§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Report from the Select Committee on Science and Technology in the last Session of Parliament relating to the United Kingdom Nuclear Reactor Programme.First, on behalf of the Select Committee, I should like to express our regret that this important business should come on quite so late. It is unfortunate.
Second, like many other hon. Members, including some members of the Committee, I spent the whole of last night in this place and I am left with the reflection that the House may have appointed a Select Committee on Science and Technology but it has yet to apply science to its own proceedings.
The Report is the first major Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, of which I have the honour to be chairman. The Committee, a specialist Select Committee, was set up in the first Session of the present Parliament at the beginning of 1967. Its terms of reference could hardly be broader. They are… to consider Science and Technology and to report thereon …Since science is as wide as nature herself and, I suppose, technology is to be found wherever mankind dwells, to fulfil that generous command would be to emulate the celebrated Mrs. Partington, who attempted to sweep up the Atlantic Ocean. The Committee was slightly less 952 ambitious, and from a score of candidate subjects we selected the nuclear reactor programme for our first major investigation. I think that we did so because it seemed to us to fulfil three conditions that we thought desirable. First, it was and is a great spender of public money. Second, it is an industry of outstanding contemporary national importance. Third, it is generally accepted that changes in public policy are here desirable and urgent.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology, whom I am glad to see in his place, asked us to speed up our investigation because it was felt at that time that important decisions were imminent. It is perhaps regrettable that they have not yet been made, but it was an additional reason why we thought that we should select that subject.
Our Report, which has been before the House for about six months, deals with what we suggest is correct national policy for the future. We have not held an inquest into the past. That was not our purpose, nor do I think that it was the intention of the House when it set up the Committee. It is definitely our business to attempt to help in the formulation of public policy, and this we have tried to do.
It is a Report that is complete in itself —it is all there. It is fairly heavy, in sheer physical weight, and costs a fair amount of money—£2 19s. A Committee that can turn out a Report costing £2 19s. should be a fairly good Committee.
I express my thanks as chairman to all my colleagues, and to our Clerk and small scientific staff for the hard work done by them in helping so much to draw up this Report on a subject of admitted complexity. We did it—and I hope that this does not sound too boastful—in six months of Parliamentary sitting time. This would be an excellent example for Royal Commissions to emulate, including one or two sitting at the present time.
The great majority of our sittings were in public. We were commanded by the House to sit in public and only to resolve into private session if we felt there were sound reasons for doing so. We held our public sittings to very good galleries. The witnesses represented all the relevant interests. There appeared 953 before us two Ministers of the Crown, including my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology, and their close cross-examination in public caused no noticeable constitution explosion. Apart from one instance about which I shall say more, we had the co-operation of both the Ministry of Technology and the Ministry of Power.
But I wish, when talking about co-operation, I could say the same of the Foreign Office. What that great institution knows about science and technology is probably slight, but it can be taught nothing in our experience in the art of obstruction that it does not know already. The curious history of our in-the-end successful enterprise of sending subcommittees to the United States and Europe is set out in the introductory section. Those two small sub-committees brought back a great deal of valuable information about the American and European nuclear reactor programmes. Some of this information had not been available in this country before. As the Report says, in retrospect, the apparent fears and apprehensions aroused in London by these visits of hon. Members on their own to these overseas countries, which, like ourselves, do so much in reactor technology, seem as meaningless now as they did to us when the visits were contemplated.
I believe it was suggested, perhaps quietly, that hon. Members might say things that were indiscreet and that might embarrass the country. I have had some experience in this House of Ministers of both parties, and it is difficult sometimes to compete with them in that respect. I can only add one comment on what is stated in the Report—that Government Departments must accustom themselves to the various novel constitutional situations that specialist Select Committees will create from time to time.
As far as science and technology are concerned—and I think that one can include the Foreign Office in this—Government Departments should understand that in these days the boundaries of investigation of science and technology are not set by the Straits of Dover and the Bristol Channel. This kind of visit may have to be repeated by this and possibly other Select Committees if the new system of Parliamentary investiga- 954 tion is to work effectively in the modern world.
We have printed in full all the evidence given to us in a large number of documents and memoranda which were called for. I am sure I speak on behalf of all hon. members of the Committee when I express our gratitude to the industrial and other interests who were so forthcoming in letting us have the information we needed. The House should, therefore, note that, arising out of the Report and the arguments put forward in it, there are nine broad conclusions. From these spring the eleven specific Recommendations to the House and, of course, to the Government. Three of these concern the general energy field; the remainder deal with the purpose, activity and future organisation of the nuclear reactor industry itself.
The Committee did not set out to find out which primary energy source is the cheapest in any immediate absolute sense. On the evidence submitted to us, we looked at the trends and concluded that nuclear power is now generally competitive in relation to other sources of primary energy available to the United Kingdom and that it is likely to become cheaper with, we hope, further improvements in the advanced gas cooled reactor and, of course, the quicker development of the steam generating heavy water reactor, the prototype of which is operating at Winfrith Heath in Dorset.
We also say firmly that, on the evidence given to us and the conclusions we drew from it, eventually the cheapest source of primary energy to this country will be nuclear power when the fast breeder reactor becomes commercially available. But these were trends in our view rather than statements of contemporary absolute fact.
I know that some of the foregoing is perhaps not too acceptable to some of my mining hon. Friends with whom I work closely on fuel and power matters, but I can say that the Committee had sympathy with the complaint of Lord Robens and the National Coal Board that contemporary fuel costs are not really independently examined by the Ministry of Power.
I said earlier that, generally, the Committee received close co-operation from 955 the Ministry of Technology and also in a general sense from the Ministry of Power, but there was one serious lapse on the part of the then Minister of Power and we give some emphasis to this in the Report.
My right hon. Friend, who is now Minister of Transport, undertook, on 22nd June last year to give the Committee further information on the calculation of nuclear and conventional electricity generating costs, but it was not until mid-October, and only after the sub-committee had brought into play in full the powers given to it by the House, that the papers were placed before us.
These interesting documents, some of which at any rate formed the basis of that almost notorious Selsdon Park Hotel Conference, are printed in full in the Appendix, and this information has properly been made available by the Committee to the House and the country. It is information that our citizens should have. Our comments on this apparent dilatoriness of the Minister and the Ministry are given frankly in the Report.
It is because of this experience and other evidence that the Report recommends that in the short term there should be an outside examination by an independent agency of all financial aspects of the costing of all methods of electricity supply. Had there been time, we should probably have commissioned that investigation ourselves. We made a number of inquiries about the possibilities and cost of doing it, and if we were not able to carry those inquiries through to the end it was because we were under an obligation to get the Report out by the end of the Session. But we have left behind our intention enshrined in the Report that this should be done now by the Government.
We argue that in the long term energy is so important to the country that we should give consideration to the establishment of a Parliamentary body similar to a United States Joint Congressional Committee, in this case the committee on atomic energy which some of us, including the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing), saw when we visited the United States. We suggest that it might be a constitutional innovation, in the sense that it could be a 956 committee of both Houses. There is expert knowledge, some of it possibly going to waste, in the other place. This body could be a public watchdog giving continuous attention to all aspects of energy policy. Its advice and recommendations would be available to the Government in the same way as our advice and recommendations are available to the Government.
However, our views on general energy policy are nevertheless a by-product and not the main product of the Report. It is an aspect of but not the main purpose or the intention of the Report. It arose incidentally and naturally, because the importance of one energy source cannot be separated from the relative importance of other energy sources.
Eight recommendations concern the activities, methods, developments and future organisation of the nuclear reactor industry. There has already been considerable public discussion and controversy about this matter. I remind the House that the Committee consisted of 14 members. Eight were supporters of the Labour Party, five were supporters of the Conservative Party, and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) energetically represented the Liberal Party.
I mention that because it is said against the Report that on one important recommendation, that on future structure, the Committee divided on purely party lines. That has been argued in a number of quarters against the validity of the Report. It is not entirely true; one Labour Member, as the Report makes clear, abstained, and the hon. Member for Orpington voted with the majority, and so in that sense it was not an absolutely clear cut division on party lines.
But allowing for that rift the truth is that, taking the Report as a whole, the degree of agreement among Members of all parties on the Committee was high. Perhaps the surprising thing about the Report is the high degree of agreement. But that does not mean that agreement was reached immediately. Agreement in matters of this kind can never be reached immediately. In technical-administrative issues, the arguments can be as fierce as in any other quarter of human thought. People who work in science and technology do not necessarily 957 reach immediate agreement because the subject is technical. How ever carefully evidence is taken, as elsewhere, varying interpretations are placed upon evidence according to the judgment, views and philosophies of those who serve on committees.
But, in the end, decisions must be reached, and a decision can be reached in only one of three ways—by conversion to a common point of view, by compromise or by taking a vote. All three are democratically valid methods. All three were used by the Committee in varying combinations in reaching these eight recommendations.
As the chairman of the Committee, I say that it is unfair to the Committee to suggest that at any stage there was an automatic party division across the Committee. I know that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), who served on the Committee, will have something to say about these matters from his point of view, but the issue of future structure in the end seemed to me to be a choice between those who favoured what I shall call the managed solution and those who favoured what I shall call the market solution. The majority favoured the managed solution and the remainder the market solution. But it is wrong to think that it was a simple issue between competition and monopoly.
After all, it must be accepted that reactors cannot be sold as an outfitter sells shirts. Competition in the sale of shirts is natural enough, but reactors are large and expensive and, of necessity, competition must be limited but it can exist. All the members of the Committee appreciated the inevitability of that in one sense or another. The majority doubted the need for competition in the country partly because there was so much competition in the sale of reactors abroad. All were in favour of now ending the turnkey system of consortium tendering and the building of complete nuclear power stations by groupings of companies such as we have had since the start of the construction of nuclear reactors. But this means more competition not less. If, as we recommend, nuclear power stations in future are built as coal- and oil-fired power stations are built, it is bound to mean that much power station construction and equip- 958 ment will be separately tendered for. The majority of the Committee took the view that once the consortium system is phased out and we depart from the turnkey system for the construction of nuclear power stations, as the United States industry has generally departed from it then to quote the report, paragraph 142:
The Committee said:… a single nuclear boiler company should be formed. Such a company should comprise a substantial part of the U.K.A.E.A. together with those design and manufacturing resources peculiar to nuclear engineering such as are necessary to create an effective commercial enterprise. Your Committee are satisfied that genuine competition between two or more such companies cannot be realised. This is either because of an insufficient flow of contracts from the C.E.G.B. or because the integration of commercial activities of the U.K.A.E.A. must necessarily preclude it. Your Committee are satisfied that technological progress will continue under the stimulus of a diversity of projects and in response to the challenge of foreign competition. A sufficient element of day to day commercial competition will be provided between specialist manufacturers tendering for smaller items of equipment and components.I want also to read paragraph 143, because this is often overlooked. It was mostly overlooked in the debate a short while ago in the other place. It says:…Your Committee wish to emphasise that they do not present their recommendations as an unalterable solution to be adhered to for all time. They have been very much aware throughout their enquiries that great changes in marketing opportunities may take place in the future, particularly if links can be established with continental and other interests. With an increase in the scale of ordering by utilities and others and greater success than hitherto in securing orders it may be that ultimately there will be scope for the operation of additional nuclear boiler companies, whether British or jointly owned with overseas manufacturers. However, the time has not yet come and Your Committee's recommendation is therefore shaped to meet the urgent necessities of the foreseeable future.Whatever may be argued against this, it is no doctrinaire solution. From many points of view it is an extremely liberal solution. This is shown particularly in our willingness to face the realities of international competition, and to assume that if Britain is to sell nuclear reactors overseas successfully occasionally British utilities must consider the possibility of buying a foreign reactor and using it here. This is a realstic solution, sound in principle and practice. It should strengthen the nuclear export position of the country.
959 If it is said that this would be a very large nuclear boiler company, I would agree, but it would still be smaller than the two American giants of General Electric and Westinghouse. These are our main international competitors. I would like to touch briefly on some other recommendations that we have put forward. There is first the reconstruction of a smaller Atomic Energy Authority, starting afresh and concentrating on purer research and development. In other words, we want to hive off the industrial part of the Atomic Energy Authority and return the rest to its original purpose as an advanced thinking research and development body. What is mainly commercial in the Authority and already developed on commercial lines should be genuinely commercial and not kept in a framework where it is part subsidised out of public funds.
Another recommendation was that an independent nuclear fuel company, privately or publicly-owned, or half and half, should be established. We believe that the sale of nuclear fuel is a valuable export line in itself. We argue also that the Export Executive should be wound up. This organisation, while it has been working hard and doing its best, we came to the conclusion, was a puny child in the first place, which shows no signs of useful growth. We thought that it would be far better if nuclear exports became the direct responsibility of new manufacturing companies; in other words that those making and selling the reactors should deal directly, on normal commercial lines, with possible purchasers and that the Board of Trade should be encouraged to look at things nuclear in the way they do exports in general.
We had a passing look at nuclear marine propulsion and fusion research. We hope to give further time to studying the latter. I want my right hon. Friend to know that we are not satisfied that he has necessarily taken the right decisions about the nuclear fusion effort.
On behalf of the Committee, I would say that we have produced a detailed study on a matter of great importance to the prosperity of the country. We all look forward with interest and anticipation to what my right hon. Friend will say. I hope that he will give us plenty of 960 information as to how things are going with nuclear reorganisation.
This is the first Report of a Specialist Subject Select Committee of the House to be debated. The Agricultural Select Committee's Report was a Departmental Report. This system of detailed Parliamentary inquiry will be extended in future I believe by the House, as part of the whole business of modernising Parliament and providing more effective public accountability. I find it of great interest to be Chairman of the Select Committee, and consider it a privilege to present its first major report to the House.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
When I was 16 years old I read these words:Locked up in the atoms which constitutes a pound of water there is an amount of energy equivalent to 10 million horsepower hours. It is undoubted that this colossal source of energy exists, but as yet physicists do not yet know how to release it, or having done so, how to make it perform useful work.A few pages further on, I read:As you are reading these words some disinterested researcher may detonate an atomic explosion which will involve the world.Those words were written in 1930 by F. E. Smith, later Lord Birkenhead, in a book entitled, "The World in 2030". He hazarded a guess that before that year some of these problems would have been solved.
Little did I think when I read those words that it would fall to me to have the pleasurable duty of supporting the Motion which the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) has so ably and courteously moved this evening. I would like to take this opportunity of congratulating him and thanking him, on behalf of hon. Members of all parties represented on the Select Committee, I believe, on the absolutely infallible impartiality of his conduct in the Chair and on his invariable courtesy to all of us. It has been a joy to serve under him and it is a delight to continue to serve under him in the present Session in our new inquiry into the defence research establishments.
May I disabuse the House straight away as regards an alleged fact stated in the Daily Express this morning by a gentleman who does not normally get his facts wrong, however much one may disagree 961 with his conclusions. Mr. Chapman Pincher, in an article entitled "The atomic slide that must stop", said:Then, a year ago, under pressure, the Government referred the whole matter to Parliament's Select Committee of all party M.Ps. on Science and Technology.This is absolutely untrue. I think that there may have been some tentative suggestions by Ministers as to what we might possibly discuss in the Science and Technology Committee, but it was our choice alone that led us to consider this matter, and I would strongly endorse the statement of the hon. Member for Bristol, Central that we did it for the reasons he gave. We realised that this was an immensely important industry, involving very considerable capital investment, and that it was to some extent at the stage of not quite knowing what to do next.
In contemplating this subject at all, we might very well preface all our remarks byLet us now praise famous mendown through history—which, incidentally, starts at least five centuries before Christ. Without the thinking, conclusions and tentative suggestions of the earlier atcmists, John Dalton's work might have been far more difficult. When one thinks of some of the more recent great names—Cockcroft and various others— one can say that we in this country may well take pride in the fact that we have made a major contribution in a field of science about which, perhaps, many people had serious doubts. Indeed, in my own lifetime I can remember men saying that if anyone was successful in splitting the atom the whole world would fall into ruins.
Our thinking has been revolutionised in the lifetime of those in this House and may well pay tribute to those who were associated with the tube alloys exercise in the Second World War, because that exercise, by taking the whole field of this science as far as Britain was concerned over to the United States, ensured that when the war was over there would be no difficulty in restarting the whole enterprise again over here. Chadwick and others did a termendous amount in contributing to the well-being of the nation and of the world.
We ought not to forget some of those who made this possible—some of our predecessors in this House: and not least Sir 962 Winston Churchill and Sir John Anderson, later Lord Waverley. 1 would say, also that, although he is often severely criticised, Lord Cherwell deserves great credit for having in another place in 1951, drawn attention to the fact that if we went on as we were doing with regard to atomic energy we would never be able to keep pace with the world in the civil uses of nuclear energy. Therefore, we may well feel humble tonight.
I believe that every hon. Member who served on the Select Committee was brought face to face with the fact that we were interviewing and hearing evidence from dedicated men of immense skill who were just as anxious as we were that whatever eventually came out of Government deliberations the decision should be the right one. I would accept straight away the argument that we should not make haste too fast, but I think that we are entitled to say to the Minister of Technology, who I am glad to see here tonight, that when he gave evidence before us— and I congratulate him again on having been the first Minister ever to appear before a Select Committee of this kind —he certainly did not give us the impression that there was unlimited time for us to come to our conclusions. I am not saying that he said that we ought to produce our Report before we rose for the Summer Recess last year, but he did indicate that he wanted a decision soon but was anxious to give us an opportunity of completing our inquiry so that he could have the benefit of our conclusions. As a result of this, we gave up some of our Summer Recess to complete our Report.
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Bristol, Central raised the question of the attitude of Ministers and Government Departments to these new Select Committees, because there is no doubt whatsoever that there are too many people throughout the Departments, and, in particular, in the Treasury, who resent our existence and are determined, if they possibly can, to diminish our importance as a Committee. Anybody who was upstairs this morning in our Select Committee on our new inquiry would have found that confirmed, I think.
Of all the Ministers, in the context of this particular Report, it is the present Minister of Transport, who was then Minister of Power, whose behaviour I 963 must criticise. When he appeared before us in June he submitted a paper beforehand which was very nearly an insult to the Committee, because it was so slender. When he gave evidence to us he did not tell us of what is now Appendix 43 to our Report, and that is the consideration which had been going on in his own Ministry—a paper prepared in the January prior to his appearance before us in June.
In other words, when the right hon. Gentleman appeared before us that paper was in existence and he did not tell us that it was. This I regard as almost deceitful and something that must not be allowed to happen again. If Ministers are to come before our Select Committee on the instructions of the House we ought to be assured that any papers relevant to our inquiry which can be released without a grave security risk are made known and available to us should we wish to have them.
I know that some people have the impression that these Select Committees are the child of the Lord President of the Council who, when he was Leader of the House, wanted to find something to occupy a rather big majority on the other side of the House. Whatever may be the truth of that in respect of other Select Committees, it certainly is not true of this Committee. This Committee came into being as a result of continuing pressure over several years from the Parliamentary and the Scientific Committee which, as is well known to hon. Members, brings in Members of both Houses and distinguished men from outside. It was that Committee which applied pressure to get the Select Committee on Science and Technology created. We have succeeded in achieving that. I would not go back on the decision for a moment. We have a most important rôle to play.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian) rose․
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would not intervene. I do not wish to speak longer than necessary.
I hope that from now on—and here I strongly endorse what the hon. Member for Bristol, Central said—all Departments will be instructed that the 964 Select Committees, and particularly this one, must have the maximum, and not the minimum, co-operation. If that is given, these Committees will serve a much greater purpose. However, I could have wished that this was our full-time job. I know, and must humbly admit, that I have not anything like fully digested all that has been put before us, but, because of the Minister's indication that he wished to have our Report reasonably soon, we speeded up its production.
There is one important feature which I should mention. Had we not been in the haste that we were, and had we had from the Minister of Power the papers which were eventually, after pressure, extracted from him, I am inclined to think that we might have made different recommendations about the costing of the industry in relation to coal. Lord Robens is a good, robust witness. He was standing up for something of which he was very proud, and I respect him for having done so. He argued, in particular, that the basis of costing nuclear energy was unfair to the coal industry.
At the end of the last Report of the Atomic Energy Authority, for 1966–67, there is a comment by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, who makes it clear that the original research and development costs of the Magnox system have never been shown in the trading account of the Authority. The Authority defends itself by saying that had these costs been charged to the trading account, it would simply have meant that the Authority's profits would have been lower and, as a result, its reliance on the Treasury in future would have been greater and, therefore, that it was in the interests of the nation and the Treasury that matters should continue as before.
I can well understand that Lord Robens was worried about this matter. We can argue for years about it. We recommended that a special independent study should be made of the relative costings. My belief, for what it is worth, is that probably it would be as well to call it a day and accept this as a proposition and to say that nuclear energy and coal from the East Midlands are probably highly competitive with each other. But so long as, for sociological and perfectly understandable reasons, the coal industry must be kept going, where 965 coal cannot be extracted really economically, then, plainly, the price of coal must be changed and the coal gained in the East Midlands sold to the public at a higher price than it would be if only the East Midlands was producing coal.
If we accept that as a proposition, then Lord Robens, the Authority, the Government and everybody else would get on with the job and decide what should be done about nuclear energy with a good deal more agreement than has proved possible. But I am glad that Lord Robens placed on record, when he appeared before us, the fact that he was not arguing against nuclear energy as such. I hope that he will always take that view. However, I trust that we can now ensure that the future costings of the industry will be more meticulously calculated and displayed than in the past. Let us bury the hatchets of the past and get on with the future, because that is what all this is about.
When the Committee first met, it was aware that the existing three consortia were, perhaps, in the light of events and of the home market for nuclear power stations, likely to be in need of some readjustment and change. I think that the whole Committee was agreed on the recommendation that we should phase out the consortia. What we put in its place is where the rub comes.
A lot has happened since the Committee reported. We have seen reports in the newspapers that the Minister has brought in the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation to advise him, and he has answered some Questions in the House on the matter. I will ask the Minister a question of which I have given him warning. What has he asked the Corporation to do? What are the exact terms of reference that he has given the Corporation? When was it brought in, and why was it brought in? There is considerable uncertainty about the matter.
The idea has been mooted that there should be a holding company to include the Central Electricity Generating Board as well as the nuclear boiler manufacturers and the Atomic Energy Authority. I have already advised Stanley Brown, who is Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, to set his face against that proposition. The important fact about the Board is that it is the 966 customer and that, if it gets itself involved in the construction as well, before long its rights as a customer will be compromised. I hope that the Board will be allowed to retain its customer integrity without becoming involved in the financing, administration or management of those manufacturing nuclear boilers.
As the hon. Member for Bristol, Central very fairly said, the Committee was narrowly divided on this. I am delighted that he emphasised the paragraph 143 in our Report, which begins:Your Committee wish to emphasise that they do not present their recommendations as an unalterable solution to be adhered to for all time.I strongly endorse that, and I believe that the difference between us in the Committee is very small indeed. Even those hon. Members who supported a unified design company involving the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and firms at present spread among the consortia were greatly guided by what I might call Lord Penney's swan-song. There are few men for whom I have more admiration than Lord Penney. The service that he has rendered to the country both in time of war and since is beyond calculation. I am certain that when he came before us at the final sitting we had with him he was trying to do everything possible for what is a truly remarkable creation in which he has played such a large part. I praise him for this. I do not blame him; it was a perfectly natural and honourable thing to do.
We are faced with something which demands very skilful knowledge of world markets which it would be unreasonable to expect someone with Lord Penney's background to have. I admire his qualities beyond praise and I am not saying this in a sense of criticism. If this industry is to have any sense made of it it—and the country—must accept two things. It must accept, first, that, because the home market is so small, nuclear boiler manufacturers in this country must try to have international link-ups and, if necessary, those who are buying nuclear stations; in other words, the Central Electricity Generating Board must be prepared now and again to thrust up against the home industry which by that time may have international connections, tenders from other countries.
967 I know that this will cause much dismay in many quarters, but I am convinced that the market in this country for nuclear boilers is too small for a thriving industry to compete with the international giants. Indeed, I understand that one of the existing consortia has already started a tie-up with G.H.H., in Germany, Belgo-Nucléaire, and an Italian firm. I do not know what the prospects are, but I think that it would be a mistake to accept the majority decision on this one vital issue. Having suggested that the consortia should be phased out, at the same time, because of the uncertainties of the world market at present, one cannot judge how many organisations making nuclear boilers there should be in the country.
One of the most interesting papers submitted to us was that by Mr. Duncan Burn. Unfortunately, we were unable to devote all the time to it that we should have liked. One interesting feature of his evidence lay in the fact that we questioned Lord Penney in closed session, and followed it up with Mr. Burn in open session. I put a question to Mr. Burn, asking whether he thought that the market factor was the most important one, by which I meant the size of the market, and he replied that it was. He was not to know that I had put the same question to Lord Penney that very morning, and that his answer was rather different.
Lord Penney said:I think it is more than that. I think one has to distinguish between the home market and the overseas market. I think the idea that throughout the world there are great markets for nuclear power is to some extent misleading. I think that a great many countries are going to try to do it themselves and they are going to come unstuck. In the end we shall see the sort of situation we have in aircraft, where a few countries dominate. In speaking about the home market, I think we can operate that with a closed circle and keep it going, but we cannot do this efficiently.I do not pretend to know all the end answers. I approach this debate with great humility. It has been a privilege to participate in the work of the Committee, and I think that we may have contributed something which will help the Minister make up his mind. But, above all else, I beg him to be very careful before he creates a situation which, if his market calculations are wrong, he cannot undo in time. I would prefer him to procrastinate even more if it meant his 968 coming a little further away from establishing a unified system straight away. I hope that he will allow market factors to operate, because I think that eventually they will lead to developments of which we can be as proud as we are proud of what has been done so far.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentloman is far too honourable and generous to attribute to other hon. Members on the Committee views of Lord Penney's evidence which we may not share. Will he accept that Lord Penney's evidence, weighty and powerful though it was, was only one of the elements which led us to certain conclusions?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Of course. I made it clear deliberately that I was not criticising Lord Penney in saying what I did. I would have expected him to have done his best to build the industry into the state that it is in today, and he has very good reason for being proud of it.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of Technology (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)
It may be helpful to the House if I intervene briefly at this stage.
At the outset, I want to pay tribute to the Select Committee and put before the House a view which I feel very strongly. It is that the importance of this debate from the point of view of Parliament is at least as great as it is from that of the nuclear plant industry. In the past, I have been associated with some measures of parliamentary reform of a rather special and personal kind. Looking round the House, to have a debate where one knows that almost every hon. Member who wishes to speak has devoted serious study and contributed his thought and knowledge to the publication of a basic document on which we can debate these matters, is quite unparalleled in parliamentary history.
Although we shall not agree about everything, there is little doubt that, by this debate, the power of Parliament relative to the Executive has been effectively restored in that in making their speeches, unlike some of the matters raised at Question Time, hon. Members are at least as well briefed as the Minister.
There is no doubt that the power of the Ministers over the years has rested upon the fact that they were specially strengthened with knowledge, whereas 969 other Members in the House were not. I am in the difficulty that if I welcome the Committee's Report too much I am giving credence to the idea that Ministers feel that they can use these Committees. But the fact is that a Minister, confronted with a problem as difficult as this, or as difficult as defence research, which is now the subject of study, is bound to be grateful to the House for engaging in operations as detailed as the ones which have been and are now being mounted. If I say—and I say it with great sincerity—that it is of enormous help to have the Select Committee doing this work, I hope that nobody will think that it is because I believe that in some way this is an opportunity for Ministers to influence Parliament through a Committee, but for the reason that I have given.
There were great fears about Specialist Committees. To the extent that these fears were based on the idea that the Committees would disgrace themselves abroad, or whatever other fears there may have: been, they have been proved to be unjustified. But to the extent that the fears were based on the idea that Members of Parliament would discover what was going on, after a long period when they had not always been able to know, these fears have been justified, and I am glad that this should have happened.
The House will probably realise that I am not in a position today to announce a final answer to the problems which the Committee brought to our attention. Therefore, there is no official answer from the Government to the Committee. But this has the advantage perhaps that the House will have an opportunity of discussing it again before these decisions are reached.
The Report which we are considering today is a document of great value, for two reasons. First, because of all the wealth of knowledge and informed criticism which it contains; and, secondly, because it has of itself, by being published, created a great stimulus within the industry for looking at itself again.
If I go back to my first meetings with the consortia at the beginning of last year and compare the atmosphere then with the atmosphere today, it is because 970 the Committee has done its study and published its Report in the meanwhile that we have got more freedom of manoeuvre in a way that, 18 months ago, without the Committee's Report, it would not have been possible to achieve.
The other reason why this is an important debate—and I come now to the substance of it—is that we are talking about an industry which we know for a fact will be supplying the power needs of the country for as far ahead as we can see, and which will probably furnish the world's power needs on an ever increasing scale, too.
Following up what the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) said about the importance of the people who have contributed to the development of this industry, there is no question that, when history comes to be written, the achievement of nuclear power will turn out to be one of the major technological developments of the second half of the 20th century.
Before coming to the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) and the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely, I should like to try to set this problem in the perspective of time-scale, cost and complexity. If we look at the time scale we are looking back over developments which had their origins in the immediate post-war years, but whose results will be with us until the year 2000 or 2030, to follow F. E. Smith's long-range forecast.
The first series of nuclear power stations, the Magnox stations, which have already generated more electricity from nuclear power than the rest of the world put together, were largely a "fall out" from the post-war military programme. Indeed, it was the military reactor at Calder Hall which first supplied power to the grid in 1956. The first commercial station, Berkeley, came on power in 1962. The last of the Magnox series, Wylfa, which is still under construction, will be generating electricity into the year 2000.
Looking further ahead—and this is the span of time we are talking about— the fast reactor is likely to become the mainstay of our power programme a decade from now. Yet this new type of reactor, with its promise of greatly reduced electricity costs, has developed 971 from an experimental reactor, on which building began at Dounreay in 1955, as part of a 20-year programme of research and development.
Between the two, the old and the new, were the advanced gas cooled reactor, the high temperature reactor and the steam generating heavy water reactor. The basic research which has gone into these reactor systems and their development have cost the country hundreds of millions of pounds. I mention these dates and figures to emphasise the scale of our programme and of the national investment in nuclear power.
If Parliament is really to do its job it ought to concentrate on programmes involving sums of money of this kind and it might have been better—and if I say it now it is the only criticism of the past that I would make—if the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee's advice had been accepted earlier and the House had been able to discuss nuclear power and the nuclear plant industry a few years ago, for we would have gained very greatly from it.
In looking at the Report of the Committee I will come in detail to the recommendations and points made by my hon. Friend. The Select Committee was satisfied that the Atomic Energy Authority has done its basic task of civil nuclear research and development with success. There is no doubt about that, It is undisputed. We are talking about a technology in which this country is pre-eminent.
No one looking at the record could speak convincingly of any technological gap between this country and the United States in the field of atomic energy. But now that nuclear electricity has "arrived" in a commercial sense the main task is one of exploitation and it is to this that we are turning in this debate; because, despite what I have said—and attention is drawn to it in the Report—Britain has not sold a nuclear reactor abroad for 10 years. There has long been a feeling that the organisation of the British nuclear effort has been inadequate, and that we have failed to exploit our technology in the way that we must if the enormous research and development effort is to be converted into an economic 972 success to enable us to regain what we have spent upon it.
I want to speak on a point which I am sure the House will understand. There are currently a number of negotiations going on for the export of British nuclear reactors abroad and I would not like anything I say now to suggest to those who are potential customers for these reactors that any change we may make in the structure of the industry would in any way affect the existing bids or make it difficult for those bids to be implemented, or withdraw from them the full technical support of the Atomic Energy Authority and British industry which stand behind them.
I might mention, in particular, the steam generating heavy water reactor bid which the Atomic Energy Authority has put in in Finland which, as the House knows, is a very important bid, because it is the first submission of S.G.H.W. abroad. But in a way this is a classic British problem—and I speak without meaning to be critical—of brilliant research, generously financed and an inadequate structure for its exploitation.
I will not weary the House with other examples, but much of the work of my Department reflects the same basic problem of inadequate exploitation. We began our work on this in August, 1966, which bears partly on the point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. In January, 1967, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport was Minister of Power, he and I met the consortia and told them we then took the view that a fresh effort to strengthen our position should be made. At that meeting the Atomic Energy Authority and the Central Electricity Generating Board were also represented; and here I want to come to the rôle of the Select Committee, not in a parliamentary but in a specific sense. That Select Committee entered the scene of its own volition, and I cannot conceal from the House my pleasure at the decision which was reached for the reason I have given, and decided to make a study of the subject.
I welcomed that at the time and I should now like to pay proper tribute, in the proper place, to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central, a Parliamentary neighbour of mine, an electrical engineer whose speech I believe the 973 whole House enjoyed and appreciated very much today, and his colleagues on both sides of the House, most of whom are here today, including the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) also an engineer—and we could do with many more in the House —who worked through most of last year to produce the Report we have before us.
The Report brings out the views of all the parties; it marshals the facts, and makes clear recommendations. The knowledge that it was working in parallel with us was a great help, and has made it possible to bring to public view all the complexities of the issues and the need for a new start. I recognise that some hon. Members—I am not sure that I am not one—are a little disappointed that, some months after the Committee reported, we have not yet got a complete answer to the problem.
I would say to Members of the Committee who worked during the Summer Recess that had the Report come out later than it did we should probably be less well advanced than we are now, because the Report itself has contributed a great deal to changing the atmosphere in the intervening period. It is not for lack of intense internal discussion that there should be this further delay.
We have been engaged in a number of discussions, one set of which has been referred to, namely, the discussions with the I.R.C. whom we asked to put to the industry and the parties concerned the proposals contained in the Report, with a view to reporting back to me.
I now come to the specific point raised by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely about the rôle of the I.R.C. in this respect. As he knows, the I.R.C. is responsible to the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and it has certain powers of its own volition; there are certain things that it can do if it wants to by way of individual activities, if the Secretary of State asks it to do so and it wants to do so.
But here we are talking about something more informal—about the working relationship that we have had with the I.R.C. since its establishment, namely, that a Minister who is faced with industrial reorganisation problems has been able to go to the I.R.C. In the first instance, I went to the Chairman and I 974 said to him, before the Select Committee reported, "Would you be ready, if asked, to advise and perhaps have some discussions with the industry on this matter?"
I cannot speak for the I.R.C, but in his reply the Chairman expressed a readiness to take this job on. In the Act establishing the I.R.C. there is no reference to the informal relationships that exist, but it is a very great help to a Minister, who inevitably is in a Department made up of civil servants and headed by politicians, to be able to call on industrialists. One does this whether or not they are members of the I.R.C. Many industrialists advise on problems in respect of which I feel I need help, but in this case the I.R.C. has special qualifications.
Sir Frank Kearton is not only an independent and external member of the Authority but has been a member of my Advisory Committee on Technology. It was on that intimate and informal basis that I approached the I.R.C. and asked it to undertake this job.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
; I am very grateful to the Minister for this information. May we take it that there is no question of invoking Section 2(1)(a) or (b) of the Act governing the I.R.C., but that this is a question of its acting simply in its advisory capacity? If the Minister had already taken these steps before he came before the Select Committee, why did he not tell us?
§ Mr. Benn
I did not do it before I came before the Committee, but as we moved into the autumn and the Committee's Report was being written and I planned to see how I could move quickly afterwards, I realised that it would involve discussions with the consortia, and it seemed that if the I.R.C. was ready to undertake the job of discussion it would be able to do so better than I could, and I asked Sir Frank Kearton whether he would be ready to consider this. He said that if he were asked he and his colleagues would be ready to undertake it. The I.R.C. discussions have been extremely valuable and it has now come back to give us some of its preliminary views.
I asked the I.R.C. not only to convey the views within the industry about the proposals of the Select Committee but 975 also to advise me, from its own experience, on the ways and means by which we could achieve the objectives that we all have in mind. These discussions are not yet concluded and this is why I hope that the House will not expect me today to anticipate the outcome, but at least it will be able to make its views known before the final stages. I am anxious to reach a conclusion and I do not want to prolong the uncertainty, but we should give ourselves enough time to reach an arrangement which will allow us to exploit our investment to the maximum.
One of the difficulties here—we do not start from a green field, but with what we have, as is true of all our problems, of course—is to find a natural break in what is sometimes regarded as a seamless robe of research, development, production and exploitation. There is no absolutely correct solution, but few would regard the present one as the best attainable.
I know that, in studying the American system, the Select Committee was struck by the integration of basic research, development and prototype construction, some parts of which, at least, were mainly done under contract with the commercial organisations. But this is not a pattern which we can easily follow, and we must build on what we have. I do not think that industry in this country could bear the whole cost of the basic supporting research and development which the Authority now undertakes, but what we are engaged in is a reformulation of the relationship between the public sector and the private, between research, design, development and exploitation and the improvements in the links between them which will clearly be necessary—
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
The right hon. Gentleman said that the industry might not be able to undertake the financial implications of the development itself. The point which we discovered in America was that the development was done on behalf of the A.E.C. and paid for by the A.E.C., although it was carried out in the laboratories and workshops of industry. Is not that solution possible here?
§ Mr. Benn
The American system has grown up differently from ours and the 976 A.E.C. has confined itself to a narrower part of the cycle, if that is the right description. Given that the A.E.A. has gone beyond this, one cannot go back, even if that were right, and say that we can reproduce the situation. We have to deal with the position as we find it here.
We are dealing not only with the three consortia, but also with the parent firms, that is to say, the plant manufacturers, for whom the nuclear part of their business may not be, and in fact is not, the only part. We are dealing with the Atomic Energy Authority, which at present spans the range from basic research to the construction and operation of prototype reactors, with the Central Electricity Generating Board and with the South of Scotland Electricity Board.
The logical order in which this now operates is that the basic research and proving of designs is State-financed, through the A.E.A.; the detailed design of power stations and their construction is in the hands of private industry; the State corporations are the customers; and the State monopoly, the A.E.A., produces the fuel. It is against this background that we must try to find objectives which will command wide agreement because I am sure that the Committee was really divided only on the one question, that of the single design authority. Both sides were close together and to us in trying to achieve certain objectives, which we hope to achieve through the present discussions.
I would like to summarise those objectives, as follows: first, to make the best possible use of all the existing resources in this field, cutting out overlapping and duplication, of which there manifestly is some; second, to allow those who have worked in the Atomic Energy Authority full scope for carrying their work forward into the exploitation and sale of the systems which they have developed; third, to get the maximum possible advantage of the technical standardisation, coupled with the most effective design competition in engineering detail and construction method; fourth, to try to link and co-ordinate the effort in such a way as to relate reactor systems to the fuel elements and reprocessing business at which the A.E.A. has excelled, both technically and commercially, through its fuel production group.
977 Fifth, to create an organisation which permits the sort of international, industrial links which will be of critical importance in all sectors of advance industry and not just in atomic energy. Sixth, to do this with a special eye upon the furture of the European nuclear industry in co-operation with our partners in Europe. Seventh, to change the emphasis of our national effort in such a way as to increase it on the exploitation side and see that future nuclear research—this is where the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) may have a point—is guided and shaped more directly by the needs of the market at home and abroad.
The advice the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely gave to Sir Stanley Brown about remaining purely as a customer is a very interesting constitutional doctrine, but I hope that he will not suggest that the domestic customer can ever be separated in his mind from the interests of the world market because there are many areas of procurement where if the domestic customer thinks it is what the world needs, he can contribute to the development.
Eighth, to establish a creative partnership between the public and private sectors as far as possible by reaching a consensus of agreement so as to allow all the other objectives I have described to be achieved.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My right hon. Friend used the phrase, "duplication of which there manifestly is some". Can he give a vague indication of where in his opinion and that of his Department this duplication exists?
§ Mr. Benn
I would rather not be tempted into answering my hon. Friend's question, because the answer is to be found in the Report which he and his colleagues laid before the House. It is perfectly clear that in the reorganisation of the industry we shall get a better return on effort if we are prepared to recast it, and one of the objects of recasting would be to meet this point. I am coming to the question of the single design authority and may be able in part to answer my hon. Friend's question then. The objectives I have set out are very difficult of achieving, but I am quite certain that there are many minds open to new ways of looking at this as a result of the discussions which have taken place.
978 Having surveyed and analysed the situation, the Select Committee came down in favour of a single organisation. I should like to reinforce what has been said. Although one wants a Committee to be unanimous when it can be, a Committee of this kind ought not to be frightened of having a division if policy divisions arise in discussion. Whether a single design authority exactly as the Committee recommend it will turn out to be the best practicable solution is still uncertain, but I am sure that the ideas of those who advocated it must find effective expression through the sort of structure which finally emerges from further discussion. It is too early to say exactly how this will look. There has been a lot of speculation in the Press, much of which can be entirely disregarded. When we have got a little further with the ideas being discussed I shall report to the House and no doubt at that time the Government will make their answer to the Committee as such.
I come to the very difficult question of the value of design competition. Opinions obviously differ on the scope for commercial competition in the United Kingdom for domestic orders, but there can be little doubt that competition between competing designs and in ways of improving an established basic design can be of value. I have heard it argued that very often on engineering design our foreign competitors have had advantage over us. Past experience bears this out —each one of the seven Magnox stations has been more economic than its predecessor. This is the obverse side of the argument on replication.
It is true that the design competition has reduced the generating costs from l.27d. per Kw/hour in Berkeley to the Oldbury costs of 0.64d. Kw/hour, just a half, and Wylfa's costs will be less again. With the A.G.R. stations now building a new downward progression in costs is confidently forecast. There is some argument for saying, therefore, that design competition ought to be the future of the programme and pattern which we aim to see.
If the House will allow me I shall move from the single design organisation point and leave it to further discussion of the kind now going on.
I should like to turn to some of the Committee's other recommendations. 979 First, the rôle of the Atomic Energy Authority cannot be determined until the future organisation of the industry is clear. Until then, the British Nuclear Export Executive, on which there is also a comment, must obviously continue to do its work.
The other recommendation—I was cross-examined by the Committee myself on this—was that a technical assessment unit should be established to advise on the merits of projects coming to it from the Atomic Energy Authority. We are considering this, but there are real difficulties in that the Authority is the repository of all the skill, knowledge and national expertise in this field. Since it is a public authority which is expected to work with great detail and care, and does, I can see great difficulties in trying to cross-check by a technical assessment unit. But I can say that there is still a competition between atomic energy projects put to my Department and other projects which come forward.
What I am trying to do—and I am not always popular in the House for doing so—is to apply commercial criteria across the board so that, although I cannot comment on the nuclear physics of what the A.E.A. may say or the detailed design which comes forward, I can ask how projects compare in terms of deployment of our national resources with other investments which may be brought forward.
On the non-nuclear side, where there is some work going on about which the Committee and the House knows, the technical staff of my Department, other Departments and industrial organisations is available. The Programme Analysis Unit, which I set up jointly with the Atomic Energy Authority, is a very valuable tool in examining projects that come up there.
I turn to the recommendation about having a British parallel to the United States Joint Congressional Atomic Energy Committee. I must be careful here, because this is a matter of parliamentary management and not one for the Ministry of Technology. We are giving very careful consideration to this, but it is difficult to transplant one type of constitutional procedure from one system of government to another, and it is certainly fair to say that in this case one would be 980 impinging on the statutory responsibilities of the Minister of Power. If Parliament really wishes to give the Minister of Power or any other Minister a roasting, it does not necessarily follow that special parliamentary procedure is right for this. But we have considered and are now considering the recommendations.
The next recommendation referred to by my hon. Friend was the question whether there should be an independent agency for costing energy supplies. What the Committee suggested was that some entirely outside body might look at the purely financial aspects of this. I cannot go beyond what my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Power said when aked about this. He stated that he was considering the proposal, and that is how the matter stands. But the Ministry of Power keeps the trend of comparative costs critically under review, and—with particular reference to studies of nuclear costs— I am not sure that an independent body could have experience and expertise in this field comparable to that of the organisations which took part in nuclear costs studies made as part of the fuel policy review. Taking part in those studies were the C.E.G.B., the A.E.A. and the Chief Scientist's Division of the Ministry of Power. The National Coal Board also participated in the second stage of that work.
§ Mr. Palmer
This system is being used increasingly in the United States. I do not suggest that that is necessarily a reason why it could be used here, but a point to be very much taken into consideration is the advantage of a check from outside.
§ Mr. Benn
In my earlier office, I engaged consultants to examine the Department I was asked to look after. I am very much aware of the advantage of this, but it is one thing to say that one has a check of a particular operation and another to say that in a sense one sub-contracts a major Ministerial function. I am not sure that there is not a slight risk in the form in which it is presented that that might happen. One must retain responsibility where it belongs, building up a proper system of criticism and cross-checking, and the Committee performs this function.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there 981 has been an escalation of costs? I do not raise this from any Luddite attitude, although I am a member of the miners' group in the House, but this does seem to me to be a good subject for inquiry and investigation.
§ Mr. Benn
I am really being pressed at this point about the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power. But I do not think that escalation of costs of itself would justify this proposal because all fuel costs are varying up and down for one reason or another, according to world conditions, new discoveries, improved design techniques and various other things. There is little doubt that my right hon. Friend's responsibility here is the central responsibility of a Minister, and I am sure my hon. Friend would not wish to derogate from the responsibilities of the Minister towards problems and studies of this kind.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
I find it a little difficult to follow my right hon. Friend's argument that the establishment of a highly technically qualified body to make an extra check is in any way a derogation of responsibility. Clearly, the findings of such a body would still have to be implemented or otherwise by the Minister. Therefore, there would be no derogation of his ultimate responsibilities.
§ Mr. Benn
I was interrogated on my answer to this proposal by the Committee, and I am sure that members of it have not forgotten that I said the proposal was being considered. Whatever solution were to be gound, it should not be allowed to derogate from the responsibility of the Minister of Power, who is there to deal with these problems.
The Committee also said something about the new reactor types and recommended the development of the high temperature reactor, the steam generating heavy water reactor and other water reactors, and that development of the fast reactor should proceed with a view to its commercial exploitation at home and abroad. All these recommendations are being actively pursued by the Ministry and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.
There was also the recommendation, to which some hon. Members attach considerable importance, on the possibilities 982 of nuclear marine propulsion and a proposal that a Departmental Committee might be set up. I have answered Questions on this. Owing to the reorganisation of responsibilities within the Ministry of Technology, it so happens that I have within my administrative control not only responsibility for shipbuilding and con-tainerisation and executive responsibility for the Ship Division of the National Physical Laboratory, but responsibility for the A.E.A. I am not sure, therefore, that any new Departmental structure is required here.
What is required, as the Committee itself observed, is to decide the point at which marine propulsion would become economically viable. As I have told the House often, it is thought that it is the large container ship of perhaps 200,000 tons that will make marine propulsion viable in the 1970s. There is nothing to prove here. We know that it can be done. It is a matter of at what point to go in for the investment to bring in a return.
Finally, I turn to fusion. This is a subject to which the Committee made reference, although its members will agree that they did not go into it in great detail. They are going back to it through the defence research which I understand they are to conduct this year. But the position here is that the A.E.A., which is responsible for the policy of research that it undertakes, subject to the Ministry, is looking at the work done on fusion after a period in which some very brilliant research had been done by a group set up for the purpose with a set time in which to do it.
The A.E.A. set up an internal committee which reported to the Authority, and the Authority decided that there should be a rundown of 10 per cent. a year over five years, with provision for review. The provision for review exists. Given the circumstances in which my advisers—I am not trying to shield behind them—in atomic energy recommended to me a rundown in this case, I either had to accept that recommendation or say to them, "Despite what you say you must continue with fusion research and with plasma physics research as you have done." I take the responsibility on myself, but, when the Authority made this recommendation, it seemed to me that I had to give great weight to what it said. This 983 was the reason for my statement in July last year.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman publish the scientific reasons which the working party gave for its recommendation? Why should the staff not know that?
§ Mr. Benn
It was not a matter of scientific reasons. We were discussing the deployment of people and money in an area of research which is necessarily contained within an absolute total. I notice that the committee itself was cross-examined on this. One of the people representing the Culham staff was asked about it. I think that the question was, "If you had so many millions of pounds to spend, would you spend the money on fast reactors or Culham?" He said that it was difficult to answer. This was not a scientific analysis, but an analysis by the A.E.A. committee which was set up by the Authority to see whether this work should go on at the present rate.
Although I have great sympathy with those who would like the publication of the report of the committee, which was set up not by me, but by the Authority, the committee was set up on the basis that its report would not be published, and it would not be possible to publish it now, even in response to the request of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave).
I conclude by trying to put this development once more into its broadest context as one of the biggest pieces of industrial reorganisation on which the country has been engaged. It is much bigger than shipbuilding, much bigger than computers, much bigger than the electrical industry, or other industries such as the motorcar industry, and much bigger than the Rolls-Royce-Bristol Siddeley engine merger. We are here talking about the development of an industrial structure which will allow us to get us a return in our balance of payments—and perhaps that is the right way to put it in the end, because this must be one of the dominating factors—and the productive efficiency of our own industry the provision of cheap power, which is the objective which we have in mind.
If we can get the right answers, the gains will be very great and if we get 984 the right answers, much of the credit will be due to the Select Committee whose Report we have before us today.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I am grateful to the Minister for giving us some useful information on which I shall comment in the course of my speech. I join with others in congratulating the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), on the immense wisdom with which he guided our deliberations during this study, and on his objectivity and the great deal of hard work which he put in. We were all called upon to work hard, but no one worker harder or more assiduously than our Chairman. I ought also to pay credit to the Clerk of our Committee; such people are never in the public eye and their work often goes unsung. The amount of time which Mr. Allen must have put in reading, preparing and putting papers before us must have been tremendous, and we could not have worked successfully without his help and the assiduity of our Chairman.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Will the hon. Gentleman add to his list the scientific staff of the Library, who have been immensely helpful?
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
That is absolutely true and I am delighted to pay due credit to the scientific staff of the Library.
I am glad that the Minister stressed what I believe to be the Parliamentary importance of the Committee. I am sorry that our debate started at 7.45 p.m. on a day when the House rose after an all-night sitting at 7.30 this morning. This is an unfortunate management of business. It is particularly unfortunate because it follows on the other experimental Committee, if one can call it that, the Select Committee dealing with agriculture, which had the experience of having its debate come on so late that it did not think it worth while even having the debate. In view of that experience, I should have thought that this debate would have come on at a more normal hour and not after an all-night sitting.
The members of the Committee have been disappointed because, having rushed our Report through and published it on 26th October, seven months later the 985 Minister is not yet ready to give us very much information.
I would be the first to say that we would prefer him to come to the right decision later, rather than to give us the wrong decision earlier. I was disappointed that he did not say anything more to us about the objective study. I do not see that it undermines Ministerial responsibility at all if we ask for outside assessments of the relative merits of different sources and costs of various fuels. This is current practice in the United States to a much larger degree than here. There is much merit in using that system of examination.
The right hon. Gentleman will not mind my ragging him gently; he said that he has this under consideration. He said: "But I told the Committee when I came before it that I had this very much under consideration." He said this on 11th May, 1967. Here we are on 23rd May, 1968, and it is still under consideration. Doubtless he will return to his Department and say: "I cannot come out with that excuse again. Next time I must give them some positive reason, either yea or nay, about an objective and independent assessment."
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I am not sure, I will look through the evidence, and if it is so, I apologise. The right hon. Gentleman certainly gave evidence to us on 11th May. We would want to study his eight objectives and his speech. I do not accept his argument that because the A.E.A., for historical reasons had a great deal to do with the development, it would be wrong in any way to change this pattern. I rather understood this from his reply to my interjection.
§ Mr. Benn indicated dissent.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, and that he did not mean that. One has to recognise that Britain has to have a flexible economy. That means that there will be times when our public corporations grow and other times when they diminish. Coal is a very obvious example at the moment. Maybe we have been 986 through a phase where the A.E.A., which has had a strong and all pervasive influence in this area is getting back to doing more pure research, when it ought to decentralise and push away into industry more of the development and engineering of the prototypes.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) quoted most aptly from a book he read, by F. E. Smith, when he was 16. Looking back, I reflect that when I was at Oxford in 1930 I took physics as my degree and nuclear physics as my special subject. I remember doing my finals paper on the successful nuclear experiments which Cockcroft and Walton had carried out in 1933. As far as I know, this has never been of any Parliamentary use to me since then. I was, therefore, delighted that this particular Committee decided to look into nuclear power. I thought that at last, after a gap of 35 years, I had an opportunity to make use of what I had learned many years ago.
We were wise to take a specific and important subject. I have been looking again through Mr. Duncan Burn's excellent book, and I see that it is his estimate that the investment that this country has made in nuclear power now stands at at least £950 million. He believes it to be higher—over £1,000 million spent on research and development on nuclear power. I do not include weapons in this. This is the civil application of nuclear power. We have taken a subject where the cost of each unit—each power station—is about £100 million. By any standards this is large, and the impact on our economy very considerable. We have also taken a subject at a time when we are not altogether happy—no one could be—at our current export performance. We are challenging again, but after an early and promising start there is no question but that the United States is making much more progress in the export field than we are, and the figures which appear in Appendix 37 will bear reiteration.
The United States has now exported nine boiling water reactor stations and six pressurised reactor stations, making 15 in all. Canada has exported three, France has exported one and, to date, we have exported two. So we are behind even Canada in the number of stations we have exported, and this must give 987 us cause for considerable concern. Therefore I think that it was very apt that we selected this particular subject. This represents an enormous United Kingdom investment, it is of vital importance to industry in this country and its export potential is of immense value—not only direct export but import saving, because if we should fall far behind with our nuclear expertise we should probably have to go to outside suppliers and spend dollars or other foreign currency.
I was interested to analyse, with the help of the scientific staff in our library, the qualifications of our Committee. There were eight Labour members, five Tories and one Liberal. I found, analysing their qualifications, four engineers, two lecturers or teachers, three scientists, two economists and five managers. That is not a bad cross-section of any Parliamentary Committee to study such a problem. These figures add up to 16 because some people had two qualifications in that they were, for instance, both scientists and engineers.
Sometimes it is worth looking into one's own productivity. We sat for 33 days— something like 70 hours of deliberations. We compiled a report of 500 pages and 200,000 words. I only wish we had had more time to consider in greater depth some of the excellent papers submitted to us. I say this because at present there is a good deal of scepticism in Government and even in Opposition circles about the value of such Select Committees. People say—and perhaps this is confirmed today —that the House of Commons is now so thin because too many people are investigating too many things or debating too many Committee stages upstairs. If people challenge this state of affairs, I ask them how else they would ask that Parliament provide the checks and balances on programmes of this importance, not just to ourselves but to future generations.
The people who ridicule our efforts —and of course they are far from perfect—never come forward and make any alternative suggestions. I am one who is dedicated to the idea that this is the way in which Parliament should work in the future. I would go further and say that if, on some occasions, there is no business in the main House, that may not be disastrous. We have work which is 988 just as important examining and probing some vital subject upstairs. There is nothing sacrosanct about having to sit for five days in every week on these green benches. We can work in other parts of the House, more effectively sometimes.
I would like to endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely said, that this was in no way the concept of the Lord President of the Council. Because he had other requirements in mind, and some ran into stormy trouble upstairs—not least the Finance Committee —it is sometimes said that this was his brain-child. But that is not so. It came basically from the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee four or five years ago. I only wish that it had come to fruition earlier than it did.
I feel that people who do not want checks and balances are people who may become Ministers in the future and who do not welcome careful probing which might show that they are not in control of their Departments. The Government are spending £11,000 million every year. Does anyone believe that Question Time in this House of Commons makes it possible to check whether this is being correctly spent? Of course it does not. This has to be checked upstairs. I believe that this is right and that we shall attract more people with scientific and engineering knowledge into this House if they know they can do a useful job here for a few years and that, if they do not become members of the Cabinet or the Shadow Cabinet, it is not the end of the world. They will have contributed to our deliberations and can go away the better for it. They need not necessarily feel that they are going to be here for 50 years and always sitting on the green benches in this Chamber.
We are right, I think, in maintaining a sub-Committee to continue examining this problem. May I quote, having been at the receiving end, of a Select Committee which probed the Admiralty organisation. It was the Select Committee on Estimates in the 1959–60 Session. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mit-cham (Mr. R. Carr) was Chairman. The Committee published a Report on 6th July, 1960. We in the Admiralty, with the Treasury, put forward our observations four and a half months later, on 16th November, 1960. We had a debate in the House, to which I had to reply, 989 on 14th February, 1961. I gave assurances that we would cut down the numbers serving in the Admiralty. I left the Department before the reinvestigation was made, but I well remember warning my civil servants that the Fifth Select Committee in 1962–63 would examine the same problem and would see what progress had been made on all the assurances given by the Department. If they know that there is continuity of examination and that a Select Committee is examining the matter, Ministers are more likely to get results from their Departments and more action is likely to be taken on the deliberations.
I was impressed, as was our Chairman, the hon. Member for Bristol, Central, by what I saw in the United States. I was one of the three Members of Parliament who went there. I was impressed by the working of the Congressional Joint Committee. I again ask the Government: what is wrong with having Members of the Lords on the Select Committee? I often feel that the two Houses are much too separated. The Lords is a different place from what it was 50 years ago. There are many able scientific, industrial and engineering people there. The talent in the Lords is not being tapped to its fullest extent. By introducing Members of the Lords into the Committee, not only would we be bridging the gap between Commons and Lords, which is probably desirable, but bringing considerable extra talent to bear on our deliberations.
It would also have the advantage that, whereas we are servants of the electoral system and therefore find ourselves out on our ear from time to time, this does not happen in the House of Lords. There might therefore be greater continuity of service on the Committee. That would be helpful, because long-serving members of the Committee would remember what had happened during a previous Session when the same matter was examined. I noticed in the U.S. Congressional Joint Committee that Senators were appointed for six-year stints and Representatives were appointed for two-year stints. It was by no means certain that at the end of six years one would be released from the Committee. There were members on the Committee who had served for 20 years and who knew a great deal about the working and 990 control of the whole spectrum of the nuclear programme, including the civil power programme. This is another useful way in which Parliamentary control can be exercised.
I should like to say a few words on the future programme. I cannot help regretting that we had to come to a division on the issue of whether we should have a single design organisation or two or three. With my hon. Friends, I came down in favour of competition. I do not like the single nuclear boiler solution. I hope that the Minister will keep an open mind on this issue. Although one may say that, with a single design organisation, one can rest on the competition from overseas, I do not believe that this is realistic. I do not see a future Government allowing the foreign expenditure of £100 million or more on a single power station, when we have already invested so much of our national money and manpower in the development of our own stations. I can see lobbies urging that this be kept at home, and a British equivalent of the "Buy American" Act could well come into this. It would be more realistic to have competition within and not to rely on competition from outside.
I am reinforced in my views by Professor Blackett, the special adviser to the Ministry of Technology. He has been a supporter of the Labour Party, but past belief in State monopoly does not imply a natural and logical belief in design monopoly. Professor Blackett says:Britain after the war inadvertently took a wrong turning when it continued to rely so much for defence and atomic energy research and development on its own Government stations rather than on industry."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 8th May, 1968; c. 1489, Vol. 291.]I was also very much influenced by the biggest customer of all, the Central Electricity Generating Board. In Appendix 17, paragraph 2(a), of our Report they said:Whilst the Authority are the major repository of specialist nuclear knowledge …they were referring to the Atomic Energy Authority—… they are far from being so as regards design, manufacture, erection and operation of commercial plant. They are therefore seeking to venture into spheres in which their natural advantages are no longer paramount.991 In paragraph 2(b), in which they refer to the proposal for a single design boiler, they say:The proposal virtually abolishes technical competition. The Board believe it is undesirable. Their experience in many fields is that competition is the best spur to efficiency, and stimulates responsiveness to market requirements.I endorse that view, speaking from all my experience in the light engineering and electronic industry. In design and development in engineering and construction it is desperately important that we should retain a measure of competition. If a firm is about to go bankrupt it "beavers" to get a product which is better than the product of its competitor. As Ben Johnson said in 1777:When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight it concentrates his mind wonderfully.If a firm in the nuclear power industry knows that it will not get the next contract, which may mean that the firm has to phase out of that industry, after all the investment that has been put into it, "it concentrates the mind wonderfully" to try to produce a better and more efficient design. I very much hope that the Minister will not finally decide on a single design authority.
I believe that a young scientist should have the ability to sack or exchange his boss if he has failed to promote his ideas. A young man who believes that his scientific or technical solution is the right one but cannot persuade those for whom he works of this, can, if there is an alternative design authority, take his talents and enthusiasms elsewhere. This is important if we are not to lose such people. If they cannot work in their particular speciality they will be lost overseas.
Under the U.S. organisation it was quite clear that they went more speedily from innovation to completion than we do. This is because they decentralise to a very great degree. I recognise that we cannot jump straight from our present system to their system, which has evolved on a different principle. The difference is startling. They reckon that about 100,000 people are working in the A.E.C. and in the nuclear power industry. Of that 100,000, 97,000 are working for contractors in industry, and only 3,000 are working for the 992 A.E.C. This is such a glaring difference, that I wonder whether more research and development ought not to be pushed into industry and not kept within the A.E.A.
We noticed that United States Government establishments have a different philosophy. We referred to it in our Report, and I would commend it to the Minister. They believe that knowledge created with public money should be available to the public. One concedes, in this instance, that "the public" probably means three or four industrial firms. But they believe that, if they use public funds to gain knowledge, they have an obligation and a constitutional duty, if the knowledge is not essential for the defence of the nation, to make it available to anyone who may want it. This is wholly healthy, and it probably motivates the organisation which has grown up in the United States.
We interviewed the representatives of two American firms, Westinghouse and G.E.C. We asked them to what they attributed their success in exports. At that time, General Electric had seven overseas contracts for reactor islands, which represent probably only 30 per cent, of the total cost of stations. Both companies said that one of the reasons for their success in exports was that they had strong commercial contacts in the countries to which they were exporting which had existed for many years. As a result, 30 per cent, of the total cost represented by the nuclear island went from them, and the other 70 per cent, came from companies associated with them for 30 or 40 years in the countries to which they were selling their equipment.
I am sure that we shall have to adopt the same principle. In one section of his speech, the Minister referred to industrial connections. Such arrangements mean that one has allies in the country concerned pressing the Government of the day to give the necessary authority to get on with nuclear power stations. If we tried to export the whole, we should never succeed. Nationalism is growing in almost every country overseas, and more and more countries want to build the major sections of their nuclear power stations, only taking the most intricate and advanced portions from overseas.
A single design authority in which the Atomic Energy Authority is a very strong 993 portion of the whole will not be the right solution for exports. It is desperately important that we should make use of the contacts and licensing arrangements in different countries which have been built up by almost every big industrial firm in the consortia. This is more likely to come about if we have both competition and the consortia organised on a strictly commercial and industrial basis.
I have picked out one or two points which I wish to bring to the Minister's attention. I am sure that he recognises that no solution that he produces today can possibly be sacrosanct for all time. The shape is bound to change. Market conditions will change, our alliances will change and our loyalties will change. I hope that any scheme he produces leaves a number of options open and that he does not destroy the industrial contacts which our great firms have established over many years with parallel, daughter or licensed companies overseas. If they were destroyed, we should have let slip our last chance of doing the export business which is essential to the country's well being.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Parkyn (Bedford)
I am particularly glad to follow the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing). While I do not fully agree with some of his views about the structure of the industry—this is made clear in the Report and has been touched upon by other speakers—I wholeheartedly agree about the importance of this type of Specialist Committee.
Indeed, when one sees the complexity and the involvement of modern government in the affairs of the nation—and whatever one may feel about it, inevitably the Government are involved more and more in the affairs of the nation—one recognises that if we are to have any reasonable type of accountability of the Government or of the Executive, we must have some kind of Specialist Committee which is able to probe in depth into a subject like this and spend some time doing it. I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Member for Hendon, North about the constitutional significance of this type of Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) mentioned that this was the first of this type of Specialist 994 Committee to be set up. One wants to know what it was set up for. If it was set up to keep back bench Members of Parliament busy and out of mischief, there is no doubt that it has achieved that object very well. We have been very busy. We have read an enormous amount of paper. It has come to us in shoals every week. We have been involved in meetings and hearings not only here, but elsewhere in the country. We have visited nuclear reactors all over the place. Some of us have seen nuclear reactors on the Continent and in the United States. Therefore, we have been kept busy and out of mischief. If that was the object of the Committee it has certainly been achieved. If the object of this type of Specialist Committee is that ordinary Members of Parliament should be better informed on such complex matters as nuclear reactors, that, too, has been achieved.
It was my great privilege to be a member of this Committee. My colleagues and I have learned a great deal about this marvellous, vast, exciting industry right on the frontiers of knowledge. At least, we can throw certain phrases about with gay abandon. We can speak about megawatts-electrical and megawatts-thermal and have some idea of the difference between one and the other. We can speak about burn up rates and fuel ratings and feel, even if we do not fully understand them, that at any rate they sound all right in our Committee meetings.
We can speak about uranium, plutonium and thorium. We can speak about Magnox, A.G.R., P.F.R., H.T.R., B.W.R., P.W.R., Dragon, Vulcain and all the other exotic sounding names coined by scientists all over the world for some of these marvellous reactors. We have reached a point, which I suppose is the beginning of knowledge, where we realise how little we know about nuclear reactors and nuclear reactions.
If, on the other hand, the object of this type of Select Committee is to help Parliament to probe in depth a subject to help to formulate future policy for the nation. I shall want answers to two questions before knowing whether this, the most important objective of all, has been achieved.
First, why has there been so much delay in holding this debate? We have listened with interest to my right hon. 995 Friend the Minister of Technology. But, without meaning any discourtesy, I should have thought that what he said could have been said in January. I wonder whether the delay in holding this important debate, after we spent so much time trying to get the Report finished, was merely because of the pressure of other Parliamentary business.
Then one sees the size of this vast industry. My right hon. Friend mentioned what a vast industry it is and compared it with other types of industry—shipbuilding, aircraft, motor cars, and others. It is a vast industry and is becoming vaster, and one really begins to wonder whether we have been using our time in this House rightly in the way time has been allocated for debates.
I feel that this is particularly important in relation to the timing of this debate. I recognise, as my right hon. Friend said, that he does not want to come to a hasty conclusion and that it is important he should come to a right conclusion. We concur in that, but inevitably as a result of the publication of the report, there must be some uncertainty and a feeling of unsettlement among the staff of the U.K.A.E.A. and also among the consortia who, now they have seen the Report and its implications, will want to know what is to happen and what we are trying to say in it. Some decision, therefore, is a matter of great urgency for the staff in those organisations.
I would ask a second question. Whilst accepting that the Government will not necessarily approve every jot, tittle and iota of the Report—and it would be quite unreasonable for us to expect that the Government would accept every item of the recommendations we make—nevertheless, as a member of the Committee I, and I believe all of us, would feel that, broadly speaking, the general kind of recommendations we make should be accepted. If they are not, I would like my right hon. Friend to give the reasons, and the evidence, for not accepting them. I believe that we have made it clear that we have not wanted to reach a conclusion too quickly. We had complete unanimity on the evidence we produced. Nevertheless, I feel that we need to have a case argued out if the Minister should 996 finally arrive at basic conclusions which seem to us very different from the general trends we have in the Report. In my view, these are important questions which must be faced by the Government if the development of these new Specialist Committees is to play a really effective rôle in increasing democratic participation of the elected representatives here in Parliament, and if the Executive is to be made more accountable to Parliament.
I would like to concur in what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central concerning the slight division which took place during the development of the Report and which has been referred to in some places as a division on party political lines. I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend point out that this was not so. The fact that some of us tended to vote in different ways on one kind of proposal was not because we were voting on party political grounds. I submit that we are in the parties we are in because we are the kind of people we are; and since we are the kind of people we are, inevitably we think in this or that way—which is very different from saying we divided on party political grounds.
§ Mr. Parkyn
I do not wish to add to what has already been said on the complex issue of the cost of nuclear power, not only in this debate but in previous debates in this House, except to draw attention to three items which are of profound importance. First, in paragraph 90 of the Report, it is said:Your Committee are of the opinion also that, in estimating running costs over a period as long as 20 years, some account should be taken of 'normal inflation'.This was a point which was raised several times in our hearings by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price). Paragraph 90 continues:From the evidence it appears that, in accordance with Treasury practice, this is not done. They welcome the assurance of the Minister of Power that, in his review of nuclear costs, the possibility is now being investigated.We also have the evidence from the Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board. In reply to Question No. 243—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.997
That the Proceedings relating to Science and Technology may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. McBride.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Parkyn
In reply to Question No. 243, the Chairman said:We have never adduced probable inflation as a justification for a high capital cost article. When we are doing our economic calculations we require what we call the optional capital cost to be justified on the basis of present-day costs.I want to give one final quotation from the evidence. In reply to Question No. 789, the Chairman of the South of Scotland Electricity Board said:We do the arithmetic at constant prices, because this is part of life for us, this is the way we do sums for everybody. But we would say to ourselves, for example, with a nuclear station, ' All right, if this looks the best thing on the arithmetic we have done, then, because inflation does take place, it is probably going to be a better bet than ever because i:s cost of fuel is a relatively small part of its cost of production, much smaller than with a coal station.'It seems quite inconceivable to me that someone with experience of chemical plant inflation, which is a constant fact of life and has been for a long time, is not reckoned with when nuclear power stations are capital intensive with lower running costs and coal-fired stations are less capital intensive, but have higher running costs.
It is impossible to make reference to all the matters covered by the Report, because it is massive. I want to refer to three items which I regard as of great significance, namely, marine propulsion reactors, high-temperature reactors, and exports. Lord Penney, in evidence, stated that he was of opinion that at the moment it was not worth while pursuing the question of marine propulsion reactors on a large scale. This view was supported by my right hon. Friend in paragraphs 72 and 73 of the Report. However, the Institution of Professional Civil Servants gave evidence in support of the development of nuclear-propelled merchant ships.
In reply to Question No. 1073, a representative of the Institution said:However, the situation is now changing, we believe, quite rapidly, not so much because 998 of any breakthrough in making nuclear power on a ship cheaper but because the ships into which a nuclear-powered engine might be put are getting bigger. In particular, I imagine the container ship is one which may very well make a nuclear-powered engine economic.My right hon. Friend referred to this briefly just now. Although Lord Penney thought that it might be useful to carry out another study of marine propulsion on the lines of the 1964 Padmore Committee he thought that it ought to wait for two or three years.
Nevertheless, there has been a fairly widespread feeling in the House and outside that this question should be reopened and reconsidered because of the change that has taken place in ships, especially in regard to containerisation. The changes that have taken place in the marine world may make this development more worth while.
Those of us who visited the B.R.3 Vulcain reactor at Mol, in Belgium, were impressed by the close collaboration between the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and Belgo-Nucleaire on this project, using variable moderation of light and heavy water to control reactivity. It has a very high burn-up relative to other water reactors, and although the experts of Belgo Nucléaire thought of Vulcain not so much as a basis for a marine propulsion unit but as a basis for small power stations for use in developing countries, of from 20Mw (E) to 100 Mw(E) output, we heard no strong arguments against continuing with the original concept of developing it for marine use.
Those of us who went to Gűtehoffnung-shűtte Sterkrade, in Oberhausen, found tremendous enthusiasm an dexcitement over the performance of the Dragon reactor at Winfrith and the possibilities they outlined to us of a high temperature reactor with helium turbines and a closed cycle and the prospect of using this for marine propulsion and for all purposes, from 0.3 megawatts electrical right up to big stations of 1,000 megawatts electrical. This is referred to in paragraph 74, in which the Committee recommended that a Departmental committee should be convened to examine the possibility of marine propulsion in the light of experimental work in other industrial countries, and it is elaborated in Appendix F.
999 H.T.R., which is a high temperature gas graphite reactor, has been estimated to give generation costs 25 per cent, below the latest equivalent A.G.R. and 40 per cent, below its capital costs. This is the logical progression of Magnox and A.G.R. and if there were any need to justify the A.E.A's decision to concentrate so much on gas cooling and graphite moderators rather than the B.W.R. and the P.W.R. of the United States, in my view and that of the Committee, it is the success of Dragon and the tremendous excitement which it is causing on the Continent and which we would like to see transmitted here.
On B.N.X. I can do no better than quote Colonel Raby in reply to Questions 686 and 687:I envisaged it then as a single contracting organisation, something with teeth, that would go out and do all the things the Americans do which I have explained and would be able to say, ' We will do this, that or the other.' … I think that all its teeth were taken from it and that it was given instead a set of false teeth.One export organisation of some kind is needed representing, perhaps, a single boiler organisation. It needs a small team of enthusiastic and able technical men with authority to take commercial decisions quickly on their own.
In most industrial countries, it will never be possible to supply more than the nuclear boiler and perhaps the fuel, and in some cases it may not even be 1000 possible to do this, but to supply only a design, or perhaps even parts of the nuclear boiler. The organisation must be able to have the right man on the spot anywhere in the world not when he is needed but before. This is what the Americans do and what we must do if we wish to get into this field.
This is the most competitive and cutthroat business in the world and our approach to nuclear exports has so far been a case of gentlemanly amateurs in a world of hardened professionals. We have a vast nuclear industry of which we can be proud, but if we are to reap the tremendous international rewards which are possible we must act resolutely, with one voice, and, in the case of H.T.R., quickly. This is the message which I and some of my hon. Friends would like to go out from the House—that H.T.R. is at Winfrith and has been going on for some time. Experience has been gained and this needs to be pushed.
We have the atom bomb for destruction and nuclear power for life, expansion and wealth. One wonders whether we are able to control one or the other. I am reminded of a little saying which came out at the time when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima:Said the scientist to the protoplasm,'Twixt you and me is a mighty chasm;We represent extremes, my friend,You the beginning and I the end.'The protoplasm made reply,As he winked his embryonic eye,'When I look at you, old man,I am rather sorry I began'.
§ Mr. Speaker
May I say that Mr. Speaker is a humanist I am conscious of the fact that I am talking to scientific and technical colleagues and that we have suspended the rule to any hour. I hope we shall interpret the words "any hour" in a humanistic rather than a scientific sense. Mr. Lubbock.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
As one who was here to the bitter end after 7 o'clock this morning, I shall not abuse the suspension of the rule by making a long speech.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) on having been the Chairman of the Committee and the marvellous way in which he led us in this investigation. I think that all hon. Members who were on the Committee will agree that it was as a result of his being appointed Chairman that the Committee was so successful. It was deeply satisfying for him, having been Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, that that Committee was largely instrumental in having the Select Committee established.
I shall take up points made by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Parkyn) about the H.T.R. later. I agree that this is one of the most important points which we should underline. I quite agree, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) pressed on the Committee all the time, that in calculating the costs of different kinds of fuel we should take into account inflation. On the other hand, that did not affect any important decisions which have had to be made whether we should have nuclear or conventional fuel.
I cannot agree that yet another body should be established to confirm or dispute the estimates already presented in such detail in our Report which in the end we gouged out of the Minister of Power. These are absolutely conclusive and it is time that people stopped questioning the last 001d. by which nuclear power may be cheaper than coal-fired power stations.
I know that this is not popular with all hon. Members, perhaps including the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Gins-burg), but sooner or later I think they will accept it. Even Lord Robens 1002 admits that we may have a fast reactor which will be the mainstay of our electricity programme. It is admitted that it will happen in a few years' time. To that extent inflation, or its importance, has not altered the decisions this country has had to take in the last few years, particularly with the A.G.R. and the second nuclear power programme.
I echo everything said in this debate from the Chairman of the Committee onwards by all who have spoken, that it is most disappointing that it has taken seven months since the publication of the Report to come to this debate and that the debate has taken place at such an odd hour so that we have to stay on after 10 o'clock when other hon. Members who would like to take part have already been exhausted by the terrible programme of work put on us by the Government during the past week.
I do not want to be controversial because this is not the time and place. I pay tribute to the work of the former Leader of the House in the establishment of the Committee and the other Specialist Committees. I have always been an admirer of his, unlike some hon. Members on this side of the House, and thought that the instigation of the new Select Committees owed a great deal to his inspiration. But if we are to have them, do not let the Government put debates on their Reports at a quarter to eight in the evening. Let the Government give them a full day, and not wait for seven months after the Committees have reported.
I realise the difficulties of the main questions with which the Committee had to deal and the need for the Government to take time to come to their conclusions. But as the hon. Member for Bristol, Central said, we could have had the debate immediately after it reported, because nothing the Minister said tonight was new. I could get more information from a single edition of Nucleonics Week than from the whole speech of the Minister tonight. If we are to say that the power of Parliament has been restored by the creation of the Select Committee system, the Parliamentary Secretary should carefully consider the following points.
We talk about equality of information in another context. We speak about the 1003 mistakes which have been made in the Government's relationship with the aircraft industry because some people have been in possession of information which they have denied to the Government. Is not the same situation occurring now, even when we have these Select Committees, which are constitutionally empowered to demand all the papers they like from the Department and to summon Ministers to appear before them? But in a practical case we wanted a special document of material importance to the investigations on nuclear reactors. What happened? The Minister of Power refused to disgorge it until, as the hon. Member for Bristol, Central said, we had exhausted practically the whole of the armoury of powers available to us.
I am not criticising the Minister of Technology here at all, but some of his colleagues in the Cabinet. If the Committee is to be given the prestige which I am sure he thinks it should have, we must have a different attitude in the Departments. I hope that we shall not encounter the same kind of difficulties in the investigation we are doing now or future investigations that the Committee undertake.
That is enough of the controversy. I now come to the Report, with a preliminary remark about the curious investigation of the I.R.C. As I understand, there had been no conversations between the Ministry of Technology and the reactor industry from the date of our Report until somebody got the bright idea of using the I.R.C. as the go-between to find out what its reactions were to the recommendations. I saw quite a number of people in the consortia after the publication of our Report. Every time I asked them if anvone had been to see them from the Ministry or the Atomic Energy Authority to discuss the Report with them and see whether they wished to express any views I was told by everyone in every single one of the companies that they had not heard a word.
My understanding of recent events is that the I.R.C. was commissioned to undertake the investigation only about three weeks ago and casually got in touch with the consortia and said that it would like to chat with them to sound out their opinions. This impression was not re- 1004 moved by anything the Minister said tonight. Everybody knew that the consortia were opposed to the major recommendation of the Select Committee that there should be a single nuclear boiler company, and, obviously, the task was, as the Minister confirmed tonight, to find out whether there was any possible alternative which they might like to put forward.
On the question of the organisation of the industry, I do not depart in theory from the view I expressed at the time that the ideal would be a single organisation to construct and export nuclear boilers from the whole of the United Kingdom. The arguments for that on theoretical grounds are indisputable. I shall not go into that in detail but, first, there is the limited size of the programme coupled with the increasing size of units ordered by the C.E.G.B. and the South of Scotland Electricity Board. We have already reached 1,200 megawatts and are shortly to go to 2,400. Possibly there may be even larger stations in future. Each company, we calculated, would only receive orders about once in four years, unless one reduced the number of organisations competing, with the size of the programme we could contemplate on the near and medium term view.
Secondly, there are the marginal benefits which have been derived from internal United Kingdom competition in the past. I make a distinction here, as the hon. Member for Bristol, Central did, between internal competition in the United Kingdom and the threat of competition from the United States in particular, but from Western Europe to a lesser extent.
Thirdly, there was the difficulty one would have had in sorting out and sharing the research and development facilities of the companies if more than one group remained and we adopted the kind of solution advocated by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) whereby much more of the research and development would be done in the industry and much less in Government establishments.
Fourthly, and very important, there is the need for a very powerful assault on the export market, which might only be possible with a very large grouping. 1005 I do not go along with some of the criticism of the industry's export performance in the past. One must give weight to the fact that, for many years, it did not have a saleable product. The Magnox reactor was in advance of its time when first produced, but we did not move quickly enough to the second stage and in the late 1950s and early 1960s there is no doubt that the Magnox system was not competitive with the American light water reactors. To that extent, one cannot blame the consortia for the poor export performance of past years.
Also, in favour of a single organisation is what has been happening in other advanced technological industries. In computers, we have the new grouping of I.C.L. and in aero engines the amalgamation of Bristol-Siddeley and Rolls-Royce. It is curious that, as far as I am aware, no one criticised those arrangements when arrived at. Every one said how splendid it was that Rolls-Royce and Bristol-Siddeley should get together and that there should be a much larger computer grouping, for the reason that competition was never really internal but was always from the other side of the Atlantic.
At the same time, having said all this, I realised at the time of the hearings that there would be some practical objections to the Committee's solution. The C.E.G.B., the industry's principal customer, was resolutely opposed to a single nuclear boiler company and we know that the three consortia do not like the idea also, although Atomic Power Construction proposed a solution in which there would be a single design organisation for reactor cores. Probably the House does not want to be bored with details of the difference, but there is a substantial difference between a single design organisation for reactor cores and what we talk about in the Report—a nuclear boiler company.
I agreed with Lord Penney that, in the last resort, we could not force the construction industry to accept the solution of a single nuclear boiler company and that we could only achieve this by persuasion. Since the Committee reported, a new factor has caused me to modify my opinion. This is the international groupings which are in process of being formed by Atomic Power Construction and the 1006 Nuclear Power Group. In the short term, the establishment of these links with the Continent, which I support, might be jeopardised if we insisted on the recommendation of the Committee for the creation of a single United Kingdom company.
For this reason, firms which are competing against each other, for example in Germany or Italy, might not wish to be associated with the same United Kingdom partners. On balance, we ought to be pragmatic about this, and attempt to secure a reduction to two design organisations, two nuclear boiler companies in the United Kingdom, as our immediate objective. In view of the difficulties of apportionment of R. & D. facilities which I mentioned as one of the arguments in favour of a single organisation, this would mean that the Atomic Energy Authority's R. & D. facilities would have to remain under its control.
There is no reason why design teams working on the steam generating heavy water reactor and the gas-cooled reactor should not be transferred to these two new groupings, in return for which the Authority would expect, and be entitled to receive, a minority equity participation in each. I am no dogmatic opponent of an element of partnership if it can help oil the wheels, and I think it would in any regrouping of this kind.
It would be presumptuous of the House to say what elements should compose such new groups. One must agree that T.N.P.G. by itself is healthy enough to stand alone, whereas the other two consortia, which have not had an abundance of orders in the last few years, should be brought together. I put that out as a suggestion only. The exact form of groupings is a matter for discussion.
I turn now to discuss the development of reactor systems. Progress has been held up by the refusal of the A.E.A. to license manufacturers of steam generating heavy water reactors on the grounds that such arrangements ought to await reorganisation. I know that this was a valid reason, but I suggest that the sooner the industry gets on with the reorganisation of the kind which I have described, or some other agreement, which I hope the Minister will reach with them at the earliest possible date, then 1007 the sooner the industry can get on manufacturing and exporting the S.G.H.W. instead of leaving the whole of the work to the Atomic Energy Authority. Meanwhile, the Authority's policy of pursuing overseas sales of its own account is right, and I echo the hopes expressed by the Minister, that we shall very soon chalk up our first sale, to Finland.
I am convinced that we ought to do so, if the decision is made only on financial grounds, and politics do not enter into it. Incidentally, I was interested to see that, as part of the arrangements with the Finns, it has been suggested that the fuel and heavy water should come from the Soviet Union, not from the United Kingdom at all, and that, moreover, we would be prepared to offer to Finland a licensing arrangement under which Finnish manufacturers would be able to sell the S.G.H.W. behind the Iron Curtain. I would be interested if the hon. Gentleman, when he replies, would say whether that is part of the offer, particularly because this illustrates the point I made, that one can get more information from other sources on many occasions than directly from Ministers.
It must be admitted that the failure to sell advanced gas cooled reactors overseas so far has been disappointing. There has not been a great deal to choose between the A.G.R. and the American light water reactors in engineering costs. The European utilities have, in general, been brought up on water reactors, and have to be convinced that there is a substantial cost advantage to them in changing over, just as the C.E.G.B. would have to be convinced of a substantial cost advantage if it were to be persuaded to change over from gas-cooled reactors to water-cooled reactors.
The prospects for the A.G.R. sales in our principal overseas market, and in Europe, are not very exciting at the moment. It has further development potential, as we see from the reductions in capital and operating costs between Dungeness B and Hinckley B and Hinckley B and Hunterston B. The prospects of European orders, for the reason I have given, not because there is not merit in the A.G.R. system, but because water reactors are so strongly 1008 entrenched on the Continent of Europe, are not all that attractive.
If we are really going to beat the Americans—and I come back to the speech of the hon. Member for Bedford —we must press ahead with major improvements in the family of gas-cooled reactors, in which we have excelled and on which we have done much more work than any other country in the world. As he pointed out, the Select Committee was much impressed with the work that had been done on the Dragon high temperature reactor, and recommended that the development of that system should be intensified.
I have had a number of discussions with, for example, Mr. Stewart of the Atomic Energy Authority, and Mr. Rennie, of the Dragon team, and with leaders of the consortia, and I have become convinced that we could sweep the board if we went ahead with a commercial reactor based on the Dragon principle at this moment, and do not wait several years, allowing the Americans to overtake us and go ahead. At this very moment, the American Gulf General Atomic Company is in the process of building, or has firm plans to build, a 330 MW electrical high temperature reactor and is proposing to offer utilities firm bids for 1,000 MW electrical H.T.R.s at this moment. So if we do not take very firm decisions on this point now, there is a great risk that we shall be overtaken.
We understand that the Nuclear Power Group has offered a tender for an H.T.R. for the new station of the C.E.G.B. at Hartlepool, and my information is that its tender is substantially cheaper than any of the A.G.R. bids that have been submitted. I have no doubt that the C.E.G.B. will say that not enough experience has been gained with coated particle fuel elements for them to take the risk—I think it is a very small risk —that would be involved in ordering an H.T.R. at this stage.
I make two requests. The first should be addressed to the Minister of Power, and the second to the Minister of Technology. Let us, first of all, open the tenders as they do in the United States so that we can see, roughly, what is the comparison at this stage in time between H.T.R.s and A.G.R.s. Secondly, may I 1009 ask the Minister whether he would consider the Authority providing guarantees of fuel performance to the C.E.G.B. in this case, so as to get H.T.R. going, as the Atomic Energy Commission does in the United States for utilities who are ordering new reactor systems.
Another reason why I am equally enthusiastic with the hon. Gentleman about the H.T.R. concept is that ultimately we can eliminate the transfer of heat from one working fluid to another as we have to do in conventional nuclear stations, and use helium direct in gas turbines. This will lead to very substantial reductions in capital cost. There is work already going on in several countries on this concept, which might lead to spectacular reductions in ten years or so. Of particular interest to Great Britain is the work being done in Rolls-Royce, and also the work being done in Gűtehoffnungshűtte Sterkrade, in Germany, who are partners to T.N.P.G. in the European group which I have mentioned.
I wish that there were some sign of greater interest by the Ministry of Technology and by the Ministry of Power in this idea. For all I know they may be pursuing it, and I know that there are discussions going on behind the scenes between the A.E.A. and the C.E.G.B. on what should be done next. But I should like the Ministers to say a little more in public about what they think about this and about how they see the development going on in the next few years.
On fast reactors, if, as I have suggested, the practical considerations mean that for the time being we have two nuclear boiler companies, then, in my opinion, fast reactor development should be left in the hands of the Authority. I believe that we are correct in going only for a sodium-cooled prototype at this stage, and I strongly recommend that we do not embark on a diversification programme with a steam cooled prototype as well. This would be a tremendously wasteful use of the resources of this country. But what might be explored, if what I have said about the tremendous lead of this country in gas cooled technology is correct, is considering whether, with our European friends, we could embark or. the design and development of a gas-cooled prototype fast reactor.
1010 This is a distant concept, but it is one which we might begin to consider before it has commercial implications, when cooperation between different countries is much more difficult to secure. It is possible to get co-operation on something like C.E.R.N., in which there is no immediate financial advantage to be gained by one country or another, but once the stage of commercial exploitation has been reached, as with the sodium-cooled fast reactor, it is too late. I therefore beg the Minister to consider this suggestion seriously while development is still in the early stages.
As the hon. Member for Bristol, Central said, the Select Committee has already proved its worth. I hope that the Select Committee on Science and Technology is a permanent institution which will not remain in exactly its present form but will expand into other areas. If we continue with one Select Committee on Science and Technology, we will not cover the whole spectrum until the end of the century.
I hope that ultimately the Select Committee on Science and Technology will work more like the Estimates Committee, with a number of sub-groups, so that a number of investigations can be carried on simultaneously. With that improvement, I think that we would have a powerful instrument for Parliament which might, as the Minister said, ultimately redress the balance of power between Ministers and back benchers.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I again remind the House that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. I appeal, even if in vain, for reasonably brief speeches.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ Mr. David Ginsburg (Dewsbury)
I will make only a brief intervention, Mr. Speaker, in view of your plea. I agree with the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) that the Select Committee system has worked very well and has proved its value as a Parliamentary instrument. On first hearing, I would to be inclined to agree with the hon. Member that, in the long run, it will be impossible to work, say, 15 Members of Parliament covering an ever-increasing spectrum of subjects. The result would be that we would not deal with anything properly. I have a feeling that, in the 1011 end, one will have to specialise and take smaller groups of Members looking at select, finite topics.
If we reflect on the operation of the Select Committee, I think that we worked possibly too quickly in producing our Report. That is no disrespect to the Chairman and to my colleagues, but we were dealing, as we are in our current topic, with technologies and subjects which take us a considerable time to assimilate fully.
Speaking for myself, I felt that we were rather more on top of our subject in September, where we were digesting our Report, than we were in the months of March, April, May and June, when we were cross-examining and taking evidence from the various bodies concerned. It is, therefore, my view, without criticising anyone, that our Report would have been even better had we gone on rather longer than we did and if we had not been up against the deadline.
Therefore, although this is basically a harmonious occasion, it is inevitable that one is at least mildly critical of the Government for their delay in arranging this debate. Our hurry, acceleration and any badly-done loose ends, if there were any, were precisely because of their pressure. I am, however only mildly critical of the Government, because it is fair to say that we are all—the members of the Committee, the Government, the House as a whole and, of course, the Civil Service—learning how to live with this sort of Select Committee.
Reference has been made to the Ministry of Power and its delay. The Ministry of Power was singularly unhelpful at the time. However, I think that one should be charitable. I doubt whether the Whitehall machine is yet well geared, or possibly adequately staffed, to deal with investigations of this kind.
Although this has been an exceptionally harmonious and hard working Committee—and due and right tributes have been paid to its Chairman—there have been some differences of opinion, and I have on more than one occasion been in a minority.
The hon. Member for Orpington referred to energy policy. The fact that there have been differences in the Committee should again not blind us 1012 to a fairly large measure of agreement in its findings. The Chairman has already indicated that we were very much in agreement about the need for some sort of energy board at the Ministry of Power to get better co-ordination on policy. We also felt that some kind of special Parliamentary institution was desirable to oversee this area along the lines of the American Congressional Committee.
Despite some of the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Orpington on coal and nuclear costs, the only answer that I can give him is that, in the final analysis, we felt that it was necessary to have an independent agency producing an assessment of comparative energy costs. Although I represent perhaps a minority position on the Committee, I think that most of my colleagues would agree that we heard a tremendous amount by way of contradictory statements, and the more we probed the more difficult it became to reconcile those differences.
Again, as the Chairman indicated, we seriously considered the desirability— and perhaps if we had had more time we would have done this—of having an independent economic assessment of our own. But, because of the time factor, we had to abandon it. Therefore, we Came back to this particular recommendation. There is no doubt that the sheer fact of the coal-nuclear controversy renders an assessment of this kind necessary.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Orpington is back. I have so far discussed the ground which is basically common between us.
Having said that all these points cover a wide spectrum of agreement, I felt it necessary to disagree with the Committee in one portion of its Report —and I am on record as having divided the Committee on it—about the desirability of an increase in the size of the current nuclear programme. I felt, and still feel—and in some ways the speech of the hon. Member for Orpington confirms my view, because it was not a polemical, but a very constructive speech—that this was going too far. Though the technical achievements of the Atomic Energy Authority, to which tributes have been paid, have been outstanding, the House should remember that they have been achieved by an 1013 extremely costly investment in terms of scarce capital resources which have been put into it, and the economic pay off, unhappily, has been rather low.
With investment in the realm of £100 million to £200 million per power station, it is necessary for the Minister of Technology and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to scrutinise severely the present A.G.R. programme. With the present overloaded economy, examination is needed of the advantages of coal versus nuclear power, in the short run. I certainly have reservations against continuing with the A.G.R. programme and using resources which are not abundantly available, when most of the technical advantages have been gained, and the economic advantages vis-à-vis coal are negligible or non-existent.
Now, turning to structure, I agree with the Minister of Technology that we must not be too dogmatic about the future. I therefore welcome the inclination of the Government towards a more flexible solution for the industry's structure. The involvement of the I.R.C. was considered by the Select Committee before the final draft was produced. On reflection, I think it is a pity that we did not persist with this formula, which is what we are now doing, rather than go our separate ways.
My own view on the structure of the industry was relatively simple. There must be a measure of competition. If the competition is not British competition, then it will be foreign competition. Although I trust Ministers completely, I am reluctantly obliged to agree with the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) that, if the crunch came and it were a question of installing a continental or a foreign reactor system in this country rather than a British system, then the devotion to the principle of competition would be abandoned. For this reason I had my doubts and I could not go along with the majority recommendation for a single design authority.
§ Mr. Hooley
Surely the lesson of aircraft and computers is that competition simply is not "on" in this country. In areas of high technology it just is not possible.
§ Mr. Ginsburg
There are examples in the nuclear industry where competition has brought benefits. If my hon. Friend 1014 wants to consider a science-based industry where there are benefits from competition, he should look, for example, at the instruments industry and the drug industry, where there are advantages from competition.
§ Mr. Dalyell
What are we talking about? Are we talking about competition in fully-designed power stations, or competition in components?
§ Mr. Ginsburg
I think that we are discussing both. I should be happy to debate this topic at length, but there are colleagues on both sides of the House who want to speak, and Mr. Speaker asked us to be brief.
I conclude with a reference to Culham and fusion. I hope that the Minister has not closed his mind on this topic. It is an area of modest outlay with big potential economic pay-offs. This illustrates my reservations with regard to both the A.G.R. programme of this Government and the Magnox programme of the preceding Government, where we made the mistake of indulging in big capital outlays for possibly small economic dividends, whereas here we have perhaps the precise opposite—a modest expenditure at this stage and the prospect of substantial pay-offs in the long run. Given Britain's current economic problems I believe that that, on the whole, is the right way to approach the matter.
Therefore, when we consider the future of Culham I hope that the Minister will give great consideration to the possibilities.
§ 10.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
I was glad to hear what the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Ginsburg) said about Culham, to which I shall refer. I was also a Member of the Select Committee and have for many years been a supporter of the Specialist Committee system. This is one of the most important debates that we have had for a long time, and it is regrettable that it should have to take place at this hour of the night. The Report and the standard of the debate we have had provide a clear vindication of the Special Committee system and the need for the House to be able to investigate matters of scientific and technical policy and decision-making.
1015 I join with other hon. Members in paying tribute to the excellent way in which the Chairman—the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer)—conducted, and is conducting, our affairs. Without him, such an extensive Report and such a measure of agreement could not have been produced.
During the consideration of the Report I found myself in rather an unusual situation for a Member of the House. First, I have a large constituency interest in what we are discussing, in that I represent Harwell and many of those who work at Culham—although it is not in my constituency—and I am also a director of a boiler company, which is in the T.N.P.G. consortium and will be affected by the reorganisation that we have been discussing.
I am primarily concerned in this speech with the staff side of the Atomic Energy Authority and the need to come to decisions about the way in which the Authority will be affected by any reorganisation, whether along the lines of the Report or however the Minister may decide. In general, I believe, as the Minister said, that it is right to get more scientists from Government institutions and the Atomic Energy Authority involved in the exploitation of their discoveries.
As for Culham, the Minister will not expect me to be satisfied with his answer about not giving any reasons for his decision. I did not understand him when he said that the reasons for his decision were not scientific, but staff reasons. We may be able to consider this matter before the Select Committee, when I hope the Minister will explain what he means. It is a peculiar state of affairs when a major decision of this kind is made and the highly-qualified staff is not informed of the reasons, and neither is the House.
I understand that certain matters are confidential, but the question of the deployment of staff and the reasons why it was decided to say what has been said about the future programme cannot surely be so secret. I hope that the Minister will tell the Select Committee what the position is. I will not pursue that point further. I took it up two months ago, when my question was answered by the Parliamentary Secretary.
1016 I want to talk about staff problems in general, because I represent many of the staff of the Atomic Energy Authority. I do not want to speak for too long, because of what Mr. Speaker has just said. The whole reorganisation should be done in phases. I do not share the staff side's views about a single design organisation—I think that there should be two nuclear boiler companies—but I wish to represent some of their views.
For example, those two companies could absorb some of the staff from the Reactor Group at Risley and this change should come first in the interests of reactor development. Any proposals for changes in the Production, Engineering, Research and Weapons Groups should come afterwards and should be more long-term. I should like the Minister to decide that there should be two companies, and they could absorb some of the staff from the Reactor Group.
I hope the Minister will keep an open mind on this. It is a controversial matter, but I hope that this is the sort of conclusion which he will reach. This will mean that there will have to be a sharing of staff reductions among the consortia, the boiler companies and the Authority. And it will involve those engaged on commercial development, design and contracting. There will have to be a general reduction in staffs, which will affect both the private and the public rectors
Specifically with regard to the transfer of Reactor Group staff to private industry—this would be logical in view of what the Minister said—I have one or two questions. How will the conditions of the Authority staff be determined if they are transferred in this way? If the conditions are not the same, will the Staff side have the right to negotiate them with the boiler companies? There are some problems here. I have said that I am a director of one of these boiler companies, but in this instance I am representing the views of the A.E.A. staff, who are worried about how they will negotiate these conditions.
Another problem which will arise—I do not know to what degree, because the number in the reactor group at Risley who are likely to be moved is only about 600—is that those who wish to be transferred might be absorbed elsewhere in the public sector. This is also an 1017 important question. Another is that of pension rights. The Authority's superannuation scheme is much more flexible than those of other organisations, and this is a matter which is often discussed. It is important in this case particularly if there are similar changes in other groups in the Authority for the transfer of some staff to industry.
The Minister has the ultimate responsibility for the staff. Will he take overall responsibility for seeing what happens to them and for dealing with these problems? These are fair points about which the Institution of Professional Civil Servants is concerned. They are also concerned with knowing the division of functions between private industry and the Authority, but this is a wide subject. I cannot go into details in advance of the Minister's decision, but to ensure rapid progress in reactor designs there should be some competition between two design teams.
Some hon. Members have questioned this, but the C.E.G.B. has made it clear that, if it is to be the customer, it must have a choice where there are still possibilities of modification in design in the nuclear "island". There must in fact, be some competition. Despite the majority recommendation of the Committee, the Minister will know that it also said, in paragraph 141, that the C.E.G.B. must… invite tenders from abroad in respect of nuclear boilers".This has been referred to elsewhere and I think that the Committee envisaged competition in that respect.
Of course, if we are to capture a share of this market the need is to improve reactor systems, and the big question that has to be decided is who is to control their development in the future? Is this to rest in the Authority, or would it come under the two nuclear boiler companies? I am assuming that the latter is the best and most practical form of solution.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is it the hon. Member's view that it is also the most suitable form for the development and exploitation of the fast reactor?
§ Mr. Neave
Yes. I do not think there is any doubt that this could be done. I think that the question of licensing will come in here, and that the question of 1018 basic information being given on both the fast reactor and any other type of reactor to these two private industrial organisations is the cardinal thing. This is what has got to be done. This organisation could apply to the fast reactor, and both companies should have the basic information about the fast reactor in regard to development.
Then there is the question what should be the functions of the design team at Risley and what should be the function of the nuclear boiler companies. At the moment, the headquarters design team at Risley decides the trends in design and the work carried out by those doing the testing and prototype work.
Surely this ought now to pass to the nuclear boiler companies, in which it is suggested there would be A.E.A. financial participation? I agree to that, and I think this could come about. It is, after all, a case of marketing the best reactors, and this should be done on a commercial basis through the companies.
I think that the companies, since the U.K.A.E.A. could have a financial participation as I have suggested, should direct the work at Risley of the Research and Development Laboratories and prototype work which should continue to be done by A.E.A. personnel.
This is only a sketch of what I think is possible here, and I hope that the Minister will give it his careful consideration.
One or two other points before I sit down. The Staff Side found our proposals for the Authority—what they call the fragmentation of the Authority, very disappointing. Perhaps it is fair to say that we did not consider in much detail some of the dividing up of the Authority which we recommended. We did not have time to do that. What would be the position, for example, of Harwell in the Research Group, in the light of the recommendations we made and the two boiler companies?
On publicity, I think it rather unfortunate that the newspaper comment should be only about the consortia, about the industry, and that so little information comes to the staff. They are rather disturbed about this because they can only get information by leaks to newspapers as to what is happening in the private sector of the industry.
§ Mr. Benn
I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising this point. It is not perhaps surprising that when the matter was the subject of internal discussion in the Government there were no leaks in the papers, but when discussions began with the industry rumours inevitably began circulating. But I am not anxious to encourage rumours about any consequential changes there might be, because the future of the Authority along the lines the hon. Member has mentioned depends on the settlement first of the relationship between the consortia and those parts of the Authority not in the defence field.
§ Mr. Neave
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that leaks to the newspapers are solely on the part of industry. But I think it is very bad luck on the staff of the Authority that they should not get more definite information sooner.
They are in a state of uncertainty, and have to rely on what they see on television and what they read in the newspapers. The Committee took the view that the Authority should, in principle, concentrate its effort on pure research and development and left the Minister to decide how that should be done. Harwell is concerned with nuclear fuel, work on research and development connected with reactor systems, and non-nuclear work. The Institution of Professional Civil Servants has rightly pointed out that many of these functions overlap, and it will be quite difficult to clarify this position. But the Institution should not oppose all reorganisation, and I do not believe that it does. It is clear that some major rationalisation of the Authority must take place.
If work on reactor systems at Risley is to be rationalised as I suggest, with part of the Risley group working with private industry, but the basic work— the testing and prototype work—still being done at Risley by Authority staff, the same principle could be applied, linking up with the boiler companies on the work now being done at Harwell. This would all be a substitute for the major recommendations of the Committee that this should all be done by a single organisation, with which I do not agree.
I do not think that much has been said tonight about the joint company for fuel. I cannot see any objection 1020 to this, because I believe that the industry should be brought further into the question of fuel supply and manufacturing, and there is no suggestion in our Report that the Atomic Energy Authority would lose control over manufacturing and processing. I do not think that it would, and I cannot see any real objection to the proposal in the Report.
I understand that there is to be an inquiry into the Weapons group at Alder-maston, which is important in the defence field. I hope that the terms of reference of the Working Party under the chairmanship of Lord Kings Norton will be made known to the Staff Side. Will the right hon. Gentleman publish its report? We do not want a repetition of what happened at Culham, where highly-qualified staff cannot be told of reasons for a major policy decision.
We need quick decisions, but not all at once. We need more flexibility in the approach to the problems both of the Atomic Energy Authority and industry.
Many hon. Members have mentioned the question of exports. The Nuclear Power Group, in which I have already declared my interest, has already formed an international company with German, Belgian, Italian and French companies. If the nuclear boiler companies are permitted to do this, do we need a special export organisation? It was not known at the time to the Select Committee that the Nuclear Power Group would do this, certainly not when it referred to the situation in paragraph 141. Do we need this special superstructure of an export organisation? We certainly need the Government's backing and the prestige of the Atomic Energy Authority for exports but we shall have that in view of the links and the partnership proposed between the Authority and private industry.
For all these reasons, the most likely proposal to succeed on practical grounds is that of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price), which he made as an amendment to paragraph 130. With the other suggestions I have made, and this would permit a healthy nuclear industry, and scientists and others employed by the Atomic Energy Authority would see that they have a worth-while future.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
I would like to join every other hon. Member who has welcomed the debate. At that point, I would like to contract out of the mutual admiration which has gone on so far.
Looking at the clock, I see that it is now 39 or 40 hours since most hon. Members got out of bed to come to the House. This is a measure of the problems from which hon. Members suffer and, indeed, it is a reflection of the attitude of the Government and the priorities which they give to matters of this sort.
Reference has already been made to the wisdom of hon. Members. While it may not be that we have the wisdom of owls, we have to have their nocturnal qualities. The Minister comes along in the early hours to entertain us with this new parlour game of find the policy. I do not think that any of us have to be expert detectives to see that what he was saying meant a complete abandonment of all the recommendations in the Report. The Government have sold out. The Minister knows that that is true. They have rejected the Report and that is comparatively easy to see from tonight's debate.
There is a shortage of time, otherwise I might have had a word to say about the mid-term Labour Party manifesto, because in that document we should have some reference to the debate. This is what the argument is all about. I once believed that the Labour Party was setting out on an imaginative trail; that it was in search of a new approach to technology and how to harness our scientific resources to our needs.
This is not very evident from what the Minister has had to say up to now. However, I hope that the manifesto includes some ideas on the development of the Labour Party. The Prime Minister has said that the fight back is on and I hope that it will include the facts that the Select Committee has established.
The Committee was extremely successful in its investigation in to the past. It made some devastating revelations, but the weakness of this kind of Committee is that it is not capable of formulating ideas about the future. This is where I disagree with many hon. Members about 1022 Select Committees becoming an integral part of our Parliamentary procedures, in terms of formulating policy.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will my hon. Friend understand that we who spent a great deal longer than he did working week after week on the Committee sittings, and sweating through our documents, resent the fact that he says we did not talk about the future? Will he belt up?
§ Mr. Atkinson
My hon. Friend suggests that I belt up. Because of the degree of consensus, people in the country are not able to recognise the difference between the two sides of the House on major issues of policy. It is time we recognised the problems implicit in this idea of Select Committees. The purpose of much of the discussion was to form a consensus. Hon. Members have referred to the degree of closeness between the two sides.
§ Mr. Hooley
Can my hon. Friend not recognise that one may arrive at a consensus without setting out to do so? The facts of the situation may produce a consensus where there was no initial intention of arriving at one.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) said, as part of the consensus, that he wanted to get rid of the consortia, but not before the year 2000 or some future date. He says that we should get rid of it, but not get rid of it today.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Will the hon. Gentleman at least be accurate if he does me the compliment of quoting me? I said that the consortia should be phased out.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. We cannot have debate by intervention. We have had a large number of interventions. Mr. Speaker has appealed to hon. Members to be as brief as possible. I hope that hon. Members will refrain from making interventions too frequently.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I think that we might introduce a little debate into this stage of development.
Perhaps I can come now to an equally controversial matter—the question of the attitude of the Treasury and the Foreign Office. There were 14 members of the Committee. Irrespective of the promise made by the Lord President of the Council about having delegation rights and adequate money available, it finished up with about six members taking part in the delegations. This is similar to what happened to the promise made about having a full day's debate on the Report. Even those hon. Members opposite who wish to see Select Committees developed will agree that there should be a different attitude from the Treasury and the Foreign Office.
The main issue is that basic politics, and this is the complete abolition of the consortia system—a system which the evidence to the Committee proved to have been a complete failure and a most expensive failure at that. It has cost the nation many millions of pounds which will never be regained. Hon. Members opposite often accuse the Government of incompetence. They should recognise their share of the guilt in this case, because it was their idea. They are the guilty men responsible for having created a system which has robbed the nation of so many millions of pounds. In view of the rapidity with which hon. Members opposite hurl accusations of incompetence at us, it is right that the nation should recognise where the guilt lies in this sorrowful tale.
There should be complete abolition of the system of consortia. Let us start to exploit our resources and inventive genius and science and understanding. But we shall not do it with such a system. That core of the Report is an extremely important political issue. I join with my colleagues on the Committee in calling for nothing short of the setting up of a single design organisation consisting of the A.E.A. and the C.E.G.B. together with the commercial interests which have taken part so far. That organisation would be capable of 1024 the research and development and construction of power stations both here and abroad. That is the basis of my conclusion as a result of the evidence presented to the Committee. I hope the Government do not deviate from that and accept it as the central principle on which they will design the future of the nuclear industry.
I hope that the Government resist in every way possible the suggested dispersal of the fuel manufacturing industry through its passing into private hands or through having some sort of association in which the A.E.A.'s control would become divisible with private interests. I believe that the setting up of a single design organisation of this kind is in line with the Minister's own thinking, for he has talked of these new concepts as being the way where public ownership of industry may not be applicable and where other means must be found. The concept of a single design organisation has those possibilities.
We have discussed this throughout the Labour movement; we have talked of "duoploy"—"diaploy" I would prefer, but here is a new concept for the reconstruction of the industry. The lessons to be learned from these ideas may be applicable in this case. Time does not permit the deployment of these ideas more fully now, so I would ask: what did the Committee discover?
I have talked about the failure of the consortia system before tonight; and I have said that it has cost a great deal of money. Some time ago I estimated that that cost was about £40 million because of the failure and, as a result of some of my comments, The Times found it necessary to publish an apology on 16th February last. I quote from a column headed:Sir Robert McAlpinc and SonsThe Times stated:On February 13, The Times reported a statement made by Mr. Atkinson, M.P. for Tottenham, that not one tender had ever gone out for the construction of Dungeness B, Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B nuclear power stations, and that the civil engineers connected with the consortia which designed and built these power stations 'wrote out their own contracts and filled in their own cheques'.Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons, Ltd. ask us to point out that they consider this statement to be unwarranted and that in fact, in the case of Dungeness B and Hunterston B, 1025 the electricity boards concerned put three quite independent consortia, the Nuclear Power Group, Atomic Power Constructions and Nuclear Design and Construction, into competition for the design and construction of the entire projects. As a result of competitive tendering, the contracts were won by Atomic Power Constructions and the Nuclear Power Group respectively.In the case of Hinkley Point B, the contract was placed by the Central Electricity Generating Board with the Nuclear Power Group after extremely hard negotiations.The civil engineering work at Hunterston B and Hinkley Point B was sub-contracted by the Nuclear Power Group to Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons, Ltd., the building and civil engineering member of the consortium.No reflection on Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons, Ltd., was intended and we regret any embarrassment caused to them.I do not think that The Times had any need to regret what it originally published.
Why do I say that? I will deal briefly with those three stations. First, Dungeness B. This was the subject of competitive arrangements between the A.P.C. and the N.P.G. The General Electric Company of America was tendering, but the Government knew at that time that it was not possible for the Government to accept an American contract of this sort and not possible to introduce an American system in conjunction with the A.P.C.
There was no secrecy about this. Everyone knew it. Therefore, that particular tender was never on.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Had it been accepted it would have been the end of the A.G.R. programme, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. It would have completely killed nuclear development in this country. The tender could not possibly have been accepted. That left one other— A.P.C. The civil contract for the civil engineering in that was done by Balfour Beatty, who did not compete against anyone. It was asked to submit its price for doing the job in the event of A.P.C. getting the contract. It was not competitive in any way and, therefore, Balfour Beatty was not competing. All this nonsense about competition—there was no competition. Having eliminated T.N.P.G. tender, we then got down to this arrangement with Balfour Beatty, with no competition whatever.
1026 What happened at Hinkley Point B, because of the situation in the industry at that time? The C.E.G.B. asked the Nuclear Power Group if it would negotiate a contract. It was the only firm available to do the work, it was said, and the C.E.G.B. would be agreeable if T.N.P.G. would submit a contract on a tender 10 per cent. less than the price of Dungeness B. Robert McAlpine did the work. I am not blaming him or any individuals; it is part of the system. So it handed in its tender for 10 per cent. less, and there was no competition whatever because there was no competitor. This was accepted. Therefore, McAlpine's, being part of T.N.P.G., in competition with no one, was able to submit the price agreed.
§ Mr. David Price
The hon. Gentleman has been talking to the House as if there were only two tenders for the Dungeness B power station. If he looks at the papers of the Select Committee, he will find that T.N.P.G. put in a tender for A.G.R. as well as did N.D.C. So the whole of his argument falls to the ground.
§ Mr. Atkinson
This is not so. I have carefully studied the whole of the position. This is not borne out by the facts. I ask the Minister to justify the situation. If that was so T.N.P.G. was then submitting a tender based upon the American system which he knows was not acceptable.
§ Mr. David Price
With great respect, if the hon. Gentleman had attended the Committee a little more, and read the papers more, he would have known the facts. He can look at the document published by the C.E.G.B., giving the breakdown of relative tender prices. It is perfectly true that T.N.P.G. did submit one tender, based on the American light water reactor. It also tendered one on the A.P.C. principle. The hon. Gentleman will recall that many days were spent in taking evidence about the 18-rod system done by T.N.P.G. and N.D.C. and the 36-rod system done by A.P.C, which was one of the factors that technically persuaded the C.E.G.B. that theirs 1027 was better. It is absolute rubbish for him to present to the House, particularly to hon. Members who were not there, facts that are not true, when he knows that they are not true.
§ Mr. Atkinson
The facts that I have given the House are borne out by all the information and evidence which is available.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I have read the papers. If my hon. Friend will contain himself a little longer, and be a little more consistent with some of the statements he made in the Committee it would be better. There was no competition, and the record proves it.
But there is another point that came into this, and that was the question of replication. The C.E.G.B. was saying at that time that there could be no possible replication at all. That was out. That is one of the reasons why the T.N.P.G. was not interested in the first contract, because it was concerned with the meat on the bone that was to come later. So far as A.P.C. was concerned, I remember Colonel Raby talking about this and he was told that there were to be no replicated stations. But what have we got? The final two stations are Chinese copies, apart from a very minor detail. So the rules were changed halfway through the game.
But let me deal with Hinkley Point, which was a negotiated contract at 10 per cent. less than the price accepted for the first station, Dungeness B. Would the hon. Gentleman contradict that? Therefore, there was no competition for either, and he knows that there was not. Then what happened when the rules were changed, so far as Hunterston B was concerned? The third contract was accepted on the basis of the first one being a replicated station. Is that not true? Are those two stations not replicas? Are they not Chinese copies, despite the denials of the C.E.G.B. in the beginning that it was ever to have 1028 a replicated station? The nation had to pay the price for building three stations with no replication whatsoever.
§ Mr. David Price
Would the hon. Gentleman just tell me at what point the C.E.G.B. placed a tender for Hunterston B?
§ Mr. David Price
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not confuse the South of Scotland Board and the Central Electricity Generating Board.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would get some of his facts right. The Scottish Board and the C.E.G.B. worked together. The same experts were employed in having a look at the tenders. They did the same work; the same analysis was done by the same people. Hon. Members may shake their heads about this, but we must face facts here. What I am saying is that the whole system of consortia has failed and that the argument that hon. Members opposite use, that there should be competition in the industry, is nonexistent. As a result of that situation the nation has paid at least £40 million for the experience. This is what I object to, and that is what I am saying is wrong.
I should very much like to mention a number of other matters, which was my original intention, but I recognise that at this late hour of the night I may have aroused sufficient interest to prolong the debate. But, none the less, I return to the theme on which I started. I believe that this is a tremendous opportunity for the Labour Government to say to the nation that they mean what they said in the beginning; that they had some new ideas about industry, that we were not prepared to tolerate what had happened in the past, that we would harness the technological resources of our nation to the needs of our time. To do that, I believe that the Government should stick by their guns and set up a single design authority.
§ 11.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) flatters himself if he thinks that he has raised the level of interest in this debate. His level of 1029 accuracy is no better, if I may say so, than his record of attendance at this Committee, which, I understand, was something like 18 out of 36 meetings. Certainly, the hon. Member is the only one of all the Committee who brought what I would term an ideological approach to technology. He seems to have confused his approach to technology with the Marxist dialectic, which holds that you cannot get any progress in any direction without contradiction.
The hon. Member was certainly doing his best to introduce the contradiction, but he is a little short on the conclusions. As his experience in the Committee progressed I had some hopes that he might modify this approach. But it is very clear from his speech this evening that those hopes have been disappointed, and I have no intention of wasting the time of the House by following him any further.
I should like to join with my colleagues in expressing my congratulations to our Chairman, the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), and to say that if the rest of us could leave this place in the knowledge that we had accomplished any one important Parliamentary task as well as he has this, then we should be well satisfied. I do not think that this important Committee could have been better piloted during its early and critically-important months, and I have nothing but admiration and gratitude for his perception and understanding. I should like also to echo what my hon. Friend said earlier and offer my thanks to Mr. F. G. Allen, the Clerk of the Committee, and the Library staff for everything they did for us.
It is a pity, as many of my hon. Friends have said, that we had to divide on, perhaps, a main conclusion in the Report, but, equally, I agree with the Minister that we should not be too dismayed by this. We should face it.
I should like to begin by singling out two points from the long Amendment which was put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price), which seemed to me to be the most telling and to lie at the heart of the view that we take about the need for competition and more than one nuclear boiler company. I refer to the second and third reasons, the second being that 1030to change to a single nuclear ' boiler' company in which the A.E.A. would be dominant, even if it were not the majority shareholder, would be contrary to your Committee's proposal in paragraph 127".This is indeed an inconsistency.
Paragraph 127 stated thatany reorganisation of the nuclear industry in Britain should have as its aim the more effective concentration of the Authority's effort on fundamental research and the commencement of competitive activity by industry at an earlier stage than is now the case.I heartily agree with that. I am sure that the Committee was right and I cannot accept that the recommendation on structure follows from it.
The third reason in the Amendment reads:Committee have recommended in paragraph 125 that ' the aim should be to eliminate any air of mystery surrounding a nuclear power station and to treat its construction as a normal industrial job', and have recommended that 'the generating Boards should regard themselves as free to place orders for nuclear stations in the same way as they now do for other types of power station'. In these circumstances it would be somewhat perverse if your Committee were to recommend the establishment of a single nuclear ' boiler' company.The concept of taking the mystery out of nuclear power engineering is an extremely important one, and, again, I submit that the conclusion on structure works against it.
We were, I think, in danger of tending to ignore the needs of the customer in favour of a monopoly manufacturer. I have hopes, from what he said, that the Minister is maintaining an open mind about it. I have heard—I hope that I am right—that even since evidence was taken by the Committee, the senior staff of A.E.A. equally are, having second thoughts about the wisdom of the single nuclear boiler company.
As an outsider to the industry—and I was certainly that—what struck me as particularly remarkable in the long work that we did was the success which the industry has had when one reflects that the start was made and based upon false premises.
As the Minister said, it is interesting to reflect that the nuclear power industry is an example of fall-out from military technology. The basis of the argument for the development was that fossil fuels would run out or supplies otherwise threatened, as in the case of oil. That 1031 did not happen. As time went on, the objective changed and there crept in the belief—in fact, it was stated as being certainly a subsidiary, if not a main, objective—that there was a large export market.
I agree now that it looks as though nuclear power will be competitive as to cost. I certainly agree, as we said in one conclusion, that it is unquestionably a more humane method of getting energy than coal from underground. I agree also with the conclusions that we should go ahead with development of the fast reactor, H.T.R. and S.G.H.W. That seems to be justified. I hope, nevertheless, that as time goes on the atomic energy industry will compete with other advanced technologies for available funds.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he was anxious to bring commercial considerations to bear right across the board in technology. I strongly agree with him, and perhaps the figures I am about to quote to the House might serve to illustrate the point.
When we came to examine the export position of the industry and B.N.X. I did my best to set the potential market against comparable advance technologies. I sought to do so again before the debate and to bring the figures up to date. One cannot guarantee figures of this kind, but I am satisfied that they are as near as one can get.
Taking the next decade, my understanding is that B.N.X. think that there is a total world market of about 50,000 megawatts. I think that it would be reasonable to expect this country to get a market share of around 10,000 megawatts. At £60 a kilowatt, this works out at £600 million overall for 10 years, of which about half would represent exports of hardware or know how from this country. Therefore, £300 million is the figure for 10 years.
Turning to the computer industry— and I am quoting from a forecast to 1976, which is nearly the same period— a forecast made by the O.E.C.D., in cooperation with Diebold International, I.D.C., Honeywell, Computer Consultants Ltd., and one or two other important and forward-looking firms, one finds a 1032 total value for computer installations from now to 1976 of £53,000 million. Of this, the non-American market share based on the present level and trend of sales, would be about £11,000 million. There is no reason why by that time, or long before, we should not be the second major supplier. Therefore, we could expect a large measure of that £11,000 million.
Turning to the other comparable advanced technology, the whole group of aerospace products—and I surely have no need to declare my interest again to the House—the S.B.A.C. survey for the next 12 years, which is slightly different from the decade, but not much more, believes that there is a firm demand for about 5,500 civil jets in that period. The value of these is difficult to assess, but it must be about £20,000 million. This is not counting avionics sales, missiles or military aircraft, the market for which is more than the civil, although the balance is beginning to adjust, or of space products. It is probable that the international investment in aerospace will be about £3,000 million to £4,000 million a year over the next decade.
That is enough to demonstrate that if we were looking at the Nuclear Power industry from the point of view of sales, we would find a drastic contrast between these figures for computers and aerospace products against the mere £300 million estimates of B.N.X. over the next decade. This is the sort of sum that I would hope perhaps Sir Solly Zuckerman's Committee would be doing —measuring the gain which the equivalent investment in other technologies with a bigger market compares to the gain which we should get through cheaper electricity in this country. It is this kind of computation which is surely their task and, in a sense, as time goes on, the task also of our Committee.
Finally, a word or two about the Committee itself, as opposed simply to our work on this one inquiry. It could be said, and has been said, that this is a disappointing debate. First, because it has been arranged rather inconveniently and late at night, and, secondly, because there are very few Members here who are not members of the Select Committee, and that, therefore, the impact of its work has not been what we might have hoped.
1033 Does this matter? To make a judgment it is important for every member of the Select Committee to have some idea what the objectives are. I suggest two. First, it is a new, and should be a more effective, way of Parliamentary control and it will be more effective in proportion to the extent that we concern ourselves with current policy and with future achievement rather than with what has happened in the past. The second objective might be described as to disseminate greater knowledge of these problems to Parliament, to the Press and to the public, and as a result to improve the effectiveness of our debates in the House on technological matters.
We have made a definite, measurable and important advance towards the first objective. This is perhaps becoming clearer in the second inquiry than in the first. I am not so sure about the second objective. Here our achievement to date has been a little disappointing. Why the Press, apart from the technical Press, have not paid more attention, it is difficult to say. One reason may be, in the case of this inquiry, that we may appear to our colleagues in Parliament, and perhaps to the Press and the public, as simply another Estimates Committee with a report about the past at the end of the road.
There is a need to gear ourselves to be able competently and efficiently to tackle on an ad hoc basis the main decisions of the Government on technology. We should work towards this. We need a good running-in period before we shall be capable of doing this in any way which will not be directly harmful to the efficiency of Government, but, nevertheless, it is a goal which we should approach if we are to succeed in the objectives which I have outlined.
Apart from that, I am convinced, as are many right hon. and hon. Members of the value of this Committee and of the folly of treating our great technological projects on a party basis. If we continue to regard power stations and aeroplanes; as either Labour or Conservative, we deserve to fail. It is the greatest idiocy, and this is the first step towards getting over the hurdle. There is bound to be an area of party controversy about general policy, but of the need to work in common towards achievement I have 1034 no doubt, and I think that this Committee is a first and most important step.
We are dealing with the most formidable and vital problems facing the nation. They are not fully understood either by the public or within the Government machine. We have a chance to make a real contribution, and it is worth taking a few risks to achieve that objective.
§ 11.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I hope that the House will not regard it as an act of temerity on my part to intervene at this late hour in what has been so far a private discussion among the members of the Select Committee. I was not privileged to belong to the Committee, but I would emphasise that the Committee has served the House extremely well and ably not only in producing this extremely important document, but in the debate tonight.
I would single out for particular mention the speech of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). It was a masterly exposition, but it was also particularly interesting because of the movement in his opinion which has occurred since the Select Committee reported. I would have liked to hear him explain at greater length why he has taken the view that the fast breeder reactor with the water coolant should not be part of the projected programme in the future, in view of the interest which has been shown in it, especially in Germany. This is not a point of view which one can accept without a good deal more evidence being given.
I was also interested in the learned Member's having moved away from the position of the Select Committee in its principal recommendation that there should be one nuclear boiler company. In relation to fast breeder reactors the original recommendation of the Committee has much to commend it, because in this field above all there is a clear problem of transference of acquired knowledge.
Consequently, I found the original recommendation of the Committee extremely acceptable. Notwithstanding the obvious advantages of the development of the international contacts by the consortia, to which he referred, I am not clear that there is any inconsistency with this in the setting up of one nuclear 1035 boiler group in which the constituent parts of the consortium are represented and to which they will bring their international contacts. Perhaps the learned Member will explain this on some other occasion.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is my hon. Friend aware that some of those who recommended that there should be a single design authority were much influenced by their visits to Dounreay—in my hon. Friend's constituency—where it was explained that although one might write very good papers it was almost impossible to transfer experience, particularly frustrating experience, to people who could only write papers rather than take part in an innovation.
§ Mr. Maclennan
My hon. Friend has expressed the point much more completely than I did. That is exactly my point.
The Committee is also to be congratulated on the timeliness of its study of this important subject. It has become almost universally accepted that at the end of the first successful nuclear programme—the completion of the Magnox production—it was time to re-examine the structure of the industry. There has been a basic assumption in the Report that there is a structural weakness in the nuclear industry. This appears to have been the premise on which many recommendations were made. I am not entirely satisfied that the Committee has successfully established that there is such a serious and fundamental weakness.
The Committee makes it abundantly clear that the nuclear energy industry has achieved the objectives which it was set in domestic production. The Committee concluded:… the original purpose of the nuclear reactor programme, which was to establish a new, low cost primary energy source for the British economy, is already attained.That is a glowing tribute.
It is in exports, however, that the industry has failed to satisfy those who have been studying it that it has achieved a full commercial international competitiveness. Because the recommendations of the Select Committee are extremely drastic, it is important to consider whether it got the reasons for this 1036 failure right. It cited three reasons in particular. The first was the types of reactor which had been available for marketing abroad, in particular, the un-competitiveness of the Magnox reactor and the unsuitability of the A.G.R. 600 megawatt, because of the high capital cost and the unsuitable size for Continental power systems.
The second reasons was a failure to match overseas market requirements and it placed some of the blame on the shortcomings of the B.N.X. It also referred to the duplication of effort by the con-sortia. I have no quarrel with these arguments, which are eminently reasonable and proven by the Committee, but there are some other reasons which go beyond the industry's structure. There are the political reasons which have made it difficult to export reactors. A recent example was the Argentine, where something apparently so remote from the industry as the foot-and-mouth disease was a makeweight against the British interest.
There have been other examples. For instance, in Spain political reasons appear to have militated against the British nuclear designs. There have also been, it is recognised, difficulties with finance, and there was the high-pressure salesmanship of our United State competitors. The Committee might have done better to concentrate its strictures on the industry's structure upon the role of the consortia, whose part in the export drive seems to have been less urgently pursued than that of the A.E.A. itself.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) referred to Lord Penney as a man not entirely apt to carry out these difficult tasks of marketing the product. With the very greatest respect to him I think that this is quite a misapprehension, and indeed Lord Penney's views have always seemed to me to be exactly in line with the kind of thrusting business enterprise one would expect, and which indeed is essential if we are to succeed in marketing our nuclear reactors abroad.
I have heard quoted—I do not know whether it is true—that he said on one occasion, "If they want their reactors painted red, then we shall paint them red". I cannot think of any more apt way to sum up what should be the policy 1037 thinking behind our nuclear programme than that short dictum.
There has been an incapacity to tailor the reactors to the market, and this stems not from a structural weakness in the industry but from the policy behind the work of the Authority, which has been to meet the domestic needs. This situation has changed only comparatively recently. In fact, the only export successes we had were about 10 years ago, when we exported two Magnox reactors, one to Latina and one to Japan, and these efforts were the result, as I see it, of a rather fortunate technological spin-off. They were not in any sense tailor-made projects, and the Japanese one seems to have had a rather unfortunate aftermath.
I would suggest to the House that in considering the future structure of the industry it is appropriate to consider whether or not it is really the structure that has been at fault. None the less I do find some grounds for criticising the consortia which I think have displayed much too little aggressiveness in the marketing of reactors.
There are, of course, very good reasons why this should be so. The profits of exporting reactors, particularly to the developed countries which have been in a position to consider becoming customers, must inevitably at this stage be derived chiefly from licensing, as the manufacture and construction have for very understandable reasons been undertaken locally, and will undoubtedly continue to be so.
§ Mr. Palmer
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Would he not agree that perhaps one reason why the manufacturers have had these difficulties in dealing with overseas customers is because under the present structure they have had to refer so much back to the A.E.A. which, under the present structure, does the original design and much of the early industrial development?
There has always been a dual approach between the contractor trying to sell the reactor, and the background approach of the A.E.A. itself.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Yes. I accept that point, and I think that it is a perfectly valid one. I will come on to the question of the proper structure, because I do accept that there is a need for change. 1038 What I doubt is that this goes to the root of the question.
In criticising the consortia, however, I believe that the fact that they have not been able to have any part in fuel sales is another factor that has led the consortia to be less thrusting than they might have been. Fuel and the fuel-processing facilities are owned by the Authority. A further very important factor is that the consortia have had extremely good domestic business—about £250 million per annum up until 1970, possibly doubling in the next five years. That is a cushioning for the consortia and does not provide the kind of spur to export for which one would look.
The recommendations of the Committee on the restructuring of the industry are drastic: the disbandment of the consortia, the division of the Atomic Energy Authority, into four parts, and the confinement of the Authority in its own operations to the two non-commercial parts—the weapons production and the so-called pure research and development. I doubt whether it is possible to draw such neat lines of distinction between the work that has been undertaken by the Authority. One needs only to consider the different types of work undertaken at the establishments at Aldermaston and Harwell to realise that the borderlines are not entirely clear.
The point has been made by the Institution of Professional Civil Servants that much of the continuity of work at Aldermaston has been safeguarded by the capacity of the Minister under Section 4 of the Science and Technology Act, 1965 to direct non-nuclear work to the Authority to take up the slack when it occurs. The divisions of non-nuclear work at Harwell are even more considerable than at Aldermaston.
It is disappointing that the Government have delayed so long in holding this debate. This was quite unjustifiable. Many of us have been pressing for a debate on the subject for many months, and the explanation was given more than once by my right hon. Friend the then Leader of the House that it would be appropriate to have the debate when my right hon. Friends the Minister of Technology and the Minister of Power were in a position to give us their considered opinions on the Report. We have had the debate at last, and we have 1039 not had these considered statements from the Minister of Power or the Minister of Technology before us.
However, I am glad that the Government have indicated—if not so clearly tonight, at least in a speech in another place—that they accept the view that the benefits of competition in the nuclear field can be over-rated. They have acknowledged the disadvantages of the consortia competing and the wastefulness which this would mean for the unsuccessful consortium in tendering for these extremely expensive contracts when there are so few orders. The point also has to be made in support of the argument for one nuclear boiler company that it is extremely confusing for the potential customer abroad to be presented with three different consortia's proposals with minor modifications of similar reactors.
The relationship proposed by the Committee between the A.E.A. and the personnel of the consortia is extremely imprecise. This is understandable and it is presumably to settle this that the Government are carrying on protracted and difficult consultations.
Only one reference has been made in this debate to the question of the splitting off of the nuclear fuel group from the boiler group. Here again there are cogent objections to the proposal of the Committee. It would seem to run counter to the Committee's view that it would be advantageous to purchasers to be able to deal with only one organisation. A further objection is that it is possible to offer to a potential purchaser a reactor at a promotional cost and to seek a profit from the subsequent supply of fuel elements. This point was made with trenchancy by Lord Hinton in another place. This aspect of the A.E.A.'s work has been conspicuously successful and has proved most profitable.
No arguments at all have been produced by the Committee for inviting private enterprise into this field. After all, taxpayers' money has been invested in hundreds of millions of pounds in the nuclear industry and there is every reason to look for a direct return to the taxpayer. Without more cogent reasons I would not welcome the splitting off of this work. It is also not practicable to draw a clear line. At Dounreay, which 1040 is in my constituency, work on fuel elements and reactor cores goes on almost hand-in-glove.
The break-up of the Authority would not be in the general interest of the country in promoting the exploitation of our nuclear resources. My right hon. Friend has laid great stress on this aspect of the Committee's work. There is room for rationalising the structure of the work already being carried out at various establishments of the Authority. The process has already begun. For example, at Windscale, there is growing concentration of the manufacture and development of plutonium fuel. The Fuel Development Group at Dounreay is in process of transferring there.
It may be that the decision to close the Dounreay Material Testing Reactor is in line with this internal rationalisation. But rationalisation does not necessarily mean centralisation. I would take strong exception to concentrating all basic nuclear research at any one establishment of the Authority.
There is a great future, in particular, for the fast breeder reactor and Dounreay should be the centre for all fast breeder reactor work not only in the sodium cooled but also in the gas cooled work.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of Mr. Speaker's plea for short speeches.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I apologise. While fully acknowledging the complexity of the issues, I put in a plea for some urgency in my right hon. Friend's resolution of these problems because not only is there the international competition we have to face, not only the opportunity to take advantage of our great technical skill and superiority in high temperature reactor and fast breeder reactor work and the S.G.H.W. There is also the important problem of maintaining morale in the industry. We all recall the episode earlier this year when Westinghouse made bids for some of our top personnel. It was to their great credit that they resisted these blandishments. Nevertheless, this remains an element in the situation.
My right hon. Friend was right to stress that the future of the industry depends upon the resolution of the question of structure, the relationship between the 1041 Authority and the consortia. Nothing can be decided finally until that equation is solved. At the same time, there is a developing situation within the Authority itself. It has led to some disquiet in my constituency and I believe that the longer the Minister delays the more disquieting will this situation become. The Government have the opportunity to translate our undoubted scientific and technological lead into an international commercial lead; but, if we lose that opportunity, it may well be that it is lost for a decade.
§ 12.21 am.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
After five-and-a-half hours of debate it may be convenient if I intervene at this stage. Other hon. Members wish to speak, but the night is young and time is unlimited, so I am not keeping out anybody else. Yet after, as I say, five-and-a-half hours, perhaps the House expects some few words from this Box.
I was most interested in what the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) has just said about exports and I will comment on that when I deal with the question of export markets; but I should like to make one or two general remarks first.
I find myself in something of a dual rôle tonight and also something of an embarrassing position because I am a member of the Select Committee and I am also speaking from the front Opposition bench as the spokesman for my party. Because I am a member of the Select Committee I cannot, therefore, join as a Front Bench spokesman should, with the Minister in congratulating the Select Committee upon its thoroughness, its conscientiousness, and its obvious intellectual grasp of many of the problems in our nuclear programme. Such congratulations are most clearly deserved, but hardly from me.
What I can do is to congratulate our Chairman, the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), upon the quite admirable way in which he handled the affairs of that Committee. As spokesman for the Opposition, may I thank the Chairman for his impartiality which, I think, was marked in his handling of the Press conference at which our Report was presented and when he drew attention to the minority view about the future of our nuclear engineering industry? Yet this 1042 has not prevented a number of even our more distinguished newspapers from presenting the majority recommendation as though it were unanimous and no alternatives were made.
I intended to talk of the work of the Select Committee, but this has been a recurring topic throughout this debate and, in view of the hour of the morning, this will have to be deferred; but I would make one observation. On this Committee, unlike any other before it, our terms of reference enable us to look into the future. Other such Committees have had to show great ingenuity about their references to the future and have often done so by commenting on the past; but we had no such inhibition at all. It was an unusual change and, in those circumstances, it was not surprising that, on the recommendation about the future structure of the industry, we disagreed; and we disagreed largely on party lines.
Our Report is none the worse for that. Indeed, it would have carried political consensus beyond the bounds of credibility if we had agreed on every aspect of every matter. I realise that the hon. Member for Tottenham does not like any consensus, even when it arises naturally No doubt he would have preferred it the other way round, that we might only have agreed on one point. I know he would have been much more contented.
There is one point which has not been made, although hon. Members have pointed out the delays in staging this debate—that the Minister has not been able to say a great deal today, that we have never had the Written Replies from Departments usual before such a debate. It is that there has been one body from whom we have had a formal written reply, and that is the staff side of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. I have an extremely formidable-looking document here, which bears a certain relationship to some things that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland has been telling us about. It is inevitable that in a debate of this nature, most speeches have been devoted to the weaknesses in our present arrangements, to proposals for strengthening those arrangements in the future.
Nevertheless, I do not think that we should overlook the massive achievement of this country in nuclear energy, starting from the early days at Harwell, before 1043 the A.E.A. was ever conceived. Viewed dispassionately, Britain has done remarkably well in being one of the international pioneers of nuclear energy. We cannot take the credit entirely, because the Americans and Russians are going ahead, but compared with any country smaller than those giants, we can really claim that we have pioneered this.
I was very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) paid the tributes he did. Our national purpose must be to build upon that success. I hope that all the criticism and changes put forward in this debate can be viewed against the background of a common purpose. It is because we know that past achievements are no guarantee of future achievements, that the tone of the debate has been one of constructive criticisms.
I want to turn to the nuclear energy programme, which is at the heart of everything. In my view, that is far and away the most important single factor determining the future of British nuclear activity. It is the scale and pace of our own domestic generating programme that determines all. I am sure that we were right to stress, in Paragraph 116:Your Committee wish to stress their strong conviction that the production of electric power by the processes of nuclear fission will in the future be seen to have been a great technological revolution which lifted mankind to a higher level of living. Britain must remain in the forefront of this revolution.I thought it a rather poetic passage, but it is true. Since we wrote our Report, all the evidence coming my way suggests that the nuclear programme is in danger of lagging, because decisions are being delayed. We will no doubt be told that this arises from our economic difficulties. I would point out that the heavy expenditure which arises from taking early decisions about the future scale and pace of the programme, will not arise until the early 1970s. Therefore, these decisions, if taken with despatch, in no way affect the two critical years 1968 and 1969 upon which the Chancellor tells us the success or failure of devaluation will depend. The current arguments about cuts in Government expenditure are not relevant to the time-scale against which these decisions over the industry's requirements should be made.
1044 The House will recall that we on the Committee drew attention to the economic advantage to the country of an increase in the size of the present nuclear power programme. We produced a good deal of supporting evidence in favour of it, not least of which was what we found in other industrial countries who produce for world markets in competition with the United Kingdom. Our two teams which went to America and Europe found a speeding-up in the construction of nuclear power plants, and there was no guarantee with present rates of progress that Britain would hold her lead in nuclear power generation. There was a very interesting figure quoted in our Report, that 60 per cent. of the orders for new power plant in the United States of America last year were for installations in nuclear stations. It is a formidable break-through in the ordering and installation of nuclear power.
Therefore. I ask the Government—and we have not had the advantage of any written comment from the Ministry of Power—what is their attitude to the Select Committee's proposal for an increase in the size of the nuclear power programme? We know that in the Government's fuel policy, which we received last November, they told us that they were going to adhere to the second nuclear power programme of 8,000 MW capacity to be installed and brought into commission between 1970 and 1975, and that that would be completed as planned. They also said:a third and larger programme would be initiated during this period for stations to be commissioned after 1975.The fuel policy was re-examined in the light of devaluation and I understand that it has come through that re-examination mainly unscathed. But we should like to know—and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us when he replies—that the Government adhere to their November statement that they are adhering to the second nuclear power programme of 8,000 MW by 1975 and to the concept of an increased programme thereafter.
The House will recall that, if we are to be able to phase in 1976 and 1977, the Government have at the most three years in which to make up their minds as to the shape and character of the increased programme after 1975. In the meantime, I have reason to ask of the Ministers whether the 1970–1975 programme is maintaining the necessary 1045 momentum in order for it to be properly phased through. We know that there are three stations ordered and therefore under construction. But is the position on the tenders submitted for Hartlepool and for Heysham? Those are each for 1,250 MW stations.
The decision should be taken soon. It also leaves the question of how and when the Government are to fulfil the remainder of the programme, which is of the order of 1,700 to 2,000 MW capacity. This can be done in a number of ways. It could even be done by one very large installation of 1,800 MW. But we should like to know where we stand on this.
There has been quite a lot of mention in earlier speeches tonight about comparative fuel costs. Mr. Speaker, as you know better than I do, that is a politically-ionised matter because of coal and the social problems involved in the rundown of coal output. On the Select Committee, we were satisfied that nuclear power had broken through. We accepted the view put to us by the C.E.G.B. and the S.S.E.B., that the A.G.R. programme is commercially cheaper than electricity produced by coal. Nevertheless, I appreciate that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Ginsburg), in particular, was not satisfied about the comon ground rules and methods of costing. I think we all had some doubts about that. We therefore asked for a special independent inquiry into it.
I should, however, point out that we had decided that that was the right approach and formulated our recommendation before a reluctant Ministry of Power had finally been persuaded to let us have both the Selsdon Park and the post-Selsdon Park figures. I do not know whether, had we had time to digest the figures and apply our collective minds to them, we might have slightly altered our recommendation concerning an independent inquiry.
What is clear, however, is that the purpose behind our recommendation is one to which we adhere. Whether it is done in the Government Departments, as, I think, the Minister of Technology suggested that it should be, or, as we proposed, independently seems to me to be less important than that it should be 1046 done and that the common ground rule should be known and realised.
At this hour of the night, I will not detain the House on the question of escalation of costs between the submission of a tender and the completion of a power station, but I have with me figures which, if the hour were earlier, I should very much like to give to the House of how the increase in the cost of Dungeness B has gone up and the reason why it has done so. One of the most important reasons, however, is the changing of the ground rules, such as increasing the d.c.f. rate after it had been agreed. If the House would like me to go into this, I should be delighted to do so.
§ Mr. Price
The hon. Member shows prudence.
I come, briefly, to reactor types. I was very interested in what both the hon. Member for Bedford and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) said. We in the Committee are quite clear that the high temperature gas-cooled reactor, the H.T.R., has been under-estimated by many people. Indeed, those of us who went round Europe found, as we mention in our Report, that it seemed to be more highly regarded on the other side of the Channel than it was here. We see considerable advantages for it.
We would like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary what attitude the Government will take to the continuation of the E.N.E.A. arrangement, assuming that the other countries are prepared to carry it on. I have heard rumours that Euratom is prepared to carry on and take it over with the British Government. Alternatively, if the original European partners are no longer interested, what are the Government's proposals? We would be anxious to see it continued by one way or another.
We also feel that the time has been reached when the industrial exploitation of this reactor system must go ahead with urgency. I was delighted to hear that one of the consortia had put in a tender for one of the new C.E.G.B. stations based on H.T.R. technology. This is very encouraging.
1047 The other reactor type, S.G.H.W., seems to us again to have been rather underestimated. We recommend that we should press ahead with it. It would have considerable merit for selling abroad. Why have not the consortia been brought in? I understand that this technology has been kept by the A.E.A. and that the Authority has not been able to share it with the consortia in the same way that it made A.G.R. technology available to British industry.
Then there is the long-term problem of industrial participation in the fast breeder reactor programme. One would hope that the structural changes in the industry will be made soon, because it could well be that until these are determined, the relationship between the fast breeder reactor team at Dounreay and the industrial consortia will be delayed.
The House will recall that in our Report we recommended that industry should be brought in earlier and more completely on prototype development. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) developed this theme quite a bit.
I remind the House that we recommended,… any reorganisation of the nuclear industry in Britain should have as its aim the more effective concentration of the Authority's effort on fundamental research and the commencement of competitive activity by industry at an earlier stage than is now the case.It is interesting, too, that our colleagues who went to America reported thatthe striking feature of the American structure is the integration of basic research, development and prototype construction, within commercial organisations which have to sell the product.I come now to nuclear exports. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland made, I thought, one or two good points. The real reason why, until recently, neither the consortia nor anyone else has been able to sell British nuclear reactors has been because the Magnox reactor was not competitive with the American light water reactors. The first two that were sold were before the American light water reactors were available on the world market. From the moment that they came, the Magnox reactor was not competitive. It was only when the A.G.R. came on the scene that we began to get back into the prospect, 1048 let alone the realisation, of overseas sales.
The hon. Gentleman will know that the A.G.R. is not easy to sell, for the reason that the economics of it only make sense when building large stations. It it also a fact that it is a better station in countries where capital is not too expensive and where some credit is given for the length of period that one amortises the station and, therefore, running costs become the relevant factor. We found that the people on the Continent of Europe who were considering buying these stations were far more concerned about the initial capital cost than about the total cost over the 20 or 25 years' life of the station. That is not to say that there are not hopes of our selling the A.G.R. But let the hon. Gentleman be under no illusions. Whoever tries to sell it—the Atomic Energy Authority, the consortia, or anyone else—it will not be easy to sell.
There is also the fact that we were fairly clear in our own minds, and we said so in the Report, that in the highly industrialised markets there is virtually no hope today of turnkey contracts for the United Kingdom and that any prospect of earning for Britain must be on a partnership basis.
I remind the House that we said:… if Britain is to sell successfully in European countries, it is imperative to acquire partners who are already established in the particular markets concerned and who have proved their commercial capabilities in that market.We went on to develop the further thought:Ultimately partnership arrangements in Europe should be on a permanent, rather than a single project, basis.Until we have done a little better in the highly-industrialised market, I do not think that we are likely to be successful in the less developed countries. They, on the whole, are not prepared to buy off the drawing board; they want to see these things working under different conditions. Also, I believe that the reactor systems that are the more likely to be successful in those places are not the A.G.R., but rather the H.T.R. and the S.G.H.W. That is why I come back to a point which has been very much in our minds on the Select Committee: that it is essential that, as soon as possible, an H.T.R. and an S.G.H.W. should be 1049 built in this country. We know that there are prototypes in the Authority, but I mean commercial ones.
Since the Select Committee reported, we have found that the T.N.P.G. has gone a long way towards developing a partnership with a number of European companies, with G.H.H. in Germany, Snam Progetti, in Italy, Belgo-Nucleaire in Belgium, Groupement Atomique Alsacienne Atlantique, in France. A.P.C. is already working with Brown Boveri in Germany, and now with Socia in France. N.D.C. has its arrangements through the foreign partners of their member companies.
If all these factors are taken together, and the fact that we have agreed as a Committee—and it has not been challenged tonight—that the tendering procedures of the generating boards should be altered, the time has come to dispel any remaining air of mystery surrounding the nuclear power station, and to treat its construction as a normal industrial job.
We therefore recommend that the generating boards should adopt traditional contracting practice for nuclear power stations. If those factors are brought together, they point in terms of a future structure of the industry in the opposite direction to that of the majority proposal for a single organisation engaged in design and construction of nuclear boilers. It seems to us who are in the minority of the Select Committee that all the evidence pointed in the other direction. Having said that, we are not prepared to be dogmatic as to how that might be realised.
I would draw the attention of the House to the minority report and to the views which were expressed by the generating boards on their objections to the single design nuclear boiler company, and also to the eight reasons we give in the Report for not accepting the general proposition. We reject the proposal for a single nuclear boiler company. We prefer the market solution. I am encouraged by what the Minister said this evening, especially by his comments on the need to find a solution within the parameters of existing organisation and existing personalities.
I hope that the Minister will be able to produce a solution that will be agreeable to as many as possible of the Select 1050 Committee members. The differences are not as great as they appear to be from the vote. It is possible also to produce a solution that would commend itself to the vast majority of hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
May I remind the House that I appealed some time ago for reasonably brief speeches. I understand that the last back bencher to make a speech took half an hour. May I remind whoever I call on that there are other hon. Gentlemen waiting to take part in the debate, and they have been waiting for many hours.
§ 12.48 a.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
I will endeavour to make my points as quickly as I can. They are under three headings. First, it is important, in considering the cost of producing electricity by this new technique, to take into account not merely the 0.52341d., or whatever it is, but also certain social benefits which derive from this form of generation.
I am interested in the report of the sub-committee which visited the United States. The report says that one of the reasons why nuclear power stations were being commissioned there was because of the demand for clear air and getting rid of the pollution caused by coal-firing and oil-firing. We should pay more attention to that in this country. It may not be generally known that 100,000 people a year die from respiratory diseases, the major cause of which is atmospheric pollution, and conventional power stations contribute quite considerably to that pollution.
I will quote a short passage from paragraph 104 of the Report. It says that:the fact is that nuclear fission is a cleaner and more sophisticated way of obtaining the artificial energy on which industrial civilisation rests than burning fossil fuels. In comparison with coal, it is also infinitely less savage and wasteful of life and limb. Moreover cleanliness and avoidance of atmospheric pollution in the large scale production of electricity energy is already socially important.It goes on to quote the experience of the U.S. Sub-Committee.
This is extremely important. We must recognise that although among Members taking part in the debate and within the 1051 Committee there has been a substantial recognition of the importance of this form of generation of nuclear power, powerful vested interests and lobbies outside are only too anxious to denigrate the achievements of the nuclear power industry and try to prevent its further development. We must face this fact and fight it. We can sometimes have sympathy with the fears of other people, but I do not have much sympathy with their remedies. It is important that those who are interested in this problem should point out not merely the cash benefits but the social benefits which can flow from deliberately going over to an applied technology source of energy.
My second point concerns Culham. The Report is very brief about it. It says that the working party, whose report was not published, was a Ministry of Technology working party. The Minister, on the other hand, went to great pains to say that it was a working party of the A.E.A. If the Select Committee's Report is wrong, fair enough, but I was struck by the discrepancy between the Minister's statement and the Report. This point should be cleared up, because there is a difference between a body specifically engaged by the Ministry to look into a question and an internal inquiry by the A.E.A. which might have come to a certain conclusion.
§ Mr. Hooley
I thank my right hon. Friend. Clearly, there is a slip in the Report.
I urge my right hon. Friend to agree that the last way to deal with scientists— and they are the key people in this matter —is by means of secret reports. Scientists have a neurosis for publishing information and the results of investigations, and if the Minister is to deal successfully with the people in this enormously important industry in future he must not do it by secret reports. There may be difficulties about confidentiality—commitments may 1052 have been made to people before they undertook an investigation—but it is not a wise procedure to try to determine the future careers of people in this industry by means of secret reports. This is a mistake, and it has done damage in this case.
I am puzzled by one or two facts. The budget of Culham is £3.8 million a year. This House has recently voted £45 million —10 or 12 times Culham's budget—to compel the C.E.G.B. to buy coal which it does not want to burn. We have had 12 years' experience of running Culham, yet we are now saying that we have to run it down, presumably for the financial saving. There is a question of manpower, but I get the impression that it is really a question of financial saving. There is to be a scaling down by 10 per cent. a year over five years. This £380,000 a year, by comparison with our defence budget of £260 million, is an utterly insignificant and futile saving. I wonder whether the right scale of values has been adopted.
Another point about Culham is that it is doing valuable work in fields other than the immediate problem of plasma physics. I am told that these include ultra-high vacuum work, advanced computer techniques, high voltage electrical engineering, super-conductivity, astro-physics and lasers, and that much more important work has been done.
Fusion work is not being run down in other countries, but is being expanded. It is being started in France and expanded in Russia, and there are recommendations for its expansion in the United States. So this is an important field of research for future power producing which this country should not neglect. To quote a statement of the United States Atomic Energy Commission:By any standard whatsoever, controlled thermonuclear research must be counted as one of the most challenging and potentially important efforts in the history of mankind. The original programmatic research in this work—and still one of the strong motivations for pursuing it—is the hope of producing useful power from controlled thermonuclear reactions.If we had not started on this, there might be a case for not doing so, but we deliberately set up this institution six years ago, which is not a long time for this work. So I cannot understand the Minister's decision that we should 1053 now run it down. I therefore hope that the Select Committee—it hinted as much —will inquire into whether this was a sensible decision.
I am glad that the Committee appears to reject received thinking from the Ministry on nuclear marine propulsion. The Minister's defence of this was extraordinarily pathetic. To the Committee's request for an interdepartmental investigation, he gave the superb answer that it was not necessary because all the Departments were under his hat anyway. This is playing with words. The Committee obviously was referring to an expert and careful study, drawing on all necessary expertise. The Minister's reply was nonsense. One must take more seriously than that the proposals in this carefully considered Report.
I would like to quote again the latter part of the answer quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Parkyn):We think it is now about time that we should put a reactor in a ship purely for experimental purposes, like the Germans. The Germans have spent two years since putting their reactor into a ship working out the right place for the concrete shielding, and if there are problems which are going to arise in putting a reactor in a ship we ought to begin now to do this ourselves, in view of the interest in container ships.The British Nuclear Forum said:It is our opinion that the U.K. should seriously consider how to take advantage of marine nuclear power, because developments in shipping suggest that the need will arise. The restoration of the British shipbuilding industry to a leading world role could depend on our taking this step.The Minister is concerned with an economic return, and properly so. We have heard of the £800 million put into the industry without our getting the exports. We must think of that, but in all these fields of high technology there comes a point at which one must make a decision without being able to calculate the economic return.
Our four major industrial competitors, Russia, the United States, Germany and Japan, have all carried out experiments in this field. I cannot believe this would have happened if the thing had been a non-starter. We also have a unique combination of experience in nuclear technology and shipbuilding.
No other country has it to quite the same degree. It seems rather curious that 1054 we should not have thought to marry up these two forms of expertise.
I agree that this might be a field where there is a good case for European co-operation, particularly since the Germans appear to be interested in it, and we might usefully combine with them or with other European countries. But I should be surprised if we do not come to regret it in future if we fail now to embark on some kind of experimentation in this direction.
Mr. Speaker, I must observe your appeal for brevity, but I do regard the question of Culham and the question of nuclear marine propulsion as two matters which, I hope, will be seriously considered.
§ 1.2 a.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
This debate proves one thing—that there is a great deal of unfinished business for the Committee to do on this subject.
I have deliberately not tried to catch your eye earlier in the debate, Mr. Speaker, because I think that it is up to those of us who have the good fortune to be on the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee which is scheduled to follow up these matters to listen to what other Members have to say, because those who are in my position will have the opportunity, I hope throughout the coming months, to make our comments, with the help of all the facilities that are available to us.
I close my speech by saying that I think the rôle of progress-chasing the work that has been done by our colleagues is an important one. I give the pledge to all those who have spoken in the debate that I will do my best to follow up the points they have raised in the course of the work of the progress-chasing Sub-Committee.
§ 1.3 a.m.
§ Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)
In the next decade we may see viable nuclear-propelled merchant ships on the oceans of the world. It is my contention that we should determine that the hulls and propulsion units of the majority of them are built in this country in general and in Barrow-in-Furness in particular.
If this is to happen I believe that important decisions must be taken quickly for three reasons. The first is that we may have been working—for 1055 marine purposes—on the wrong type of reactor. If the Report is correct in its conclusions, we have been working on the wrong type.
In 1962 it was decided that the British programme on marine nuclear reactors should be concentrated on the integral boiling reactor and the Vulcain. In 1963 the Government had talks with the shipping and shipbuilding industries in an attempt to agree terms for the building and operation of a nuclear propelled merchant vessel.
It was realised at that time that the ultimate decision on the building of the vessel would depend partly on the outcome of research to be done. Although the I.B.R. ran into some difficulties in the course of research, there was every reason to believe in 1964 that if we proceeded on the information gained by the new research, two types of reactors would have been built by 1968. These were the burnable posion pressurised water reactor and the steam-cooled light water moderated reactor.
Costing done in 1964 indicated that the capital cost of a nuclear propulsion unit of the latter type for a merchant vessel would have been of the order of £500,000 to £750,000 for 20,000 shaft horse power units, and that running costs could be brought down to one farthing per shaft horse power per hour.
With all this work done on water reactors, it is a serious setback to find the Report stating that the high temperature gas reactor is the type which will be viable for marine purposes in the 1970's.
The second reason we have to take important decisions quickly on this is that it appears other countries may have a lead on us.
Question 1073 of the Report states thatThe Germans have spent two years since putting their reactor into a ship working out the right place for the concrete shielding.There is a danger of people thinking that in order to apply nuclear propulsion to shipping all that is necessary is to put a land reactor inside a ship. This is far from the case. There are some very serious problems to be solved if we are to have mobile reactors. We are not likely to have land power stations bumping into another, but we are likely 1056 to have ships bumping into one another, and this raises serious problems. There is the problem of how one deals with disposal and the problem of docking. These problems will have to be solved if we are to be in on this application of nuclear power.
The third and last reason for taking serious decisions on the subject quickly is that our marine engineering industry is in a very critical condition. We are in the course of restructuring the shipbuilding and marine engineering industry under the Shipbuilding Industry Act, 1967, but all the evidence at present is that there could be a very serious contraction in our marine engineering industry. Particularly is this true of the marine turbine industry on which we may have to depend for work in the field we are discussing tonight.
Timing is also crucial, because we are now reaching the end of the Polaris programme. When it comes to an end men will be available for exactly the sort of research we shall need on a nuclear-propelled unit. Certain facilities for research are also either available or becoming available now. The priority the country gave to the building of Polaris was wrong. The same facilities and money could have given us much more economic benefit if devoted to peaceful use.
The Report recommends that a Departmental Committee be convened to examine the possibility of nuclear marine propulsion. I would not argue with my right hon. Friend the Minister on his point tonight about not needing a Departmental Committee. What is important is that a decision be taken by him and an announcement made to the House as quickly as possible that the job will be done by whatever Committee or whatever means he chooses.
A Government decision to proceed with a nuclear merchant ship will be influenced, according to the Report, by the interest shown by the industry. This worries me considerably because it is not an industry that has shown any great indications in the past of trying to burst into the 21st century. Some sections had to be dragged screaming into the 20th century. Therefore, I am disappointed that the Committee did not give some consideration to turning to public ownership here.
1057 However, it is encouraging that the Vickers shipbuilding concern in my constituency has submitted a plan for a nuclear-propelled container ship. Nevertheless, I do not hold high hopes that there will be many other shipping and shipbuilding firms doing the same thing. If the Minister waits until he has a pile of applications on his desk before proceeding with this we shall wait too long. That difference between the large ship of the late 1970s and the ships we are building today might be as great as the difference between the Queen Mary and the Cutty Sark. I believe that we have an opportunity which, if seized, could restore this country to the rôle of the world's premier shipbuilder.
§ 1.9 a.m.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
I shall try to keep my speech brief in view of your request, Mr. Speaker.
As the youngest member of the Committee I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Arthur Palmer) for his chairmanship. Great tribute has rightly been paid to him from both sides of the House. I think that he knows how much those of us who served on the Committee appreciate his wisdom and the work he put in.
I should also like to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for staying and listening to the debate so late tonight. This represents the courtesy he has shown the Committee throughout its sitting. It helps a newly-established Select Committee very much to have a Minister so openly sympathetic to its aims and objects. This has been of immense help to us, and we are very very grateful to him.
As is obvious from my questioning of the witnesses throughout, I am particularly interested that we should forgo technological nationalism and try to achieve a technological policy in this country as far as possible on an international, particularly a European, basis.
I agree with the Minister that we are facing a problem of exploitation. He would probably agree that to exploit all technology, and, in particular, this industry, what is necessary is a rational assessment of the market. It is this market analysis which lies at the base of the 1058 division of opinion on the structure which the Committee faced.
When writing in the New Scientist, in December, I said that I would probably have supported the creation of two nuclear boiler companies from the outset if there had been any possibility of their being formed on a European basis. This has always been my position. I have genuinely looked at the question of the consortia and at all times hoped that we would be able to establish at least two European companies.
At the time that the Committee was reaching its conclusions I was pessimistic about the possibilities of forming such European links. To a great extent events have proved me wrong. There has been a striking change and I feel that the Minister will have to weigh this carefully when deciding the structure of the industry.
I regret having missed the speech of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). I am sure that he dealt with this European aspect. It was mentioned by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price). He mentioned the new company, Inter-Nuclear S.A., which is being formed by T.N.P.G. Although this is not a truely European company and it is not a manufacturing company, it is being formed on a European basis and licensed in Belgium for marketing and contracting purposes. It is an important first step. We know that A.P.C. has formed licensing agreements with Brown Boveri and SOCIA. It is obvious that so far as structure is concerned the choice can only be between two or one—A.P.C. and N.D.C.—merged and T.N.P.G. or all together.
I am concerned about the exploitation of H.T.R., but even more with the exploitation of the fast breeder reactor. I do not believe that if we have a purely British company we will be able to sell the fast breeder reactor in Europe. I would like to feel that this is so, but it is not. The Germans, the Belgians and the French have decided to put in heavy capital investment into basic research into fast breeder reactors and although we have a substantial lead I do not believe that they will buy from a purely British-based company. If we form a European company we have a wide market which will be able to exploit this and I hope that 1059 the Minister will bear this in mind when making a decision on the structure of the industry.
If we were to have a vote with the situation as it is now I would come to a different conclusion. The Press commented irresponsibly on this aspect of the Report. They tried to make the point that there was a division on political lines. I thought that on many occasions it was marginal. Hon. Members opposite know that it was a finely balanced case. The interesting thing is that we have looked at competition in a rational sense and not on old dogmas of Aims of Industry and Clause Four socialism. We have tried to develop the inter-face between Government and industry and the private and the public sector. There has been agreement on both sides that if the Government are putting capital into the industry they should have a substantial stake. This is obviously a question for agreement between the industry and the Government as to the extent of shareholdings.
Another issue is becoming almost an obsession with me—that of Capenhurst. Again, on a purely British basis I do not believe we shall sell enough of the nuclear enriched uranium. There is evidence that, unless we adopt a more European attitude on this issue, we shall miss out. There is a lot of evidence that the Americans are selling partially enriched fuel cheaply in effect to try and ensure that the customers buy American reactors.
It is nonsense to say that the A.E.A. is not conducting itself in a highly commercial way, particularly on the fuel side, but we suggested that it should be formed in a new company with private industry as shareholders in the belief that it would be much easier to form it into a European company. In 1955, Britain rejected the French request to help in establishing a gaseous diffusion plant. It was a mistake. It is not too far-fetched to suggest that one of the many political consequences is the French attitude to our joining the E.E.C. To President de Gaulle, matters nuclear are matters of great political significance. We are now in danger of making that same calamitous error over our attitude to Europeanising the Capenhurst plant.
1060 Last December, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told me there was no specific Anglo-American agreement preventing us sharing with European countries the techniques of partially enriched uranium. Here, I object to the Ministry's attitude in persisting in a refusal to share basic technology. One cannot go to Europe without seeing evidence, especially in Germany, that they are not interested unless we are prepared to share that technology.
I hope that we shall take a sensible and far sighted view of Capenhurst. It is a matter of the utmost importance. It has become even more important in recent months, with the revelation from the Dutch that they have a new system of enrichment which may be much less expensive than the heavy capital investment involved in Capenhurst. It is only in its formative stages and perhaps the hopes for it are too optimistic, but it is to be built in Europe. The French have made a tentative offer to share Pierreporte. I cannot see Gaullist France prepared to share her technology, but this is a tempting offer to other countries in the E.E.C. There is considerable interest in Europeanising Capenhurst and it is a matter of great significance. The European aspects are of immense importance.
The only other Amendment in Committee was one on fusion research. I moved it and voted against the Committee's recommendation on fusion research. I have no regrets about it. I think we made an assessment on the basis of inadequate evidence. I do not deny that, when the Sub-Committee looks again at fusion research, it may reach the same conclusion. However, I personally feel that we are premature in our conclusions. We did not examine the problem in sufficient depth. The Minister in my view was right, but I wait with great interest a further report. I would conclude by expressing my thanks to the Chairman, and to you, Mr. Speaker, for the patience which you have shown me tonight.
§ 1.20 a.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Gregory (Stockport, North)
We have heard references tonight to the pride of Barrow, but I should like to say something about nuclear power in its relationship to Stockport and Cheshire which are closely associated with matters 1061 mentioned in this Report and I hope to deploy, shortly, one or two points bearing on the local as well as the wider implications of the Report.
The immediate aspect of the Report which occurs to me is that we have been aware of the importance of this new industry but have had to wait for many weary months—since last October in fact —until tonight for the opportunity to discuss this Report. That fact would seem to be wide of the mark when we talk of the importance of nuclear power to British industry. Since last October the Government has dragged its feet, not only in not presenting the Report for discussion, but also in the overall stagnation which has surrounded this industry in the matter of exports, apart from the other aspect of shaping it for our domestic economy.
The two main aspects of this inactivity have been, first, in the long delay by the Government in reaching any conclusions from the Report; and we do not seem likely to get any nearer to that tonight. Secondly, it is the delay incurred in the non-placing of orders for new nuclear stations. On the one hand, we have had an act of omission, and on the other, an act of commission; but, overall, we have had stagnation. So far as the export of nuclear power stations is concerned, we have had overall stagnation, and, quite clearly, this is not a situation which we can support for long. The effect of all this is felt throughout the length and breadth of the industry.
This has meant not only damage to our export potentiality, but it has had a damaging effect on morale, within both the private commercial organisations and the Government agencies. This is bad for the set-up within the commercial organisations and the Government agencies and, furthermore, it is bad for anybody who wants to see British technology sell its hardware.
This policy of delay has already led to redundancies within two industrial groups, and within my own constituency. I think that the evidence of the Hunt Committee is relevant to this; the North-West has lost 5,000 jobs, and I understand that the A.E.F.U. has lost 4,000 members.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and other hon. Members have 1062 spoken about having one consortium with its combined strength, but the fact is that we already have a very important industrial group within my own constituency in which redundancies are taking place; and redundancies are not only among the more sophisticated design staffs, but also among workers who can contribute much in other ways to this country's economy.
The Hunt Committee looked at this in the North-West, and said that 5,000 jobs had been lost. The main union there claimed that it had lost 4,000 engineers. They are not all lost to the nuclear power industry. There are older industries without a developing technology, losing workers, yet here we are losing men in an advancing industry.
Not only has there been a short-fall in the present orders for home stations, but we also have an unsatisfactory situation at Hartlepool, Heysham, and Sizewell B, which are in the arena of indecision. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) described his attitude to this, and took the heat out of the question in political terms, as well as dealing ably with the situation in terms of the economy. The development rôle is bound to be disastrous in a situation like this. Costs overseas are rising, while we are seeing not only a technological advantage in commercial terms, but technical as well as commercial difficulties are being encountered. We should launch a concentrated effort to get our house in order and establish a properly organised and integrated Ministry.
The Report says this, but we do not see any signs of getting on to such a basis. The opportunities for collaboration and co-operation within the European Community, and for exports there are also a real possibility, but we are not seizing our opportunities. This is evident from our discussions in many European countries, including France. Members on both sides are aware that the continued delay in placing orders for new domestic nuclear stations is causing tremendous concern. My right hon. Friend will obviously be discussing this with the Minister of Power.
The situation is that one consortium has a full order book, since the delay period occurred. The C.E.G.B. actions must take a fair share of the responsibility here, and the Select Committee noted this. Another 1063 consortium sees the tail-end of a 1965 order, and the third has nothing. It is more than unfair, it is disastrous, and my constituents will raise their voices, whether in board-room or on shop-floor. This is all evident, because it is within the last two groups that the redundancies have occurred. This needs attending to.
A plea for action has been made, here and in another place, on 8th May. The single design organisation, incorporating fuel, is the right way to deal with the situation and I hope that my right hon. Friend will come round to this. The recent success of the Rolls-Royce order was a clear demonstration of this, since the organisation with which Rolls-Royce was competing is the same organisation which provides the major competition in the nuclear power industry. A successful exercise on that score can carry us through well in trying to consolidate and expand our orders.
There is no doubt that in terms of availability, the scope of home orders for our own nuclear power programme will barely match in total the order book of one of our major overseas competitors, principally the United States of America. One can only suggest that in modern terms the size factor is the one that has to be considered in arriving at an organisation with maximum economy and efficiency, to meet home requirements and to meet square on a most viable export potential and opportunity.
Noble Lords in another place seemed to stress that the Government must do something, rather than nothing, with the nuclear power industry. That is what matters now. The same plea is made in the Report, which says that inactivity is far more dangerous and damaging, and does no more than provide private industry with a complete monopoly. The trend is for one existing consortium to assume a domination of the industry of such proportion that it could soon become a subject for the Monopolies Commission. If one consortium can take on two orders, because of its viability and strength, while the rest are running down, it is a very poor situation for British industry to face.
If the main plea is that the Government should act, they can do worse than take the words of the Report, which 1064 also says that they should act quickly. I cannot believe that my right hon. Friend will allow the industry to fall apart at the seams as part of a deliberate policy, in order that it can be recognised as part of a deliberate policy on the basis of the minority Report of the Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) is on record as describing the alternative to all this as a "biopoly" structure. We may not like the word, but we get the idea. I think that it aims at bringing about the correct and just rôle of the U.K.A.E.A. in a joint public and private enterprise.
It has to be remembered that the Atomic Energy Authority leads the world in the fast breeder reactor field. But this impetus can be lost by indecision, and it could become just another example of original concepts developed in the United Kingdom being exploited by rival competitors overseas. Outside the field of research reactors, in which my own constituency firm of Fairey Engineering has performed magnificently with the Helen and Wurlingen facilities, with attempts which are almost complete to sell to Rumania—a most difficult market in this field—the only organisation shaped for export potential and having made real progress in terms of actual contacts is the A.E.A., which has gained contracts worth several million pounds for fuel services.
Then there is the recent successful run of the most advanced water reactor at Winfrith Heath—the steam generating heavy water type. That could prove to be an export winner but, again, we need an initial breakthrough. It could become a leader in export terms, because of the flexibility of its size factors to meet the consumer demand in many developing industrial consumer countries. The integrated research, development, design and production service which the U.K.A.E.A. has established is the envy of the world, even the United States, because it is unique, it stands alone as an integrated authority, and is effective.
The phrase, "Time is not on our side" has been used many times in relation to nuclear power in this country. It is most hackneyed and over-played, but we have a challenge to face and we have to move quickly in putting the house in order. I received a note earlier today which illustrates the point of view of private industry 1065 towards the problem. A director whom I shall not name says:The nuclear power industry in this country has become a political play-thing, which neither industry, Government nor Foreign Office appears to care to support. Small wonder that a brain-drain occurs, and what a waste of financial investment and personal effort.We now want to co-ordinate all aspects of Government policy, and I trust that very soon we shall have a decision from my right hon. Friend to provide us with the kind of industry that can meet not only the domestic consumer demand, but a massive export potential.
§ 1.40 a.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology (Dr. Jeremy Bray)
If this debate has demonstrated anything, it has shown that the nuclear power industry is not, and will not become, a political shuttlecock, thanks to the splendid work of the Select Committee. It was with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) that I was a member of the group set up by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee which recommended the setting up of the Select Committee, and he and I can take grandparental pride in the performance of our offspring.
I am very much aware that there are many hon. Members present who were here last night until 7 o'clock in the morning, who are probably catching a plane to Edinburgh in about six hours' time and have a strenuous day ahead of them in their constituencies. I shall, therefore, endeavour to be as brief as I can in replying to the many points made in the debate. A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) and Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), have apologised that they had to leave earlier.
Many hon. Members have complained about the seven-month delay between publication of the Report and this debate. Those seven months have been full of a great many and very necessary informal discussions between the many different parties involved in this matter. During those seven months, as the debate tonight has demonstrated, there have been some remarkable shifts of opinion and attitude.
I commend to the members of the Select Committee as the criterion of success of their work not the time-lag between publication of the Report and 1066 the debate, but the action that follows from their Report and the state of health of the industry after their recommendations have been digested.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North, among many others, stressed the point made in the Report calling for an objective study of costs. The delay in giving to the Select Committee comparison between nuclear and conventional costs of generation of electricity is understandable if hon. Members recall that during that period the most thorough fuel policy review ever was being carried out. There were difficult social problems hanging on the outcome of that review, and an unbalanced disclosure of the argument before the fuel policy review could be put before the House in full might have increased the difficulty of their work instead of reducing it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) stressed the point about the understandable emotional reaction of many people to nuclear power issues. That could well have been exacerbated if partial figures had been given outside the general context of the fuel policy review.
The cost question is complex. There is, first, the development cost and the method by which it has to be treated. Then there are the engineering cost and construction, the operating performance of the plant once built, the life assumed for it, the load curve of demand and future development of load curve demand, the marginal operating cost of existing energy-producing capacity and the marginal operating cost of the different kinds of consuming capacity.
All those factors were considered in greater or less degrees of thoroughness in the fuel policy review. If people want an independent review, I refer them to the earlier work of P.E.P., which has not been mentioned tonight but which was an extremely valuable example of the sort of work, totally independent of the Government, which, I am sure, they would agree is useful.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North, along with other speakers, mentioned the structure of the industry. There were at least two members of the Committee who said that, in the light of evolving circumstances, their views were somewhat different from those at the time when 1067 the Report was agreed. It is certain that there is a range of different possibilities. The Report recommends the single design authority. The hon. Member for Orpington, having changed his view since publication of the Report, thought that the immediate objective should be the reduction to two consortia with the formation of some kind of link with the Atomic Energy Authority concerning the exploitation of existing reactor designs. All this is arguable with the other solutions that have been propounded.
Several hon. Members have suggested that there is a natural advanced technology monopoly, as demonstrated by the action of the Government, in, for example, computers and aero engines. It is clear that the nature of the market is entirely different. The aircraft engine is a highly mobile beast. Nobody could conceivably suggest that we could be totally self-sufficient regarding aircraft engines. Likewise with computers. We recognise, encourage and accept a large American owned activity in the manufacture and use of computers here. Nuclear power is different, and those who stressed the importance of competition deploy powerful arguments.
Concerning particular reactor systems, the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Brian Parkyn) was the first to urge that there should be full and immediate programmed development on H.T.R. A great deal of testing and evaluation is still needed on this system. We have to determine whether the margin of improvement possible is large enough to justify the undoubtedly large development cost. It is true that one of the consortia has submitted a tender on the basis of H.T.R. for an existing station, but this depends on the fuel being supplied by the Atomic Energy Authority. It is not yet certain whether this has reached the point where it is possible to give the right kind of guarantee for the life and reliability of the fuel. We have not got circumstances in which the right kind of guarantee can be given on that system. However, studies are continuing and it is a very attractive system.
Vulcain has been mentioned. I was present at the formal opening. I joined the Belgian Minister in opening it. It is a splendid example of a technically 1068 successful international development. We have yet to determine the economic application of this system. It has still to be proven, whether in a marine version or a land based version. But it shows that it is possible internationally to carry through a highly successful and economic programme in nuclear power.
On the question of the treatment of tenders, the hon. Member for Orpington urged that the C.E.G.B. should open the tenders to show the comparison between H.T.R. and A.G.R. costs This is a matter for the C.E.G.B. The way it treated the Dungeness B tenders is a precedent which will no doubt be in the minds of hon Members. The C.E.G.B. can be relied on to pursue that course of action which will give the best guide to the development of nuclear power policy in this country.
Several hon. Members mentioned the importance of finding a sale for the S.G.H.W.R. This applies to the A.G.R., too. The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Gregory) was concerned about the employment of people in the heavy electrical industry. This goes for conventional as well as nuclear power.
In the home market the cost of building electricity generating capacity a year or more before it is needed is immense, and, at a time when there are such pressing demands on many kinds of public expenditure, it is not easy to argue that one should increase the margin of available capacity in four or five years' time to an even higher level than we expect it to be, unless there is solid justification for it. The matter is still being studied. It depends very much on the latest load forecast which, as everybody knows, is a chancey matter. The Government have not yet made a decision on the timing of the next nuclear power station starts.
On the export position of the S.G.H.W.R., the House is well aware of, and has played an active part in, the presentation of the case to Finland. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) asked questions in the House recently about this. This is a very important move, not only for the nuclear power industry, but for our future relations with Finland, as it would constitute a very powerful form of technological collaboration with a country that has a 1069 tremendous amount to offer in mutual exchange with ourselves.
The hon. Member for Orpington urged that we should make an immediate start in developing a prototype gas cooled fast reactor. We are joining with the European Nuclear Energy Agency in a study of that system and we await the outcome with great interest.
The high temperature gas turbine system has been mentioned in the technical Press, which the hon. Member for Orpington found more informative than the Government front bench. That is probably because the industry is less discreet with its leaks about Government business than the Government is about industry business. It is an extremely interesting system, but it has not an immediate practicality. It is a very expensive programme, and its phasing will begin to come in with that of the fast reactors anyway.
The gas-cooled reactors are complementary through the fuel cycle to the fast reactors. There is a complex of problems which Rolls Royce have been considering and which we are discussing with Rolls Royce.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Ginsburg) thought that the cost comparison between nuclear power and coal was so marginal that the A.G.R. programme should be reduced and the additional load passed on to coal. In fact, the ground rules to which the hon. Member for Eastleigh referred are loaded against nuclear power, for example, on the 20-year obsolesence period by comparison with the 30 years of the conventional station. The figures are well known and arc quoted in the Ministry of Power paper to the Select Committee. Hinckley B costs 0.52d. a unit: Drax. which is the latest coal-fired station, is 0.6d. A coal-fired station at Hartlepool would cost 0.63d. per unit. This is a significant and inescapable difference in cost.
The Government were right to point to this significant cost difference, to draw the conclusions in the fuel policy White Paper and to embark upon the very major social and redevelopment measures needed to assist with the redeployment of money, miners and many mining communities.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and several other hon. Members 1070 raised the question of Culham. We had an Adjournment debate on it fairly recently, and the Select Committee is investigating the matter again. I understand the attitude of people who are concerned about the rundown of so obviously a very capable team in such an advanced and exciting field, but with the best will in the world, having looked at the Report it would have been difficult for the Atomic Energy Authority to have come to any other conclusion.
§ Mr. Hooley
What I find very difficult to understand is why other countries have come to a diametically opposite conclusion, presumably having just as much expertise.
§ Dr. Bray
If my hon. Friend looks at the technical content of the work done by other countries he will sec that they have rephased—altered the balance of their work—towards more fundamental research which is not expected to produce a power system within the foreseeable future, and that that part of the work which is aimed at a practicable power system is not being increased overseas. We do not technically differ from the judgment either of the United States or the Soviet Union in this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and others stressed the importance of matching the needs of the market. The work of B.N.X has been referred to; that clearly must be developed in whatever solution is arrived at for the nuclear power programme. We cannot conceivably have a nuclear power programme which is a wholly national activity; we must develop in the light of the world market.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh stressed the important point of morale among the staff not only of the Atomic Energy Authority but the consortia, and those of the staff of the Generating Board concerned with the nuclear power programme. This is perhaps the key to the whole programme. We recognise that on technical and commercial grounds there is the strongest case for reaching agreement on the future structure of the nuclear power industry as soon as possible.
The speed with which this can be done does not depend solely on the Government; many different bodies are 1071 concerned. There is not only the con-sortia but the companies behind it, and with each area in the consortia—as is the case with the Authority and the Generating Board—there is the interface between research and development on the one hand and design and construction on the other.
With so many different issues and parties involved it is not easy to arrive at an agreed solution expeditiously. The House can take pride in the fact that this debate will have contributed significantly towards reaching that agreed solution— and we hope very soon. It will take some months of very difficult and protracted negotiations. The hon Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) was very astute when he said that the task which rested upon the Committee was progress-chasing. It is progress-chasing not only on the part of the Government and not only in terms of message-bearing from people outside to the Government; it also means the progress-chasing of people who are highly interested parties, who are very much concerned and who need to be encouraged.
It has been suggested that the Government themselves should make up their minds what is in the best interests of us all. We have to create a framework within which able people can work with energy and imagination in the exploitation of the greatest natural resource which the universe can offer in the physical world. I am sure that, if the Select Committee continues with half the penetration and effectiveness that it has worked on this investigation, we shall be continually indebted to it for many interesting debates in future, which I hope will take place at a more reasonable hour.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report from the Select Committee on Science and Technology in the last Session of Parliament relating to the United Kingdom Nuclear Reactor Programme.