§ 4.6 pm
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that merits urgent consideration, namely,
the impact of the Soviet nuclear accident on the future of the British nuclear power programme.As I was unable to notify you before 12 o'clock, Mr. Speaker, I must draw your attention to certain matters which have come to my notice since that deadline. First, a forecast of 20,000 cancer deaths has been made by Greenpeace. Secondly, there has been an explosion in New Delhi in a heavy water factory for the Indian nuclear industry. Thirdly, restrictions have been placed on water, food and milk consumption in neighbouring countries. Fourthly, Representative Edward Markey, an American congressman, has said, properly, that there is a 45 per cent. risk of such an accident occurring in the United States during the next 20 years.
The matter cannot be contained simply by rebuking the Soviet Union for its secrecy, although I greatly regret that it has not given more information. It may not know what has happened; that is always a possibility. However, it is clear that there has been a melt-down and a fire, with added hazard. It is possible that neighbouring reactors will be affected by the fire and that rivers may be contaminated. This is a major international environmental disaster, comparable in the civil sphere to what happened in Hiroshima when the first bomb exploded.
I am asking that we now have an opportunity to discuss fully the whole nature of the problem. Many British people, not only those with relatives in Russia but those who live near our nuclear power stations, want an opportunity to have the matter fully discussed. We should discuss how far it is true that Britain has been candid about its nuclear industry. For eight years I had responsibility as 946 a Minister, and on many occasions information was not made available to me. This is a matter—[Interruption.] I hope that the House will listen. I am talking about our nuclear power programme. When there was a disaster at Kyshtym in 1958, it was known to the atomic energy authority but was not disclosed for 15 years to British Ministers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) pointed out, when there was a fire at Windscale it was not disclosed to the Irish, who were deeply concerned. When there were leaks at—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has only three minutes in which to speak, and he has used up two and a half of them.
§ Mr. Benn
The point is that nothing could be more misleading than for responsible Ministers to give the impression that such an accident could not happen here. It could. Openness is one thing, and everyone should want it, but the risk of a tragedy is another. I urge the House to take seriously the need for a debate tomorrow on the whole question of nuclear safety in Britain as well as in other countries.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,
the impact of the Soviet nuclear accident on the future of the British nuclear power programme.I in no way under-estimate the importance of what the right hon. Gentleman has put to the House and nor do hon. Members, but, as he knows, the only decision I have to take is whether to give this matter precedence over the business already set down for today or tomorrow.
I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I regret that I do not consider the matter that he has raised to be appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10. I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.