation, but also the operation of any new installation, including operation for the purpose of using atomic energy.

Under Clause 1, the licence is very wide in scope. It covers everything. It covers present reactors. It covers all sorts of future installations. It covers the actual production of atomic energy and it covers the use if it. Therefore, a private operator who may obtain a licence for one of these sites may be given a licence which will enable him to do everything-to produce atomic energy and to use it, not only on his own premises, but presumably also by selling it or by distributing it in any form that he thinks desirable.

The question that I should like to ask the Minister is this. The Minister has already referred to the existing provisions for licensing. In section 10 of the Atomic Energy Act, 1946, the then Minister was given the power to prohibit, except by licence, all the things that I have just been describing. All these various processes—getting the minerals, in the first place; building the plant, in the second place; producing atomic energy, in the third place and using it, in the fourth place—are at present only permissible if a licence is granted by the appropriate Minister. When the 1946 Act was passed, that was the Minister of Supply. Later, those functions were taken over by the Lord President of the Council and I gather that the duty of granting or withholding licences is now vested in the Prime Minister.

I cannot understand why there should be this duplicated system of licensing. Has a private operator or a nationalised industry first to go to the Prime Minister to obtain the licence, which at present has to be given under Section 10 of the 1946 Act, and, having obtained it, to go to the Minister of Power and obtain a second licence applying to the site? If so, that is an extraordinary and cumbersome procedure. If there are existing provisions for the granting of licences it is very difficult to justify the super-imposition on that system of a new requirement that there should be a licence attaching to the site.

I am a little suspicious about the provisions of Clause 1, because I find that the Minister's powers to grant licences under Section 10 of the 1946 Act are somewhat circumscribed. Subsection (2) of that Section says that Minister is to secure so far as practicable in the issue of his licences that minerals, substances and plant are to be available for the purposes of research and education, and for Medical and biological purposes. The subsection concludes: …and for commercial purposes not involving the production or use of atomic energy. Has that limitation now been removed? So far as I know, subsection (2) has not been repealed. It would, therefore, seem to be the position that when issuing a licence the Prime Minister has to bear in mind the limitation imposed on him by Section 10 (2) of the 1946 Act. Unless I have misunderstood the existing legislation—and the right hon. Gentleman said that it was somewhat vague and unsatisfactory—its provisions are perfectly plain, that at the moment a licence has to be issued in circumstances which will ensure that the use of atomic energy for commercial purposes shall be limited and shall not involve the production or use of atomic energy. There may be a perfectly simple explanation of the difficulty with which I find myself confronted. The Minister did not give us the answer and I will be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary will state what the present position is. The House would wish to know

When asked in another place about this matter, the Minister of Power somewhat perplexed the noble Lords who were asking him, because he gave no fewer than four inconsistent answers At one time, he said that at present any person could operate a nuclear reactor without a licence, apart from the ordinary patent licence which he had to obtain from the Atomic Energy Authority. He then gave an answer which seemed to simply that a private firm would need a licence only in the case of a research reactor. He then said that there was a power now vested in the Prime Minister which was not appropriate for these safety purposes. The noble Lord said that the Prime Minister could issue licences, but that that was not a power which could conveniently be used for the purposes which the Government had in mind.

That may be so, but it is not very satisfactory to be told that existing legislation is vague. We want to know what is wrong with it. There is now an overall power of licensing. What is the point of grafting on another system which is not so satisfactory as the existing power, since the existing power is subject to some limitation, contained in Section 10 (2)? Before we give our assent to the Bill, which, obviously, has many laudable objects, we ought to be told more about what is contemplated by the issue of these licences.

I understand that, apart from work done by the Authority, there are either under construction or planning six nuclear power stations for the electricity boards and that there are engaged upon the erection, advising about or planning of those power stations the four consortia centring round the suppliers of heavy electrical machinery. Of course, there are other uses of atomic energy for various purposes in ordinary private industry, but the major use is in nuclear power stations, the construction of which is being undertaken by the four consortia.

So far as they have formulated their intentions, what do the Government intend to do with the licenses? Are they to be freely granted? What sort of limitations are to be imposed? Are limitations to be imposed quite apart from the safety limitations, or are there to be no limitations other than mere requirements that this, that and the other safety precaution shall be embodied in the licence? If so, is the general control over the use of atomic power in private industry to depend upon Section 10 (2)?

The answers to those questions will not necessarily result in our withholding our approval from the Bill, since it is obviously a Bill which has a very useful purpose, that of getting down at the outset to building a code of safety. However, before assenting to the Second Reading, the House should be fully informed of the Government's intention about the licences.

It has been said that they are licences which will apply merely to the site. I should have thought that the licences issued under Section 10, even though not limited to a site, could easily be adapted to permit the use of atomic energy or the installation of plant only on a particular site. That is why I am puzzled about why the Government have adopted this procedure in drafting the Bill.

I pass from that general to more specific considerations. While I entirely agree with the proposal that liability should be absolute, and that for a person whose health is injured or whose property is affected by the use of atomic power absolute liability is far more satisfactory than the common law liability, and while I agree that the limits should be extended beyond the existing three years and six years to thirty years, nevertheless I have some doubts about how the provisions as to liability will work in the context of this problem.

My doubts centre upon the use of the word "occurrence" in this context. Under Clause 3 (4), claims have to be made within thirty years of the particular occurrence, and the word "occurrence" is used. The full phrase is: … occurrence on, or in connection with the use of, the site in question which gave rise to the claim. There is a subsidiary provision: that if the claim is made after ten years from the occurrence, the licensee shall not be required to make a payment unless or until Parliament has made provision to secure that the amount which is necessary to satisfy the claim will be reimbursed to the licensee if he so requires.

Ordinarily, when one is considering an accident, one knows that it happened at a particular time. There is some act or happening to which one can point. I would simply pose a question to the Minister, and ask for his help on it. Is that concept so easy to apply when we are dealing with injury which may be done by atomic energy? What, for instance, is the position of a person who is injured by gradual exposure to atomic radiation?

As the Minister has said, quite categorically, the Bill is designed to apply to people who are working in these installations—as one would have hoped it would be. But what of the person who, after a period of years, loses the sight of an eye, or of a person who has a deformed child after many years, when all that can be shown is that he has worked in, or in the vicinity of, an installation? How can he point to a specific occurrence which may have given rise to his injury? All that will be known is that he was a person who might have been exposed to atomic radiation over a certain period, and that after some years his sight has become defective, or he has suffered some other dreadful misfortune.

I do not know whether hon. Members have been able to read the very frightening speech made by Lord Taylor, in another place. Lord Taylor speaks with a wealth of knowledge on these matters, and he pointed to the danger which arises when there is a leak of atomic power, or a disaster such as that which occurred at Windscale. Apparently, the major danger arises from the release of radio-strontium, but another substance—radiocaesium—may also be let loose. Those substances have a cumulative effect, and they may operate for years and years.

The half-life of radio-strontium is twenty-eight years, which means that after twenty-eight years radio-strontium loses half its power. But it will still go on affecting any persons who are in its proximity, and over a long period of time it gives out radiation rather like a series of X-ray doses. Once that radiation has become lodged in the hard bone and has affected the marrow, after a certain stage an additional dose which would otherwise be perfectly harmless may produce a fatal result.

If a person dies of leukaemia, or one of the dreadful illnesses which this kind of exposure produces, how, in practice, are his dependants to establish that he was affected by an occurrence? There may have been no incident, such as that which occurred at Windscale, to which anybody can point. His injury may have resulted through exposure to radio-strontium over a long period. I do not know whether that is medically possible. It may not be, but I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us.

Even if it cannot be due to such exposure, is it not possible that leaks, or similar mishaps, may take place, which are not noticed at the time they occur? If that is possible I feel some doubt about the wisdom of hingeing the question upon a specific occurrence which can be pointed out and described as an accident. I wonder whether this will give those who may be affected by atomic radiation the requisite degree of protection. I hope that the Government will give some further thought to this matter.

I should like to throw out an idea for consideration. I wonder whether the best way to deal with this matter is not to create some presumption, and to enact that a person who has been in the area of possible radiation shall, unless the licensee can show that there is no causal connection, be presumed to have sustained his illness through atomic radiation. In Clause 5 (5) the Government have gone very near providing that. I wonder whether they should not go a little farther, as I have suggested. Clause 5 (5) provides that a person who was within a particular degree of proximity at the time of an occurence shall be able to register himself as having been there. He is not bound to register, but he is entitled to do so, and if, in later years, there should be any bad effect upon his health, that registration will constitute proof that he was in the area at the time.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Power (Sir Ian Horobin)

With the proviso that there may be a rebuttal of that presumption of truth.

Sir F. Soskice

I should have said that it is a proof which may be rebutted. At any rate, it is a prima facie proof.

I simply ask the Minister to consider whether it would not be desirable to go a little further, and to provide that if a person can show that he was within the area the presumption shall be that he was affected, and that if he dies of leukaemia twenty years later there shall be a presumption in favour of his relatives, and the onus shall be upon the licensee to rebut that presumption.

I suggest that the Minister might go so far as to say that even where there is no specific ascertainable occurrence, if a person can show that he was within an area of an atomic plant for a period of time there shall be a similar presumption. which would require rebuttal by the licensee. That is merely a suggestion.

I am not satisfied that the provisions concerning transit are satisfactory at present. Clause 3 (1) imposes an absolute liability upon the licensee in respect of nuclear material in transit, provided that it was irradiated on the premises in respect to which the licensee holds a licence. That absolute liability is subject to certain qualifications, and I doubt whether they are justified. If the material is being transported by ship from one part of the United Kingdom to another, so long as the harm is done while the ship is within territorial waters the liability remains absolute, as I read the Clause, but if the ship has gone just outside British territorial waters—four, five or six miles from the shore—the liability is no longer absolute unless the ship is registered on a British register.

I would ask whether that sharp differentiation between the position of a ship just inside and the position of another ship just outside territorial waters is justified. One can conceive of a shipwreck, collision, or some such accident Which may let loose the irradiated material being carried. If that should happen, would it not be possible for trawlers or other vessels to be affected, or even for the effect to spread to the adjoining land? I do not know whether that is possible, but if it is regarded as being so—and I have in mind that the Paymaster-General has said that these things are unlikely—is it right that there should be this sharp demarcation between an absolute liability just inside and a qualified or common law liability just outside the limit of territorial waters?

I hope that the Government will think about this question again, to see whether, once it is shown that the material in question was irradiated on the premises of the licensee, his liability should remain absolute, within the terms of the Bill, for a period of thirty years, wherever the collision or other mishap occurs which lets loose irradiated material and possibly causes it to spread and affect other shipping or even adjacent land.

Although, as the Paymaster-General has said, every Clause will be examined in detail in Committee, there is one point of principle to which I want to refer. It may be said to interest me particularly, having regard to the offices which I held in an earlier Government. I refer to the question of director's liability. I notice that the present Conservative Government, by Clause 7 (1), place an absolute liability upon the directors of licensee concerns, whether nationalised concerns or private companies. The concluding words of Clause 7 (1) read: where the body corporate was guilty of the offence in the capacity of licensee under a nuclear site licence, he"— that is, the director— shall be so liable as if he, as well as the body corporate, were the licensee. If I correctly construe that language, it means that any director of one of these bodies, whether it be a private body or a nationalised industry, although he may have been at the other end of the earth when the particular offence was committed, and although he may have no knowledge of or complicity in it, nevertheless is criminally liable.

I do not say that that is wrong at all. We are here dealing with this dreadfully dangerous material, and, speaking for myself, I would say that the community is quite entitled in cases of that sort to exact a very high standard of responsibility from anybody who is responsible for these concerns. I take it that the offences in question which are described in these words are offences which consist in the neglect of some safety precaution which is embodied as necessary in a licence. The House would agree that such safety precautions, with the terrible consequences which a breach might involve, must not at any cost be neglected. The Government are right in imposing a very high measure of responsibility on anybody who runs any concern which is licensed.

I would, however, remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that, when we sat where they sit now, and where we shall sit in June, July, or whenever the time may be, we were very severely taken to task by them when we imposed a liability on directors in the case of infringement of particular requirements, even when we gave them an opportunity of showing that they were not personally responsible, and so could escape liability. A director under this provision cannot even do that. He can say, until he is blue in the face that he knew nothing about the breach, but, nevertheless, he is criminally responsible. He may be a person who could not conceivably have known. He may have been away in Australia when the breach took place.

It may be that he could not conceivably have known anything about it, but, if I have construed that language correctly—I see that the Minister is shaking his head; I hope he will say whether I am right in the interpretation which I have put upon this provision—the man in charge of the concern would be liable. The Government would be right to take the view that we must impose an extremely high degree of responsibility in cases of this sort. People's lives and health are at stake, and legislation in this proposed new form would be justified, in my view, so that the maximum possible precautions can be taken against possible injury to persons, and particularly to health, rather than property, because of the escape of irradiated material.

A final aspect of the Bill with which I want to deal concerns the provisions as to insurance. They really are a bit odd, and I should have thought, a bit cumbersome. The Paymaster-General has said that we cannot expect an insurance company to insure somebody for ever. That may be so, but why expect an insurance company to take this risk at all? Would it not be better to have a simple system whereby the licensee pays a contribution to the Treasury, so that public funds, in consequence, are responsible for bearing the risk?

What the Government have done is that they have had recourse to private insurance companies to carry the risk up to a limit of £5 million. I do not know what premiums are to be charged. I have no idea of the view which insurance companies take of the nature of the risk incumbent upon them if they insure against possible damage from the escape of irradiated material.

Would it not be simpler to do what I have suggested, rather than what the Government have done? They have said that private insurance companies are to insure up to a limit of £5 million, but that the licensee is to be responsible even in excess of £5 million, but, although responsible, he is not to have to pay—I wonder whether that is not a paradox in judicial language—unless and until Parliament has made arrangements that he is to be reimbursed, if he wants to be reimbursed, and he would be a very surprising licensee if he did not want to be.

Rather than have that cumbersome legislation, would it not be simpler to assess what is the appropriate contribution, premium or whatever it may be, which should be paid to some Governmental institution by persons who wish to obtain licences for the use of atomic material, and required that the licensee shall, under the conditions of the licence, make that contribution to the Treasury, and that the Treasury, or some other Governmental institution, should be responsible to pay £5 million or over to cover the loss, whatever it may be?

In another place, the Minister of Power, I think I am right in saying, said that it would be very unlikely that we would ever get a claim which did involve more than £5 million. I should have thought that the contribution which would be paid by the licensee to obtain unlimited cover would not have been much more, if any more, than what he would have to pay to get cover, whether through the Government or some private body, in respect of £5 million. I should have thought that that might be actuarially ascertainable, but I put it to the Government that, rather than enlist the services of private insurance companies, asking them to assume this unforeseeable burden, the community as a whole should assume responsibility as a community to indemnify those who are injured as a result of this new motive power.

I put it to the Government that it would be much more safe, from the point of view of the insured person, and more satisfactory from the point of view of the licensee, as well as much more intelligible from the point of view of the ordinary citizen, if, instead of this curious dichotomy regarding the £5 million and what is to happen if the claim is above £5 million, all that were provided for in one sensible, coherent scheme, and a Government institution was designated to carry the whole amount of the loss.

I do not think that it would be of assistance to the House to examine now all the minutia of the Bill, which, speaking for myself, I would say is one which I entirely approve in principle. We shall have to examine the Bill very closely in Committee, not perhaps so much in a hostile sense as to make certain that it will work to achieve the purposes which hon. Members on both sides have in mind in hoping it will get on the Statute Book.

I would simply content myself now by saying that, obviously, what the Bill sets out to do must be achieved. It must be achieved as cheaply and efficiently, so far as the private citizen is concerned, as it can be, and it must be so comprehensive that there will not be a risk of people being left out by accident, because, for example, of the use of the word "occurrence", which may be found very difficult to fit in to a particular pattern of events when a person loses his life as a result of one of the dreadful diseases which can result from irradiation.

With those few comments, I hope that the Bill may receive a Second Reading.

4.29 p.m.

Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

The right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) directed his remarks mainly to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench, and there is little that I can do except to take up one or two points which he made and which, as he rightly said, were of a rather technical nature.

There are but two points to which I wish to refer. First, I regretted the use by the right hon. and learned Gentleman of the term "disaster" in relation to Windscale. I should have thought that the word "disaster" might have been reserved to describe some of the terrible calamities which we have experienced in the mining history of this country. To my knowledge, nobody lost his life as the result of the occurrence at Windscale. No doubt there was considerable alarm among people in the Windscale area at the time of the incident, but it is to the credit of the Atomic Energy Authority, and all the other authorities involved, that, to my certain knowledge, no lives were lost as a result of what happened at Windscale.

It is true that when Sir Alexander Fleck investigated certain complaints about the arrangements at Windscale, he found matters which he did not feel were entirely satisfactory, and he made recommendations to the effect that they should be put right. But the profligate use of the word "disaster" is unfortunate when we are discussing a whole new field of science and technology which—let us face it—is bewildering to the majority of our fellow countrymen. I think, therefore, that we must be careful about our use of language and our choice of words.

Secondly, I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman appeared excessively worried about the possibility of an employee in one of these establishments suffering from the cumulative effects of exposure to ionising radiation without there being the possibility of ascertaining why and where he had received an excessive dose.

Sir F. Soskice

I simply expressed what I thought was a possibility, at the same time expressing the hope that it was a very remote possibility. If that be so, no one will be more delighted than I. I hope that the possibility will be very unlikely.

Mr. Price

It is a question of balancing all these things. Possibly the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not so familiar as some hon. Members may be with the steps taken by the Atomic Energy Authority to ensure that such a situation does not arise.

I commend to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention the annual reports of the Authority and, in particular, the chapters on health and safety. Quite a number of hon. Members have been to Harwell and seen the measures taken there in the health and safety division and the health physics division. In making these comments I am not seeking to join issue with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I mention them merely so that people who may be worried about these things can be reassured that every reasonable precaution is being taken.

I understand from the speech of my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General that the standard of health and safety which has been built up by the Atomic Energy Authority will be applied by the Ministry to other establishments. In due course those who operate in this sphere under the licensing system will be compelled to lay down the same standards of health and safety as are practised at Harwell. To me, that is important, and represents one of the attractive features of the Bill.

Some hon. Members who listened to the debate in the House last Friday may regard this as a continuation of our discussion on that occasion, when some of us endeavoured to deal with the future of atomic energy in relation to our power and fuel needs. As I endeavoured to point out on Friday, nuclear energy has come of age, No longer are we dealing with a scientific possibility in the remote future. Now we are dealing with practical realities. For that reason I think that all of us will welcome the objects of the Bill, which is to license nuclear establishments and to ensure that there is adequate insurance coverage in case of accidents; although, as was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport, we hope that such accidents will never happen.

To me, it seems that what we are endeavouring to do, by the provisions of the Bill, may be paralleled with what this House did many years ago upon the advent of the motor car. Parliament insisted on the licensing of motor cars, and that drivers should obtain driving licences. The House, in its wisdom, said that everyone owning a motor car must have third party insurance coverage. That is what we are endeavouring to do by this Bill in relation to nuclear energy, and it is an absolutely right thing to do. We must ensure the highest possible standards of health and safety both for employees at these establishments and for the public at large.

Secondly, there is protection against the risk of the irresponsible use of nuclear equipment or materials. As was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport, the Bill goes very wide. It does not deal only with the reactors to be used for the commercial generation of electricity, but all forms of ancillary equipment. It is in that respect, far more than in the erection of nuclear power stations as such, that the danger of irresponsibility may arise. Therefore—and I believe this to be very important—the Bill provides an opportunity to reassure the public at large about something which to most of us represents a remote and rather obscure sphere of learning.

In my opinion, we in this House, and those who have any influence on national policy, will be confronted with an increasingly important problem. Our research scientists are on the frontiers of learning. So remote are their activities from the daily experience of hon. Members of this House, and even from the knowledge of scientists who may be qualified in other fields, that we have constantly to keep in mind the task of relating what is being done by these people working on the frontiers of scientific knowledge to the appreciation of the general body of the community, and reassuring the community that what is being done is for the benefit of everyone and is not harmful. That is a very difficult thing to do when we realise that those scientists working on the frontiers of knowledge have to take certain occupational hazards. The problem is to ensure that the hazards which are taken are not out of proportion to what is being attempted.

I wish to re-emphasise that we have already travelled a long way in the development of this new industry and the application of nuclear physics to human use, without, to my knowledge, suffering one single death. That is directly attributable to advances which have been made in this sphere of knowledge. There may have been fatalities, but I am not aware of them. When comparing the safety record in the nuclear field with the records of other and older industries in this country, one is prompted to think how wonderful it would be if we could say that there had been no fatalities in the whole industry of British coal mining; if there had been no fatalities in the development of the iron and steel industry, or during the building of our railways. Hon. Members may think that I am tempting fate with these comments. But even so, I think that the record of this industry is one which merits praise and congratulations from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House.

In the Fleck Report on "The Organisation of Control of Health and Safety in the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority", which was published in January last year, it is stated, in paragraph 5: The public may be assured, however, that the precautions which are applied are extremely elaborate; the underlying conception is to aim to err on the side of caution and, within the limits of existing knowledge, no chances are taken. Like the right hon. and learned Member for Newport, I have a few reservations about the definitions contained in Clause 1 (1, a) and (1, b) of the Bill. I should like to see the wording of paragraph (a) broadened because at present it makes no mention of the thermo-nuclear fusion reaction which can definitely emit ionising radiation. We have two pieces of experimental equipment with which work is carried out along those lines—Zeta, at Harwell, and Sceptre III, at the A.E.I. establishment at Aldermaston. Those of us who are optimistic about the progress to be expected in this sphere hope that one day we shall have nuclear fusion reactors working as power stations to generate electricity commercially.

In subsection (1, b) of Clause 1, I should like to see the wording narrowed to exclude sub-critical assemblies. As at present worded, it could be inhibiting to some of the marginal research activities and applications of nuclear physics. My second comment—again it is more in the nature of a question than a statement of opinion—is that I am a little unhappy about the maximum limit of £5 million as the amount of coverage, when one considers it in relation to university research departments.

In the speech of my right hon. Friend there was a hint that this would not apply in that case. I hope that it will be so. I ask the House whether there would not have been a considerable restriction on the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge during the 1920s and the 1930s had it been necessary for that laboratory to find this amount of coverage, even on a very low premium, perhaps as low as 0.2 per cent. Even at that figure it would have been a rather heavy outlay for a university physics department.

As this is a Second Reading debate, I would allow my comments to go a little wider and to refer to the problem of administrative responsibility for health and safety in the nuclear field. I believe that we are in danger of having too many Government Departments involved. The time has come when a policy decision has to be made. I would draw the attention of the House to paragraph 21 of the Fleck Report, which says: Control of health and safety in the atomic energy field is of great importance, and a number of Government Departments are concerned with it. The Atomic Energy Office is concerned with the ministerial responsibility for atomic energy, which is at present vested in the Prime Minister himself; the Ministry of Labour and National Service has specific responsibility for questions of occupational health and safety in premises subject to the Factories Acts; the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have responsibilities for environmental aspects of public health (clean water, clean air, etc.); the Home Office and the Ministry of Transport for questions arising from the transport of radioactive and toxic materials; the Ministry of Health for hazards arising from the medical use of radioactive substances and apparatus producing radiation; and the Office of the Lord President has responsibilities in relation to the work of the medical and agricultural research Councils. The Fleck Report did not include the Secretary of State for Scotland. I understand that even the Minister of Works has been using radioactive isotopes at Stonhenge. It seems that every Department comes into this field. That is not a very happy state of affairs, particularly in a new field. The House should be concerned to avoid the application of "Parkinson's Law" to the nuclear industry. It seems a good opportunity to leave that gentleman behind. I would ask my right hon. Friend where will he find his inspectors. His licensing system depends upon having sufficient inspectors.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

The hon. Gentleman has posed the problem of divided Ministerial responsibility. Can he give the House his own solution of that problem?

Mr. Price

The hon. Gentleman is tempting me. I think that I should be over-running the patience of the Chair if I went into the aspect of the matter, nor do I think it is appropriate that I should answer the question. My right hon. Friend has more public responsibility than I have for these matters. I should be delighted to give the hon. Gentleman an answer on some other Occasion. I must not speak now at very great length. Your patience, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is always great, but I believe that even that has its limit.

I was referring to the problem of finding a sufficient number of qualified men and I would draw the attention of the House to the remarkable speech made on this subject by Professor Windeyer, Dean of Middlesex Hospital Medical School, to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. In the course of that speech, Professor Windeyer said: Then there is the whole question of inspectorate. It is all very well to have a code of practice and to have local rules, but how are they going to be enforced? We cannot have inspectors in every department and in every small factory? Later, he said: The administrative problems are quite new, and possibly the necessary measures will not be most efficiently carried out under the old patterns of work and with the old traditions. More trained people are needed, and some of these must be of really high quality and with training of the Ph.D. standard. For the last ten years the few people who are really knowledgeable about these matters have been greatly over-burdened, and the same people have appeared on almost every committee dealing with these matters. This lack of adequately qualified men is one of the biggest problems in the health and safety field at present. I would like some reassurance from my right hon. Friend that the Government are thinking about this problem.

The Fleck Report had a considerable amount to say about the shortage of qualified people. I would refer the House to paragraphs 93 and 94 of the Report, where this is stated: We are in no doubt that the health and safety field should be made an attractive career for people able to acquire the necessary expertise. How are we to train them? Should they have a basic medical training? Should we take physicists and biologists, and train them?

Paragraph 95 of the Fleck Report recognises the inadequacy of the present system, and says: The main instruction in the United Kingdom on the health and safety problems of atomic energy has hitherto been given by the Authority as part of their courses in the Reactor and Isotope Schools at Harwell and the Reactor operations Schools attached to Calder Hall. Those who are familiar with this subject will know how short we are of the Ph.D.s that the Fleck Report and Professor Windeyer would like to see.

Do the Government intend to do any-think about Recommendation XI of the Fleck Report, which is in these terms: We recommend that the Atomic Energy Authority should establish a national training centre for health physics and nuclear safety staff (under the administration and general supervision of the Research Group). Courses should be graduated to suit all levels. They should cover not only problems of protection against radiation hazards, but also the health and safety aspects of the use of isotopes in medicine, agriculture and industry. It is true that a committee has been set up under the chairmanship of Sir Douglas Veale to make recommendations as to the numbers to be trained and the methods of training, but we cannot but agree with Professor Windeyer, when he comments: It seems obvious that one of the first tasks will be to arrange for an adequate number of trainers to be trained. There are not enough expert personnel available to carry out the training programme which would appear to be necessary. At present the Atomic Energy Authority is the main source of knowledge, but it must be considered whether some other independent source of knowledge should not also be available. It is not a good principle to have such knowledge as a monopoly which would have to act both as judge and jury. The time has come for at least one of our medical schools, or appropriate university department, to go into this matter of a health physics degree. Perhaps I am pleading from a special point of view, being a governor of the Middlesex Hospital, in thinking that no better place to do that could be found than our own medical school at the Middlesex, but I would not cavil if it went to St. Thomas's, Guy's, or any other of our great medical schools. We must tackle advanced teaching in health and safety in nuclear physics at one of the universities. It is—

Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

The hon. Gentleman has been pointing out the weaknesses of the Bill. I agree with him that there is not sufficient qualified personnel. How does he reconcile what he is now saying with his previous remark that he is pleased with the Bill? The Bill gives private enterprise the "Go ahead" for building new installations, yet the State itself cannot provide sufficient qualified personnel to do the job.

Mr. Price

I wish the hon. Gentleman would not always drag political issues of a partisan character into health and safety.

Mr. Mason

This is a political debating chamber.

Mr. Price

What I am advocating does not conflict with the Atomic Energy Authority. I maintain that the State should provide inspectors. Because we have factory inspectors, that is not a reason for nationalising all the factories. We are trying to set up a system of licensing and inspection, but that does not mean that nobody but the State should take any part in nuclear engineering.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

Reverting to the point that the hon. Member was making about the rôle of special departments in universities or establishments of advanced research dealing with health physics—about which I am not objecting—would he agree that it is still necessary, and will be increasingly necessary, for the actual organisations themselves—the Atomic Energy Authority, for instance—to do, if not all, at least most of the preparatory training of the students who will go on to those special departments? What I am afraid of is that there might be an argument for confining that training to academic establishments.

Mr. Price

I must not have made myself clear. I was supporting strongly the views of the Fleck Report that we need more health physics work at Harwell, but the problem must be tackled on an even wider scale. The courses at Harwell vary from four to six weeks, but the type of training I want to be done is the hard core training, which probably would take two or three years as a minimum after obtaining a medical degree. That is the kind of training of which I am talking.

We cannot expect Harwell to do that. The quotation from Professor Windeyer's Report suggested up to Ph.D. standard as a minimum of post-graduate work. These things are amicable to each other and, in fact, are complementary, but I am sure the hon. Member would agree that today we should emphasise the complete absence of basic training in health physics. Even after a person has finished his work in a post-graduate medical school, I would expect him to go on to further training in the field.

Unless we have a hard core of specialists who really know their subject and are prepared to administer it, whether under the Bill, helping my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power within the atomic energy establishment, or in private industry, we shall not be able to meet our needs. If the Bill is to have any practical meaning we must provide them.

It is with that important reservation that I congratulate my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill. We hope that it will work out as they have intended. However, it would be dishonest if I did not emphasise that I am disturbed at the absence of sufficient health physicists and the lack of any arrangements to make up that deficiency.

Sir F. Soskice

Before the hon. Member sits down, will he allow me to say that I entriely agree with him about the undesirability of any language I used magnifying in any way the danger of injury from gradual exposure? I did not mean to imply it and I have no doubt that it is minimal. I am very conscious of the elaborate precautions taken to avoid it and I am sure such a danger is very small indeed.

Mr. Price

I am most grateful to the right hon. and learned Member. He will appreciate that I was not criticising him personally, but I was anxious that a false impression should not go out. Whereas, when the right hon. and learned Member speaks, his speech is reported fully in the Press, when humble back benchers like myself speak our speeches are not fully reported, We would be rather embarrassed if they were.

4.55 p.m.

Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

What I have to say will be very relevant to the comments made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price). I think the Bill is weak. It lacks sufficient strength and will not have sufficient direction and control over the private enterprise installations which are to be built.

I am perturbed about three factors, first, safety; secondly, the insurance limit and the period of cover; and thirdly, the green light which the Bill gives to private enterprise to go ahead and to build nuclear power installations. I think this is really a job for the State. We have our basic industries of fuel and power already State-owned and controlled—coal, gas and electricity—and the Government are encouraging imports of fuel oil, which is undermining the strength and morale of our basic industries at home. They are allowing the Atomic Energy Authority to develop in this fashion and nuclear installations creep in by private enterprise. That will make impossible any chance for a Government of this country, irrespective of its political colour, to devise fuel and power policy for the benefit of the nation

Mr. Farey-Jones

Does the hon. Member realise that in the next ten or fifteen years almost every ship will be a nuclear reactor? Is he suggesting that the State should take them all over as well?

Mr. Mason

I am talking about precisely what is in the Bill. The Bill steers clear of ships and aircraft and reactors contained therein.

Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)

Can the hon. Member give the reference, because I cannot find it?

Mr. Mason

I cannot give the reference, but, having read the Bill, I am quite certain that it does not refer to nuclear power installations in ships and aircraft. I should be obliged if the Minister on the Front Bench would settle the point. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would insist that I am quite correct.

Sir I. Horobin

That is so.

Mr. Mason

Having satisfied many of the antagonists who are now belching forth their fumes from the other side of the House, I may continue. The atomic energy consortia of private enterprise industrialists have been spending great sums of money in research and many are feeling that the Government have misled them. They were to build 19 atomic power stations, but now the Government have reduced the programme and they are to have 14 or 12 and, therefore, they are dismayed. After the investment they have poured into this work, they are feeling that they have been taken in.

Secondly, they thought the market in Euratom would help, but, because of the lackadaisical procedures of the Govern- ment, the Americans have spoiled the chances of our atomic industrialists and are gaining a foothold. What I am particularly worried about is that because of the terrific amount of investment which has taken place and the little return the investors now see compared with what they envisaged, the safety of the people concerned—the workers and the public—may be in danger. I am worried about the protection of workers in nuclear plants and the protection of the public.

The use of atomic energy has two forms of risk. There is external radiation from rays which are the most insidious in form because they cannot be detected by the senses. One cannot smell or feel them. Unless armed with a geiger counter, one has no knowledge of their presence. Then there is internal radiation by ingestive or respiratory means. Workers run the risk at work, and the public, either by pollution of the atmosphere or through disposal of atomic waste, through breathing polluted air or consuming radioactive substances.

The classic example and grim reminder was the Windscale accident. I did not regard it as a disaster, but it was an accident. We had not had sufficient experience at that time of the release of nuclear energy and obviously from that accident many lessons have been learned. What was most noticeable was that the escape, in the main, was of radio-iodine. That affected crops, milk from the cows, and human beings. We have had a recent example of a Cumberland farmer worrying about the sterility of his cattle.

I wonder if the Minister has given any thought to this problem which arises out of the Windscale accident. We are querying the period of cover of thirty years mentioned in the Bill. Before the use of milk produced in the Windscale area was banned after the accident, many hours elapsed and in that time many children and their parents and many expectant mothers may have consumed some of that milk with radio-iodine content. Those babies will be living in the same region, will probably marry people who as children lived throughout that period and in thirty years' time may have children of their own.

Although there is no proof at this stage that the accident has been responsible for any danger, there is no proof to the contrary, and I challenge the Parliamentary Secretary to prove to me, when he replies, that the generations of children born during the period of the radio-iodine escape from Windscale will not be subject to genetic mutation or change. There is that possibility, and that is why, first, I aim not in favour of a thirty years' cover in these nuclear installation plants. I think the limit should be far greater than that. In fact, I think there should be no limit.

Secondly, we had recently an accident in our research laboratories. We have had many, of course, of a very minor type. As the hon. Member for Eastleigh so rightly said, we have been very fortunate. We have developed a nuclear industry in this country, a vital, dynamic industry, which has had very few accidents compared with the industries of coal, railways and steel. What is more important is that it has been much safer than similar industries abroad. There have been far fewer accidents in this country than in America. Nevertheless, we must take heed of the accidents that we have had.

There was an accident recently where in one of the sealed operating boxes containing highly radioactive substance a leak appeared and some of the workers were affected by radiation. I do not know how many were affected or what was their sex. In many of these nuclear installations, in private enterprise research or Atomic Energy Authority Installations, young men and women would be employed, teenagers just leaving college. They would be at their most vital and productive age and they would be receiving these leakages of radiation. The majority of those young men and women will marry and the children born to them may, in fact, be affected.

Those are the dangers, and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider once again the thirty years' cover as provided for in the Bill. The safeguards may be stringent, but these accidents do happen. Safety levels must be strictly observed both inside and outside nuclear plants, and also with regard to the radioactive pollution of air and water by the so-called controlled discharges.

Is the House satisfied before we agree to the Bill that nuclear installations run by private companies will be made safe both before and during their operations? I think that we ought to consider the factors involved before the nuclear in- stallation is built as well as during its operation. First, there is the choice of a site. There is always an attempt to find an area where there is a limited population so that not many people will be harmed in the immediate vicinity owing to atmospheric pollution, and, in the case of chemical processing plants, through pollution by waste.

The first is a worrying feature. We try to find an area that has a very limited population. Then there is required a study of the meteorological, hydrological and demographic factors of the region concerned. All these factors are absolutely essential. I am querying them all because I cannot see that a private enterprise nuclear installator will be able himself to be responsible for all these conditions.

As regards the meteorological aspect of the matter, it is essential prior to the installation of a reactor that there should be detailed information about wind and temperatures and particularly about local factors such as local atmospheric stagnation. In the case of Windscale, once the survey of the meteorological factors in the region had been completed, it would have been possible quite quickly for the people who had done the survey and who were responsible for the research to have estimated how high the radio-iodine content would have gone in the atmosphere and in which direction the plume of radio-iodine would have gone down the country. As we all know, London was blanketed with a high degree of radio-iodine following the accident. That is how important the survey is.

Regarding hydrological research, we must have an understanding of the conditions of river and sea beds before erecting chemical processing plants because of the discharge of aqueous radioactive substances. The team responsible for the research must have a knowledge of the currents and river levels and must know what chances there are of contaminating aquatic flora and fauna. Drinking water, too, must be subject to a special study.

As far as demographic research is concerned, it is most essential before a nuclear installation is erected that we should have statistics covering the local population regarding health and disease in connection with births and deaths. This should be done irrespective of the type of plant which is to be built.

This preliminary task is in itself a colossal one, and I query whether private enterprise is able to do the job satisfactorily. The Windscale accident taught us many lessons. This has been outlined in the Fleck Report on health and safety which has been mentioned many times in the course of this debate. It talks about the internal workings, need for more supervision and the use of more instrumentation. For the first time it made us conscious of the contamination of third parties.

Our record of workers' safety is good, but what about this question of third parties? The danger to them consists in the small amounts of maximum radioactivity which are stored in suitable places in the form of solid residue or of larger amounts of radioactive substances dispersed in air or water in such a manner that maximum permissible concentrations should not be exceeded.

That brings to my mind many concentrations of fissile materials, large and small, used in bomb making, and the use of radio isotopes and substances used in medicine, agriculture and industry. Then there is the question of the dumping of radioactive waste in rivers or on the shores of our island, or even in the sea. What a task it is to keep all this radioactive material under control. There is no demarcation line. Industry generally will soon be riddled with it.

What hope is there of private enterprise evolving a system of control and inspection of all these processes to stop contamination of the public? As I say, this is a colossal task and one which must be controlled by a body primarily responsible to the Government. It should not be farmed out in this fashion to private enterprise. For workers, individual control is necessary. For the public, unless there is a serious accident, collective control is most essential. Safety standards in and around private nuclear installations must not be low.

There must be sufficient monitors inside the plant, and medical and clinical examinations for the workers. There must be chains of detecting apparatus available to check the level of radioactivity around the plant, and regular samples must be taken in all waters to check the danger of aqueous discharges. A watch must be kept on drinking water, and care- fully chosen biological samples should be analysed periodically. There must also be a general and continuous survey of the land to check contamination of the food chain—drinking water, vegetables, livestock and milk. I doubt whether private enterprise can match the safety standards already set by the State.

There is a document from which should like to quote. I have not been able to get the document itself, but I have here certain quotations which appear in a book I managed to obtain. It refers to work by the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy in the United States, and quotes from the Final Report on Financial Protection against Atomic Hazards: The magnitude of public liability is such that it cannot be covered by private insurance alone. The book goes on to say: In the meantime the American insurance companies formed themselves into three pools (100 or more companies in each) and were able to offer in respect of any one incident 65 million dollars for property damage and a like amount for third party liability. That makes the £5 million in this Bill look very sick. At the same time, they urged the government to make stringent regulations as to safety in respect of any licence allowed to private industry for reactor construction and operation. They fear that 'safe operating procedures may not he observed under private operation with less experienced personnel'. There has been sufficient experience already in the United States, and this committee put forward what, in my view, is conclusive evidence, taking all these factors into consideration, for saying that private enterprise cannot match the job which the State is doing even already.

In Clause 6 (1) it is provided that The Minister may appoint as inspectors to assist him in the execution of this Act such number of persons appearing to him to be qualified for the purpose, as he may from time to time consider necessary or expedient. On the other hand, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh said, he will have great difficulty in doing this. In paragraph 93 of its Report, the Fleck Committee specifically mentions the staffing problem and says: It will be seen … that the health and safety organisation of the Authority is called upon to perform a wide variety of duties, both internally and externally. Many of these duties require expert qualifications in more than one of the fields of medicine, radiology, health physics, mathematics, nuclear physics, or nuclear engineering. There is an acute shortage of people possessing the requisite qualifications and we regard this as one of the most important points that has emerged from our review. Throughout the Authority there are only about 90 staff possessing honours degrees or equivalent qualifications who are engaged full time on the control of health and safety. They are therefore seriously overburdened. I cannot emphasise too strongly those last two words, "seriously overburdened". This is the weakness of the Bill. The Minister will not be able to appoint qualified personnel or as many inspectors as he would like to keep pace with the rapid development of our atomic energy industry.

What about further complications? All these must be taken into consideration. There are areas of the country where background radiation is above the average, mainly because of 'the geological factors of the region which give rise to higher radiation than the normal. I understand that no survey of the country has been completed. I have been informed by Ministers on various occasions that the Medical Research Council is surveying some of these regions in order to ascertain exactly what the effect is upon people there. We ought to be able to have this information quickly. How have births and deaths been affected? What has been the incidence of leukaemia in those districts? What has been the incidence of bone cancer, premature births, abnormal children born, and so forth? These areas having high background radiation might have the required rock formation and be near the coast and, therefore, attract a private nuclear installation. A high background radiation plus what is termed a safe discharge from a nuclear installation could bring them to the marginal level or even the danger level.

We know from our experience that the radioactive fall-out from bomb tests has been such that it is registering itself in the hills of Wales and Scotland, where there is a higher percentage of strontium 90 and radio active caesium than elsewhere. We have already ascertained that the strontium 90 in the air in 1956 was six times greater than it was in 1954, and in 1957 it was seven and a half times greater than it was in 1954. We may, therefore, find that, near a hilly region where the radioactivity is greater from radioactive fall-out, it is proposed to build a nuclear station. There may be a combination of all three factors. I am taking an extreme example, but we must err on the side of safety, as the Fleck Report repeatedly says. It is quite possible that, because of the geological terrain, a nuclear power station may be built in an area where nuclear radiation is above average and, it being a hilly region, there is a high strontium 90 level as a result of radioactive fall-out from atom bomb and hydrogen bomb tests. That is an extreme example, but it is something which must be borne in mind. All these are factors which ought to be taken into consideration.

I come now to the matter of insurance itself. The insurance we are now considering is a natural development. A new technical advance is being applied to industry, and private insurers want quickly to step in. Let us look at the matter from the insurers' point of view. What are the risks? Here, we are in great difficulty. This new form of power, nuclear energy, burst upon the world with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs. People recoiled in horror, and the result was that the files of information were buried and few people got to know the dangers and risks involved in the development of this new form of power. The whole matter was shrouded in secrecy. It was not until 1955, when the Geneva Conference was held, that the peaceful potential of these developments was fully realised. Because of the form of its initial introduction to the world, vital files have remained closed, and the insurers have not been fully conversant with all the data. The risks are not fully known.

Mr. Maudling

I ought to make it clear that the risks we are here considering are not the risks of atomic explosion in any way; that could not possibly take place in these reactors.

Mr. Mason

I quite appreciate that. That is quite logical, and I accept, of course, that the nuclear installations we are here discussing, whether privately controlled or State controlled, cannot blow up. We shall not have a Hiroshima or Nagasaki all over again. The point is, however, that, because this form of power came into being for warlike purposes, many of the files containing information on the dangers and risks entailed in its development have been kept closed. As a result, insurers will not be fully conversant with some of the risks because they are not, in fact, fully known.

The few statistics available on dangers and risks of radioactivity, valuable though they are, are based on the work of but a few qualified people and on experience which may well prove too short. Data on the incidence of delayed biological change will be an important factor from the insurance point of view. I doubt whether sufficient time has elapsed or sufficient experience has been gained to come to such definite conclusions as are contained in the Bill. Furthermore, it may well prove extremely difficult to find experienced, specialist personnel to compile the data as the industry grows. This, again, as the Fleck Report constantly reminds us, will be a weakness.

Thirdly—this is extremely important—physicists, chemists, biologists and geneticists cannot agree upon nor accurately assess the effects of radiation on human beings, animals, and plant and marine life. Neither can chemists or engineers know or be fully conversant with the effect of this new form of energy on many kinds of materials. It is said in the Government White Paper, A Programme of Nuclear Power, paragraph 15: There is as yet no practical experience of this level of irradiation at high temperatures and the metallurgical behaviour of the fuel elements is uncertain. But there are many lines of development which should overcome such metallurgical defects as may appear. Even now, and quite apart from the effects on human beings and plant life, the effects on metals are unknown. The risks are unknown. Although there is a promising sentence at the end, which I have read, at the moment the radiation risks in respect of human beings and metals are quite unknown.

What has been most serious for insurers is that no threshold level of safety could be agreed upon until a short time ago. Even now, many biologists and physicians doubt this safety level. It is on this uncertain basis that insurers are setting up a cover for new, and many of them unexplored, risks—at a time when nuclear fission and the use of rays from radioactive substances are becoming increasingly industrialised. It is questionable whether insurers have ever before faced such problems.

Because of these points, insurance should be both greater in sum and unlimited in time. The State, too, should accept its responsibility. If a person is injured by radiation, someone is to blame; but under the suggested pattern of the Bill only legal wriggling can result, to the detriment of the injured person. It is the duty of the State to protect the public, and the State should accept this responsibility. If the Government are not prepared to go as far as that, then at least the sum involved of £5 million and the cover period of thirty years should be reviewed.

These are the main points of the Bill. First, having been assured that the building of nuclear installations is to be done by private enterprise, insurance steps into the field. In my opinion, both should be done by the State—both the building of all nuclear power plants and the acceptance of insurance risks. Secondly, dealing with the safety aspect of this development, I still question whether private enterprise can give us the standards which we require.

Accidents have made us acutely aware of radiation dangers. Safety is therefore very much in the forefront of our minds. If standards are maintained, we can rest assured that this new and vital industry will be developed for the good of humanity and with the minimum of danger to both workers and the public. This, to me, is a job for the State. I sincerely hope that we do not live to regret the decisions which we are making today in giving the green light to private enterprise and insurance.

5.23 p.m.

Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)

In following the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) I find myself, as I presume he expects, in little agreement with him, apart from his comment that chemists, engineers, technologists and doctors have to learn much more about many of the effects of radiation and of the particles which they have to handle. In my experience, they show less certainty than does the hon. Member for Barnsley in knowing the answers to many of the questions which he posed to the House.

He made such a wide, shotgun attack on the Bill, the Government and the development of the industry that it is difficult to know quite where to begin answering him. One point, however, is worth reference. He gave what I thought was a dramatic account of what happened at Windscale and of the horrors of the emission of radioactive iodine and the effect which it might have on future generations. It may be some comfort at least to those who were exposed to the fall-out of radioactive iodine—in quantities scarcely more than the natural background of radioactivity—to know that in fact half of this had disappeared in eight days, which was the half-life of iodine 131, and that it had disappeared virtually altogether well inside a fortnight or three weeks. We must keep a sense of proportion in these matters, and bear some figures in mind, although at times they are rather complicated.

I welcome the Bill, which I think is a sign of the development of the industry—not only of the application of large quantities of nuclear energy to generating power to which I think the hon. Member for Barnsley mostly turned his attention, but also the more academic applications, both in the use of research reactors and in the very large and important use of radioactive isotopes in every kind of scientific research.

My right hon. Friend explained with his customary clarity the reason why we should have the Bill, and I failed to see some of the difficulties in which the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) seemed to find himself. I thought it was fairly clear that what we were doing primarily was laying down the conditions in which insurance policies can be taken out to protect those who may be affected by radiation resulting either from long exposure or, more likely, from an unhappy incident.

Nevertheless, I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary one or two questions of detail. For reasons which my right hon. Friend explained, the Government Departments and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority are excluded. In view of the fact that hospitals are presumably regarded as Government Departments—I think this point was mentioned by the noble Lord in another place—may I ask whether the medical schools are included under hospitals? They are part of the universities, although they work in the hospitals and use large quantities of radioactive isotopes in their research work, just as the hospitals use them either for research or for therapeutic purposes.

The right hon. and learned Member for Newport commented on the wide drafting of Clause 1. I very much hope that my hon. Friend today, and certainly in Committee, will indicate that he can accept some Amendments so that we may have more precise definitions in Clause 1 (1, a) and 1 (1, b). For example, in Clause 1 (1, a) we should limit the reference to apparatus which does not require the supply of external sources of neutrons in order to operate this is the self-sustaining reactor which I think the Bill was intended to cover. Similarly, I hope that my hon. Friend will be prepared to accept Amendments to Clause 1 (1, b) which would exclude the large number of ancillary materials and equipment which do not give out radiation but are closely concerned with the production of nuclear energy—for instance, the materials out of which the "cans" are made.

In line 18 on page 1 there is a reference to the licence being "in respect of that site". Does that mean that the whole factory in which the apparatus stands will have to be licensed or will the provision be the same as in the Clean Air Act, 1957 or in the Alkali Acts? That is a more precise definition which has worked out well in those Acts and is well understood in law.

The hon. Member for Barnsley took an unusually gloomy view of the difficulties of the insurance industry, most of which, if not overcome, have at least been sorted out in a rational way so that what we know and what we do not know is fairly well recognised. I think that his account of difficulties arising from the fact that information was not revealed, because of the atomic energy work done behind the security curtain, was over-dramatised. Certainly, Lloyds have great experience with first-rate engineers in charge of their work, fully able to assess the information which is available. In spite of what the hon. Member said, all that is needed for an assessment is available.

Mr. Mason

How does the hon. Member reconcile that with his opening comments, when he said that there were physicians and geneticists who cannot now agree upon how the mutation rate will be changed by radioactivity?

Mr. Fort

What I said about Lloyds' technical advisers to the insurance companies was that they knew enough to be able to decide what are reasonable rates of insurance and premium under present circumstances. In this, as in other spheres of insurance, change will obviously be necessary as more experience is gained.

In that connection, I should like to touch on a point which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) mentioned. Five million pounds seems a large sum of money to have to cover for the small reactors which will be used largely in universities. It seems unfortunate that some method of escalation, perhaps having a lower maximum for the smaller reactors, cannot be devised. I imagine that we shall be relying on the insurance companies to cut down their premiums to a level consonant with the smaller risk which includes the smaller power, but in view of the fact that with these small reactors, after a short time—a matter of within twelve hours—we are beginning to see a very large diminution of radioactivity and after a week there will be no more radioactivity inside them than the radioactivity in the stores of isotopes in a great many laboratories and works, I hope that the insurance companies will take a reasonable view about the premiums demanded.

My last point is to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to take this opportunity to make an official announcement about the studies that are being undertaken by the Government into the supply and training of inspectors. I will not labour the various points—they have been discussed already by my hon. Friend and hon. Members opposite—but it would be of some comfort to people outside if we could have a coherent account of what is being done. Much is being done and a number of people know some of it, but a coherent account would be very helpful to those of us who are interested in this work.

5.33 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Cleveland)

It is difficult to discuss the Bill on Second Reading without losing oneself altogether in a thicket of Committee points or technical facts. In the short while that I intend to address the House, I hope to keep out in the open.

In opening the debate today, the Paymaster-General kept saying that the risk of any leak of radioactive material in a nuclear power installation was slight indeed. He then said that it was remote. Then, he used yet another phrase to describe his feelings on possible dangers and the advice given to him. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman gave us so many assurances that at the end of it all I very nearly ceased to believe him.

I can claim to have lived much of my life among technical experts. The truth about them is that they are fallible. They are probably not as fallible as politicians, but one does not expect a very high standard of consistency from politicians. The difference with experts is that, because they are experts, we tend to expect too much of them and just occasionally they fail us. Therefore, with the greatest respect to all the expert advice which has been given to the Paymaster-General, I ask him and others to rememberd that in discussing this new kind of industrial risk we are moving into an altogether fresh field. It is a new kind of risk.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) talked about accidents in the mining industry and drew the attention of the House to the many disasters which have occurred. He referred to the great risks necessarily associated with the steel industry and said that, in comparison, what had happened at Windscale and what had occurred in the short history of our nuclear energy industry was slight indeed. That may well be the case. What troubles many hon. Members and many people outside, however, is that most existing industrial risks are at least obvious and predictable up to a point, but this new kind of industrial risk that we are discussing today is not tangible and the hazards involved are not immediately plain. The effect upon the individual may be slow to reveal itself. It may not be a specific injury, but it may drastically shorten the life of the unfortunate person or persons involved.

Another contrast that we should remember between this new kind of risk and the conventional industrial risk is that the latter is usually confined to particular premises and operations, whereas the potential radioactive hazard which will be associated with nuclear installations, power stations and the like, will be indiscriminate and no respecter of boundaries. Those who work on the plant or go about their business nearby are all alike in possible jeopardy. For this reason, the House should not view these matters lightly merely because the Paymaster-General has had the best expert advice and that advice tells him that the dangers are slight indeed.

Knowing that we were moving into this new field, I should have thought that the Government would respond accordingly with legislation of a broader and more far-reaching character than what I will describe as this rather reach-me-down commercial little Bill that we are considering today. I allow, of course, that the Bill is much better now than when first introduced into the other place, because it was a fairly poor effort at that stage, but although it has been improved by noble Lords in the other place, justifying, perhaps, at last the creation of life peers, we are still left with the feeling that any Ministerial thinking which has been done in this matter has been rather hurried and of a recent character.

There is no excuse for that. The proposal for a nuclear power programme was looked at in 1955, when we had the first White Paper—the ideas must have been got out long beforehand—and amplified in 1957. We had to wait, however, until, I will not call it the Windscale disaster, because that is not a fashionable expression but, at least, we had to wait for the Windscale incident to jog the Minister of Power into any kind of action.

It is said that this incident at Wind-scale will not occur elsewhere. I would like to think that was the case. However, I would point out that, so far, the nuclear installations in this country have been relatively few and of a wartime and postwar character. In addition, they have been of a special research nature. In the future, nuclear installations, such as those of the Central Electricity Generating Board, will become commonplace industrial arrangements. That is to ignore—and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) was right to emphasise the point—the reactors which will be constructed for the use of private industry. I do not quarrel with that, but at the same time there will not be the opportunity for careful, scientific check which there has been so far in the installations of the Atomic Energy Authority.

Let us look ahead. Twenty years from now, with the great growth in the use of electric power, with consumption doubling every 7 to 10 years, nuclear power stations will be a familiar sight on nearly every horizon in the country and the people of the United Kingdom will not just have nuclear stations: in this crowded island they will live among nuclear power stations, and we shall have to add to the sure defences of British people, in both intention and fact, the thickness of the concrete of their reactors.

The Bill devotes most of its attention, on the assumptions which the Government make, to providing for licensing of reactors and providing also for a system of insurance for reactors. These issues have been dealt with already in the debate, the legal issues notably by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), and, no doubt, we shall come to them again in later speeches, if this debate continues long enough, and certainly in considerable detail in Committee. For my part, I want to keep to the theme of safety.

The Paymaster-General, in opening the debate, told us quite correctly that Clause 1 states that the Minister, when granting a licence, may impose conditions as he thinks fit for safety. Presumably he also has the power to recruit the expert staff who are necessary for the technical work. Indeed, hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in the debate so far have emphasised the difficulty of the recruitment of the technical staff.

That brings me to my principal criticism of this Measure. As drafted, it tends to make the prevention of injury and damage and the obligation to ensure safety from the outset a rather secondary consideration. The Bill tends to deal more with the effects of what may happen in the future if something goes wrong rather than to make an all-round effort to prevent such occurrences from happening at all. I think that safety should have been the entire basis of the Bill. That should have been its prime objective.

Because the risks connected with nuclear plant in industry and elsewhere are of such a different character from the conventional risks in industry, there is a case to be looked at for the establishment of an independent statutory body, a nuclear safety council, so to say, with its own disinterested staff. That would not be the kind of organisation the Minister referred to today, just an advisory council, but an independent statutory body. To that body it would be possible for all the interests affected, including the trade unions and the local public, to make representations without having to go to employers or Government Departments.

I do not think it is really sufficient in this matter simply to give Departmental powers to a Minister, because, after all, in the nationalisation Acts it is the Minister of Power who is, in the ultimate sense, an interested party in the operation of nuclear power stations. He may, I do not know, feel under an obligation to defend the Central Electricity Generating Board if a mishap occurs.

I think that the hon. Member for Eastleigh helped the House a great deal when he drew our attention to the already complicated enough administrative situation in Government circles in relation to nuclear safety. There are, as he said, some eight separate Government Departments all having some kind of responsibility. I shall not bore the House by referring to them all separately, but it is really extraordinary that we should now be proceeding towards the creation of a ninth Departmental responsibility in this matter of nuclear safety. Is there not, therefore, at least something in the argument that there is real need for the creation now of an independent statutory body which could really look after nuclear safety in the broadest sense?

I think that another reason for giving greater emphasis in the Bill to positive safety measures is the special position of employees of all grades in nuclear plants. I can say, as I think hon. Members know, that I have certain connections with those who work and who will have to work in the nuclear power plants of this country. It is true—and I was glad that the Paymaster-General emphasised it again today—that employees are covered by the compensation Clauses of the Bill. That is only evenly balanced justice, because, when all is said and done, once nuclear processes become common I should think that those nearest to the reactors have the biggest risk, and those who in their daily work are obviously nearest to the reactors are the employees in the plants. One is glad to know that they are to have at least the same protection as the general public in the matter of compensation.

It is stated in many places, including medical circles, that we all, as human beings, have a limited safety margin in the amount of radioactivity that we can safely absorb. There is a margin, and we live within that margin. I believe that a little radioactivity is part of our nature and is good for us, but if we have too much it is a very different story altogether. Almost anywhere on the globe today, in this twentieth century, we are all living subject not only to various natural forms of radioactivity but to a little added by the various medical processes through which we have to go from time to time. On top of that there are nuclear bomb explosions which affect us—a little, at any rate.

All this is true of all citizens, but those who work in the nuclear plants will have, so it seems to me, that little bit extra; or at any rate they will run the risk of getting that little bit extra. Therefore, they deserve some special attention. It would be very unfair if, amid the blessings which power from nuclear energy is likely to give us all, the risks of the nuclear age had to be borne by just a few—those working in the plants.

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give an assurance that those responsible are looking very carefully at the practical aspects of safety in the nuclear power stations which are now being constructed by the Central Electricity Generating Board. I am told, and I believe it to be the case, that, in certain circumstances, if something goes wrong as a result of a leak in the reactor, the only way to ensure the safety and even the lives of employees is for them to be withdrawn from the plant immediately and without hesitation. That can be done fairly easily without trouble in a research establishment. But it is essential that a large station, delivering a vast amount of power into the national grid, should be designed from the start to allow a complete withdrawal of personnel if there is a sudden alarm of leakage of radioactivity. It is a practical operating point.

I believe that, so far as it goes and on the assumptions which it makes, the Bill is at least a start in the matter of insurance and the setting up of a system of licensing, but it fails to provide a positive approach to the general question of nuclear safety. That is a considerable defect. I hope that in Committee we shall do our best as far as we can to put that defect right.

5.53 p.m.

Mr. Farey-Jones (Watford)

I do not propose to follow in my remarks the well-reasoned arguments of the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer), except to say that I disagree with some of his conclusions. In listening, as I have done, to every speech so far made in the debate, I felt as if I were in a world of make-believe. Whilst I am glad to welcome the Bill in its provisions for licensing and insurance, I cannot help feeling that the House, as reflected in today's speeches, is like a group of Lilliputians trying to pin down Gulliver by his hair.

The atomic energy industry is a new industry, but even in its first years it has already become the safest industry in Great Britain. There is no other industry that has anything like its margin of safety. I am sure that few hon. Members realise what a great amount of finished or unfinished fissionable material is transported on the roads and the railways and is accommodated in the docks of this country every day.

As it is the traditional custom of the House, I should declare my interest. I am interested on both the practical side and the insurance side in the atomic energy industry. On the insurance side, particularly, I have heard such arrant nonsense today that I have hardly been able to believe my ears.

The Bill will lay down the course which will be open to the insurance industry for perhaps the next 100 years. But, just as has been the case ever since steamboats first crossed the Atlantic, underwriters are fully capable of measuring the risk. I regret that I was unable to inform the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) beforehand that I should be referring to him, and I am sorry that he is not now in his place. The hon. Member talked utter nonsense when he said that the private insurance industry could not measure up to this new situation.

Certain hon. Members have referred to the Windscale disaster. Bad news, of course, always makes the headlines. Ever since I came into the House in 1955 the impression that the situation is utterly dreadful has been created by hon. Members opposite whenever Strontium 90 has been mentioned and reference to the Windscale accident has been made, whereas, in fact, the truth is entirely the opposite.

I am sure that the House would be interested to hear about the Windscale disaster from the insurers' point of view. I should like to quote from a very remarkable document read to the Insurance Institute of London by one of the leading underwriters, Mr. A. B. Stewart, who today is recognised internationally as one of the foremost authorities on fission and atomic power in relation to insurance problems. He stated: Now a few words concerning the Wind-scale accident. When this took place, some people asked whether it did not shake me in my views. But this Windscale accident, besides being an example of how it is the bad news which hits the headlines, becomes, strangely enough, to the marine underwriter, even reassuring when the report is looked at with one's eyes open, and with fuller knowledge. I am not only referring to the fact that the Windscale reactor was completely out of date, and had no resemblance whatsover to the one which will be on a vessel, or to a modern shore reactor. Each of these is inherently safe, with all manner of automatic safety devices for shutting it down, should anything untoward occur. I am not describing these. Sir John Cockcroft did so, only last month, and I cannot improve on him. After describing the safety measures, he said: 'We have provided belts, braces and string.' As a description I challenge anyone to improve on that. No, let us accept the fact that even with all these an accident can happen, and look at Windscale as a pointer to what may take place. The fact is that, as far as I can see, the only loss was that resulting from damage to the growing grass. A good heavy downfall of rain might well have materially reduced the loss. The only reason that the claim arose at all was that the cows had eaten the grass while it was polluted, so that all of the milk produced from a wide area had to be thrown away. The figure of total claims is just over £50,000 … I took the trouble to find out what the monitoring stations all over Europe did about that accident. As far away as Eastern Berlin and South Yugoslavia, they estimated the atmospheric pollution 24, 36, 48 and up to 72 hours thereafter. The extraordinary thing was that in certain places 300 miles away from Wind-scale there was more pollution than there was at places within 50 miles of the station. Those are the facts.

The hon. Member for Barnsley said that he felt that the Government of the day, of whatever party, should nationalise the whole of the atomic energy industry, because private insurance interests could not possibly meet any disaster which might occur in future years. I wish that the hon. Member were here, because I should not like to misquote him or misrepresent him. Surely, hon. Members can well remember some of the fantastic disasters which have taken place in this century and which have been fully met by the insurers in London. I beg all hon. Members to realise that in the atomic age the insurance industry will be one of the biggest foreign currency earners of all time.

We have been talking here about shore reactors, but do hon. Members realise that already other countries have atomic ships. Hon. Members will have read about the fantastic American "Nautilus", but the "Nautilus" is now being followed by other American submarines which will be reactors in themselves. Already in Russia they are completing a reactor in an atomic icebreaker.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Barnsley has now come into the Chamber, as I have been referring to him. There is already this atomic ice-breaker into which vast quantities of seawater will be directed in order to break up the ice.

Every hon. Member in the House knows that every major shipping line in the world today is considering in its new orders the fact that ships on the keel today and in the next few years will be atomic-powered ships. Norway and Holland are now nearing the completion of a 37,000-ton tanker. Is it realised that a ship with a reactor is infinitely safer than one that is either steam-driven or oil-driven because of the terrific quantities of fuel oil that a tanker or an oil ship has to carry? The actual risk of there being an explosion from a reactor is so remote that those people who exaggerate it are merely "over-propagandised" by the fear of atomic bombs, which has covered this problem ever since it was first discussed in this House. This is particularly shown in the arguments of the hon. Member for Barnsley. All of us must realise that an atomic explosion is a most difficult thing to produce. It is so fantastically complicated and so difficult to produce that it simply cannot occur by accident.

Mr. Mason

Let us clear the air a little. I did not imply, and in fact I contradicted it when the Paymaster-General intervened, that an atomic explosion could take place from any of our nuclear reactors. In my speech, to which the hon. Gentleman has made reference many times, I was trying to draw the attention of the House and of the country to the danger emanating from radiation, which cannot be seen on ships or aircraft. I must emphasise and perhaps over-propagandise a little to make sure that safety comes first.

Mr. Farey-Jones

I am ready and anxious to accept the hon. Gentleman's sincerity, but I want to convince him and other hon. Members that the modern reactor is one of the safest things in the world. When applied, as it will be and is being, to aircraft and ships it is about one-half of 1 per cent. less dangerous than carrying liquid or solidified methane gas across the Atlantic, as we are doing today.

I am deeply concerned that we shall not put into a strait jacket an atomic industry—and this is not a political issue at all—which with its various ramifications will double, treble and quadruple the standard of living of all people in the world within the next century.

Mr. Palmer

We all accept what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the difficulty of bringing about a nuclear explosion, but what is bothering many people is the special character of the risk involved and the genetic effects. That is why there is in the Bill a compensation provision up to thirty years.

Mr. Farey-Jones

That is one of the points to which I wish to refer before I sit down. I think that thirty years is a ridiculous number of years for which to make this available.

Mr. Palmer

Too many years?

Mr. Farey-Jones

Yes, I will explain why I think that. There must be somewhere a discovery period. Even those engaged in dealing with X-ray since the early days of its discovery—the Curies and company—have always betrayed certain symptoms of the attack of ultraviolet rays within seven years. The proposal to make the period thirty years in the Bill is one of the things to which I violently object, because we are actually putting a clause in the insurance policies of any company, Lloyds or anyone else, that it is quite impossible for the industry to fulfil. That is a point to which a great deal of thought has to be devoted, because I do not see how, without a discovery Clause limited to a maximum of five years, we can expect any underwriter, even if the underwriter is the Treasury, to justify that. It would come up at any rate in the first seven years willy nilly.

Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)

I am genuinely seeking information, quite apart from the danger of explosion. Suppose, for example, we have a nuclear power station where the fresh water is provided by an inwater lake; that is to say, a power station on the banks of a lake. Am I right in thinking there will inevitably be some build-up of radioactive material in the water, followed by a build-up of radioactive material in the vegetation surrounding the lake?

Mr. Farey-Jones

To give the hon. Gentleman a sincere and truthful but rather over-simplified answer, I would say that if the safety provisions are properly followed the water emanating from the reactor would be purer than the water going into it from any British river. There would not be anything like sufficient radioactive substance left in the water, if the safety precautions as laid down were complied with, as went into the reactor in the first place. It is a curious fact that certain industries now being followed in Great Britain, such as the lumination of watches, have far greater radioactivity than any atomic reactor that is in existence.

Mr. Mason rose

Mr. Farey-Jones

I have rather a lot to say and I have given way twice.

I come to another point. Already in the United States they are experimenting with mobile reactors which can go on to a tractor the size of a caravan. Do we intend to insist that these have to be insured for a public liability of £5 million? Those mobile reactors will go all over the world. They will provide power in places where at present there is no power.

I should like to point out to the hon. Member for Barnsley two particular illustrations of what London, as the insurance centre of the world, has done in the matter of major disasters. So far as can be foreseen, no similar disaster is ever likely to occur from a reactor put up in Great Britain or in the United States to compare with the San Francisco earthquake. That earthquake happened in 1906 and the estimated losses ranged from 350 million dollars to 450 million dollars, half of which was covered by insurance on the London market. At 5 dollars to the £, as it was in those days, that would be £40 million, and at today's value that would be a minimum of £400 million. I would point out to hon. Members that it is well within the limits of the London insurance market to insure ships like the "Queen Mary" or the "Queen Elizabeth" up to £20 million.

I hope that we shall not pass this Bill without taking into consideration, first, the desirability that the actual licensing of these reactors shall be controlled—an hon. Member on this side and an hon. Gentleman opposite have both pointed out that there are at the moment far too many Ministers handling this affair—and secondly, that we shall not so shackle the insurance market that it will not be able to take advantage of the present leadership which this country enjoys in providing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

We have obtained by the excellence of our scientists and by the brilliance of some of our leaders in the past few years an unassailable lead in the peaceful uses of atomic energy. I beg every hon. Member in this House and the Minister to bear that in mind when we deal with the Bill in Committee. Do not shackle the insurance industry, do not stifle private enterprise. I am not saying this in a party spirit. It is no use hon. Gentlemen opposite saying that this industry must be nationalised. I say that because it is so many-sided; it has more facets than a diamond. It can be applied to agriculture, to industry, to marine affairs and to aviation. It can be applied even under the sea, as is already proved by the Americans. So we must retain a sense of values and a sense of balance.

I should like to refer to a number of other connected matters, but I am sure there are many other hon. Members who wish to speak, so I will sit down with a final observation. In the world of 1959 in which international politics are causing anxiety to the whole world, the future of the atomic energy industry is probably the greatest hope left to mankind. We have a lead in it. We have a lead that is already recognised, as regards its peaceful purposes, by the United States and the Soviet Union. Do not let us put chains round ourselves by this Bill. Let us widen the Bill, not be bound by it, and let us make it worth while.

6.12 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) that we must not put chains around our atomic energy industry by this Bill. Everyone in the House would agree with him on that point, but we are debating a Bill which involves not merely the development of atomic energy. It is a rather limited Bill in the sense that it deals with safety and insurance and the issue of licences for the production of nuclear energy. It does not involve the major aspects of our policy, which one day we must debate in this House. Indeed, I hope that very soon we shall have a Supply Day to discuss the nuclear programme. In discussing this Bill, therefore, we are not able to do that.

I think the hon. Member for Watford overstated his case, just as other hon. Members have deliberately overstated their cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) quite rightly stressed the safety part of this Bill, and that is why, as he sincerely admitted, he has to use propaganda and thereby dramatise these matters so that he can stir public opinion. I think he is right to do that.

I thought the hon. Member for Watford rather over-stressed his case in his defence of the insurance companies. After all, the Fleck Committee, which dealt with the industry at great length, jogged us into thinking in terms of safety and licensing. I am not saying the the Fleck Committee was responsible for this Bill, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) has said, it encouraged us to deal with those aspects. The Report of the Fleck Committee on the Organisation for Control of Health and Safety in the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Cmnd. 342, was produced in January, 1958, and naturally dealt fully with the industry. Under the heading, "The Hazards of Atomic Energy," the Report states in paragraph 4: We are particularly conscious that the Windscale accident brought to the surface the latent public anxiety about the hazards of atomic energy work. Now that the nation is committed to a large nuclear power pro- gramme, we consider it of the first importance that the hazards of atomic energy should neither be exaggerated nor minimised in the public mind. We must accept that last statement. I want to take up the hon. Member for Watford on that point, because he said that many of my colleagues on this side of the House tended to exaggerate the position. I assure him that the controversy about Windscale, the effects of the accident and the possibility of radioactive iodine, also strontium and radioactive caesium, was taken up by people outside this House who were certainly not of our political persuasion.

I have here a dramatic report from a Conservative newspaper dealing with Cumberland and the effects of the Wind-scale accident. The newspaper is the Sunday Graphic of 23rd November, 1958. I will not go into the details, but the article refers to the disaster and dramatises it, saying how rabbits turned black in Cumberland, how the grass had gone crimson, how calves were born mummified. There are great headlines—"Freaks follow our atom mishap". That is not said from this side of the House, it is a report in a paper which is sympathetic to the party which the hon. Gentleman defends.

We can agree, however, that this Bill is important. There are still dangers in atomic energy, and the more we read the Fleck Report, the more we recognise that we are dealing with possibilities, not of an explosion as such but of a fire which could release radioactive materials in certain quantities. It is no use arguing that we have an effective monitoring system and an effective organisation. There is a danger, it is there, and it is accepted by everybody concerned with the production of nuclear power.

I do, however, pay tribute to the Atomic Energy Authority. I am certain that it is mindful of safety. Many hon. Members, like myself, who have visited establishments such as Harwell, have seen the work of the health and physics departments. We know that the Authority is anxious to make our nuclear power industry safe. Indeed the Authority has made it relatively safe, in the sense that our industry is regarded as the best in the world from the aspect of safety.

We accept that, but we are seeking to develop and improve arrangements which are not as yet perfect. That is why I welcome the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland, who suggested that one day we should create an independent statutory body to co-ordinate this work. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) mentioned a point that I wish to raise. In referring to the Fleck Report and whether or not we were going to act upon its recommendations, the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out the various functions of Government Departments. I will not go into the details, which are in paragraph 21 of the Report, but they show how various Ministries are concerned. I challenged the hon. Gentleman on what he proposed should be done, and he referred me to the Minister. Is it the intention of the Minister to pursue this matter or is it his intention to ensure that the Atomic Energy Office, which the Fleck Report suggests should be strengthened, should co-ordinate this work?

Is the Bill purely a temporary Measure? Do the Government envisage later a more comprehensive approach to the safety of the worker, particularly in our nuclear establishments? After all, the Bill has certain serious omissions. The hon. Member for Eastleigh raised a matter which I wish to raise. Here the Bill deals only with atomic energy by a maintained and controlled fission process, according to Clause 1 (1). We are now approaching the possibilities of the fusion of light elements in generating power. Zeta exists. I am not saying that it is at the stage that we should wish, but it exists. Why has it been missed out of the Bill? Do the Government envisage something larger at a later stage?

I argue, consequently, that the Bill is unfortunately preoccupied not only with safety but with other matters. Although the Opposition are not opposing the Bill at this stage—we shall criticise it in Committee—I should have preferred a comprehensive safety Measure. I do not wish us to be involved too much in licensing questions and the very important problems of insurance. For that reason, I wish that we had had a much more general approach.

I agree with the Paymaster-General that it is a difficult and technical Bill. I have read Clause 4 (2). I am not criticising our Parliamentary draftsmen—they are very able legal men—but it is extremely difficult to understand that subsection. It reads: Where in the case of any licensed site the provision required by sub-section (1) of this section is to be made otherwise than by insurance and, apart from this subsection.… We finally reach a full-stop on the next page. If the Parliamentary Secretary can clearly understand it—I know he is a very able junior Minister—he must be a terrific person. I should like the Department to look at this matter again. The law appears to many of us to be difficult, but when we have the marriage of legal abracadabra and scientific abracadabra it is all the more confusing. I hope that during the Committee stage we shall be given an explanation of the subsection.

As my right hon. Friend said, questions must be answered by the Minister. My right hon. Friend asked why the powers in the Bill were being sought. He referred to Section 10 of the Atomic Energy Act. 1946. We have also Section 5 of the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954. In another place there was an argument between the Minister of Power and many noble lords on the very question of why we have to have this new Bill when we already have licensing and safety powers. Existing powers require the Authority and Government Departments to safeguard not only the workers but also the community.

The Paymaster-General said that the Bill did not apply to universities and research institutions. We have a nuclear reactor in London, at the Imperial College of Science. I am not saying that it is a large reactor, and I should hate to lessen the enthusiasm of the professor who is doing a wonderful job in this field, but why should not such an installation also be included? After all, safety precautions have to be taken in that case.

This may also well be so in the case of research in other institutions involving isotopes. This raises the whole question of radio isotopes. They are transported every day. It is now a terrific industry. Last year the Authority's sales from Harwell and Amersham reached £600,000 and the sale of radio isotopes is increasing each year, and it is a field in which Britain is leading. Important questions of safety are involved, and these will have to be covered by the Bill. One can read into Clause 1 the possibility that radio isotopes are affected by the Bill, but we should be told something definite. The handling of radio isotopes involves danger to personnel. What institutions are affected? Are hospitals covered?

We are going to create a new inspectorate service. The Ministry will initiate it in conjunction with the Atomic Energy Authority. The inspectorate will he mainly responsible for safety, design of reactors, site conditions, maintenance and matters connected with the nuclear power industry. Does the Minister believe that we shall get the inspectors quickly? I have doubts.

We still have the Fleck Committee's proposals. Are the Government going to implement the recommendations of the Fleck Committee? We should be given specific answers. There are dangers here. We want our scientists to be encouraged. I have here a report of Sir John Cockcroft, as he then was, being interviewed by the Evening Standard when he returned from Russia last November. Sir John is reported as having said that the Russian scientists were better off than ours. He also said: Their scientists are better off than ours … I found less red tape than we have in Britain. Their top nuclear man gets just what he wants. The inspectorate should attract top personnel, graduates trained in nuclear physics who will also have training in medical science or medical men trained in nuclear physics. Are we going to be able to attract top personnel? Are we going to act on the recommendations of the Fleck Committee? Recommendation X reads: We recommend that the Atomic Energy Authority should take the lead in building up the supply of the specialised medical staff required for the control of health and safety as the uses of atomic energy become more widespread. Recommendation XI reads: We recommend that the Atomic Energy Authority should establish a national training centre for health physics and nuclear safety staff … Recommendation XII reads: We recommend that Government Departments should be directed to ensure that appropriate training in radiological problems is given in the public services and industries for which they are responsible. Is it really the intention of the Ministry to act on these recommendations, or are we still to be surrounded by the red tape mentioned by one of our most distin- guished nuclear scientists? Our questions must be answered.

I should like to know who will be responsible for insurance. I accept what the hon. Member for Watford has said, that the British insurance companies have acted in the field of exports. I have a very excellent publication produced by the Atomic Energy Authority. One chapter deals with the insurance of reactors constructed overseas, which we hope are to be constructed by British firms. The publication states: The British insurance market has created an organisation known as the British Insurance (Atomic Energy) Committee. The Committee was set up with a view to providing the maximum possible capacity for the insurance of the very large values which may be represented by atomic installations, and for the very substantial limits of indemnity which reactor owners may require in connection with protection against third party claims. Is it the intention of the Government to deal with this Committee which is now concerned with overseas insurance and which has had its work publicised by the Atomic Energy Authority? I should like to know that, because there are arguments which we could pursue about the place of private insurance or whether, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh suggested, it should be done by other means. We should have some more precise information, and I hope it will be given.

I do not oppose the Bill, but I hope, firstly, that one day we shall have a more comprehensive Measure, and secondly, that we shall not introduce questions of licensing and insurance into a Bill designed to achieve important safety measures. I hope that one day this Measure will be introduced. It is important that we should discuss this. We are dealing with a great industry which has made great strides. We must not exaggerate the dangers. Neither must we minimise them. We must be prepared to take risks. We have taken risks and we have succeeded.

In the field of the possible uses of atomic energy, we can say proudly that our country leads the world, in the main through public initiative at the centre, which has been partly linked up with initiative from other industries. In the main, the Atomic Energy Authority has achieved great success. Let us hope that the Bill in its small way will help us to improve safety, above all for our workers in the industry and not only for the community around the industry, like my constituents in Cumberland around Calder Hall and Windscale, but also the people in our nation who could be affected by a dangerous fallout of radioactive materials.

6.33 p.m.

Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)

I have listened to this debate with very great interest. One or two points have arisen on which I should like to make a few observations. Firstly, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) urged us not to over-dramatise the danger which might flow from leakages from atomic energy plants and factories. There is no intention of over-dramatising the danger, but it is a fact that the most fearful people in the world today are the atomic scientists, and the most fearful people in British industry today are the atomic energy process workers. They are fearful because they know, whether we accept it or not, that they are dealing with the unknown and that they are just scratching the surface of a mighty new science that may hold very great dangers for them, for their children and for their children's children. If we refer from time to time to the great dangers of leakages to the scientists, the workers and the community, it is not because we are indulging in propaganda, but because we are trying to create the machinery by which to give adequate protection to the scientists in the laboratories, to the workers in industry and to the community at large.

It is apparent to all of us that when dealing with the nuclear industry for peaceful purposes we are not speaking now, as we were five years ago, about an industry with a great future. We are speaking about a little giant industry in this country now and a mighty giant in the United States of America. I hope that the Bill, which is a very timely one and which must receive the support, with one or two qualifications, of every hon. Member, is only the beginning of more detailed legislation to deal with the many, problems that will arise as this great industry develops. With every new reactor we get leakages. The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) spent a good deal of time reassuring us that there was no danger at all from reactors and no danger at all from atomic submarines. That may be the view of the hon. Member, but it was not the view of the Port of Copenhagen Authority when it asked the Americans not to send their nuclear submarine to that port. It considered that there was some danger. Even if there was no danger, there was fear of danger, because one does not know enough about the problems of this vast and expanding industry.

No hon. Member on this side of the House wishes to say anything which would in any way interfere with the development of the industry or would discourage scientists taking an important part in research or industrial workers taking an active part in industry. Despite what the hon. Member for Eastleigh has stated and despite the reassuring reports, all is not well with the nuclear industry. All is not well in the United States of America. There are many hospital beds filled by workers from the atomic industry who are suffering from unknown diseases.

As the general secretary of a union, it has been my duty more often than I have wanted to communicate with the Atomic Energy Authority concerning protection for my members in this industry. Many strange things have happened that have not yet been explained. The Atomic Energy Authority relies far too much on American protective measures, which the American workers concerned and their unions do not consider adequate. Let us not be too complacent about this problem of safety.

The hon. Member for Watford said that a period of insurance over five years was enough and that a period of insurance over thirty years was ridiculous. In the chemical industry there is an industrial disease called papilloma of the bladder. It was scheduled as an industrial hazard only a few years ago. Workers engaged in dyestuff production contract this disease. It is a dreadful disease, but it often does not develop until twenty or thirty years after the worker concerned has been engaged on that chemical process. One of our most difficult tasks in claiming for men who are slowly dying from this industrial disease is finding the evidence to prove that at some time in their life in the chemical industry they worked at this process which would create the danger of contracting papilloma of the bladder. That is a simple example, but there are many others I could give to indicate how necessary it is to have this long period of coverage for insurance.

What greatly troubles me is the difficulty of getting factory inspectors to do the amount of work which will be required as nuclear power for peaceful purposes is developed. We are already desperately short of factory inspectors. We do not, for example, have nearly enough of them to cover the chemical industry. Special training is required for this important task.

Considering the high qualifications which they have to have, we do not pay factory inspectors enough. They are men and women of very great integrity and learning and they have to be wise in their dealings with management, yet we pay them paltry sums of money. We should pay them a salary based not merely on their academic qualifications but also on the job which they do and the unpleasant tasks they have to perform day by day.

In my short industrial experience I have found that the wisest men in British industry are shop stewards. They are men of great wisdom, which is based on day-to-day negotiations at factory level. I have often wondered why this army of highly skilled, intelligent industrial workers, who have not had the opportunity of getting a college education and who have not passed their General Certificate, has not been used as a source for creating some kind of assistant factory inspectors. I am not suggesting that this great reservoir of industrial intelligence should be used as dilution of the Factory Inspectorate, but if we are to get the people we need in order to undertake thorough factory inspection, particularly in this industry covered by the Bill, we must do much more thinking about the Factory Inspectorate.

This is a timely Bill, which should be supported, although it should be strengthened and amended here and there. However, at a later stage we shall have to have a more comprehensive Measure to deal with those problems of safety with which the Bill is calculated to deal temporarily.

6.43 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)

It is clear that the Bill will receive a good deal of attention in Committee, and I am sure that the Government would not want it otherwise. We welcome the principle upon which the Bill is based, since it deals with safety, which we regard as of paramount importance, and compensation. We shall want to put down several Amendments to clear up many of the problems which arise, and I shall not refer to those matters of detail which will be more appropriate to Committee.

However, I want to return to something which was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice). This is a matter on which we should like assistance from the Parliamentary Secretary since it is obvious that the more answers we get to the queries which we put forward today the less we shall require to ask in Committee. I have been looking once again at the Atomic Energy Act, 1946, and I share the perplexity of my right hon. and learned Friend about it, especially about Section 10. It appears that in Section 10 there is a provision for licensing. It is true that the word "site" does not appear, but it would hardly be possible to erect a plant unless 'there were a site for it.

Section 10 says: The Minister may by order provide for prohibiting, except on the authority of a licence granted by the Minister … and then follows the provision that the plant must not be designed or adapted for the production or use of atomic energy or for research into matters contained therein. That seems to us to be all that was necessary, and Clause 1 now appears to be a duplication of that provision. I presume that it is not the Government's intention that an applicant to erect a plant should have to go to two different Departments for one licence. Obviously, it is intended that one Department shall have the requisite authority but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to make the matter clear.

The hon. Gentleman might also deal with Section 5 of the 1946 Act which empowers the Minister to give powers of entry for inspection. It is true that the inspection does not relate to safety, although it is presumably possible for the Minister to make an Order to widen those powers. However, in the 1946 Act there are powers of entry and inspection and there are also powers to grant licences for the building of any plant. To that extent there appears to be some duplication. There may be a very good reason for it, but we shall be glad to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary has to say.

The same question was asked by Labour Peers in debates on the Bill in another place. Reading the OFFICIAL REPORT of the other place, one cannot find a straightforward answer to the queries which were then put. It is thus more than ever incumbent on the Parliamentary Secretary to clear up the matter both for hon. Members and for those in another place who will read our proceedings, since the Bill started there.

I regard the inspectorate as very important. An efficient inspectorate, together with the safety measures to be laid down in the code of safety, should avert any accident for which compensation would be payable. There is no doubt that the code of safety and strict inspection are the two ways by which to prevent accidents. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) has said, the difficulty is to get inspectors to deal with the safety aspects of nuclear plants. We shall require very highly skilled men. So far as I have been able to discover, no Government since the war have been able to recruit the number of inspectors required to meet the establishment authorised by the Treasury either for the factories or the mines. It will be even more difficult to obtain inspectors for atomic energy plants because they will have to have a high degree of skill and scientific knowledge. We should be glad to hear the views of the Parliamentary Secretary concerning what the Government feel about the possibility of recruiting these inspectors, to know the number required initially and what sort of qualifications and training they will have.

It would appear that these inspectors are authorised to inspect only those establishments which have been licensed. I would have thought that if we are to have inspectors to deal with nuclear plants which have been licensed it would be a useful thing to use them to inspect those which have been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington and others, such as instructional and research plants, in the universities and elsewhere. I do not understand why it is necessary to exclude from inspection even Government Departments, such as hospitals. I would have thought that although it might be right to exclude them from licensing it would not be unreasonable to inspect them just as, in the case of Government Departments, boilers are inspected by the inspectors. It seems to me that all nuclear reactors, large or small, and for research or other purposes, should be inspected.

Clause 6 says: The Minister may appoint as inspectors … My right hon. and learned Friend has assured me that this could be read to mean, "The Minister shall appoint …" I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us whether the "may" is permissive, or whether the phrase will be read as I understand it is in other Statutes, namely, as an obligation. It certainly should be an obligation.

When I heard the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) discussing the insurance aspect, I thought of a report that I had read some time ago, dealing with the hazards involved in this matter and the length of time which could elapse before it would be reasonable to expect an individual who had been exposed to radiation hazards to exhibit any serious effects. As I understood the hon. Member's argument—which was made quite fairly from an insurance point of view—he was saying that a period of thirty years was far too long.

As he will know, a very high-powered committee set up by the Medical Research Council reported upon the hazards to man of nuclear and allied radiation, and I should like to quote from that report in order to show that the period of thirty years is not at all excessive. The report says: It is already apparent that the future development of our civilisation is closely bound up with the exploitation of nuclear energy. At present, the potential hazards from its possible military uses overshadow in many people's minds the vast potentialities for good of this new source of power. The hazards to health are qualitatively the same, however, whether they arise from nuclear weapons or from the use of ionizing radiation for peaceful purposes. The difference is one of degree and intensity only. As with other sources of energy that man has harnessed to his service, the use of ionizing radiation necessarily entails risk; but the risk is controllable within limits that he can accept Just as in the case of nuclear weapons, the hazard is there in the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The report goes on to mention the induction of cancer, and says: It is noteworthy that tumours following radio-therapy tend to develop in tissue already severely damaged by radiation, and that, compared with leukaemia, a much longer period —up to 20 years or more—usually elapses between the first exposure to radiation and the clinical appearance of the disease. It is no use thinking in terms of a period of five years merely because insurance companies do not like a risk that continues for thirty years. The report from which I am quoting was produced by the most expert people in our land. The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) is a member of the Medical Research Council which appointed these people, and he will agree that no greater experts could have been found to sit upon that committee. We must therefore accept what it says.

The report deals with the question of cancer of the lung, and says: The mines of Schneeberg and Joachimsthal are rich in a variety of ores and, since the latter part of the last century, pitchblende, an ore containing radium and other radioactive elements, has been extensively worked there. It had long been known that the miners were liable to die in middle-life from a respiratory disease locally named 'mountain sickness'. It is now recognised that this condition is one of cancer of the lung and it is generally accepted that there is a strong connection between the excessive mortality from this disease and the high radioactive content of the air of the mines. Middle life must mean anything from 40 to 50 years of age, and it must mean that a period of thirty years has elapsed since the person concerned went down the pits for the first time and was subjected to these hazards.

I want to quote one more passage from the report to help to prove my case. It mentions cancer of the skin, and says: Since the early part of the century, records have accumulated of the occurrence of skin cancers following X-ray or radium treatment. In some instances, these tumours have followed the injudicious use of X-rays for mild skin affections, or even for the removal of facial hair. The latent periods have usually been long, ranging in a recently reported series of 13 cases from 12 to 56 years, with an average of 33 years. I hope that the Government will not be unduly influenced by the remarks of the hon. Member for Watford. I wanted to draw upon the expert committee which considered this very important matter in order to prove beyond doubt that a period of thirty years is not necessarily to be regarded as too long a period for diseases to emerge as a result of people being exposed to radioactive materials.

Mr. Fort

I should like to read to the right hon. Gentleman a quotation from a United Nations Report by a body of which one of the British representatives is on the Medical Research Council. This concerns the point that was made by the right hon. Gentleman. These facts render it very difficult to accumulate reliable evidence about the correlation between small doses and their effects either in individuals or in large populations. There is an enormous element of speculation.

Mr. Robens

Yes, I would not dispute that there is a tremendous amount of speculation because we are virtually on the edge of the unknown. Nevertheless, there is sufficient real evidence here from actual cases that, in fact, in some cases it takes longer than thirty years to produce the disease.

Mr. Farey-Jones

I pointed out, or I think I did, in my speech that Professor Curie and all the people associated with radium and X-rays were exposed to far greater danger than persons in a modern reactor, or individuals operating in a pitchblende mine, for example, who are exposed to these rays morning, noon and night when working in or near that mine. Therefore, I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman's case.

Mr. Robens

I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said, and if we have all the elements of safety in modern use, there may be no danger, but we are not legislating for when everything goes right. We are legislating for something going wrong. All that the hon. Gentleman says would be perfectly correct if we were not producing a Bill to deal with a completely different set of circumstances from what he envisages, that is, the relative safety of the modern reactor, with all its safety measures, compared with a radioactive pitchblende mine; but that is not what we are discussing.

We are discussing a Bill to provide for when things go wrong or, indeed, to prevent them going wrong. That is the answer to the argument of the hon. Gentleman, which has been echoed elsewhere, that thirty years is too long. We have evidence that thirty years is not too long, and if it was possible under insurance administration—and here I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason)—it would be better if we could leave out the time limit entirely, though I understand that that is not a practical proposition from the legal point of view.

Next we come to the limit of insurance of £5 million. I have never understood how this figure of £5 million arises, and I should have thought that it must have been just a shot in the dark. It is certainly not based on any actuarial calculations. It could not have been based on the amount of damage, which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington told us was £50,000 in regard to Windscale. Therefore, this £5 million is a figure presumably arrived at arbitrarily. It may well be that it is adequate for the purpose, but, equally, if there were a major disaster —and, again, I say that we are here probing into the unknown; no one at this stage can think how such a major disaster could arise—and if the dangers extended over a very wide area it might be far in excess of £5 million. Yet the Bill provides for circumstances in which compensation for damage far in excess of £5 million may be required to be paid. Then, according to the Bill, we have to go back to Parliament, which must determine what should be paid in these circumstances. In the meantime, however, payments must be made in excess of the £5 million. Presumably, the Treasury will foot the Bill after the £5 million insurance risk has been taken.

I should have thought that what my right hon. and learned Friend said was right, that this ought to be seriously considered by the Government, in view of the fact that if there is a major disaster, the Treasury must stand it, and indeed could not do otherwise, and Parliament would have to provide the funds. I would have thought that that would have been the case right from the beginning, and I support the suggestion made by my right hon. and learned Friend for perhaps some annual contribution to the Treasury, by those who are operating nuclear reactors, the Treasury taking care of all subsequent compensation. This is new in compensation, and it is without limit. It seems to me that the suggestion made by my right hon. and learned Friend would perhaps be the most sensible way of dealing with the matter.

However, we will return to a number of these matters in greater detail in Committee. The fact is that we accept the Bill because it produces this code of safety and inspection. Therefore, we shall not oppose the Second Reading, but neither the Minister nor the Parliamentary Secretary would expect that it would go through Committee without very serious consideration of the Clauses contained in it.

7.6 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Sir Ian Horobin)

This has been an extremely interesting and helpful debate, with speeches from both sides of the House which have shown considerable thought, with, I am afraid, the one rather sad exception of the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), who seemed to me to be both prejudiced and muddled, and about whom I shall have something more to say in due course.

I should like to begin by stressing what has been so rightly stressed by both the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens), who have spoken from the Front Opposition Bench, and by several other hon. Members, that this is primarily a safety Bill. The whole object of the Bill is not primarily to pay people when something has gone wrong, though it does do that, and it is important that it should do it. Its primary object is to ensure that there are in the hands of the Government, and in particular of the Minister of Power, powers to ensure that, as knowledge becomes available, reactors or any of the installations concerned in this Bill are only set on foot and operated in accordance with the best knowledge which our scientists and engineers can discover.

It cannot be emphasised too often that our generation and generations to come will have to live with these things, whether we like it or not, because we are moving rapidly into the atomic age. We, therefore, have to do in that field what we have done for many years regarding safety in the ordinary factory and coal mine, and that is to build up, perhaps by trial and error, because we are only human, the best code of safety that we can for operating to the best advantage to the country these vast new sources of power.

I will run over the various speeches that have been made, not in great detail, but because, as the right hon. Member for Blyth said, if we can give general answers to some of the points that have been put, it may save time in Committee. First, I must give a little time to the opening speech for the Opposition of the right hon. and learned Member for Newport. His main point was referred to again by the right hon. Member for Blyth—the wide scope of Clause 1. At the same time, they asked why we could not rely on the 1946 Act. We shall have a good deal to say in detail about that in Committee, but we must recognise that the 1946 Act is quite out of date, because things have moved so rapidly, and that Act was passed at the very beginning of the process. Nobody anticipated at that time a nuclear programme for the generation of electricity. That was merely an Act to regularise things that had been going on under great secrecy as part of the war effort. It is, therefore, no criticism of anybody that that Act should be quite inappropriate to what has to be done now.

I will illustrate it by two examples. It is by no means clear, as we are advised, that a licence could be varied, if granted under that Act. It is clear—the incident at Windscale will bring to the minds of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen the sort of thing I am referring to—that in operating some of these great installations, which will be going on for 10 or 20 years, knowledge may accrue which would involve changes, perhaps of a restrictive nature or maybe of a less restrictive nature. It is by no means clear—in fact it is almost certainly not possible—to exercise licensing powers under that Act if an installation has closed down. It is clear to us all, however, that if one of these great reactors were, for some reasons, to close down, it would still have to be controlled for many years in the interests of safety. I give these illustrations only to show—it is no matter for surprise—that we do not think reliance on the 1946 Act would prove sufficient.

I ought to take up the point, made by more than one hon. Member, and certainly by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport, about whether we shall be involved in the complicated duplication of two licences being necessary. That, definitely, is not so. No prohibition has been made under the 1946 Act and persons intending to build one of these new installations will apply for a licence under the provisions of the present Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked what type of consideration would be borne in mind in settling these licences. The answer is, definitely, only safety. That is what the Bill is about. The conditions laid down in a licence would simply ensure that if a reactor, or any other installation coming under the provisions of Clause 1 (1, b), were set up, the appropriate safety restrictions in the public interest would be imposed.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman was worried about the use of the word "occurrence" and I think I should make two matters plain. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the possibility of danger from Strontium 90. I do not think that a proper point to make in this regard. There is no possibility of people being exposed to danger from Strontium 90 unless a definite occurrence has taken place. Although I think the matter is covered, the Government will look into the other possibility, that of prolonged radiation where there is no specific occurrence which may account for it—apart from a person being, as it were, merely present.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked why shipping was exempted, and also aircraft, although that matter is quite academic at the moment. He asked why there should be a difference in the conditions obtaining inside the territorial limit and just outside. This is a technical and complicated question which we must examine in Committee, but the short answer is that it relates to the necessity for acting in accordance with international convention; in particular, for ensuring that a principle—which, for much wider considerations, has always been insisted upon by British Governments—shall be adhered to, namely, that it shall not be within the unilateral power of one Government to legislate for ships upon the high seas. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may wish to pursue that matter further. Incidentally, to clear up a point, made, I think, in the speech of the hon. Member for Barnsley —which shows that even the most surprising speech can sometimes have a useful result—the use of the word "site" effectively excludes ships and aircraft because, obviously, they are not sites.

Although I do so with great hesitation, because I am not a lawyer, I differ from the views expressed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman regarding the liability of directors. I suggest, with respect, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has omitted to notice the effect of the words in Clause 7, where it states, among other things, … or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of any director … In broad principle, therefore, the position is that the fact that a director just did not know would not be a defence, if he ought to have known. But if, as in the example cited by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, a director had been absent for twelve months, during which time a contravention had occurred, and there was no possible means of his knowing about it, he would not come within the Clause.

Another point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman was mentioned by several other speakers, including the right hon. Member for Blyth. They asked why should we insure? There are a number of reasons. The British insurance industry is one of the most skilfully run industries and does business all over the world. It earns a great amount of foreign currency and it is extremely important that this industry should insure the things that it can insure. Were the Government to take over the whole of this business, including those parts of it which are insurable, they would have to set up an extremely expensive and, I am afraid, rather amateurish, organisation for settling claims and for carrying out detailed administrative work such as the British insurance industry has been doing for years, and doing it better than anybody else in the world.

Therefore, in the interests of economy and of the insurance industry as a whole, and in the interests of those who desire to get their claims settled quickly and expeditiously, the Government felt that the right policy was to deal with all insurable risks by way of insurance, while at the same time admitting that there are certain risks which are not insurable and which must be dealt with differently.

At this point perhaps I may refer to an amicable exchange between the right hon. Member for Blyth and my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) who seemed to be at cross purposes. There will be no limitations under the Bill regarding a ten-year period for payment. Claims may be made right up to the thirty years precisely for the reasons advanced by the right hon. Gentleman. There may not be many claims and they may be difficult to prove; but there may be some, and therefore we feel that they should be allowed for in the Bill, but, as was explained by my hon. Friend, who has great experience of insurance, after ten years, or thereabouts, it becomes impossible to calculate what reserves should be put aside to meet such claims and therefore the risk is not insurable.

In this Bill the Government have dealt with a difficult situation in a most sensible way. They have said to the insurance companies, in effect, "What can you insure?", because insurance will be the simplest and cheapest way to deal with the matter. The insurance companies are prepared to go up to a period of ten years and an amount of £5 million —that deals with the point about the figure of £5 million. We do not think that £5 million is a realistic figure. There is no evidence to lead us to suppose that damage to that extent could ever take place. The insurance companies, with their vast resources, are willing to insure to that figure, so why not take advantage of their capacity? But beyond £5 million and a period of ten years, the matter becomes uninsurable. Therefore the Government have said that if there were some inconceivable catastrophe—if, after ten and up to thirty years, some colossal damage did occur, Parliament and the country would have to meet it. It is not an insurable risk, and therefore it is dealt with in the Bill in a different way.

I now come to one or two points put to the House by the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer). He asked me about the evacuation of personnel. That is precisely one of the things which would be considered before a licence was granted. It is for that reason that the Bill starts by saying, "You cannot operate without a licence." We will then discover by trial and error, through the advisory committee which is being set up, what conditions should be laid down, and whether it turns out that the conditions must be tightened up or can safely be relaxed.

On the question of the appointment of inspectors, Clause 6 (1) is surely the necessary beginning. It says: The Minister may appoint as inspectors to assist him in the execution of this Act such number of persons appearing to him to be qualified for the purpose as he may from time to time consider necessary or expedient. That is a start. Until that happens we cannot appoint anybody because we have no Parliamentary power. As soon as the Bill becomes an Act we shall set to work, in view of the number of licences, to see where we can get the people from. They may have to come from the A.E.A. We shall work from that as a beginning. The great thing is to make a start. There are no powers, and we are taking powers, and shall develop them as we go along.

Mr. Robens

Would the hon. Gentleman deal with the point of "may" rather than "shall"?

Sir I. Horobin

I am advised that "may" normally means "shall" and in this case certainly means "will."

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh, who knows a great deal about this subject, asked me why Zeta and thermonuclear reactors generally were excluded. They are not, of course, excluded, but they do not come under Clause 1 (1, a), with those things which will automatically be licensed at the start. The obvious reason is that the Atomic Energy Authority does not come under that provision anyway. Before any thermonuclear machine of that kind were allowed to be set up by anybody who would normally require a licence the Government would take action, as they are allowed to do under Clause 1 (1, b). That is the short answer to that point.

My hon. Friend also referred to the problem of sub-critical assemblies of isotopes. This point is giving us a good deal of, I might almost say, trouble, in the Ministry at the moment. We must draw a distinction, but there have been differences of opinion in various interchanges on this matter. Plant designed for the production of atomic energy by a maintained and controlled fission process, or what we broadly call a "reactor," will have be licensed anyway, no matter how small, whether it is in a university department or anywhere else. The reason is, we are advised, that nobody at this stage knows where to draw the line. I am sure the House would wish that as long as there is doubt safety must take priority. Nobody can at this stage say that a reactor is so small that damage might not occur.

When we turn, not to self-maintained instruments but to instruments where an external source of neutrons is required to continue the mechanism—and there are many of these weird instruments in the universities and research establishments today—or mere stores of radioactive isotopes, the position, while difficult, is not impossible. It is clear that there must be control, because isotopes can be stored in quantities which vary very much and where they can become critical. This is one of the troubles in some of the chemical plants in processing elements from the big reactors.

The Government are ready and anxious to ensure that no hindrance is put on research. It may be that in Committee we can find words to avoid unnecessary complications of this sort. In particular, I have little doubt that we shall be able to find words which will limit the wide terms of Clause 1 (1, b). Which—

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman has made a very important statement about university research nuclear reactors. I am sorry to say this, but I think that what he is saying conflicts with what the Minister of Power said in another place in reply to an interjection.

Sir I. Horobin

We are in a difficulty here, because I understand that under the rules of order we cannot quote verbatim here the proceedings in another place. I could go at some length into some of the interchanges, where there was clearly a good deal of misunderstanding perhaps on both sides, in that rather technical discussion. I assure the House that a reactor will have to be licensed however small and wherever it is.

Mr. Robens

This is a rather important point, which was raised in another place. If the Parliamentary Secretary wishes to quote the Minister I am sure he can do so within the rules of order. That is permissible. The Minister of Power made it clear that what the Minister is referring to would not be the case, but the Parliamentary Secretary is now telling us that the Minister was wrong. Was the Minister wrong in another place, and is the Parliamentary Secretary right in this place?

Sir I. Horobin

I am afraid I could not quote it, because I have not with me the text of HANSARD from another place. I am sure that the Minister was, as usual, right. I can at any rate assure the House that the fact is that a reactor of any kind —I have used the word "reactor" as shorthand for what appears in Clause 1 (1, a)—will require licensing. We are trying to deal with sub-critical assemblies of isotopes. We may be able to do something about this, and we can certainly deal with limiting the very wide words in Clause 1 (1, b): … carrying out of any process preparatory or ancillary to, the production or use of atomic energy or for the storage, treatment or disposal of nuclear fuel or other radioactive matter. That could, for example, cover the mere metallurgy of beryllium, where no radioactive processes of any kind arise. It is not the intention of the Bill that chemical works dealing purely with the construction of cans in beryllium, where radioactive matter simply does not occur at all, should be included. I would make it clear that Clause 1 (1, b) is permissive and not compulsory. All we would be concerned with is that the Minister did not do foolishly what he has no intention of doing. In so far as that will protect industrial processes, we shall be very ready to consider it during the Committee stage.

There were two points with which I ought to deal in the speech of the hon. Member for Barnsley, because it is important that, should anybody be so ill-advised as to read it, they should not spread alarm and despondency. He really seemed to think that testing for radioactivity in the neighbourhood of occurrences of any kind, or even testing in the neighbourhood of a reactor or installation to make sure that no dangerous occurrences do take place, would be the job of the licensee. It is entirely irrelevant whether the installation is controlled by the Atomic Energy Authority, the Central Electricity Generating Board or a private firm like the G.E.C.

The testing is being done now and will continue to be done by Governmental action. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government are test- ing now and will continue to test, and test more. All this talk about where the fall-out turns up and meteorological effects and so forth is quite irrelevant. Exactly the same people will do the testing, and do it as carefully whether they are dealing with something at Windscale, something at Aldermaston or at Hinkley Point.

Another point I want to make clear, because we do not want people to be unnecessarily frightened, is, as the right hon. Member for Blyth properly pointed out, that there are some inescapable residuary dangers. The hon. Member for Barnsley kept harping on the fact that we could not see radioactive emissions and so on. The fact is that we can check and test them and do so far more accurately than we can check most of the industrial hazards which cause industrial diseases. I wish we could check the dangers of pneumoconiosis dust in the coal mines or byssinosis fibre dangers in the cotton industry as accurately as we can check this. It would be very unfortunate if a general impression got about that we do not know what is happening and cannot check it. In fact it is true to say that there is more careful, constant and exact testing of the hazards to which workpeople and the public are exposed in this industry than in any other.

Mr. Mason

Surely the hon. Gentleman recognises from the speech I made, the questions asked and the way I put them, that we want to ensure in this House before Bills go through either Second Reading, Committee stage or Third Reading that the questions are noted by Ministers? The incidence of pneumoconiosis and byssinosis and many industrial diseases would not be so great if we took as much note of them as we are taking of the danger of radioactivity.

Secondly, on the giving of licences for sites, it would appear that the Atomic Energy Authority, the State-owned and controlled body, is to allow private enterprise to step in after all the research and development has been done initially. In spite of all that has been done by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in planning and research, all this work is to aid private ventures.

Sir I. Horobin

I do wish the hon. Member would try to get into his head that what people are concerned with is whether they are to be killed or there is danger. They really do not care at Barnsley whether the danger comes from A.E.A. or a private installation.

If I may get back to sense, my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) asked a practical, important point. He asked if in the case of a large factory there was a part in which there was to be an installation of this kind the licence would have to cover the whole of the area concerned. The answer to that is, no. In the ordinary way, when the person concerned applied for a licence he would show on a map or otherwise the portion where it was proposed to site the installation.

I wish to make reference to a point made by the hon. Member for Cleveland. I thought that, unlike the great bulk of his speech, it was a little unfair. He said that it was rather late in the day to jog the Minister of Power into setting this legislation on foot. Surely that comes rather odd from a member of a party whose friends in another place and here today have devoted quite a substantial part of their speeches to trying to find why we need the Bill at all. They cannot have it both ways. The situation is that we know a lot more about these things than any of us knew in 1946. Unlike some other people, we change our legislative proposals in the light of experience.

The right hon. Member for Blyth asked me about establishment and numbers. I am afraid it is too early to give an answer about that. It is clear we shall have to see how the thing goes. As application for licences come in, in the first place they will obviously be those from the Central Electricity Generating Board and we shall have to see how lone it takes to work out the details and how far the procedure can be standardised. The right hon. Member may take it that there will be no limitation to the numbers and qualities. The great thing is to get a sufficient number of the right type of men.

I think I have covered the bulk of the points which have been raised—

Mr. Robens

May I ask another question, which has occurred to me as I have been listening to the Parliamentary Secretary? The Minister will now license all new plants. Will the Bill in some way operate retroactively to provide for the same code of safety on the plants which have already been built?

Sir I. Horobin

With the exception of one reactor at Aldermaston, there are no plants built to which the Bill will apply, because the A.E.A. installations do not come under it. As to the C.E.G.B. ones, of course we shall immediately proceed to the licensing. The point about the Aldermaston General Electric installation, I confess had not occurred to me, but, speaking offhand, I should say it should certainly be necessary to obtain a licence for it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).