HC Deb 01 July 1959 vol 608 cc525-34
(1) Where in the case of an application for a nuclear site licence in respect of any site received by the Minister after the commencement of this Act it appears to the Minister appropriate so to do, he may direct the applicant to serve on such bodies of any of the following descriptions as may be specified in the direction, that is to say—

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Paymaster-General (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

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

The new Clause is designed to meet a series of points raised by the Opposition in the Standing Committee. It falls into three parts. Subsection (1) deals with the position of local authorities, river boards, local fisheries committees and so forth, and provides that the Minister shall have power to direct anyone applying for a nuclear site licence to serve on these bodies notice of his application, giving in that notice such particulars as the Minister may specify and also making it clear to the bodies that they have two months in which to object. Thereafter, the Minister cannot grant the licence until he is satisfied that the full two months have passed from the serving of the last of the notices, and he cannot grant it until he has considered any representations that may have been made. That covers, I think, fairly satisfactorily the important matter raised in the Standing Committee of notification to local authorities and similar bodies and provides an opportunity for them to raise objections. There is a proviso that this shall not apply to the sites of nuclear generating stations for the electricity boards because we feel that the provisions already made under the Electricity Acts should be adequate for the purpose.

The second subsection is a separate, somewhat cognate point raised by Opposition speakers at an earlier stage. It provides that where any organisation representing people working on the site makes representations to the Minister asking him to use his powers to vary or revoke an existing licence he shall be under a duty to consider those representations.

The third subsection—again dealing with a separate point—provides that the Minister shall maintain and make available for inspection by the public a list showing every site in respect of which he has granted a nuclear site licence, save only sites where there is no licence for the time being in force and thirty years have elapsed since the expiration of the last licensee's period of responsibility. I think that will provide for comprehensive information to be available to the public on the lines that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite had in mind.

I hope the House will take the Clause as an attempt to meet the important points which were raised and will, therefore, accept it as it stands.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Cleveland)

I think we can say from this side of the House that we are very delighted indeed with the new Clause. We are grateful to the Government for meeting our points. I think we may congratulate ourselves upon the activity and the mental penetration that we displayed in Standing Committee. The three subsections of the Clause are the result of suggestions from the Opposition during the Standing Committee proceedings.

It would be out of order at this stage for me to refer to an Amendment which we shall shortly be considering, but we feel that the period of notice should be a little longer. We are particularly delighted about subsection (2) because it gives an opportunity to the trade unions representing employees at the nuclear sites to make representations to the Minister about matters connected with the granting of a licence before such a licence is granted.

Finally, there is the third point—we pressed this very strongly—that the public should be enabled to find out just where the nuclear sites are, both sites which are in active use and sites which have expired. The public should be able to obtain that information, and a proper list should be maintained by the Minister and maps should be available. Therefore, we welcome the new Clause.

Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

There are two points on which I should like my right hon. Friend to give some undertaking if he can.

The first relates to subsection (1) of the new Clause. It would be helpful to applicants for licences if they had a copy of the representations made by the various bodies. A water board might object because it had fears about effluent, and it is reasonable that the applicant, who gets notice, should know what the objection is at the same time as it goes to the Minister. I should have liked some words to this effect included in the Clause, but it will suffice if my right hon. Friend can give an undertaking that the Department will carry out the course which I have mentioned.

My point about subsection (2) is very similar. We had a long debate about this in the Standing Committee. I think my right hon. Friend has met the case made by the Opposition, but, equally, I think it is fair that the operator should be informed of the type of representation that the staff or workers' organisation is making to the Minister. We hope that, in practice, this course will be rare and that objections will be put directly to the management of the nuclear installation, but that should relations be such that it is felt that representations at a higher level are necessary, copies of them should go to the management.

I am sure that the House will agree that ideally we want the fears and objections of workers and staff to be dealt with by the management. I look upon the subsection as a safeguard so that where that level of confidence does not exist between staff, workpeople and management there shall be a longstop.

Mr. Peart

I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price). I call him "my hon. Friend" because in Standing Committee there was considerable agreement between us. In fact, he was the only hon. Member opposite who spoke—

Mr. Robens

And always very wisely.

Mr. Peart

—and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) says, always very wisely.

I support the hon. Gentleman's plea to the Minister that before licences are granted the representations of local authorities and other bodies, such as trade unions and others employed at nuclear installations and on sites, should be made known to the people who have been mentioned.

I am certain that the Minister will be sensible, and I am glad that he has been sensible about the views that we expressed in Standing Committee. I am very pleased that our representations have had their effect and that any local authority will be considered and consulted and will be able to make the necessary representations. I am also grateful to the Government in respect of the plea that we made on behalf of river boards and local fishery committees. We emphasised how important it was that they should be able to make the necessary representations. I assume that water boards will be included. I take it that they are covered by the term "any river purification board".

I want representations to be made to site operators and owners not purely for negative reasons. I have always argued that local authorities and their staffs have a great contribution to make in this matter. They have local knowledge. They know the geology of the area, and they have special technical facilities. Local authorities have engineers and water undertakings have water engineers who can all make their contribution to the siting of the reactor. I hope that the new Clause will not be administered in the purely negative sense of making representations to prevent the creation of a nuclear site. I would rather see representations made to help make the site more efficient and better situated, and able to be operated more smoothly.

If we accept the Clause in that spirit I am sure that we shall have a better approach to siting, especially from the point of view of nuclear reactor operators and the authorities who will have to work with the owners in the areas concerned.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Mason

The Minister has generally satisfied the wishes of the Committee and has particularly stressed that water undertakings and local authorities shall be consulted before licences are granted. Water undertakings are very worried about the discharge of effluent, as the hon. Member for East- leigh (Mr. D. Price) mentioned, and local authorities are worried both about effluent and about the siting of nuclear power stations. I understand that the Atomic Energy Authority has now managed successfully to develop a system which allows it to dump radioactive waste in bulk. Local authorities will want to be notified well in advance of the sites where this radioactive matter in bulk form is to be dumped—whether it is to be in mineshafts in their areas or offshore but nevertheless within the area of some coastline authority.

There is one other factor which applies to all forms of radioactive materials, such as radioactive isotopes, nuclear material and radioactive waste. When licences for sites are being granted and it is necessary to transport radioactive matter in bulk a code of recognition should be established in respect of the containers, so that local authorities, the police and the first services can become conversant with this code and will know, precisely what degree of danger is involved if there should be an accident or fire should break out. They will then know precisely what to do.

The word "radioactivity" still charges people with fear, and although we are managing to control it safely it is essential that the people who have to handle the material in emergencies should be sure that they can easily recognise the degree of danger if an accident should occur. The Clause will provide a greater measure of protection, because water undertakings and local authorities will know the whereabouts of radioactive effluent or waste, but if a code of recognition is developed the strength of this matter will also be known. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to introduce the Clause because it will help local authorities and river boards, since they will now be fully informed.

Mr. Peart

There is one other point that I should have mentioned. There is no obligation upon a site owner or the people concerned with an installation to consult a water undertaking or local authority after a licence has been granted. Will there be such consultations?

Mr. Maudling

The points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) and the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) can be readily accepted. It would obviously be common sense for information to be made available. I can assure both hon. Members that the provisions of the Clause will be administered in that spirit.

In reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), I would say that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government has already begun discussions with local bodies about permanent legislation concerning the disposal of radioactive waste, which the hon. Member has often referred to as a very important problem. As for the code of recognition, I shall gladly have his suggestion studied, although I cannot commit myself in any way.

As for the final point made by the hon. Member for Workington, the Clause refers to what must be done in the way of consultation before a licence is granted, but anything which is regarded as necessary subsequently can no doubt be included within the conditions of the licence.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a second time.

Mr. Palmer

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, in line 17, to leave out "two" and to insert "three".

Mr. Speaker

I think it would be convenient to discuss the Amendment in line 19—to leave out "two" and to insert "three"—at the same time.

Mr. Palmer

Yes, Mr. Speaker. It is not necessary for me to say very much, because I suspect that we are pushing at an open door. We want to extend the period in which local authorities and other public authorities can make representations to the Minister in relation to considerations arising in connection with the granting of a licence. In official circles a period of two months is not very long. The notice has to be received and studied; other bodies may have to be consulted, committees may have to meet and officers may have to make reports. It is extremely difficult to do all these things within two months. We are being very moderate in proposing that the period should be extended by one month. We think that the Amendment will facilitate the efficient conduct of public business all round.

Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so mainly for the reasons puts forward by my hon. Friend, but particularly because, in the sphere into which we are moving, it is likely to be necessary for consultations to take place between neighbouring authorities. In the provision of these sites, and their licensing, it is likely that a number of local authorities will be concerned. At the moment the machinery for consultation on these matters is a rather cumbersome one. We hope that in time it will become much easier for them to consult each other, but it seems to us that three months is the minimum period necessary for all the consultations to take place, bearing in mind the fact that county authorities and non-county authorities, as well as neighbouring authorities, will be concerned. There seems to be nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by lengthening the period.

Mr. Maudling

The arguments put forward by the hon. Members opposite are convincing, and I would recommend the House to accept the Amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In line 19, leave out "two" and insert "three".—[Mr. Palmer.]

Mr. Palmer

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause as amended, in line 33, after "him", to insert: (whether or not such licence is still in force)". This also is an Amendment on which I need not speak at length, because there may be an easy answer to our point and we hope that the Amendment will be accepted. We are anxious to cover the case of what I shall call, for convenience, the evacuated site, where there has been use of a site for a nuclear process, a licence has been granted and is later revoked, but the risk of danger still exists and, therefore, under the terms of the Bill, there is still a continued liability on the part of the occupier.

In those circumstances, if the Minister is to maintain a list of the sites or if maps showing them are to be displayed, we might as well do the job properly and fully and include those evacuated sites. They are bound to exist in the years to come when this business has gone a great distance ahead. All sites should be included whether or not the licence for them is still in force. I am puzzled why this provision is not included already in what is generally a sound Clause. For these reasons, I hope that the Paymaster-General will look with favour on our Amendment.

Mr. Harold Davies

I beg to second the Amendment.

In view of the possibilities and the difficulties in the prolongation of radioactive isotopes, this proposal would be a safeguard. The House is well aware of the facts and, therefore, there is no need for a long speech. This is a reasonable Amendment and I sincerely hope that the Minister will give it due consideration.

Mr. Maudling

I cannot recommend the House to accept the Amendment, but I hope to be able to persuade hon. Members opposite that it is unnecessary, that the Clause already has the effect which they intend and that by adding these

(1A) Notwithstanding that a nuclear site licence is for the time being in force or is not for the time being required in respect thereof, no person other than the Authority shall use any site—
5 (a) for any treatment of irradiated matter which involves the extraction therefrom of plutonium or uranium; or
(b) for any treatment of uranium such as to increase the proportion of the isotope 235 contained therein.
10 except under, and in accordance with the terms of a permit in writing for such a use of the site for purposes of research or development granted by the Authority or a government department; and any fissile material produced under such a permit shall be disposed of only in such manner as may be approved by the authority by whom the permit was granted.

This Amendment concerns a matter to which much importance was rightly attached by Opposition Members during earlier proceedings. It is the problem which arises from the highly dangerous nature of certain substances used in nuclear installations, of which the outstanding one is plutonium. It was plutonium to which references were mainly directed.

The purpose of the Amendment is to make it clear that no private body or company shall have the right to treat irradiated matter in such a way as to extract plutonium or uranium—to cover all dangerous substances that can be extracted, one must specify uranium as well as plutonium—nor shall they have the right to treat uranium in such a way as to increase the proportion of the isotope 235 contained therein. That means, in effect, that no private person

words, confusion might be caused. The new Clause states that The Minister shall maintain a list showing every site in respect of which a nuclear site licence has been granted by him".

That, I am advised, would cover both types of case. To make certainty doubly sure, however, the House will see that the proviso excludes from this provision a site for which a licence is no longer in force, but only when thirty years have elapsed since the end of the period of responsibility.

I assure hon. Members, therefore, that the point contemplated by the Amendment is covered and that to add these words to the Clause would have no effect and might, indeed, be confusing.

Amendment to the proposed Clause, as amended, negatived.

Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.