HC Deb 11 April 1968 vol 762 cc1603-19

12.32 p.m.

Mr. Robert Woof (Blaydon)

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving us the opportunity to debate the question of Government delay in announcing a decision to authorise the building of a power station at Seaton Carew, and whether a station to be built there should be nuclear or coal-fired. The general controversy on the issue has caused great anxiety in Durham County. The House will accept that anxiety is one of the poisons of human life, and with the dark shadows of economy everywhere hope itself sometimes appears to be gasping for breath. One can hardly put more on people than they can bear in unfavourable circumstances, especially when they are frustrated.

Such an elementary fact means that they cannot do freely what they expect to be able to do or are bewildered when they do not understand the situation and what is demanded of them. Having in mind the sequence of events that is spread before us on the issue of Seaton Carew, I suppose that a good photograph is always conditioned by a good exposure, but I am bound to say that the restless stir and commotion of the mind has been aggravated by statements made by the Central Electricity Generating Board's planning officer, Mr. Peter Williamson. In deciding what must be done, he was reported in the Newcastle Journal of 28th March as having said: We have no intention of building a coal-fired station. In the same interview this C.E.G.B. official is also reported as having said: If we are refused planning permission to build a nuclear power station at Seaton Carew, the first thing would be for us to build it in the North-West. The first comment I want to make on those statements is that whatever motive there is of subduing any aspiration for an objective of a coal-fired power station, those statements have not yet been refuted. This leads me to ask, "Is it to serve the purpose of an executioner of a coal-fired power station?", and further, "What right has this official to say that the Board of a nationalised industry has no intention of building a coal-fired power station, when we all know, or are given to understand, that this decision will be taken at the highest Government level?"

The second of his statements which I have quoted sounds suspiciously like an attempt to assert overriding authority. If I understand the English language correctly, what Mr. Williamson is saying in effect is, "The Government may stop us building a nuclear power station, to help the coal industry in the North-East, but if they do we shall build it in the North-West instead, so that the Government will not get their way in the end." This requires the most stringent examination. In any analysis, it has always been part of the argument for nationalised industries to be fully accountable to the public for their actions. But with the greatest of respect I submit that the chief instrument of public control has always been conceived to be Parliament itself. This constitutes a powerful sanction, and quite clearly we all recognise that if Parliament is dissatisfied then it must come to a clear decision as to what is wrong and put in train the appropriate steps to rectify matters.

Therefore, I hope that when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the debate he will say that this C.E.G.B. official has been reprimanded for making public statements about important matters which the Government, and the Government alone, are considering at the highest level. The matter should be put beyond any reasonable doubt, and it is time the Government made it clear that they are masters of the show.

There are other disquieting features of the report of the Newcastle Journal to which I have referred. I always believe that nothing happens without cause, and nothing ever happens without leaving behind some results. As a consequence, we are often obliged to search for facts, and put them into their true perspective in regard to events that follow. It seems that the C.E.G.B., without awaiting the Minister's approval for its proposal to build a station at Seaton Carew, has spent 1½ million on advanced site work. I make no complaint about that whatsoever, because we were given to understand that Seaton Carew was a possible site for a power station, and, of course, we accept that it is necessary to take into account the power load forecasts for future requirements to satisfy industry's demands in the North-East, and to attract a diversified range of industry. But, being aware of unsatisfactory arrangements, a great range of information is required for satisfactory judgment, and, up till now, the flow of information has proved to be inadequate. Why, then, has the C.E.G.B. gone ahead with this expenditure? Is it not pertinent to ask, "Is it not true that the site preparation at Seaton Carew has been made in anticipation of a favourable Government decision for nuclear power?"?

It has been widely divulged that the C.E.G.B. could leave the site or even sell it. It has also been repeatedly said that a decision to put Seaton Carew on coal would not help the coal industry before 1974. because the station would not burn an ounce of coal before then. That is perfectly true, as everybody knows, but this is not the real bone of contention. The C.E.G.B. argues that a nuclear power station would save £1 million a year by comparison with one on coal. But some of us would be very interested to know the basis of this calculation. We have in mind the estimated costs per unit sent out from Dungeness B, the first station to be based on the advanced gas on-oled reactor. They have already gone up by 25 per cent. since the station was first announced 2½ years ago. With this dreadful record of runaway costs at one station, which will not generate a unit of electricity for at least another two years, how can the C.E.G.B. possibly be sure that Seaton Carew will in fact generate at the forecast costs? How can it be sure that it will get its saving of £1 million a year? But let us assume for the sake of argument that it will. I would like to ask, what would be the cost of creating at least 8,000 new jobs in Durham for those who will not be needed. In addition to that figure, there is the vital livelihood of the future of thousands of school leavers to be taken into consideration and the wide range of communities whose livelihood is based on and around the coalfield.

That cannot be dismissed as sentimental nonsense, because the cost of supporting people in new jobs which would have to be created would far exceed the £1 million a year the C.E.G.B. might save. The Government have had an inter-Departmental working party on the social costs of Seaton Carew. I am not going to dwell on the social consequences. They will be well visualised. But can my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary tell us something about the working party's conclusions? Can my hon. Friend also say whether a nuclear station will really produce savings for the community as a whole, even if it saves money for the C.E.G.B.? Could we be given the total sums involved?

There is another important economic aspect. The National Coal Board put in an offer to supply coal at 3¼d. a therm delivered to Seaton Cafew. This caused a few eyebrows to be raised, but it was a carefully worked out proposal. The fact of the matter is that the reconstruction of the coastal collieries has meant that men and management have been concentrated at the pits with large reserves of coal.

The coal is capable of being won by highly intensive mechanised methods from working coal faces, producing high bulk output at high productivity in the 1970s. By then, coal will be pouring out like water from a tap. It is in this respect that I need to stress that the nation has invested a great deal of money in these pits. They are a great national asset. Over £30 million has been spent on these collieries during the last few years, which leaves one wondering whether they are to be abandoned for the sake of a purely theoretical financial saving that might or might not accrue from a nuclear station; or, to put it another way, to use the dictum of Machiavelli—a fallen contestant should be either so crushed that he will never be able to rise again or so reconciled that he will never want to.

But the overall effect which the loss of the possible Seaton Carew market would have on the Durham Divisional Board's sales could mean that standing charges in the coal industry would be spread over a lower total tonnage, and the net result would be a marginally higher coal price for all consumers.

There is another reason why the decision on the type of fuel to be used should favour coal. We are given to understand that a nuclear station would cost in the region of £130 million. We all know that capital is desperately scarce. It is needed for all kinds of socially desirable purposes. But coal-fired stations are not nearly so expensive in capital costs. In fact, it would be possible to build a coal-fired station of the same capacity for about two-thirds of the cost. I think myself that the Government will be doing the Chancellor of the Exchequer a favour if they choose coal instead of nuclear.

Let me make a plea to the Government. If it looks likely that the balance of advantage is in favour of a nuclear station, will they allow the cost estimates and the technical assumptions to be examined by an independent inquiry before a decision is taken? I submit that plea because there is so much doubt about nuclear power cost estimates. The National Consultative Council for the Coal Industry, representing the trade unions, management organisations and the National Coal Board, has asked for an independent inquiry of this sort into nuclear costs generally—not just Seaton Carew. Even the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology made a similar recommendation.

So far the Government have not acted on these recommendations, and I would humbly suggest that the Seaton Carew project would be a very suitable one for independent examination. If the valuable outlet for coal is to be lost, if this should be so, then only an independent inquiry will satisfy that nuclear power is really going to be cheaper than coal. We believe that this is the only way to prove what is and what is not false economy in the interest of the nation.

Such a need is now imperative and, as it is to the Government that we look for action, my final plea is based on the in- evitability of a ship changing its direction after the turn of the rudder. A change for the fullest use of coal at Seaton Carew would be a helpful economic tonic and it would be one blessed with a vision of much more secure livelihood for all those concerned.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

Although I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) on initiating the debate and on the substance of his argument, it appears to me that those of us who speak in the debate are wasting our sweetness on the desert air. I should have thought that a matter of this sort, affecting the mining industry of the county of Durham and also the industrial development of Tees-side, might have justified the presence of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power, who has just been appointed to the task of dealing with all matters concerning fuel and power.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power has no authority. It will not matter one tittle what he says today. He cannot give us a decision—and what we want is a decision, one way or the other. I shall not argue the merits or demerits of a power station based either on coal or nuclear energy. It has been argued over and over again. Statistics have been bandied about; whether they are correct or not I am unable to say.

There could be an independent inquiry. The proposed decision should not be left to the Chairman of the C.E.G.B. or even to the Chairman of the National Coal Board. As it happens—and from the speech of my hon. Friend it is obvious—it is not going to be left to the Government to decide at all. Outside organisations with vested interests are to come to a conclusion and the Government will be compelled to accept it. I am not prepared to accept that, and if that is what the Government are going to tell us today I am not even prepared to listen to it.

I hope that the miners of Durham and the industrial elements on Teeside will note what has happened today. This is the kind of message which is going to be conveyed to my constituency, which is the one primarily concerned. I am not going to convey the message; it will be on the record, and it will be for the miners of my constituency and of Durham County to draw their conclusions.

I do not want to say much more about it. I was hoping that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power, who has just been appointed, would be here so that I could congratulate him on his appointment and say something about the need for a decision on this important issue. But he has not appeared and a matter of this sort should not be left to a Parliamentary Secretary, however able he is—and I am not complaining about lack of ability in my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.

I raised a point of order earlier, Mr. Speaker, about whether adequate time was to be provided for a debate of this kind. You came to a decision, and I accepted it, although the complaint will finger for some time in my memory. I shall not discard it hurriedly. I do not think that we have been properly treated, least of all by the Government.

I do not like it. I am a loyal and devoted supporter of the Government—no one more so. I have bent over backwards in their support. But this is an attitude I dislike, and when I dislike something I say so in forthright fashion so that it shall be on the record. I do not apologise for that. I shall not bother any more about it now. After what I have said, I am not going to listen to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, because he is unable to speak with authority and give a decision—and it is a decision we want one way or the other.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) has advocated that we should have an electricity generating station based on nuclear energy and he is entitled to his opinion. On the other hand, there are some of us who want that station based on coal. I am not arguing the merits of it. What we want, to remove uncertainty on Teesside and in the County of Durham, is a decision.

I say this before I conclude, and the Parliamentary Secretary can convey it to his Minister—or, for that matter, to the Prime Minister. I have a suspicion that the Department did not want a debate today. That is my suspicion. It is a very strong suspicion. But I shall not provide the evidence. That is my conviction. If that is the attitude of the Government, I repeat that I dislike it, and I will have no further part in it.

12.50 p.m.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

During the past two or three minutes I have put aside a complete speech which dealt with the very important matter which faces the North-East. That speech was devised to try to convey, in gentle terms, the kind of thing that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has just said. It was a reasoned argument. It accepted that during the past few months every possible detail of the question had been examined.

If there is one thing about the North-East that the Minister of Power must understand, it is that whereas different Members of Parliament might have different ideas about what must be done, they are united in saying emphatically that when a decision has to be made—and it is the responsibility of the Government—we are not prepared to be put off any longer. That is the situation as we see it.

It would be quite remiss of me to go into the technical arguments about the advantages of nuclear power. It would be remiss of me to go into the cost benefit studies which have been made. It would be quite wrong of me to make known to the House the general trend of opinion arising from the outcome of the Interdepartmental Committee, because there is not one new piece of information which anyone, either inside the Government or outside it, could get together and examine.

That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington, the hon. Member for The Hartlepools, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof), my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Gregory) are in the Chamber today.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

And the hon. Member for Orpington.

Mr. Leadbitter

And the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), whose contribution on the Select Committee I read with great interest. His service there was important to the kind of discussion that we had.

Therefore, I want to put a simple question to the Parliamentary Secretary. I have been put off in the House time and time again. I have been put off by the Prime Minister in asking when a decision would be made. The odd thing about it is that from time to time I get different answers. When I put those answers together, none of them makes sense.

The last reply to me from the Prime Minister was that it was not expected that a decision would be able to be taken for some time. On the very same day I got a Parliamentary Answer to a Question from the then Minister of Power, who is now Minister of Transport. He said that he could not make a decision until the load estimates had been considered. Both those answers are nonsense. That is not the way to treat a Member of the House of Commons, because the load estimates have nothing whatever to do with a decision.

The application for consent was placed before the Government under Section 2 of the Electric Lighting Act, 1909, as amended, as long ago, I think, as March last year. The load estimate—the nature of the estimate, the forward consideration of load and of energy demand and supply—has nothing at all to do with the question that we are putting to the Minister: when will he make a decision?

If the Minister says that the station has to be coal-fired, for God's sake let him say it. If he says that it has to be nuclear, then for God's sake say it. But at least let him have the guts to come to a decision.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon went into the question with a good deal of care in a speech lasting a quarter of an hour. It is not the Government's convenience which is the question, it is not Members of Parliament who are put to some inconvenience. The end product of this exercise is that men and women in the North-East are getting damned sick of the uncertainty.

We have a remarkable, wonderful programme of industrial improvement in the North-East. The tragedy is that it is not keeping pace with the rate of decline in the basic industries. On the one hand, the Government have a record of which to be proud, but, on the other hand, they spoil it because, for one reason or another, they dare not say, "This is the decision."

I will say why. Apparently, they are dead scared of the political argument. They are dead scared of the miners' lobby and of the conflict arising out of the logical and considered alternatives which have been put by other people, both inside and outside the House of Commons. The Government should evaluate the worth of Members of Parliament and people who have considered this question with a little more sense of responsibility. We can take the answer. We want it. It is right and proper, therefore, that it should be given.

I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary might be able to say that the time has come to make the decision. We cannot wait any longer. We do not intend to wait any longer. The new Minister of Power might as well get himself on record as dealing with this question efficiently and do what ought to have been done some months ago.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that this debate must finish at 1.15 and that we still have to hear the Minister. Mr. Willey.

12.58 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I will respond to your invitation, Mr. Speaker, and be brief. I support my right hon. Friends in what they have said. I have repeatedly raised this question at Question Time and have repeatedly had unsatisfactory replies. We must get a decision.

I wish to emphasise two points. In the replies which I have received, it has been stressed that a whole series of complex studies were going on. What are they about? They are about load factor. Surely, that has been settled. Two years ago, the Central Electricity Generating Board came to a decision. What more does the Minister want done about the load factor? Is he saying that the Generating Board was wrong before? If it was wrong before, it might as well be assumed to be wrong about a host of other things, too. It is simply prevarication to say that a load factor must be examined further. We must get a decision.

The other point is the social cost-benefit analysis. Let us be frank: this is a political decision. It needs a political decision from Ministers, and it must be taken. Above everything else, I emphasise again, as my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, that we want a decision. The whole of the North-East:s prejudiced time after time because we cannot get a decision on important matters affecting the North-East. This is one of the most important of them.

I de not cast any reflection on my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, but unless he has something constructive I o say or has brought from the Minister a message bearing a decision, he would be ill advised to take up the time of the Rouse.

1.0 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

These delays have a very serious consequence and hon. Members would do well to bear it in mind. In the case of Hinkley "B" power station the decision to go ahead was delayed for about a year, and as a result the C.E.G.B. had to pay many millions of £s more for the station than it would have done if the tenders had been obtained later. If there is to be a serious delay in going ahead with this station, we ought to call in all the tenders and ask that they be re-submitted. With the rate of technological progress in nuclear power, we could get a much cheaper station than any of the tenders so far submitted. That is why the date is vitally important.

I want to draw the hon. Gentleman's Mention to what is happening in the United States with the development of high temperature reactors. Gulf General Atomic is going ahead with the construction of a 1,000 megawatt high temperature reactor which will be far cheaper than any other type of reactor at present in operation. If the hon. Gentleman will examine the reports of the Brussels Assessment Meeting of the high temperature reactor last year, he will find that the differences are startling, even in comparison with the most up-to-date A.G.R. that we have on order.

The calculations show that for a twin reactor station of 1,056 megawatts, the capital cost would be £62 per kilowatt, and the generating cost would be -364d. per kilowatt hour. That is substantially cheaper than anything that we have under construction. It is a reason for examining the bid put in by the Nuclear Power Group for a high temperature reactor to be erected on this site. I agree that all the information should be made available to the House, so that a proper decision can be reached, and can be assessed by each one of us in the light of our knowledge.

If the tenders are published we know what the answer is, whether it should be coal, an advanced gas-cooled reactor or H.T.R. My guess is that the H.T.R. tender would be several million £s cheaper than the nearest A.G.R. tender, which in turn would be much cheaper than the coal-fired station. While I recognise the social and economic factors referred to by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof), if we want to regenerate the North-East, we have to have it by having the cheapest type of station we can get. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will say that the Government will agree to publish these tenders, so that there is full information, upon which the House can come to a decision.

1.3 p.m.

Mr. Arnold Gregory (Stockport, North)

This is a Tees-side matter. We must certainly bear in mind the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) as well as those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof), to do with the whole future of the North-East coal industry. We are also concerned with Tees-side development. In my area there is concern in the nuclear power engineering industry. The lack of decision about Seaton Carew shakes to the very core the whole of that industry. Seaton Carew was a station about which a decision had been taken and we have attempted to evaluate that decision today.

We know that there will be a further station at Heysham. The indecisiveness over Seaton Carew means that there is a shortfall which the engineering industry has to face in design, research, and shop floor workers. We know that the three consortia participating in improving our national nuclear programme are feeling a very strong draught, created by the lack of decision at Seaton Carew. One consortium has shed design and shop floor labour, and we are very concerned in my constituency about this, because fewer orders will be available. Our concern is about the disruption of the national nuclear power programme, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some idea of what is to happen in Seaton, irrespective of the coal versus nuclear power argument. Where do we stand and how does the industry stand in the future, in a reduced nuclear power programme?

1.5 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. Reginald Freeson)

I must express my regret that the Minister is not able to be present today, but he has been at Cabinet discussions during the morning and it would not have been possible for him to be present. When a decision is made on this question it will be for the Minister to announce it to the House.

Mr. Leadbitter

With great respect to the Parliamentary Secretary, the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) has left the Chamber with his mind very much made up about what he considers to be virtually a discourtesy. In giving an explanation is it not important to bear in mind that the excuse of a Cabinet meeting might not be acceptable, since the Prime Minister was answering Questions here until 12 o'clock?

Mr. Freeson

With respect that is a matter for the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) to raise if he has any queries about my explanation, not for the hon. Member for The Hartle-pools. Cabinet meetings do not entirely consist of meetings chaired by the Prime Minister, as the hon. Member should know. There are other forms of Cabinet business to which Ministers have to attend.

I was about to say that no conclusions have yet been reached and no decision made on the basis of the study being undertaken by the Government. When the decision is made, it will be announced to the House by the Minister and a full statement will be made on the main points relevant to that decision.

This undertaking has been given to the House previously and it will be adhered to. There will be a complex of decisions, not just one. This is not just an issue of whether the station should be coal or nuclear powered but whether the next power station should be built at Hartle- pool or elsewhere and when it should be started. There are various statutory planning procedures to be completed, as well as consultation with the Chairman of the Northern Regional Economic Planning Council. All of this has to be done before a final decision.

Mr. Willey rose

Mr. Freeson

I have a very limited amount of time available to me and I hope to able to deal, even if only in general terms, with the points raised by hon. Members. I hope to be allowed to do so.

Mr. Willey

I have a point to put which will help us in the North. The hon. Gentleman said that there will be consultation with the Chairman of the Economic Planning Council. When is this to take place? In other words, will the Chairman be notified of a decision, or will he really be consulted?

Mr. Freeson

The undertaking to consult with the Chairman has been given in the House previously, and I am simply reminding the House of that undertaking, which will be part of various aspects of decision-making.

The most important thing is the question of load forecasts. The load forecasts must be considered in consultation with the Electricity Council and the C.E.G.B. in order to decide when would be the best time to start a power station. It would not be correct to say, as I believe my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) indicated, that this is the only thing being studied by the Government.

There is a whole complex of factors, taking into account total community resource aspects of the decision which we have to take. The building of a new power station, whether nuclear or coal, creates jobs in itself and will therefore contribute to the economy of an area in the process of transition, with redundancy and redeployment involved for the people there. Even if Seaton Carew is to be coal-fired it will not stop the rundown of the mining industry, for, as has been said, were such a station to be ordered now it would not burn 1 lb. of coal before 1974.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us when this decision will be taken? Nobody is trying to argue what it should be, but the effect of this endles delay due to bureaucratic intervention on behalf of the Ministry is holding up the object of the exercise, which is the prosperity of County Durham. When will the decision be taken?

Mr. Freeson

The hon. Gentleman has repeated the point made by several other hon. Members in the Chamber, and I will deal generally with it in a few moments. I wish first to deal with some of the other points.

Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) to the question of nuclear power costs. There has been a good deal of controversy about the relative costs of nuclear power and conventional generation, and very thorough studies have been carried out on these over the last year or more. These have been reproduced in the Appendices to the Report from the Select Corn-mince on Science and Technology. It has been suggested, both in that Report and by hon. Members since in the House and elsewhere, that there should be independent studies. But our view is that the need is to be both independent and expert. We have independent expertise in the Chief Scientist's Division of the Ministry of Power and within the Atomic Energy Authority and the C.E.G.B., which has more experience in this field than any similar body in the world.

The studies in which these bodies have been involved were completely impartial, and, while we shall take note of the suggestions made, we are not likely to be readily persuaded that there is a case for a further study when we do not believe that such a study would add to our knowledge already gained from expert and independent sources.

The studies already published show no reason to doubt the original decision to go ahead with a second nuclear programme. It is not relevant to compare the costs of nuclear power stations in this programme with the costs of coal-fired stations built earlier, when construction was cheaper. We should corn-pare the cost of stations to be built in future, of whatever kind. On all the evidence available, nuclear costs will be lower than they have been in the past. The construction costs of conventional power stations, of whatever kind, will not be so low as in the past.

The big question concerning the coal industry is what will be the future cost of coal. Let there be no mistake here: there has been a remarkable improvement in productivity in recent months, which augurs well for the future. Detailed studies of the National Coal Board's forecasts of future costs are in hand as part of the analysis which has been taken aboard in looking at this question in every respect. The N.C.B. has offered coal at 3¼d. a therm, but we have to consider whether it will be economic for the nation on these terms. The C.E.G.B. has pointed out that if only a limited amount of coal can be supplied at a low price it would pay it to use it in its existing stations to displace dearer coal.

Particular reference has been made to the site preparation works. The Minister has made it quite clear that statements attributed to an official of the C.E.G.B. do not in any way prejudice the study still in hand or any decision which is to be taken.

I wish in the last few moments to deal with the point which has been stressed time and again about the need for a decision. This point is taken very seriously. I will personally convey the feelings of hon. Members to my right hon. Friend. My hope is that it will not be too long before a decision is taken. But it is the job of the Department and of the Government to have the study which has been put in hand completed and thoroughly evaluated before a decision is taken. I do not think that any hon. Member would thank us if we took a decision before the study had been completed. When it has been completed, we will report to the House. As I have indicated, we will make as full a statement as possible on the relevant aspects of the decision taken.

Mr. Ridley

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us when he will announce a decision? "Before not too long" is not good enough.

Mr. Freeson

Clearly, if the study has not been completed, I am not in a position today to give a date; that is a matter for the Minister.

Mr. Leadbitter

I have listened very carefully to the prepared brief of my hon. Friend, which I have noted with some interest. I have drawn my own conclusions. Why cannot he make the decision now?

Mr. Freeson

That is beside the point. It is not for me to make a decision now. We have to await the completion of the report being prepared; and the Minister will make a statement to the House, not me.

Mr. Lubbock

Will the report be published?