HC Deb 16 November 1964 vol 702 cc46-68

Order for Second Reading read.

4.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. John Morris)

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

The Bill deals with certain features of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and, in particular, with the establishment of an international system governing civil liability for damage and injury. The House may think it fitting that in this new scientific and technological age this is one of the first Bills of Her Majesty's Government to be brought before the House, but it is, of course, the fruit of several years of international spadework.

The Bill is needed to bring our law into line so that we can proceed to ratify three recent international conventions in this field. The United Kingdom played a leading part in the negotiation of the main conventions. In view of this, it is right that she should now proceed to complete the work so far as her own legal system is concerned.

May I immediately pay tribute to the representatives of the many countries concerned who took part in the prolonged negotiations. The conventions can be properly held up as an example of concrete and practical achievement in the field of European and world-wide co-operation.

This is a fairly short but complicated Bill dealing with a technical subject—complicated because it amends a rather complicated Act. I will endeavour to make its main provisions clear, but I ask the indulgence of the House in a rather formidable task.

As the Title explains, the Bill amends and extends the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959, and I should, first, like to deal briefly with the main provisions of that Act on liability and compensation. The 1959 Act also imposed safety control by licensing, but this Bill does not significantly depart from the provisions of the 1959 Act in that respect.

The use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes is a new, and to some people, frightening development. It has a potential for doing damage in a novel way since radiation cannot be detected by the senses and its effects are often long-delayed. But I should like to emphasise that in all of our discussions it should be remembered that the chances of hurt to people or damage to property is remote. The safety and health record of the atomic energy industry gives ample confirmation of this.

The 1959 Act established a special system of law in order to safeguard those who might be affected in the unlikely event of an accident. This was the price which the industry had to pay in developing this potent source of energy and it was a reasonable price. Absolute liability was imposed because of the potentially dangerous nature of the activities and the nature of the damage which could be done made it unfair to leave the burden on a plaintiff of proving negligence.

The existing common law was obviously inadequate in that in some cases it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a person who had been injured to prove the negligence of the operator. Because of the long-delayed effects, the normal limitation period for making claims of this kind was obviously inadequate. The normal three-year period would not suffice where the result of an injury might not manifest itself for many years beyond this limitation period. Therefore, in the 1959 Act the limitation period was raised to 30 years.

Because of the possible—I am only saying possible—magnitude of the claims and the long delay in the period in which claims might be made, it was vital that there should be money available to meet such claims. To achieve this, compulsory insurance for the sum of £5 million was imposed and provision was made to deal with the remote contingency that this sum would prove to be insufficient.

But the Act was not only concerned with those who might be injured or suffer damage. There was the other side of the coin, too. It was designed to enable the industry to develop under the minimum handicap and to this end provided for all liability arising from a nuclear accident to be channelled solely to the operator responsible. This ensures that the burden on the industry as a whole of providing insurance cover for the liability is kept to a minimum. Indeed, the House is well aware that it was the difficulty in the insurance field which was the genesis of the 1959 Act.

These, then, are the main principles of the 1959 Act which, I think the House will agree, should be preserved. This is the Government's intention. Indeed, in virtually all respects the international conventions are based on these same principles. But the 1959 Act dealt with the situation as it was then, and now that the conventions provide the basis for an international system in this matter the Bill is required to extend and amend our present law. May I briefly refer to the conventions.

There are three conventions which have been signed on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, two of regional application and one world wide. All three merit support since they are designed to facilitate international exchanges in the peaceful uses of atomic energy. At present, nuclear material is moving internationally under some disadvantages which increase costs and inhibit the development of atomic energy. It is in the interests of the United Kingdom as exporters of "know-how", hardware and nuclear fuel and as international carriers, to promote the widest acceptance of the conventions.

The first convention in this field was prepared by the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation and signed by member States in July, 1960, in Paris. This was followed by the preparation under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency of the Vienna Convention which was adopted at an International Conference in May, 1963. As a result, in Paris countries agreed an additional Protocol to the Paris Convention which amended that convention to make it compatible with the Vienna Convention and identical with it in most respects. The protocol was signed in January, 1964. The completion of this protocol was a very striking example of European cooperation since, as the House will appreciate, the amendment of the first convention in the field before it was in force was an unusual step requiring the closest co-operation and give and take between the parties concerned.

The third convention applicable is that signed at Brussels in January, 1963, supplementary to the Paris Convention. This provides for useful co-operation between the parties to it in the unlikely event of a nuclear accident of disastrous proportions. Copies of these protocols and conventions, and consolidated texts, are available in the Vote Office for study by hon. Members.

To summarise, the conventions, as I have explained, are designed to carry out the following four objects. The first, as I have said, is to channel all liability to the operator of the nuclear installation in which the incident happened, or from which or to which nuclear material is sent. The second is to impose on the operator absolute liability. The third is to limit that liability to a prescribed amount which should not be less than £1¾ million per incident; and the fourth is to ensure that adequate funds are made available to meet this liability and that they are used exclusively for that purpose. The conventions provide for a few exceptions to the main principles, mainly in relation to transport.

The 1959 Act already establishes in United Kingdom law these main principles, but its scope is not wide enough in three important ways. The first is that it covers only some transport incidents involving irradiated nuclear fuel in transit between places in the United Kingdom. The conventions cover other nuclear materials, extend to all transport incidents within their territorial scope and ensure that an operator is always liable. The Bill, therefore, extends the law to cover nuclear material other than irradiated fuel and to cover all relevant transport cases including the liability of foreign operators within our jurisdiction.

The second is that the 1959 Act deals only with damage due to ionising radiations, whereas the conventions cover the other hazardous properties of nuclear material. Moreover, the liability imposed by the conventions is on a per incident basis, whereas the Act deals with damage caused during periods covered by insurance. The Bill brings our law into line with the conventions in these respects. These two features of the conventions result in complications which we would have preferred to avoid, but we were unable to persuade the other countries, both in Paris and Vienna, to follow our Act more closely.

Thirdly, the Bill necessarily contains a number of rather complicated provisions dealing with liability, rights to compensation and cover for liability in order that our law should comply with the three conventions. It also makes rules concerning jurisdiction, shared liability and foreign judgments required by the Convention.

A notable feature of the Bill is the wide jurisdiction taken, which is necessary under the rules of the conventions which ensure a single jurisdiction. In addition to covering incidents occurring in the United Kingdom, when a United Kingdom operator is concerned the Bill imposes liability world-wide except for, first, incidents occurring in other contracting States—that is because it will be for such States to impose liability by their own law—and, secondly, for damage suffered in non-contracting States, with an exception in relation to United Kingdom ships and aircraft, to which I shall refer later. In short, under the Conventions the State of the operator has jurisdiction except where the incident occurs within another contracting State.

The Bill also contains provisions which are not required under the conventions. Indeed, that was so under the 1959 Act as well. The first and most important set of these deals with international cases falling outside the conventions. The international system will in time, we hope, become world wide, but it will inevitably be some years before this is achieved. Forty-three nations voted in favour of the Vienna Convention and none against, but it must be appreciated that it was a compromise less acceptable to some countries than to others. We must accept, therefore, that for some time there will be some countries, a number of them in the forefront of atomic energy development, which are unlikely to ratify it. We hope, however, that when they have seen it in force they will agree that it provides at least a very good start to regulating, in the interests of public assurance and protection and the promotion of the rapid development of nuclear energy for the benefit of the world, liability for damage due to nuclear incidents.

I should emphasise that the conventions do not deal with safety. Other international arrangements provide for this, but I do not propose to go into them now.

Under the conventions as we are applying them, damage suffered in a non-contracting State is not covered, and this seems to us to be the right application. But if we do not take further steps, a claimant in a non-contracting State could be placed in a more favourable position than one in a contracting State. This would arise if the laws of the non-contracting State imposed liability on a United Kingdom operator in excess of that permitted by the conventions, since the judgments of its courts could normally be enforced here.

Moreover, one of the main aims of the conventions and of our legislation—the channelling of liability to the operator—would be defeated if these laws imposed liability on persons other than the operator who might be held responsible for causing or contributing to an incident. The Bill therefore bars enforcement of judgments in such cases by means of Clause 7(5). This will, we hope, help to promote the widespread acceptance of the conventions.

There is another problem which arises with the establishment of a system which will not be world-wide at once. By administrative means, steps will be taken to ensure that nuclear material entering this country normally engages the liability of a convention operator. But there may be traffic between non-contracting States which transits our territorial waters and the emergency docking or landing of ships or aircraft may take place in circumstances where liability should rest on persons other than convention operators. Clause 3, therefore, imposes absolute liability in these cases. The liability is unlimited since there is no basis or reason for setting a limit. The persons affected by the Clause will normally be operators from non-contracting States.

We have also considered it necessary, particularly for the protection of crews, to impose liability on a United Kingdom operator responsible for damage suffered to or on British ships or aircraft in the territories of non-contracting States. This will also protect carriers and is particularly desirable in view of the bar to enforcement of foreign judgments, to which I have referred.

The second set of provisions not required under the conventions preserve and extend to the wider scope of the Bill a number of the features of the 1959 Act. The conventions establish minimum standards so that countries with small resources and involved in atomic energy so far only on the research side, can reasonably be expected to ratify. But, in common with other industrial powers, we intend to provide added protection. In particular, the Bill provides that all established claims within our jurisdiction will, subject to Parliamentary sanction, be met in full. Similarly, the period of limitation for claims remains at 30 years, although the conventions require only 10 years.

An opportunity, provided by the Bill, is being taken to make a number of minor amendments to the licensing provisions of the 1959 Act. Since it came into force in April, 1960, the Act has proved itself to be a very practical piece of legislation. But in a novel and developing field it is not surprising that a number of improvements have been found to be desirable, and these are effected by Clause 11.

I should like now to sketch very briefly the financial implications of the Bill, and would first stress that although the figure of £43 million occurs in Clause 8 the chances of a nuclear incident causing damage to that extent is very remote. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that the moneys provided by the compulsory insurance cover in the sum of £5 million will ever prove insufficient. The accident at Windscale in 1957, which caused a widespread release of radioactivity and was of a kind that could not have occurred at a nuclear power station, resulted in claims that totalled less than £100,000. Nevertheless, it is considered necessary to ensure that, in all eventualities, victims do not go uncompensated because the resources of the operator are inadequate.

As I have said, the Bill, like the 1959 Act, provides that all established claims within our jurisdiction will, subject to parliamentary sanction, be met in full. This imposes a contingent liability on public funds over and above that imposed by the Act, because of the extended scope of the Bill. The alternative would be to establish a limitation fund and arrangements for scaling down claims. But personal injury claims, if made at all, are likely to be made many years after an incident, and it does not seem possible to make equitable arrangements.

This additional potential claim on the public purse—which, as I have said, is unlikely to arise in practice—is offset to some extent by the limitation of the liability abroad of the Atomic Energy Authority and Government Departments as operators, who do not insure, and rely wholly on public funds. Their liability, like that of a licensee, is limited outside the United Kingdom jurisdiction to £5 million per incident, except where the Supplementary Convention applies.

The Supplementary Convention provides for a useful sharing of the burden among the parties to it in the case of a very severe incident. The Paris Convention provides for a minimum liability of £1¾ million, but it had always been expected that many countries would provide additional funds if required. The Supplementary Convention therefore provides for each country to make available, from its own individual public funds, sufficient money to ensure that compensation up to £25 million would be available, if needed, for claims arising out of an incident for which one of its own operators was liable. Beyond this figure, the partners would make available collectively sufficient money to bring the total to £43 million.

These arrangements would be used, of course, only to benefit members of the "club". I hope that the House will agree that this useful partnership between the Six, certain other countries of the O.E.C.D. and ourselves will provide reassurance to the public, and to suppliers and carriers, without imposing an unacceptable burden on us.

I have tried to deal with the main points arising on the Bill and the conventions without getting lost, I hope, in complicated detail. I concede immediately that the subject is a complex one, and the structure of the Bill is such that I have thought it wise to deal with its main effects with little reference to individual Clauses.

I hope that I have convinced the House that the conventions fully merit our support; that the manner in which we propose to implement their provisions is the right one; and that matters arising outside the conventions should be dealt with in the way I have described.

4.34 p.m.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

As this is the first occasion on which I find myself facing the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Power and his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, I should like to extend to both of them my personal good wishes. I am sure that they will understand that those good wishes must necessarily be somewhat confined in terms of time, and strictly limited, of course, to themselves as individuals, and in no way applied to them as members of a Government of whose operations I profoundly disapprove.

I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the way in which he made his maiden speech as a Minister, in explaining to the House the provisions of what is, admittedly, a highly complicated and difficult Measure. It would be idle for me to deny that I had at least some foreknowledge of these proposals, but I nevertheless found myself acutely aware of the disadvantages under which Opposition spokesmen labour in dealing with such complex matters as this. I am not quite certain whether on this occasion I should congratulate the Minister of Power on his discretion or on his modesty in playing such a silent part——

The Minister of Power (Mr. Frederick Lee)


Mr. Peyton

The right hon. Gentleman says that it is modesty, and I must say that it is a characteristic we would readily bear out.

In view of the number of documents with which we are dealing, one might ask for some slightly fuller memorandum. I know that the number of international documents has been reduced from five to three, but some memorandum dealing with those three, and showing the House what difference, if any, may still exist between the Vienna document and the Paris document, would be helpful. If the hon. Gentleman could give that suggestion his consideration before the Committee stage I am sure that we on this side would appreciate it.

I accept that the purpose of the Bill is to bring our law to the point where it complies with the international requirements of these conventions, and so enable us to ratify them, but perhaps during the debate we may be told how many of the contracting parties have actually ratified these documents.

Throughout the Bill we find this horrible phrase "relevant territories". I have not been through the Measure with a toothcomb to count the number of times the word "relevant" occurs, but in the definition Clause we get it to the point of nausea. We have "relevant carriage", "relevant foreign operator", "relevant foreign contribution", "relevant foreign judgment", "relevant foreign law", "relevant installation", "relevant international agreement", "relevant site", "relevant territory". After reading the Bill two or three times, I got rather tired of the word "relevant".

It being the main purpose of the Bill to put us in a position to ratify the international documents, the Government are probably justified in omitting all reference to shipping. On the other hand, that leaves a gap in the law relating to nuclear-powered ships. I am not at this moment aware of the number of nuclear-powered ships there are, but it is clear that their numbers will grow. Obviously, the Government would not intend to have differing degrees of liability for nuclear incidents.

For instance, it would be ridiculous if the liability for an incident arising from the carriage of nuclear matter which was in transit were different from that relating to nuclear matter which was concerned with the motivation of a ship. I hope that the Government will take an early opportunity to clear up that matter, tell us what they mean to do, and when they intend to introduce legislation.

On the question of jurisdiction, I am aware that under Clause 7 no court in this country will have jurisdiction over an incident when the Minister has certified that the dispute is one within the jurisdiction of the courts of another relevant country. I am sure that there is a clear answer to this, but I should like the Government to give the House an assurance that circumstances could not arise in which the responsible Ministers in one or more of the countries of the contracting parties would say it was not their responsibility, that their courts had no jurisdiction and that the jurisdiction belonged to the courts of another country. Is it possible that circumstances could arise in which there was a complete vacuum of jurisdiction with no one claiming it?

As to the settlement of disputes, perhaps we can be told the Government's views and intentions about the optional protocol attaching to the Vienna Convention concerning the compulsory settlement of disputes.

The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned at length, and I am grateful to him for doing so, the difficult question of foreign judgments. I accept the weight of his argument on this subject. On the other hand, we must face the fact that to render foreign judgments unenforceable in this country is a quite serious step to take. The hon. Gentleman made it clear that the purpose of doing so was really to bring pressure to bear on as many countries as possible to ratify the conventions. This is a matter which I intend to raise in the Committee and on which I hope that we may hear the Government's views.

Mr. John Morris

On the issue of foreign judgments, I hope that I did not give the impression that the object of Clause 7(5) was to bring pressure upon countries. The main reason for that kind of Clause, as I tried to indicate, is that but for its presence a person in a non-contracting State might be at an advantage compared with a person in a contracting State. It is to meet that issue that Clause 7(5) has had to be included.

We hope, however, that the very existence of this kind of Clause will help to promote widespread acceptance of the Convention. But the emphasis should be the other way: it is to meet a real difficulty that the Clause has been inserted, but, at the same time, we hope that it will help to achieve widespread acceptance of the Convention.

Mr. Peyton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his explanation. I do not want to press him any further at this stage, but perhaps he may have further thoughts on the matter before the Committee stage.

It would be an undesirable development in a field in which, admittedly, international co-operation has been highly successful to have this rather unpleasant and wholly new development of the judgments of certain countries having this stigma and disadvantage attached to them. If the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the view which I have expressed, perhaps he may have an opportunity to go further into the matter in Committee.

I should like to make a point about the liability of a relevant foreign operator in Clause 6(2,a). It is there laid down that A relevant foreign operator shall not be required by virtue of section 2 of this Act to make any payment by way of compensation in respect of an occurrence— (a) if he would not have been required to make that payment if the occurrence had taken place in his home territory and the claim had been made by virtue of the relevant foreign law made for purposes corresponding to those of section 1 of this Act". I shall be grateful if we can be told how this matter will be tested and who is to say. It would appear from the Clause that the courts of this country are to lay down what the law is in the courts of another country. Perhaps the Government will be able to clarify the point, either when winding up the debate today or when the Bill goes to Committee.

Would not the liability be the same in all relevant territories? I am making the assumption that all countries—the proper expression is "all relevant territories", a beastly phrase—will now be assimilating their law separately to meet the requirements of the conventions, just as we ourselves are doing. How, therefore, could there be a difference in liability? If a man is liable for an occurrence in one of the relevant territories, one would expect him to be liable in all these territories.

I need not detain the House further. I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary again upon the lucid way in which he summed up a highly complex Bill. I would, I think, be justified in saying that despite even the lucidity and learning which the hon. Gentleman has now displayed, we would nevertheless be gratified to have the presence in Committee of one of the Law Officers in view of the number of highly abstruse and legal points which may arise for consideration.

I am also tempted to remark that we on this side would have been deeply gratified to have had the assistance and advice—which, I recognise, is not possibly available at the moment—of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology, who, no doubt, would have had a great deal to say on a Bill such as this. I do not know the Government's programme or how long it will be before the Bill goes to Committee, but it will be the earnest hope of everyone on this side that the Government will not take the Bill to Committee until they are in a position to offer the presence of Mr. Frank Cousins. We all feel that he would be in a strong position to offer us useful advice and counsel, which, naturally, we await with a good deal of enthusiasm.

At this stage, which, I believe I am right in saying, is the thirty-third day of the Prime Minister's 100 days of dynamic Government, I should congratulate him on having produced a sensible and necessary Measure. I very much hope that he will use all his dynamism in the Cabinet to infect his colleagues on the Front Bench opposite with his example and that their Measures will likewise be both sensible and necessary. In saying this, however, I should add that I have little confidence.

4.48 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)

This is the first time that I have had the opportunity of addressing the House since 1959. That is not due to any lack of desire on my part to address the House, but is for the good and sufficient reason that I was not a Member in the last Parliament. Now that the electorate have, however, sensibly rectified the omission of the 1959 election it is, perhaps, in a sense, appropriate that I should say a few words on the Bill which is now before the House.

It so happens that one of the last Measures which I played an active part in discussing, both on the Floor of the House and in Committee, when I was formerly a Member of the House was the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959, during its passage through the House. If I do not follow the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), the former Parliamentary Secretary, in some of the more complex detailed points which he has raised on the international implications of this Measure, it is because I am anxious to review shortly some of the wider issues covered by the present Bill. I join with all hon. Members in congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary upon his excellent and very clear exposition of its complicated Clauses. As my hon. Friend pointed out, in addition to applying these international conventions to our own legislation, the Bill, at any rate to a limited extent, amends some of the provisions of the legislation of 1959.

I remember when we debated the 1959 Bill that we were concerned about what was then a largely unknown industrial risk. Fear and apprehension were expressed by both sides of the House at that time about what would happen should a reactor, particularly a large power reactor, go astray and give rise to a leak of radioactive material. We were concerned about the danger that would then arise not only to the employees operating such a plant but to the community at large.

It was for that reason that the previous legislation provided for a system of licensing, for a Government inspectorate and for a system of compensation. At that time, nuclear operating experience in connection with large power plants was slight, at any rate in the commercial sense. I think I am right in saying that in 1959 there was only one large nuclear power plant working in the country, that of the Atomic Energy Authority at Calder Hall. In the years later up to the time of the present legislation much experience has been gained in the operation of large-scale nuclear plant. The Central Electricity Generating Board is now operating two nuclear power stations and the South of Scotland Electricity Board is also operating one on a commercial basis. In addition, several plants are projected, one or two of which will be coming into operation very soon. I know from my own personal knowledge of the power supply industry that much confidence has been built up in the safe operation of these plants.

So far no serious mishap has occurred. This is a great tribute to the safe design of these nuclear power plants, and certainly to the well thought out system of working and to the knowledge and careful training—I should like to emphasise this—of the operating staff. Something is certainly owed as well to the system of licensing and inspection established by the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959. I should like my right hon. Friend to remember, however, that one of the problems about the inspectorate is that it is not too easy to get the quality of staff to act as inspectors who are equal in knowledge and experience to the people who are in practice operating the plants every day. I understand that this has been a difficulty since the establishment of the inspectorate, and I hope that when the reply is made to the debate something could be said on that. The House will accept, I am sure, that useful experience has been gained since the passing of the previous legislation. But I think that we can still make certain qualifications with advantage.

It was said at the time, and it has certainly been said since, that a nuclear power plant now, because of the system of working and the precautions taken is just as safe to work in as in any other industry that can be named. That may well be true, but I feel that one should remember, when making that point, that one is comparing a young, scientifically-based industry with much older industries, such as general engineering, steel, chemicals and certainly mining, where the safety norms that are established come from an earlier industrial age altogether.

If as much money that has been spent in making nuclear power plants safe had been spent in making safe working in the steel industry or the mining industry or in general industry then the comparison which at the moment is very much in favour of the nuclear power industry would not be quite as valid. When we compare safety in nuclear power plants with general safety in industry we should see that we are not necessarily comparing like with like. A tremendous amount of money has been quite properly spent on ensuring nuclear safety and in those circumstances it would be surprising if the plants had not turned out so far to be safe. We all hope also that they will go on operating for indefinite years ahead without mishap or injury to the employees and to the public. But let us remember that one serious major accident could entirely upset the pleasant picture. It could—and this would be most unfortunate—provoke such a public reaction against nuclear operations that it might be impossible to go on operating plants for a considerable period, with great financial loss, particularly to the electricity supply industry. I hope, therefore, that although we are congratulating ourselves upon the experience of safe working in nuclear power plants there will not be any complacency on the part of my right hon. Friend. The time that has passed so far is very short indeed.

As the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. Gentleman who was formerly Parliamentary Secretary said from the Opposition Front Bench this is an intensely complicated Bill legally, and I certainly would not have the confidence to attempt to burden the House with observations on these points. But I took the trouble to look through the Clauses of the Bill and I did my best to understand them. It seemed to me that under the cover—perhaps those are the wrong words for I imply no sinister intention—of bringing this necessary legislation into force to comply with the international conventions some significant changes are being made in the 1959 legislation. I should like, in particular, further enlightenment on Clause 12 which deals with the financial provisions of the Measure. It seems to me that—if I am wrong I am sure I shall be corrected—the Minister has taken power to change the system of charging the cost of the inspectorate away from public funds, in the direct sense, and has transferred the cost to the licensee instead. I do not know if that is the case, but, if it is, the greatest financial sufferer will be the electricity supply industry.

This is a very fine industry and I make no apology for my acknowledging my connection with it. It is a highly profitable and efficient nationalised industry. It has already carried a large uneconomic burden in nuclear power development generally and is having to carry now on top of that a fairly heavy burden of ensuring a high return on invested capital. If, now, it must carry the cost of the nuclear inspectorate as well, some explanation should be made by the Minister. There may be excellent reasons for the change or perhaps I have misunderstood the purpose of Clause 12. Having said this, and having studied the 1959 Act in operation, I welcome this adjustment to meet present conditions, particularly in relation to international conventions. I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends well in piloting the Bill through all its stages.

5.0 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who is a very substantial "shadow" spokesman, asked a number of questions and I shall endeavour to answer them—modestly, since I am Under-Secretary of State for Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman asked about ratification of these agreements. This is a very complicated Bill which I have had to study in a very short time and it is not an easy Measure to tackle on Second Reading. It is very much a matter of discretion. I am afraid that I backed into this rather than backed out of it.

I understand that ratification of the Paris Conventions has been dealt with by two countries, the Supplementary Convention by none and the Vienna Convention also by none so far. Many countries are awaiting our decision. It is, therefore, very important that the Bill is seen in that context and I am glad that it is essentially an agreed Measure. We are also informed that some legislation consequent on the Paris Convention has already been prepared and awaits introduction.

I was asked about jurisdiction, and I am informed that the rules of the conventions are such as will ensure that there is always one jurisdiction, and one only. This covers the point raised by the hon. Member for Yeovil. An optional protocol to the Vienna Convention has been signed by the Government and we shall ratify this in due course just as we shall ratify the convention as a natural consequence.

As for "home law" and the relevant foreign operator, I am told that the conventions are designed to impose minimum standards and that we are "topping up"—on the period of limitation, for example—in this Bill and other Measures like it. Thus the conventions provide a floor above which there will be hills and peaks and not a uniform position in all states.

There is also the question of the liability of operators of nuclear ships. In addition to the three conventions dealing with land based nuclear installations, an international Convention on the Liability of Operators of Nuclear Ships was adopted by the Diplomatic Conference on Maritime Law in Brussels in May, 1962, with the United Kingdom voting in favour.

Although it contains a large number of points dealing specifically with questions of maritime law, the main principles of nuclear liability—in particular, that there should be absolute liability channelled to the operator and for which guaranteed funds must be available—are the same as in the other nuclear conventions. All of the conventions were drafted so that they would together form a complete system in relation to the transport of nuclear material between land installations and nuclear ships.

The Bill, which preserves the exclusion of reactors for propulsion contained in the 1959 Act, therefore provides that an operator loses responsibility for nuclear matter if it is taken over by a person authorised to operate a nuclear ship. It also provides for the assumption of responsibility by the operator taking over nuclear matter coming from the nuclear ship.

The question of legislation to deal with the liability of operators of nuclear ships is under consideration. In its absence, the ordinary law would apply after an operator governed by the Bill had lost liability. Apart from warships, which are subject to special inter-governmental arrangements, there are only two nuclear ships operating in the world at present. The recent visit of the "Savannah" to Southampton was the subject of a special agreement with the United States Government.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

This is clearly one of the most important aspects. People are more likely to be frightened about going in nuclear ships than they are of entering land-based installations. Did I hear the hon. Gentleman say that, in the Paris Convention, there had been some agreement on the subject of nuclear ships—which is, therefore, an assurance—or are the Government still leaving that aspect over? It is very important that progress should be made. What plans are there for this?

Dr. Mahon

I agree that this is most important. Even before I read the Bill I knew that this was a matter of great concern. However, I suggest that that aspect is something which might be more thoroughly debated in Committee. It is very complicated. I am told that the Brussels Convention deals very relevantly with the points involved and it might be better to get a more precise answer than I can give now.

The question of vacuum has also been raised. I have tried to stress the coverage by one country and one only. There can be no vacuum. Jurisdiction lies first with the country where the incident occurs. In all other cases, it lies with the country where the operator has his installation. As the hon. Member for Yeovil has suggested, the only difficulties which could arise under the conventions is where provisions result in two countries having jurisdiction. This is dealt with by agreement between the countries concerned and, under the Bill, by the Minister's certificate under Clause 7.

I hope that I have dealt with most of the questions. I can give an assurance that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power will bear in mind the question of the presence of Law Officers. I understand that arrangements are being made for hon. Members who serve on the Standing Committee to have the assistance of a Law Officer.

Mr. Peyton

Can the hon. Gentleman make our day even brighter by promising the presence of the Minister of Technology? That would be an exciting prospect.

Dr. Mabon

Since the electorate will have to be consulted before Mr. Cousins can be a Member of this House and of our Committee, and because the Bill is needed quickly, it is unlikely that he will be present. However, one can never tell. The British electorate and fate are often quite wonderful. It is conceivable that the Minister of Technology will be a member of the Standing Committee. Certainly, if he is a Member of the House at the appropriate stage of the Bill, no doubt he will join the Committee with the alacrity which, as the hon. Member has said, characterises all the actions of this Administration in our dynamic days of office.

Mr. Peyton

I do not want to be misunderstood. I never said that alacrity characterised the actions of the Government. I was very genuine in my congratulations and I said that the Government had produced a Measure both necessary and sensible. I expressed the hope—without any belief in its maturing—that the Minister of Power would use all the dynamism in him to see that his example is followed by his colleagues. It is here that my hopes fall away to nothing.

Dr. Mabon

We shall try most desperately to prove our dynamism to the hon. Gentleman, who is always fair minded and has never refused credit where credit is due—as he has shown today. Since my right hon. Friend has justified himself in the hon. Gentleman's sight, there is hope for the rest of us to aspire to the hon. Gentleman's accolade. We shall try.

Mr. Ridley

Will we have a representative from the Ministry of Education and Science? Clearly, this is a very scientific Bill and we would be greatly assisted by his services in Committee. If the Government are to have 91 Ministers, they might as well make them do some work.

Dr. Mabon

None of the Ministers in the present Government can complain about lack of work, for there is so much to do after 13 years of neglect. I think that by suggesting the presence of so many Ministers the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Bill should go to a Committee of the whole House. I regret that this would not be possible. It will have to be a Standing Committee, in which case there would have to be a limitation on the number of Ministers and Members taking part. I cannot hold out any hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education and Science will be present in Committee, although I can assure hon. Gentlemen that he is most interested in these proceedings, and no doubt will be interested in those in Committee, and will be following them very closely.

I return now to the question of the hon. Member for Yeovil about Clause 6(2,a). This provides that a foreign operator who is liable for an incident in the United Kingdom is not required to make any payment by way of compensation if he would not have had to do so if the incident had taken place abroad. This is a question not of liability, but of funds available for compensation. The foreign law may provide that the limit of the foreign operator's liability shall be, say, 1¾ million, or 5 million dollars, which is the minimum, under the convention.

Under our law, our own operator's liability will be limited to £5 million. If a foreign operator is liable in the United Kingdom, he brings with him his own limit. In such a case he does not have to pay any more. Nevertheless, under Clause 6(3,a) any claims which cannot be satisfied as a result are made to the Minister and are to be met out of the funds provided by Parliament.

I turn now to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), whose return to the House I am delighted to welcome. I am sure that I am joined in that by all of my hon. and right hon. Friends and even by some hon. Members opposite. His interest in these matters is well known and he made a number of useful comments which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power will bear in mind. However, he asked a number of questions with which I should like to deal now. He asked about the quality of the staff of the Inspectorate of Nuclear Installations. I am informed that the approved complement is not quite full, but that the short-fall is not serious. Apparently, there are no quality difficulties at all. After four and a half years, the inspectorate has established itself as a recognised authority with knowledge of this subject, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it deserves its reputation.

My hon. Friend asked about the expenses of the inspectorate. Subsections (5) and (6) of Clause 12 grant discretionary powers to the Minister to recover from licensees expenses in respect of the Inspectorate of Nuclear Installations. This is in line with Government policy that the costs of inspectorate services should be recovered, except where special circumstances make this inappropriate. In general, costs incurred in the protection of workers are not recovered. For example, no charge is made for the Factory Inspectorate. However, in the case of the Nuclear Inspectorate, as one of its tasks is to protect workers, it is not intended that the full costs should be charged to the licensees. As my hon. Friend said, it has a very good record in that regard considering the nature of the industry and it has a splendid record compared with other industries.

The justification for recovery is that those engaged in a profitable activity should be charged with the costs arising because the public interest requires that Government supervision is necessary. The atomic energy industry has not yet reached the stage of profitable exploitation of the new source of power and the powers granted to the Minister will not be exercised immediately.

Mr. Palmer

My hon. Friend will agree that this is the substantial change from the principle accepted in 1959.

Dr. Mabon

It is. I suggest that my hon. Friend raises this matter in Committee when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power, or the Parliamentary Secretary, will be most willing to comment further.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his praise of the work for safety carried out by the Atomic Energy Authority and the other agencies in this country which operate these stations.

The hon. Member for Yeovil stressed the importance of the apparent breach of practice in Clause 7(5). We on this side of the House welcome his declaration that on behalf of the Opposition he understands and accepts the sensibility of this provision. I realise that his reservations about describing it as serious, and so on, will mean that we shall have some examination of the matter in Committee, but I hope that it will be an examination in detail and not in principle, because Britain's interest in promoting the free flow of nuclear material is important in view of our leading position in exploiting atomic energy as a source of power.

The recently announced contract by the Atomic Energy Authority for reprocessing the fuel from the British-built nuclear power station at Latina, in Italy, is a striking illustration of this. Without the regime established by the conventions, the international transport of such material is hampered and made more costly. When they are in force, the conventions will afford the necessary protection to carriers and contracting States through which such traffic may pass and will apply to the high seas and in the air. They will simplify and cheapen the necessary guarantees and indemnities which are naturally called for and ensure that the cheapest and most efficient form of transport and the best route can be used.

The intentions of the Bill are wholeheartedly accepted by both sides of the House and I am sure that, with the co-operation of the Opposition, the Government will emerge at the end of the day with a splendid Bill. I am grateful to the House for its response to the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).