HC Deb 14 January 1980 vol 976 cc1191-2
10. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether any form of public inquiry will be held before permission is given to include a pressurised water reactor in the nuclear power programme.

22. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what steps he will take to consult public opinion before the announcement of any further extension of the nuclear programme.

Mr. David Howell

The Government attach great importance to full public debate on nuclear power and, with the bodies concerned, are helping to ensure that appropriate information is available.

In my statement of 18 December to the House I announced that an inquiry will be held in due course into the PWR, which the CEGB intends to order subject to the necessary consents and safety clearances. The Government have also said that any decision to build a commercial demonstration fast reactor in the United Kingdom, on which no decisions have yet been taken, will be subject to a full and thorough public inquiry.

Mr. Hooley

Will the Secretary of State promise that the alibi of "commercial confidentiality", which has already been mentioned this afternoon, will not inhibit information being presented to such an inquiry? Will he also consider the possibility of providing funds to voluntary bodies that may wish to present evidence to such an inquiry.

Mr. Howell

I shall certainly consider the second matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised. On the first matter, it is not a question of an alibi. Where the commercial information can be supplied only on the condition that it is not published and that condition is broken, the information is not available and it is not supplied by the company concerned.

Mr. Whitehead

Will the Secretary of State tell the House, if there is to be a public inquiry on pressurised water reactors, whether that inquiry will take place before or after the building of the experimental reactor? If the latter course is adopted, that would provide details for a subsequent inquiry about the consequences of installing such reactors.

Mr. Howell

Certainly, there will be an inquiry into that matter. Earlier, the hon. Gentleman asked about the nature of the inquiry. Normal planning procedures allow scope for a full and thorough inquiry, and that will take place. We shall give careful consideration to the precise form and scope of that inquiry when we decide upon it. Further inquiries naturally arise when applications for the siting of further reactors are received.

Dr. Owen

The right hon. Gentleman has made an important statement. He said that it will be a normal planning inquiry. However, he has been constantly pressed on the matter and I believed that he had agreed to undertake to look at the possibility of a wide-ranging inquiry. That would allow comparative cost, safety and import content to be considered. As the decision to change from a gas-cooled reactor to a pressure water reactor was a major one, the House and the country would also have the satisfaction of having an inquiry of the nature of the Windscale inquiry. A normal planning inquiry is not satisfactory.

Mr. Howell

The right hon. Gentleman did not hear what I said. I said that normal planning procedures allow scope for a full and thorough inquiry. That is a different matter from the words that he alleged that I uttered.