HC Deb 24 January 1984 vol 52 c777

4 Pm

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I wish to raise a point of order of which I have given you, Mr. Speaker, notice. It touches the heart of the issue of ministerial responsibility and the accountability of Ministers to the House.

Last Tuesday I tabled seven questions to the Secretary of State for Energy about the safety of the civil nuclear programme and the incidence of cancer at Sellafield. Yesterday I was astonished to receive a reply from the Minister saying that the questions had been transferred to the chairman of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. and that a copy of the chairman's answer to me would be placed in the Library. It is extraordinary that a Minister should abdicate his statutory responsibilities in favour of the chairman of a company.

I have worked in the Department of Energy, and I know that the Secretary of State is charged with overall responsibility for the safety of the British civil nuclear programme. If the chairman of BNFL gives me a wrong or misleading answer, what shall I do? Is he responsible, or is the Minister responsible?

BNFL faces the possibility of prosecution by the Director of Public Prosecutions, and an eminent scientist is studying the incidence of cancer in and around Sellafield. At such a time, Ministers may well wish to wash their hands of what BNFL is doing. However, they are statutorily responsible, and it would be a help to the House and to the nation if they were to answer before the House. I ask for your guidance on this point, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman gave me notice of his point of order. However, I am sorry to have to tell him that I have no responsibility for the content of ministerial answers.