HC Deb 27 November 1968 vol 774 cc484-7
12. Mr. Palmer

asked the Minister of Technology when he proposes to introduce legislation for the reorganisation of the nuclear reactor industry.

59. Mr. David Price

asked the Minister of Technology when he will be introducing legislation to establish a new publicly-owned company to take over the Atomic Energy Authority's responsibilities for nuclear fuel.

Mr. Benn

I cannot anticipate when legislation will be introduced, but, as the hon. Members are aware, some aspects of the reorganisation which do not require legislation are already going ahead.

Mr. Palmer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is disappointment among members of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, who worked hard on this question, at the great delay in reorganising the nuclear reactor industry? Does not he recall that he himself told the Committee well over 12 months ago that the need for the reorganisation was urgent and that it should be carried through as quickly as possible?

Mr. Benn

I appreciate that, but we have one design construction company going. The negotiations on the second one have fallen through. The work, involving the Atomic Energy Authority and including legislation, has proved a very big job indeed. I assure my hon. Friend that we have not been slow in tack ling this very complex problem, on which we most certainly received help from his Committee.

Mr. Price

I understand many of the right hon. Gentleman's problems, but why cannot progress be made with getting ahead with the publicly-owned nuclear fuel company? Does not he agree that continued delay is bad for the morale of the staff both of the A.E.A. and of the private nuclear engineering firms involved?

Mr. Benn

I appreciate that point, but if we are to have proper legislation it means dealing with the Authority's future, with the Atomic Energy Board and with a number of other things, and all this cannot be rushed. In the industry itself there is now a greater degree of certainty about the future than there was before we were able to announce our dicsion.

Mr. Gregory

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, despite the difficulties we are experiencing in the regrouping and reorganisation of the boiler-making side of the industry, and also in the civil engineering, we should try to speed up the process in order to give a chance to this very important industry? The more delay there is the more difficult the problems become.

Mr. Benn

The delay on that side is not being caused by me but by the difficulty in getting the industrial mergers set up. I asked the I.R.C. to undertake this some time ago and I am not directly engaged in the negotiations.

23. Mr. Lubbock

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on the progress being made with the reorganisation of the nuclear reactor industry.

66. Mr. Gregory

asked the Minister of Technology what progress has been made with the further reorganisation of the nuclear engineering industry; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Benn

The formation of the first of the two design and construction companies envisaged in my statement of 17th July was announced on 16th September. Negotiations for the formation of the second company are continuing, after the setback which recently became public.—[Vol. 768, c. 1428–38.]

Mr. Lubbock

A few minutes ago the Minister said that he was not directly involved in the negotiations about the formation of a boiler company among three of the existing firms, because he had asked the I.R.C. to do it on his behalf. Has the I.R.C. reported back since the breakdown of negotiations, and what steps are being taken to have them restarted?

Mr. Benn

We left it to the I.R.C., because this is a matter where business skill and flexibility is of the greatest importance. We are in continual contact with the I.R.C., but we do not have formal negotiations or discussions with it. I know that it was disappointed at the setback and it is continuing its work to find a solution.

Mr. Gregory

Is the Minister aware that the long delay in completing reorganisation is causing great anxiety to workers and management in the nuclear engineering industry in my constituency? The question that must be put is: what will be the future of those firms at present within the nuclear engineering industry which may be left out on the fringe of a second consortium structure?

Mr. Benn

The truth is that if we try to reorganise anything it is bound to affect those concerned in the work which was done before, and uncertainty is inseparable from this process. If my hon. Friend has any particular points in mind which he would like to bring to me I will see what I can do to ease unnecessary uncertainty.