HC Deb 29 January 1969 vol 776 cc1317-20
27. Mr. Maclennan

asked the Minister of Technology what progress he has made in the reorganisation of the nuclear power industry.

30 and 31. Mr. Palmer

asked the Minister of Technology (1) when he will appoint the proposed Atomic Energy Board;

(2) what final date he has fixed for the establishment of the second nuclear design and construction company.

38. Mr. Hooley

asked the Minister of Technology if he is satisfied with the progress he is making with the formation of a second nuclear power plant company; and if he will make a statement.

40. Mr. David Price

asked the Minister of Technology what is to be the future of Atomic Power Constructions Limited consequential upon the reorganisation of the nuclear engineering industry.

44. Mr. Gregory

asked the Minister of Technology what progress is being made towards the completion of the reorganised consortium structure of the nuclear engineering industry; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Benn

Hon. Members will have seen the announcement on 15th January of the formation of the second of the two nuclear design and construction companies envisaged in my statement of 17th July last year. The industry should now be better equipped to meet our needs at home and compete abroad. I am grateful to the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation for the work it has done. The two parent companies of Atomic Power Constructions—Fairey's and International Combustion—have, for the time being at least, not found a place in either of the two new companies.

Now that the industrial structure is settled, I shall be in a position to go forward with the other arrangements foreseen in my statement on 17th July last year.-[Vol. 768, c. 1428–38.]

Mr. Maclennan

I welcome the statement to which my right hon. Friend has referred. But may I ask, first, whether he acknowledges that the unfortunate delay in setting up this new structure has led to growing disquiet among employees of the Atomic Energy Authority, particularly about the future of their careers in the new organisations?

Secondly, can my right hon. Friend say whether the financing difficulties of Dungeness B have been solved?

Thirdly, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the new structure will advance the programme for the development of a commercial fast reactor and enable us to exploit this important development fully in the international market?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Long questions mean fewer questions and fewer answers.

Mr. Benn

On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I had noticed the disquiet. As is evident in the House from Questions on Concorde and other subjects, disquiet is inseparable from advanced technology. We cannot have certainty in this area.

On the second part of the question, I am not responsible for the Dungeness B contract. That question should be put to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power.

On the third part of the question, I believe that this will accelerate the progress of successful new reactor systems.

Mr. Palmer

Apart from the recommendations of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which my right hon. Friend has largely ignored, is he now satisfied that the structure which is emerging for the nuclear reactor industry is that which he set out to obtain? Has not my right hon. Friend been pushed by events rather than the other way round?

Mr. Benn

I think that any Minister who believes he will get everything he wants is very optimistic. What my hon. Friend calls "being pushed by events" I would call "taking account of the realities", including the realities of international collaboration in this sphere. I think that the I.R.C. has done a good job on the remit that I gave. I believe that it will put this country in a better position to exploit the hundreds of millions of pounds which it has put into research in the peaceful development of nuclear energy.

Mr. Price

Does the Minister agree that the main cause of the delay was due to the desire of the Government and the I.R.C. to do the Tote double and produce two out of the three consortia at the same time as producing mergers amongst the boiler-making firms?

Secondly, what will happen to the Dungeness B contract, in view of the fact that A.P.C. so far has not been fitted into the new arrangements?

Mr. Benn

On the latter part of the question, I must ask the hon. Gentleman to put that matter to the Minister of Power, because I am not responsible for nuclear power stations being built for the C.E.G.B., even indirectly. But it has had industrial implications in the negotiations that have taken place, and I would add that to the factors which were mentioned as being the cause of such delay as there was. However, it was done very quickly and we should not grumble at the way that the I.R.C. carried out its duties.

Mr. Lubbock

Can the right hon. Gentleman say, first, which of the two new companies will be responsible for exploitation of the steam generating heavy water reactor and the high-temperature reactor, respectively? Secondly, can he say whether there have been any fresh implications concerning the arrangements that he has announced for international co-operation between our companies and those in Europe?

Mr. Benn

On the latter question, these would be industrial links in which I should be interested but for which I am not responsible. This work is going on. Both B.E.E.N. and T.N.P.G. are to be licensed to exploit the fast reactor and the S.G.H.W. One will go ahead almost certainly on an inside track. The H.T.R. must be the subject of further discussion, though availability of the technology will not be restricted to one or the other.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Would the right hon. Gentleman now be prepared to lay a White Paper giving his full comments on the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology which reported on the future of the nuclear reactor programme?

Mr. Benn

I did, in a sense, give the answer. It is part of the answer—which bore upon the structure of the industry—in the statements which I made in May and July on the industrial arrangements that have taken place. I wrote to the Chairman, dealing with all the other recommendations which bore on my responsibility, but not those which did not. The final duty remaining on me is to deal with outstanding issues involving the A.E.A., and this I shall do as quickly as I can.