§ 10.30 a.m.
§ 10.31 a.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power (Mr. Reginald Free-son)
I beg to move,That the Chairman do now report to the House that the Committee recommend that the Nuclear Installations Bill ought to be read a Second time.This is a highly complex and technical little Bill about a highly complex and technical subject, so I hope that the Committee will bear with rather more detailed remarks about its contents than is perhaps usual in a Second Reading debate.
622 The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Nuclear Installations Act, 1965, to bring it completely into line with the international Conventions on third party liability for nuclear damage caused in the most unlikely event of accidents in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. To explain what is being done I must outline this system of liability.
There are three of these Conventions. One of them was negotiated under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and was signed at Vienna in May, 1963. The other two were negotiated within the Organisation for European Co-operation and Development. Of these, one was signed at Paris in July, 1960, and the other at Brussels in January, 1964. Both were amended in 1964 to make them compatible with the 623 Vienna Convention. These three Conventions provided a basis for a uniform international code dealing with third party damage liability, in the interests of developing peaceful uses of nuclear energy and easing the international movement of nuclear material for this purpose.
The United Kingdom, as a developer and exporter of nuclear technology, has a considerable interest in this objective and played a leading part in the negotiations for the Conventions. The Government have signed and ratified the Paris and Brussels Conventions. As yet, we have not ratified the Vienna Convention. The Paris Convention is in force between, so far, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.
Our law must obviously, therefore, be consistent with the Conventions, and the Nuclear Installations Act, 1965, set up in United Kingdom law the necessary system of liability. The features of this system are: to channel all liability to the operator of the nuclear installations in which the incident happened, or on whose behalf nuclear material is sent; to impose on the operator absolute liability; to limit that liability to a prescribed amount which should not be less than the equivalent of 5 million dollars per incident; and to ensure that adequate funds are made available from which the operator can meet this liability, and that they are used exclusively for that purpose.
In addition, the Brussels Convention provides for the unlikely event of a disastrous nuclear accident. Under these provisions, claims in excess of the operator's liability are met from public funds—partly from international contribution—up to the equivalent of 120 million dollars.
I can now turn to the provisions of this Bill. The 1967 devaluation of the pound took the financial provisions of the 1965 Act out of line in some respects with the compensation provisions of the Conventions. Because the Conventions specify certain dollar sums the 1965 Act used their then sterling equivalent, but devaluation brought these sterling sums below the Convention requirements. I think that it will be helpful to indicate what is involved in this.
624 It is not necessary to adjust the limit of £5 million in the 1965 Act for a United Kingdom operator's own liability. This is still well above the minimum limit of 5 million dollars in the Conventions.
As required by the Conventions, the Act sets the liability of other Convention countries' operators at the limit ruling in their own country, or £1¾ million, whichever is the greater—the sterling equivalent to the Convention minimum figure of 5 million dollars. This figure of £1¾ million needs to be corrected now to £2,100,000.
It is also necessary to correct the sum which the Act requires to be set aside as a minimum from the available compensation funds to meet the general run of claims if an accident involving nuclear matter in transit causes damage to the ship or other means of transport conveying the material. This was set at the 5 million dollar equivalent of £1¾ million, so needs to be corrected to £2,100,000.
The Act also puts the Government in the position of being able to operate the Brussels Convention system of meeting claims which outrun the operator's liability under the Paris Convention. For this, it provided for claims above £5 million, and up to £43 million to be met from public funds. This sum was the equivalent of 120 million dollars and, following devaluation, it needs to be corrected to £50 million.
In addition to this, we have found that, in two ways, the Act's rules of liability do not quite match the Conventions. I have already mentioned that the Conventions intend liability for injury and damage to property caused by a nuclear incident to arise only within the terms of the Conventions, and to be channelled to the responsible operator. It appears, however, that the 1965 Act would in law allow a liability to be imposed in certain circumstances on a person other than the operators. For example, the operator might be able to make the supplier of a faulty component liable for damage to the reactor itself if negligence could be proved. Property on the site of a nuclear installation which is used in connection with the operation or the construction of the installation is excluded by the Conventions from the 625 liability of the operator. In its present form, however, our Act would allow the owner of such property to claim against the operator if negligence could be established. The Bill excludes these possibilities.
Secondly, the Conventions intend that so far as possible an operator shall not be liable for damage suffered in a country which is not a party to the Convention. They recognise, however, that in some circumstances a person other than the operator may find himself obliged to pay damages in such a country. For example, the owner of a ship carrying the nuclear material concerned in an accident might find himself obliged to do this. To cover such cases the Conventions allow such a person to make a corresponding claim against the operator concerned. The right which the 1965 Act confers in this respect is not quite wide enough in the types of accident which it covers, and the Bill would widen it to make it consistent with the Conventions.
Looking at the financial implications of the Bill, I should emphasise that although the Bill increases the potential liability to the public funds from £43 million to £50 million the chances of a nuclear accident which would cause damage to such an extent are exceedingly remote, as are the chances of any nuclear accident of significance. It is, indeed, highly unlikely that an accident would occur causing damage exceeding even the compulsory £5 million cover of the operator. During what now amounts to a very substantial total experience of the operation of nuclear power stations no accident whatever has occurred that has had any effect outside the site of any commercial station. The only accident of consequence which has involved compensation claims was that which occurred at the Atomic Energy Authority's plant at Windscale in 1957, and which, incidentally, was of a kind which could not occur in a nuclear power station. This resulted in claims totalling less than £100,000.
I hope that all this detail has not wearied the Committee; but it was necessary to put it on record in order to introduce the Bill adequately. Stripped of this detail, however, the proposition which I am putting to the Committee is that our ratification of Conventions relating to nuclear damage means that 626 our domestic law must be consistent with their provisions. We now find that it is not quite so, and this Bill will remedy the defects.
§ 10.42 a.m.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
I am sure that the Committee is grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for his explanation of this short amending Bill. When I read the Second Reading debate on the original legislation I noticed that only four speeches were made, three of them from the respective Front Benches. That possibly sets a precedent for us today.
The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum tells us that the purpose of the Bill is to amend the Nuclear Installations Act, 1965, which is the consolidated Act, and bring that Act into full compliance with the international Conventions on liability for nuclear damage. I am sure that the Committee will agree that that is a very sound purpose deserving of our support. It is very important that international Conventions on these matters are kept up to date, and none of them is more important than those Conventions dealing with nuclear damage which we seek to bring up to date in our domestic law today.
It is particularly important in relation to liability for nuclear hazard or damage. To draw a comparison with another case, namely, that of oil pollution, those of us who have followed recent events will realise that we are all very much better provided for in terms of nuclear hazards than we are in terms of damage from major oil pollution. It is to the credit of all concerned that we seem internationally to be trying to be ahead of events in relation to nuclear damage and liability in a way in which, in my view, we have not been in the case of oil pollution. The "Torrey Canyon" is a cautionary tale to keep before us.
I suggest that this will not be the last that we shall have to say about nuclear hazard and liability. I would remind hon. Members that nuclear power has now come of age. This point was stressed strongly in the Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology when it looked at the civil nuclear programme. It is no longer an esoteric scientific 627 adventure. Nuclear power stations are part of normal power programmes today. It follows from that that there will be more use of nuclear fuels and, as many hon. Members know, there is a wide variety of them. Furthermore, we know that radioactive isotopes are used increasingly as trace elements in industry. There is a greater use of them in medicine, in research and in survey work. They are being used considerably by hydrographers and water engineers. Therefore, it is right that we should make adequate provision for anything that might go wrong. Then there is the whole subject of nuclear-powered vessels. It would be interesting to know whether these Conventions and the Act cover the future use of nuclear-powered vessels in the merchant marines of the world.
I anticipate an increasing international trade in nuclear substances, and that there will be an increasing number of nuclear installations. In my view, the majority of those installations will be built by international companies, in the form of consortia, large companies of an international nature, or by ad hoc agreements between companies across frontiers. It therefore means that there will be more trade and more trafficking in substances in which there is a nuclear hazard.
It is essential that our domestic law be kept up to date. I go further. It is essential that our domestic law should anticipate developments so far as is technically possible. We all know how often our law gets behind events. This raises, in the subject before us today, even greater problems. We all agree that this cannot be dealt with purely domestically. It must be dealt with internationally.
This raises the problem: how are the appropriate international Conventions kept up to date? It is difficult to keep our domestic law up to date. I suggest that it is even harder to keep international Conventions up to date. We not only have to agree an international Convention; we have to persuade all the signatories to it to ratify and implement it in their own domestic law. Therefore, it is a three-tier operation. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can reassure us that the necessary international machinery is there to ensure that these Conventions are kept up to date.
628 I am sure that the Committee will agree that we must bend over backwards to ensure that the risks of nuclear damage are as low as possible and that we should err on the generous side on the question of liability and compensation for damages.
I suggest that, about radiation hazards, many people have, deep down, a fear, a disquiet, which they do not have about other hazards which may, in practice, be more common. That is because they cannot see radiation, but they can see a motor car. Many people are rather cavalier in their attitude to road risks. They take them as part of their normal lives without worrying too much about them. But fear about radiation, particularly with overtones of nuclear war which are carried through into the civil use of nuclear substances, is something deep in many people's emotions. Therefore, I suggest that both in our international commitments and in our domestic law this hazard is one which we should over-insure. Really, we need belt and braces in this case.
As the Parliamentary Secretary has indicated, the safety record of the nuclear industry has been the most remarkable of any industry in the history of technology. I know of no industry which has developed from scratch to the level which it has reached today with so few casualties and so little damage. Compared with the development of coal mining, the iron and steel industry, the development of the motor car and the railways, the casualties as a result of nuclear damage have been minimal. We all know that at Harwell the danger is not the nuclear installations; it is the Oxford to Newbury road. I hope that the Committee has taken on board what the Parliamentary Secretary has told us: that as yet there have been no claims under the original Act. Therefore, what we are amending is, again, belt and braces.
I now turn to the changes in the Bill. I find Clause 1 highly technical. Therefore, I will defer any comments till we get to Standing Committee, and, possibly on the Question That the Clause stand part of the Bill, we might have a word about it.
§ Clause 2 is the direct consequence of devaluation. It must be right internationally to keep the figure we implement in our domestic law up to the true 629 international value. That was implicit in the Conventions which we signed.
§ Clause 3 seems a sensible extension of the coverage of these Conventions and must be agreeable to the Committee.
§ I should put to the Parliamentary Secretary and the Committee the wider point raised by the Bill: how do we cope with the changing nuclear scene? Should we do it by amending legislation, which has to go through the whole Parliamentary process, or should we write into the Bill or into the substantive Act delegated powers so that changes can be made more rapidly by Statutory Instruments? That is often a convenient way of altering the detail of an Act.
§ It seems to me that at present it is right that this should be done by amending legislation, though I should look to some point in future, when we can see the uses of nuclear substances more clearly, when it should be possible to give general powers to implement conventions through Statutory Instruments. That is a personal view. However, I am sure that it is right at this stage to proceed by amending legislation rather than by delegated legislation.
§ Finally, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary how our Government, with partner Governments to these Conventions, propose to keep these Conventions up to date. Will the instrument be the International Atomic Energy Agency? Shall we work through the European Nuclear Energy Agency, the O.E.C.D., or simply by multilateral discussions? I think the latter is the least satisfactory because it is not permanent. I do not know whether I am right in assuming that the main instrument will be the International Atomic Energy Agency.
§ With those comments I welcome the Bill.
§ 10.54 a.m.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
I do not think that the Committee will quarrel with the statement by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) that, concerning nuclear power stations and nuclear installations, there have not been the sad, tragic incidents or accidents which can be associated with other industries that give sources of power. I remember having a discussion with a nuclear expert on the future pattern of power and what rôle nuclear energy 630 would play. I was shaken when he said that it would depend largely on whether there were any serious accidents in nuclear power stations. Considering it came from an expert, I did not think that that was a very dogmatic and confident statement that we would not have serious accidents. However, our technical expertise has taught us that we are probably siting these installations correctly and that it is improbable that anything disastrous will happen. We have in Scotland a nuclear power station which has broken down, but it is merely a technical breakdown. There is no hazard associated with it. Nevertheless, these things occur.
My purpose in taking part in the debate is to put a specific question to the Parliamentary Secretary. We are told that within the Bill there are certain insurance provisions which are carried out internationally. From time to time I have quoted reports from the international Press in which allegations have been made that strange things have happened because of the discharge of nuclear effluent. For instance, I remember quoting a report which alleged that fish with two heads had been caught. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh, but this is what was reported. The report suggested that because of the discharge of nuclear effluent into the sea marine life had been damaged. I do not know whether it is factual, but papers have been submitted on this matter suggesting that, because of the discharge of nuclear effluent, damage has been caused to marine life. We are talking about safety. It is no use talking about adequate financial insurance provisions, and saying that everything is safe and that we can be complacent because nothing has happened, if, in the discharge of nuclear effluent in the sea, marine life is being damaged. Surely we have some responsibility to discuss this aspect to some extent in considering the Bill. I know that my hon. Friend is knowledgeable on this. Therefore, I should be obliged if he would make some comment on it.
§ 10.57 a.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
I had not intended to intervene in the debate until my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) said that it was a good precedent 631 that, on the last occasion when the matter was before the House, of the four speeches made three came from the Front Benches. That seemed to me to deserve correction. I hope that my hon. Friend will in future take part in the debates on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, for in those debates the position is reversed because a Front Bench speech is a rare thing indeed.
I was a member of the Committee which dealt with the 1965 Bill. I recall the confusion in which hon. Members found themselves because of the complication of this subject and the lack of knowledge which we had to discuss the highly technical matters. We spent most of our time arguing whether the word "injury" was better than the word "hurt". The Government, in their munificence, came back to the House on Report and agreed to substitute the word "injury" for "hurt" throughout the Bill. That was about the sum of the improvements which we made.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us what exports there have been of nuclear material and equipment since that time. One of the reasons we were asked to give a Second Reading to that Bill was that it would result in increased exports of nuclear material and equipment. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us whether this has transpired, and what the figures have been. I believe that there have been very small exports of nuclear vessels, stations and material. This is disappointing. I hope we may be told why this is so.
I should like to make two points on the Bill. First, I am not absolutely clear why this liability cannot be insured, and treated as an insurance matter. The operators of nuclear stations and nuclear isotopes and those who engage in carrying them round the world could be asked to pay premiums to insure against the risks which they are causing. As far as I can make out, the whole liability for any explosion or damage which might occur falls fairly and squarely upon the British taxpayer. Though it may be right, in view of the delicate nature of the subject, to put the ultimate responsibility on the Exchequer, I do not see why those who cause the risks to arise by operating nuclear plants should not be 632 required to make at least a contribution by way of premiums.
The right thing to do is to lay down certain statutory requirements for insurance and require nuclear operators to insure in an insurance market against any risk which might occur. It is compulsory to insure a motor car against third party accidents. That does not mean that the taxpayer has to pay every time there is an accident. Not a bit. The insurance risk is carried by the companies and premiums are paid according to the total amount which has to be paid out. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to explain why we cannot treat this matter in the same way.
I know that it is a bit late in the day to suggest this alteration, but in thinking about the Bill over the weekend I asked myself: Why should we be troubled with this matter? Why should this not be handled by the normal insurance market? Why should the British taxpayer be asked to guarantee the £50 million which we are told in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum is the greatest possible burden upon the taxpayer?
It seems that one of the penalties of the profligate conduct of our affairs by the Government is that we must have this Measure. The reason is devaluation. It is because the limits are now too low in terms of dollars to enable us to fulfil our obligations under the Conventions.
What will happen next time we have devaluation? Shall we need to give up another March Wednesday morning, with the sun shining on the Thames, to discuss a similar Bill because the Government have devalued the £? After all, France devalued nine times before stabilising the franc. Are there likely to be nine Bills of this kind to deal with nine devaluations of the £? This seems to be an odd reason to trouble Parliament, particularly when there are so many important matters needing legislation for which the Government constantly say that they cannot find Parliamentary time. The fact that we have this piffling little Bill shows that the Government have their priorities wrong. Instead of writing £50 million into the Bill, why not write in £200 million so that the Government have ample scope to destroy our currency and deflate the £? They would then have ample funds 633 to squander without having to bother Parliament with a Bill of this kind.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh asked, why cannot this be dealt with by an Order in Council, if the limits must be raised because there has been a further fall in the value of the £? Such a procedure could go through with little discussion and the full force of a Bill would not be necessary. Alternatively, instead of mentioning £50 million we could state the sum of 120 million dollars so that every time the Government devalue the £ the Bill would hold good.
The Government have gone to great lengths at Basle to guarantee the deposits of foreign holders of sterling in Britain. They have also taken care to see that Parliament cannot debate that because it is a purely administrative action. Yet on a matter like this we have an opportunity to debate the increased amount of dollars we must pay to cover these liabilities, and I suggest a more flexible procedure should be thought out. If the Government will not accept any of my solutions, there is a strong reason for changing the whole basis of nuclear insurance. If we must have a Bill like this every time there is a change in the value of the £, we shall need a sort of floating Bill; although many hon. Members believe, like me, that we should have floating exchange rates.
We must bring our rules up to date in line with our obligations under the Conventions. For this reason I support the Measure, although it is a clumsy way of dealing with the issue. We must have a more sensible and more flexible approach.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) won my admiration. Any hon. Member who can think about a Nuclear Installations Bill not only during the week but during the weekend deserves credit.
I can claim to have played a small part in previous debates on Measures of this kind. I was the lone back bencher who was referred to by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) who took part in the debate in November, 1964. It was my first speech after being returned to Parliament, although I doubt whether anyone, apart from myself had noticed my absence. By a remarkable coincidence, 634 the last speech I made prior to that occasion was on the first of these Measures, which was in 1959.
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury should note that while it is easy to say that a Bill like this, which is almost a Departmental Measure, has omitted certain things, that might have been said in 1959 when the then Conservative Government introduced the first Measure. Had the hon. Member put his ideas more moderately I would have agreed with all he said. Nevertheless, I agreed with some of his remarks because it is curious that the financial limits should have been drawn so narrowly in earlier Measures. Just one devaluation was needed to throw everything out.
This country has taken a lead in the practice and installation of nuclear power for peaceful purposes. I do not know if the Americans have overtaken us, but for a considerable time we have been the largest manufacturers of nuclear power stations for electric energy. It seems odd, therefore, that we should now be following, rather than taking a lead in, these Conventions. May we have an assurance that, in terms of compensation for losses resulting from nuclear accidents, this country is, in international standards, in the forefront? That should be our position. If it were we would not. as the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury pointed out, need to be sitting here on a fine March morning discussing a Bill of this kind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) was right to detect a note of complacency on the part of Ministers about the likelihood of nuclear accidents. They are unlikely, and long may that remain the position, but there is always a first time, and the great risk is that if there were a large-scale disaster in a nuclear power station the public outcry would be such that there might be panic pressure brought to bear on the Government to close all power stations. Since more and more of our electricity supply is becoming dependent on nuclear power stations, the question of nuclear safety cannot be stressed too highly.
The standards of safety in nuclear stations depend, first of all, on the skill and knowledge of the engineers and others who operate them. However, those who check them in the legal sense on 635 behalf of the Ministry are the inspectors appointed by the Department. May we have an assurance that there are enough inspectors and that they are of a sufficiently high quality to keep pace with latest technological developments? I know from experience that there was concern a few years ago in the electricity power industry about the nuclear inspectorate—I say nothing in criticism of these inspectors; they are devoted and hardworking people—and about whether the Ministry was having trouble recruiting them. We must ensure that they compare well technically with those in the industry whom they are supposed to check. May we be assured that the quality, standards and numbers of nuclear inspectors are being maintained?
I am grateful for the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill. That is, in itself, difficult to comprehend, leaving aside the Bill. Clause 3 is headed, "Extension of compensation in certain cases", and seems to deal with circumstances in which there are mishaps or disasters involving an international liability and where there might be a claim against a Government Department or the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum mentions:… or in the case of a licensee to the extent to which the total claims were thereby taken above his insurance cover, there could be an extra charge to the votes.In other words, the deficiency would have to be made good out of public funds. There is a specific reference to the Atomic Energy Authority and Government Departments. I take it that this assumes that the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Scottish electricity boards which are actual or potential operators of nuclear power stations will look at this matter commercially.
As the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) knows—the hon. Gentleman is a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology; I have the privilege of presiding over that body—much has been done in urging a reorganisation of the nuclear power industry. We in the Select Committee have done a lot of work in this connection. The Minister of Technology has taken a long time over it, but he is now supervising the reorganisation of the reactor 636 industry, and this will probably mean that parts of the organisation of the Atomic Energy Authority will be moved away from the Authority as such and into the control of industrial companies. This means that there will be new types of organisation in existence, some jointly publicly and privately owned, perhaps, and obviously the Bill will apply to them.
May we, therefore, have an assurance that this matter has been looked into to cover the complicated situation in which parts of the Atomic Energy Authority remain with the Authority as at present constituted while other parts are put under the control of more or less independent industrial companies? I would like to be certain that the liability is fully covered.
This is obviously a necessary Bill. It is the kind of Measure which we must have now that we are developing our nuclear power industry to such a tremendous extent. Nevertheless, I am startled that it should have been necessary to introduce a Measure which is, to a great extent, almost entirely financial.
§ 11.16 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)
The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) is a great authority on the subject, and I would hesitate to try to follow him in his technical remarks.
I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to be kind enough to tell the Committee why in Clause 2 the figure of 120 million dollars was not substituted for £50 million. It seems to me that such a change would save the time of future Committees and time on Second Reading debates. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) so well brought out, the risks of a further devaluation are very real. This is an important consideration, because I feel that apart from dealing with one or two technical matters, which could surely have been introduced by some other method anyway, we should not now be consuming our time in this Committee.
In saying that the figure should be 120 million dollars rather than £50 million, I remind the Committee that the reserves of the country have been run down very rapidly since the Labour Party came to power. Our liquid reserves, 637 not to say our total reserves held in the form of private investments overseas, amounted in October, 1964, to £2,224 million, of which the direct reserves amounted to just over £900 million. The value of the dollar portfolio owned by the Government was £440 million. There were also the second-rank reserves in the I.M.F. drawing rights, then amounting to £871 million. The first thing that happened was that the dollar portfolio was liquidated for £520 million. After that, the I.M.F. drawing rights were fully drawn and enlarged. Our position now, in the short space of four and a half years, is that our entire liquid reserves have been effectively drawn and overdrawn, if one takes into consideration the extent of our international indebtedness, which, by the best estimates, now amounts to some £3,000 million. That does not include the extent of the Basle drawings, of which the country has been left in ignorance.
It is interesting to consider just how we have arrived at this position. First, there has been little or no economic growth. Second, such economic growth as there has been has been subsumed by the public sector. I am encouraged in that assertion by a very helpful Question by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens)——
§ The Chairman
I was about to draw the attention of the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) to the fact that we cannot now have a full scale economic debate. Even though this is a Second Reading Committee, what the hon. Gentleman says must be related to the purposes of the Bill.
§ Mr. Ridley
Further to that point of order. This Bill is entirely caused by devaluation, so presumably it would be in order to assess the prospects of a further devaluation, and to suggest that we should build into the Bill a method by which it would be proof against further devaluation. In that case, the whole economic situation seems to me to be relevant, though, of course, it must be related to the context of the Bill.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member for Horsham was in order at the beginning of his remarks, but we cannot now have a full-scale inquiry into the economic situation of the country.
§ Mr. Hordern
I am very flattered that my remarks so far may have led hon. Members to suppose that I was giving a fully comprehensive account of the economic situation of the country. I was drawing a slender background to support my argument that the economic situation leads me to recommend that the figure of 120 million dollars be inserted rather than £50 million.
§ Mr. Adam Hunter (Dunfermline Burghs)
Why is the hon. Gentleman interested only in dollars? Why not in all the other currencies within the Conventions? If he wishes to amend that part of the Bill, will he introduce all the other currencies?
§ Mr. Hordern
I understand the Conventions specify dollars, so there is a difficulty in expressing the amount in other currencies. The question is apt because it lends support to my argument that we shall not be able to avoid another Bill of this kind unless the amount is specified in dollars or the Government alter their method of financing their expenditure by the printing of Treasury bills and the activities of the Government broker in the gilt-edged market. I take the point that if I were to describe those activities with particular reference to his buying for cash pieces of paper which are showered upon him by an ungrateful public, because of the low state of the gilt-edged market, that might be drawing the debate rather more widely than the Chair would wish. I shall not go into the other arguments about the way in which a proper system of Government control over expenditure must have recourse to control of the money supply because they are not strictly within the context of the Bill, but I recommend that a very simple way to avoid going to the House again with a Bill of this kind is by inserting the figure of 120 million dollars instead of £50 million.
§ The Chairman
If the Parliamentary Secretary wishes to speak again, according to the Second Reading rules, he will have to ask the permission of the Committee.
§ 11.24 a.m.
§ Mr. Freeson
By leave of the Committee. I hope that at least some hon. Members will forgive me if I do not follow them too far along the paths they have taken, not because I would not wish to do so on the right occasion, but because I do not think that this morning it would be appropriate.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) asked whether the Bill as proposed would cover the position of nuclear-powered ships. The answer is that it does not cover nuclear ships, which would require separate legislation, and if there were an issue involved here it would be a matter for us and other countries to pursue through the appropriate machinery.
That brings me to the main question which I think he posed, namely, what procedures we adopt to keep this kind of legislation under review, and to consider how far further legislation or an extension of international Conventions might be needed. The machinery used is that of the I.A.E.A. and O.E.C.D. I think that it is the Paris Convention that requires a conference to be called five years after its ratification, which, I think, is in 1973, for a review of its operation, which could cover any up-dating of procedures. The Vienna Convention has a similar provision.
My hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) asked whether we had reason to believe that damage is being caused to marine life by nuclear waste. We have no evidence of this, despite the occasional stories in the Press. It may be that, in casting their minds back, my hon. Friend and others have confused this with some of the reports at the time of certain nuclear military tests in the Pacific Ocean many years ago, when there were most unfortunate results, but they had no connection with the waste from the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Much stress has been laid on the question of the specific figures written into the Act and now being amended by the Bill. I was asked why we could not find another way of writing into the Bill a figure—120 million dollars was suggested—which would avoid bringing further Bills to the Committee in the future. It 640 would be possible to write into the Bill the equivalent of the units used in the Brussels Convention. It would be possible to give power to do this by means of a Ministerial order. But the answer is that I and the Government are confident in the exchange rates of the £ and do not see the need for this.
§ Mr. Ridley
Is the figure designed to increase confidence? Is it a result of the Government's desire to impress the Zurich bankers with our determination not to devalue again?
§ Mr. Freeson
I am tempted to suggest that the hon. Gentleman might write a letter to the Daily Telegraph or The Times on the subject. I shall not pursue him along that path. The Bill is concerned with one particular set of activities of the Government in connection with international Conventions. I do not propose to contribute to a debate on the Budget this morning.
I was also asked why the operators should not insure. The answer is that they do. The Conventions require it, and commercial operators carry £5 million insurance. They carry all liability in order to avoid the pyramiding of insurance by everyone who might be involved in an accident, if it occurred. That is why we are seeking to avoid by further amendment of the principal Act any possibility of people seeking damages by negligence, in order to prevent a repercussive effect arising from any accident which might occur in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) also raised a question about the writing of figures into the Bill, with which I have dealt. His other chief question was whether, in the light of reports of some years ago that there were difficulties with recruitment to the nuclear inspectorate, we were satisfied with the competence of the inspectorate. I can assure him that my right hon. Friend is fully satisfied as to the establishment of the nuclear inspectorate, and that it is fully capable, in numbers and expertise, of carrying out its duties in regard to safety in the nuclear industry. It keeps fully in touch with developments in this field, and we have no worries on that score. I do not say that complacently. There is an important duty 641 on the Government here, which the inspectorate is carrying out.
I think that I have dealt with all the points put to me. I can do no more than ask the Committee to support the Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
|THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE|
|Rogers, Mr. George (Chairman)||Horden Mr.|
|Eadie, Mr.||Hunter, Mr. Adam|
|Fortescue, Mr.||McNair-Wilson Mr.|
|Freeson, Mr.||Plamar, Mr.|
|Gardner, Mr.||Price, Mr. David|
|Griffiths, Mr. David||Ridely, Mr.|
|Griffiths, Mr. Eddie||Weatherill, Mr.|
|Harper, Mr.||Woof, Mr.|
§ Committee rose at half-past Eleven o'clock.