HC Deb 04 February 1974 vol 868 cc859-61
5. Mr. Atkinson

asked the Minister for Energy if he will take steps to ensure that all members of the Nuclear Power Advisory Board declare their personal financial interests in any companies likely to be linked in any way with the advice given to the Minister by the board.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The Nuclear Power Advisory Board is an advisory and not a statutory or executive body. My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, who chairs the board, is satisfied that the financial interests of the members do not conflict with their duties on the board.

Mr. Atkinson

Many Members will consider that a disgraceful answer. Is the Minister aware that no reputable British nuclear engineer or British physicist believes it necessary for Britain to abandon its own gas technology and purchase light-water reactors from the United States? Is he further aware that Lord Aldington, for instance, is not only the Deputy Chairman of GEC and Deputy Chairman of the Nuclear Power Advisory Board, but Chairman of the National Nuclear Corporation? Therefore, if he advocates going to the United States to buy reactors for a commercial reason, surely the Minister should turn a deaf ear to those who are likely to make personal profit from the Government's decision.

Mr. Jenkin

The noble Lord, Lord Aldington is not Deputy Chairman of the Nuclear Power Advisory Board. I correct the hon. Member on that. The board brings together many people with wide knowledge and experience in the nuclear sphere, as well as some people with a completely independent view. Just as hon. Members have wide experience and specialised knowledge to bring to bear on the affairs, for instance, of the Select Committee, so I think it would be quite wrong for the Government to refuse to accept advice from those who have knowledge and experience in industry.

Mr. Palmer

Will the Secretary of State for Energy follow the bad example set by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in himself taking the chairmanship of this advisory board, which is contrary to the advice given by the Select Committee on Science and Technology?

Mr. Jenkin

My right hon. and noble Friend is taking the chair of the board. In the circumstances it would have been extremely difficult to change that practice in midstream as it were. I am quite confident that the advice that we will get from the board's members will be the best that they can give, having regard to their knowledge, experience and skills in dealing with this industry over many years.

Mr. Dalyell

When will the Department set up a chief scientist's organisation to evaluate such matters within the Department of Energy?

Mr. Jenkin

That is a matter which we have under consideration.

Mr. Strang

I acknowledge that the Minister will not wish to comment on the Select Committee's report today, but does he not agree that the taking of evidence in public from leading individuals in the nuclear sphere, and in particular from four members of the advisory board, has increased rather than decreased our chances of reaching the right decision? Similarly, does he not agree that public confidence in the Government's final decision would be ensured if they published the advice that they received from the board?

Mr. Jenkin

I would not wish to comment on the procedures followed by the Select Committee. I have, of course, read its report and a great deal of the evidence tendered to it, and I have little doubt that this will be invaluable in helping the House and the Government to reach a conclusion. The advice tendered by the Nuclear Power Advisory Board will, like any other advice given to the Government, not be published, because it is essential that it should be given entirely openly and clearly to the Government without its members fearing the consequences if it were to be published.

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