§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are about to debate the Town and Country Planning (NIREX) Special Development Order, which was laid before the House by the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he held another position in the Cabinet. You will notice, Mr. Speaker, that the last page of the order, which is dated 7 May 1986, contains the name of the former Secretary of State for the Environment.
The Secretary of State for the Environment appointed earlier today has plainly not had an opportunity to consider the details of the order, let alone the representations made by me, Glanford borough council, Humberside county council, North and South Killingholme parish councils, East Halton parish council, Brigg town council, Cleethorpes district council and many other local authorities in my constituency and in the constituencies represented by my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). If my right hon. Friend had had an opportunity to consider those representations, his judgment might have been different from that of the former Secretary of State for the Environment.
I now see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on the Government Front Bench. I cannot believe, in fairness to him, that he will have had an opportunity between leaving the Department of Transport this afternoon and entering the Department of the Environment, with all the business involved in moving from one Department to another, to be briefed by his officials on the impact of the order on my constituency and the constituencies of the other hon. Members who are affected by the order.
There is a case for the House not pursuing its consideration of the special development order until my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has had an opportunity to reflect upon the consultation process which took place between 25 February and 18 April. It is essential for him, as the new Secretary of State wanting to bring a fresh judgment to the matter, to bear in mind that the policy on nuclear waste disposal and the eventual publication of the order was changed when my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) took over as Secretary of State for the Environment from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin). You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford proposed that intermediate waste be included in the order——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. These remarks would be more appropriate to the hon. Gentleman's speech, if he should catch my eye a second time.
§ Mr. Brown
May I conclude my point of order and request you, Mr. Speaker, to ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, whom I congratulate on his appointment, to say whether he wishes to have time to consider 458 this policy, as he was not involved in its details? He might wish to suggest that the House should not pursue the matter today.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) has put forward a powerful case for not debating the special development order tonight, and I support what he has said. However, there is, I regret to say, yet another point which he did not make. The order is ultra vires.
It is absolutely clear that the order is laid by a Secretary of State, but we are entitled to ask, "By which Secretary of State?" I know perfectly well that my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Education and Science laid the order. He told me so and I believe him. However, I am entitled to ask my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has had an opportunity to ratify that decision. If he has not, we are being asked to consider a special development order which has never been laid by the relevant Secretary of State.
You, Mr. Speaker, have the rare good fortune to have by your side my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. It is customary on these occasions to ask for his advice on complicated matters of law, and I cannot believe that, faced with such a complicated matter of law, the House can let the Attorney-General go away without giving us his assistance.
I think that I speak for the entire House—at least for those hon. Members who are not on the payroll—when I say that we desire to hear the Attorney-General on this important point. Even if I cannot prevail on my right hon. and learned Friend to come to the Dispatch Box, may I repeat the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes? When you were elected, Mr. Speaker, you stressed the importance of representing Back Benchers. My hon. Friend and I, who represent constituencies deeply touched by the special development order, stand alone because the payroll is against us, the Labour party, in substance, is against us, and the Liberal party has not made up its mind. [Interruption.] I am sorry; some have and some have not. Liberal Members are in a state of complete ambivalence and the SDP is in an even worse state.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have got the gist of what has been said by the hon. Members for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). I have had the advantage of a whispered conversation with a Law Officer and the hon. Member for Grantham will know, because he is a constitutional expert in his way, that ministerial responsibility is indivisible. There is nothing ultra vires about the order.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice on what I can tell my constituents. They are fighting to preserve their area and the surrounding district from what amounts to a 100-year blight. During that fight they have written hundreds of letters to the Secretary of State, signed petitions in their thousands to Parliament and to the Secretary of State, and sent deputations to the Secretary of State. It is true that they have been listened to mainly by junior Ministers—by acolytes—but——
§ Mr. Mitchell
It is a question for you, Mr. Speaker. My constituents feel that all the representations and arguments that they have made have been channelled up to a Secretary of State who has now moved on. They have not had the chance to have those arguments heard by the new Secretary of State. It is on the basis of those arguments that the right hon. Gentleman will or will not relegate them to the 100-year blight of the special development order. It is important that they feel satisfied that their views have reached the man who is making the decision. What can I tell my constituents——
§ Mr. Speaker
What the hon. Gentleman tells his constituents is what I have already said to the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), that ministerial responsibility is indivisible.
§ Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
I should like to raise an entirely different point of order on a matter of procedure, and I raise it in the light of the consideration by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. It is about the certified copy of the Town and Country Planning (England and Wales) NIREX Special Development Order which was laid before the House on 14 May. The original order signed by the Secretary of State has not been laid before the House. Indeed, it never is. The order that was considered yesterday was a certified copy. The certified copy which is in the Journal Office contains approximately 40 amendments.
What is sought tonight is approval of the order made by the Secretary of State under that statutory instrument, under section 24 and section 287 (5) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. It has to be approved in this House. The first step is for the order itself to be laid before the House. A certified copy has been laid before the House, but I raise no point of order on that fact alone. I should like to refer you, Mr. Speaker, to page 614 of "Erskine May", which says:Statutory instruments and other documents which require to be laid must be complete and in full, and correct.My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) has your copy of "Erskine May", Mr. Speaker.
My first point is that an error contained in the copy of a statutory instrument laid before the House vitiates the laying of the order. I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to the ruling made by Mr. Speaker in the House on 15 May 1946. Sir John Mellor said:I wish to put a Question to you, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given Private Notice. It is whether your attention has been called to the error of approximately 30 per cent. in the maximum price of certain cloth, prescribed in the purported copy of Statutory Rule and Order No. 179 of 1946, and related Schedule 2A, which copy was presented to Parliament on 14th March; whether your attention has also been called to the purported correction of the error by the Board of Trade by a correcting slip issued on 26th April, upon which date the time for moving to annul the Order normally expired; and if you will rule whether the Order was validly presented, and, if so, upon what date'?Your predecessor made this ruling, Mr. Speaker:My attention has been called to the error contained in the copy of Statutory Order No. 179, laid on 14th March, or rather in the Related Schedule 2A, by which this Order was accompanied. The period of 40 days during which, under the parent statute—the Goods and Services (Price Control) Act,4601941, Section 17—the Order could be prayed against has now elapsed. The error to which my attention is directed occurs in page 21, line 11, column 2(a) of the Related Schedule, and consists in the printing of `2s.10½d.' in place of `2s.0½d.'. A corrigendum slip indicating the error was issued on 26th April. The question I have to decide is whether the error contained in the copy of the Statutory Order, as presented, vitiates the laying of the Order before the House for the purposes of proceedings in this House under the Act.Your predecessor ruled as follows, Mr. Speaker:There is no precise precedent which covers this case. But it has on several occasions been ruled by my predecessors in the Chair, in the case of the laying before the House of Statutory Orders in dummy, that the period, for which an Order has to lie before the House, begins on the date on which a complete copy of the Order is available to Members. This principle, in my view, requires that the copy of an order laid should not only be complete but also correct." —[OfficialReport, 15 May 1946; Vol. 422, c. 1880–81.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is boring the House. If he is alleging that there is something incorrect in this order, that is one thing, but I have before me the certified true copy of Statutory Instrument No. 812. As he has drawn my attention to page 614 of "Erskine May" and read part of it, let me quote the relevant part which states:The laying copies must be certified by the responsible Department as true copies of the original document retained by the Department".A true, certified copy that has been duly signed has been laid in this case. It is not out of order in any way. Therefore, what is the hon. Gentleman's point?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must put a point of order to me with which I can deal. I have dealt with what he has said, and there is nothing more to say. We must move on. I call the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark).
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Town and Country Planning (NIREX) Special Development Order 1986 (SI, 1986, No. 812), dated 7th May 1986, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14th May, be annulled.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that you have not yet called the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), because following the point of order——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) had a good run, and I have dealt with his points.
§ Dr. Clark
We are obviously discussing a matter which although on the surface is narrow and technical, is one of great concern and emotion, as we have seen. Hon. Members rightly feel that this is a serious issue.
Technically the issue is narrow—whether we grant NIREX a special development order to allow it to bypass the planning procedure and start exploratory work on a near-surface site for the disposal of radioactive waste. It is true to say, without any exaggeration, that the 461 background to this apparently straightforward application is of great national interest because it will have implications, stretching far into the future, with which our descendents will have to live for generations to come. Such a responsibility is grave, and I hope to persuade the House that it would be an error to grant NIREX this special development order.
Although the nuclear and radioactive issue appears complicated, it is not impossible for the layman to grasp. It is incumbent upon us as legislators to try to understand these complicated isues and then to explain them to our constituents. In that sense I pay a warm tribute to the Chairman and members of the Select Committee on the Environment for their recent report on radioactive waste. It was first-class, and it has helped the learning curve of some hon. Members, including myself. It has helped to clarify in my mind how we should be tackling some of these fundamental issues that will remain with us, whether or not we are in favour of nuclear energy and weaponry and, much more fundamentally, whether or not we are in favour of medical treatment that involves radioactive material.
The waste from those activities will remain with us, and we shall have to tackle it. Tonight we are discussing how we might tackle only one type of waste—very low-level waste. I ask for reassurance from the Government that we are talking about only very low-level waste. I assume that the statement on 2 May about intermediate waste stands.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
I am sure the hon. Gentleman appreciates that there is a distinction between waste known as low-level waste and waste known as very low-level waste.
§ Dr. Clark
If the hon. Gentleman had been more patient, he would have heard me put that very point to the Minister. I was about to ask the Minister whether it is true that only short-lived, non-alpha low-activity waste would be deposited in these sites. As the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) has indicated, there are different types of low-level waste. It is important that the point is made.
We are talking now not about the technical application of tackling the problem but how we go about the exploratory work. It might be useful if I quickly rehearse the chronology leading up to the order.
The House will remember that on 25 October 1983 the Government announced that two sites would be investigated to see whether they were suitable for low-level and intermediate-level waste. One was a shallow facility at Elstow in Bedfordshire, and the other was at Billingham in Cleveland, where it was proposed to have a deep repository in an anhydrite mine.
It was decided, even by the Government, that the Billingham proposal would be unsuitable. In January 1985 they announced that that proposal would be abandoned but that they would press ahead and look for at least two other sites with shallow trenches. The proposal to deposit waste at Billingham may have been sound scientifically and technically, but it illustrates the difficulty which we face when dealing with the nuclear industry, because we are dealing with public perception and understanding. While the proposal may have been sound technically, in terms of psychology it was sheer madness to attempt to locate a nuclear dump under an area that was not only greatly built-up but that had on it one of the largest chemical complexes 462 in the United Kingdom. That indicates the difference in perception between us as laymen and nuclear scientists. Anyhow, the Government rightly decided that Billingham was not a suitable site. On 25 February this year they announced that three additional sites were proposed for exploration by NIREX — South Killinghotme in Humberside, Fulbeck in Lincolnshire and Bradwell in Essex. We then had the announcement of 2 May, to which I have already referred, when the Government appeared to say that they were talking about only low-level waste. That is the background.
During a very good and thorough debate on 13 March we had a general philosophical discussion about nuclear waste. Many of the arguments which will be developed further tonight were deployed at that stage. Since that debate the whole world has experienced something which has heightened the nuclear awareness of every person in the northern hemisphere. I do not think there is anyone in the House or in the country whose awareness of nuclear and radioactive matters has not been heightened by the terrible disaster at Chernobyl. It would not be the slightest exaggeration to say that that has created a great deal of fear, anguish and anxiety among millions of people.
For the first time many people who had not questioned radioactivity or nuclear power have begun to question it. It would be surprising if that was not so. Indeed, that experience has been traumatic in the true meaning of the word. Many people's perceptions will never be the same again. On top of a series of unfortunate and, by themselves, usually minor incidents in this country, principally at Sellafield, that has heightened anxiety to an unprecedented level. Only today we heard of an unfortunate accident just across the Channel in France, reminding us again that the nuclear industry knows no national boundaries. At Cap de la Hague five personnel have been affected by radioactivity in what I understand is a nuclear waste unit. Perhaps the Minister can advise us whether it was in the reprocessing plant or in the waste unit.
§ The Minister for Environment, Countryside and Local Government (Mr. William Waldegrave)
It was in the reprocessing plant.
§ Dr. Clark
I am grateful for that information. It highlights the difficulty of getting information, and getting it across to the general public. The basic thrust of my argument is that it is yet another incident which increases public anxiety about radioactive and nuclear matters.
It had been my impression that even the Government had changed their attitude and realised the significance of the factors that I have mentioned. When the former Secretary of State for the Environment, who has now transferred to the Department of Education and Science, addressed the House on 13 May, his stridency and, if I may say so, arrogance had gone, to be replaced with a softer, gentler more understanding and reassuring line. It appeared that the Government had realised the significance of the aftermath of Chernobyl. Unfortunately, that humility was shattered the next day when they laid this order.
If the Government are successful with the order, a complete stage in the normal planning procedure will be bypassed. It would be sheer folly and, I predict, counter to the Government's intentions to bypass the normal planning procedure. At this time of great public anxiety 463 we should be seeking to open up the debate and to reassure people. There is an on us onus to persuade the public of the merits of our case, whatever it may be. Yet, this is a proposal to stifle public debate and to remove from the public arena the opportunity for people, through their democratically elected representatives, to make their voices heard. That is crass stupidity. We should be allowing opportunities for both sides to make their case. We should not try to stifle the debate.
The Minister may respond by saying that local authorities can reject the application for the exploratory work. Perhaps I may remind the House that we are talking not about a man, a dog and a measuring rod, but about a well assembled, highly technical, sophisticated, expensive operation, and rightly so. I refer hon. Members to paragraph 5 of the order, which sets out in detail the extent of the work which would be permitted without any consultation with local authority representatives, if the order is passed. It is extensive and may last for two or possibly even five years.
§ Mr. Hickmet
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the laying of an SDO to carry out works of this magnitude goes far beyond the powers envisaged in the statute for giving the Secretary of State permission to bypass planning procedure? Does he agree that this is a unique exercise of those delegated powers?
§ Dr. Clark
The hon. Gentleman has a good point. As he has said, there are occasions when it is right and proper to stray from the normal planning procedures, but this matter is of such public concern that it is wrong to use the special development order procedure. It is sad that the Government have used this procedure eight times. The Government's record on planning is not good.
The Minister might argue that the local authorities could reject the application, and that would be it. However, it would not, because if the local authority rejected the application—the Humberside authority has already said that it will do so—it would be open to NIREX to appeal directly to the Secretary of State. If he is so minded, after having examined the merits of the case, he could then grant permission for the exploratory work. At least, the general public would then have had the opportunity to hear the merits of the case for the locality being used.
Similarly, the Minister might say that a local authority could try to delay progress and refuse to discuss the application. He must know that in such cases, if, after eight weeks, no consideration has been given to the application by the local authority, NIREX can refer the application direct to the Secretary of State, and he could, if he thought it right, grant permission for the exploratory work. In that case, the onus would be on the local authority, and it would be its responsibility if it stifled local debate.
The Minister keeps going on about how important it is to get this under way, but I wonder whether a delay of three or four months, which would be the maximum, would matter too much, bearing in mind that we have a year or two years in hand. I fully accept that there are difficulties, and that Drigg cannot indefinitely contain all the waste that will be produced.
The scientists tell us that the site chosen will be safe, but everyone admits that in the public perception there is 464 a gap between what the scientists say and what they mean. I quote again the example of the suggestion of Billingham. A psychological factor is involved that the Government, by placing the orders and restricting the public debate, are doing nothing to allay. These fears are heightened—I do not say this discourteously—by the appointment of the new Secretary of State. His record as Secretary of State for Transport was not good on public inquiries. He decided to go ahead with the Channel tunnel—the greatest engineering enterprise for decades—without even a public inquiry. After a Committee of both Houses of Parliament recommended that the Okehampton bypass should go by the southern route, he decided to use his parliamentary muscle to overturn the decision.
§ Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham)
I am following with great interest the points that my hon. Friend is making, and I agree about the desirability of going through the proper planning procedures with, if necessary, a public inquiry preceding an appeal to the Secretary of State. However, as in this case the Secretary of State is proposing the order, does it not show that he has already made up his mind before he has heard the case? Therefore, would not any public inquiry be a farce and a waste of time?
§ Dr. Clark
My hon. Friend, with his usual perception, went right to the logic of the case. If we cannot change the Government's mind—it may be closed—at least we can have a public debate and an opportunity to discuss the merits of the case.
I submit that the proposal before us, in the form of this order, is inappropritate. I believe that it will set back the cause that the Minister proposes. It will heighten suspicion about the Government's intentions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) has said, and, more importantly, it will do nothing to allay the genuine fears of millions of people.
§ The Minister for Environment, Countryside and Local Government (Mr. William Waldegrave)
On 13 May the House debated and approved a motion on nuclear matters. This included an endorsement of the Government's first stage response on 2 May to the report of the Select Committee on the Environment on radioactive waste. That response reaffirmed the principles on which the Government's policy on the management of radioactive waste is based. It also set out the Government's comments on those recommendations in the Committee's report that were directly relevant to the concept of a near-surface facility. It is against that background that the Government have brought forward the special development order now under debate.
I should like to say why the Government consider the special development order procedure to be appropriate. I must say to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), whose advice on such matters the House greatly respects, that there has been a little selective amnesia. He will remember, and the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) will recall even better, that the great THORP project was approved under the special order development procedure. Before the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who is the Liberal party's spokesman, gets too excited, I must remind him of a moving speech made by the present leader of the SDP, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen).
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
During the debate in March 1978, when the prayer against the order was moved by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal party—if the Minister checks he may confirm this—no speech was made by the present leader of the SDP. Indeed, there was total unanimity, not only on the Liberal Benches, but on Labour and Tory Back Benches in opposing the special development order.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I can confirm that the Liberal party's position on Sellafield has been reasonably consistent. Tomorrow, I shall send the hon. Gentleman a copy of the speech made by the right hon. Member for Devonport, which took a rather different line. I shall not press that in terms of alliance unity.
The Government accept that there is a need for a near-surface facility for the disposal of low-level waste. The only national disposal site at present is at Drigg in Cumbria. It has a finite capacity. I was grateful for the confirmation by the hon. Member for South Shields that he recognises that, as does the hon. Member for Copeland, who must know the site better than most of us.
Another site is needed, whether or not the nuclear power programme continues. That is a separate debate. The Government believe that nuclear power, subject to stringent safety provisions, has a continuing role to play, but even if, and perhaps especially if, all existing power stations were to close tomorrow, a new site would still be required. The hon. Member for Copeland, in his speech on 13 May, accepted that need, as did the Environment Committee in its report.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I shall deal with that. I shall turn to what is obviously a fundamental point later in my speech. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) bases his opposition to the development on that point. When he deploys his arguments, I shall try to respond to them.
Before any site can be developed, NIREX, as the developer, must have sufficient information to determine whether a site is suitable and can be defended at a public inquiry. That requires detailed information, not least on the geology and hydrogeology of the site.
The Government considered whether preliminary geological investigation of each site should be the subject of a separate planning inquiry—we considered that quite seriously, as hon. Members would have asked us to do—to be followed by a further inquiry into any subsequent proposal to develop a particular site. This could have taken a number of years. The idea that there would have been a three-month delay is a little optimistic. In reality, there might have been two long inquiries laid end on end.
The Government rejected that course because they believed that it was wrong unnecessarily to subject any community to such a period of uncertainty. In doing so we were responding—I shall not exaggerate—to points made, not by everyone in the area, but by a number of wise, elected representatives of some of the areas. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire was in the lead. On 24 January 1985 he said that the special development order procedure was sensible. I understand that there is another argument, but it seemed to us that, as long as there was a proper and detailed public inquiry in 466 due course, the idea of subjecting the local communities to what might have amounted to three or four years of continuing inquiry would have been in the interests of no one.
The special development order was issued in draft to give those with an interest an opportunity to comment. I have met the hon. Members representing all the constituencies concerned and have visited all the sites. A number of changes have subsequently been made to the order.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The most important—I hope that even the hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is an important change—is a decision to amend the order to allow NIREX to carry out drilling for the investigation of a site to take low-level waste only. The Environment Committee asked for that change, as have many hon. Members and the communities that they represent. The Government do not accept that there are any scientific or technical reasons why short-lived intermediate-level waste should not be disposed of in a near-surface site. Nevertheless, we recognise that many people would be reassured if any near-surface facility that is developed were used only for low-level waste.
§ Mr. Hickmet
If the order allows NIREX to carry out a survey to determine whether a site is suitable for low-level waste only, does it not follow that at some future date it might be possible for the site that was surveyed and adopted to be used for the disposal of intermediate-level waste? There is no guarantee in the long term that the site would not be so used. Is that right?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
There are several extra levels of guarantee, but basically the same guarantee exists as is involved in adapting planning permission to do something other than the purpose for which it was originally granted. Further planning permission would have to be granted. What is more, there are further fall-backs. The authorisation issued by my Department concerning what would go into the site would have to be altered. The whole procedure would have to be re-opened. My hon. Friend need not be too anxious on that score. I recognise his point. It has been made to me by the citizens and elected representatives in the areas that I have visited. I hope that that helps. It is important to have that point on the record.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what representations he has received from the right hon. Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham) about the site of Bradwell power station, because the right hon. Gentleman is not likely to be able to speak in the debate?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I do not know whether that is an attempt to embarrass my right hon. Friend. I am not sure that my right hon. Friend needs the hon. Gentleman's help to put across his views. Indeed, I am not sure that the Labour Front Bench needs the hon. Gentleman's help. We recognise that many people would be reassured if any near-surface facility that is developed were used only for low-level waste. For that reason, we have decided that both short-lived and long-lived intermediate-level waste should be stored, pending the identification and development of a deep disposal site or until the radioactivity has reduced sufficiently for disposal at a low-level waste facility.
467 Other significant changes have been made which should be of direct benefit to those communities surrounding the sites.
§ Mr. Hickmet
With respect, my hon. Friend has just made a very serious comment. He referred to waste being stored until such time as the intermediate-level waste is no longer as radioactive as it might be, or until it can be defined as low-level waste. Is he saying that at some future date the waste that would not be stored now might be stored at the facility that is ultimately chosen?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
My hon. Friend is undoubtedly becoming more expert every day in these matters. We all know that if we wait long enough the substances will not be radioactive at all. The shorter-life intermediate-level waste converts itself by the inexorable processes of nature into low-level waste if one waits long enough.
A point put to me by a number of representatives was that the SDO will now run for five years instead of being open ended. This means that all work on site must be completed within five years. NIREX is now required to make detailed after-care arrangements for the sites, which it will have to maintain for two years. These are subject to the agreement of the relevant local authority. NIREX will have to give the local authorities concerned information on its proposed investigatory work and bring it up to date at intervals.
Time limits have been set on when operations may be carried out. In general, these restrict operations to between the hours of 7 am and 7 pm and prohibit work on a Sunday or a public holiday. There are also limits on the noise that may be generated.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
Will my hon. Friend tell the House when he expects NIREX, within the limits that are set by the order, to be in a position to name its site?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
That is a slightly different timetable from the one to which I referred. I referred to a less interesting but nevertheless still important point, namely, limiting the interference and noise around the site. NIREX needs to take its measurements and drillings for a full year in order to obtain the full hydrological cycle. If NIREX goes on to the site in July, it will need to drill for a full year until the next July. There will then be a considerable period of analysis by NIREX of the data before it brings before a public inquiry one or more of the sites. I cannot give an exact timetable. It depends upon what NIREX finds. Some of my hon. Friends have said to me that NIREX will rapidly discover geological reasons why a particular site is unsatisfactory and that that will allow it to release the site.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)
I cannot understand why my hon. Friend is asking for five years. Will he give an undertaking that when the geological examinations have been carried out and he is satisfied about the water table he will release almost immediately those sites that are found to be unsuitable?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
The reason for the five-year period is that it is just possible that if a particular site went before a public inquiry the inspector would ask NIREX to take certain additional measures. That is why it has been brought down to a finite period, but one which should overlap the public inquiry.
468 I was often asked, when I visited each of these sites and talked to local communities and councillors, why the Government had allowed NIREX to select a particular site for investigation. That is to misunderstand the respective roles of NIREX and my Department.
It is the responsibility of the authorising Department to ensure, by general oversight and the use of its statutory powers, that high standards of waste management are maintained, that potential hazards are reduced to levels that are not only acceptable, but as low as reasonably achievable, and that the public are fully safeguarded, both now and for future generations. This includes scrutiny by the Radiochemical Inspectorate of my Department, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure that the terms of the authorisation are met. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, together with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, are responsible for the overall strategy of waste management.
The implementation of the strategy falls to the nuclear industry. It is the particular responsibility of NIREX to develop comprehensive plans for dealing with low-level and intermediate-level wastes.
It has been for NIREX, on the basis of information available to it, to identify the sites that it considers to be suitable for a near-surface facility, and it has identified the four sites referred to in the SDO. If the House allows this order to proceed, as I would urge it to do, NIREX will be able to collect the geological information that it needs. It will then have to decide which site, if any, to put forward and set out the design of that facility.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has already made it clear that any application will be subject to a public inquiry. My Department set out theprinciples for the protection of the human environmentin December 1984.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg
Will my hon. Friend give an undertaking that the public inquiry's ambit will be very wide? It is not sufficient to concentrate on specific site criteria. The inspector must be allowed to look at all methods of disposing of low-level nuclear waste and to determine the most appropriate method.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
My hon. Friend has made an important point, which has been made to me in relation to all the sites. I am in a little difficulty, in that it will obviously be for Ministers of the day to decide whether they want to make any policy statement to the inspector. However, it is important to realise that, regardless of whether the Secretary of State of the day says that the Government's preferred policy is that if a proper site can be found, there should be a low-level facility, it remains open to the inspector to allow any evidence that he regards as relevant.
§ Mr. Hogg
I understand that an undertaking cannot be made to give a specific remit to the inspector to enable him to discuss all questions of disposal, but will my hon. Friend give an assurance that this Government will not prevent the inspector from looking into the wider questions of disposal, including all alternative methods?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I can give my hon. Friend a better assurance than that. It is not within the power of Ministers 469 to prevent the inspector from allowing evidence that he believes to be relevant to the inquiry. For example, if it could persuasively be shown that the route of disposal on offer was less satisfactory than another route, a case would have to be made that was of relevance to the inquiry. I understand that we do not have the power to exclude such evidence.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Although that answer is satisfactory in a limited way, does the Minister agree that, as the Select Committee says in paragraph 99, the poor state of research in the United Kingdom means that it is impossible to make an informed choice at this stage between the different options? Thus, within the context of a planning inquiry, it would not be possible for an inspector to make a proper assessment. We need the research before that evaluative judgment can be made.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman underestimates the extent to which there is an international interchange of research on this issue. Perhaps, too, he overestimates the extent to which the Select Committee's criticisms of the research effort involved in this country—with which I have some sympathy—relate to high and intermediate-level waste. Members of that Committee may be in the Chamber, but I think they believed that we would be wise, for example, to have an underground laboratory like the one that I shall see soon in Canada.
Those who offered alternative well-documented routes would not have much difficulty in making a case, although I do not believe that such a case would necessarily carry the day.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)
Pending the conclusion of investigations into individual sites, will my hon. Friend give an assurance that the Government, and NIREX, acting under Government instructions, will continue to investigate thoroughly alternative solutions for the disposal of low, as well as intermediate and high-level waste?
§ Mr. Waldegrave
Most of the options urged on me by hon. Members have involved adding low-level waste to intermediate-level waste in some sort of facility. Work is continuing, and I think will expand, on the development of alternatives for intermediate and high-level waste. However, I cannot guarantee that much more money will be spent on research into the principal route for low-level waste. Work is continuing on investigating different methods of deep disposal.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
This is important. Can my hon. Friend say whether the Government have set their mind definitely against the prospect of dealing with low-level waste in the same way as the Swedes do? If they have, that would be very encouraging to our constituents.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I cannot give my hon. Friend as much comfort as that. The Government have taken the view, having done a great deal of research on low-level waste as experienced around the world, and having looked at the geology in this country, that there is a feasible route, but it is for NIREX to say that it will follow that route and to offer a particular facility at a particular place. Nothing that I say tonight pre-empts the decision of the planning inquiry that, in spite of that, no such facilities or no such place may ultimately be found.
470 We believe in the concept of a shallow disposal site. We have some support from the Select Committee on that and from the hon. Member for Copeland in his speech last week. That design concept looks hopeful and worth proceeding with, if a proper design can be produced and a proper place can be found for it.
One of the requirements in the assessment principles pubished by my Department is that any proposal should include an "environmental assessment" of the consequences of that proposal. This will require the developer to show that he has followed a rational procedure for site identification, and will therefore cover alternative sites. All this material will be available for examination at a public inquiry.
The Environment Select Committee criticised, and I believe rightly, successive Governments for not making more rapid progress in the identification and development of sites for the disposal of radioactive waste.
The Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee, under the chairmanship of Professor Paul Matthews, rebuked us—a dangerous thing to do in these days of privileged debates—and said that sometimes politics had interfered in the rational procedure for the national interest. We all have a responsibility. I do not think that any hon. Member would delight in that responsibility, but we have responsibility—whatever our views—for the long-term nuclear programme. We must take a responsible view about the disposal of waste. It is not a happy responsibility. It is not easy and it is not popular, but it is an inescapable responsiblity. I ask the House to recognise this responsibility, to reject the prayer and to let the order issue.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
Debating this issue so soon after the shabby, inadequate reply which the Department of the Environment gave to the Select Committee seems to show that the Government are in too much of a rush for the health of democracy. In reply to the Committee's excellent report, the Government put up a pathetic pretence of considering the issues while ignoring the Committee's basic recommendations.
The report hung together as a whole and should have been treated as whole. The recommendations interlocked. It was unrealistic and unreasonable to take out 13 of the 43 recommendations, to deal shabbily and inadequately with them and to accept only one. The Government called that considering the report and replying to it. That reply has now been foisted on the back of a block vote based on the Government's majority, without any consideration. They call that a policy. It is an apology for a policy, and as a result a serious blow will be struck at areas such as mine and at three other areas which are mentioned in the order.
It is clear that the Government are proceeding at speed to get on with their real priority, which is to push on with the semblance of a nuclear dumping programme. It is a steamroller approach—the tactic of those who recognise a weak and inadequate case which cannot be justified intellectually, which has not been thought through, and which will not stand up to examination. That means that it must be foisted through by means of a brute majority, and quickly, so that the issue is over and done with and out of the way. There is no need to function in that fashion. The Government are behaving in an unforgivable fashion. The Drigg facility—this was made clear in an answer to 471 one of my parliamentary questions—will be available until the year 2010. It will not be full until that year if compacting is introduced in 1987. The problem will not arise until the next century, so why is there a rush to deal with it now? Why are the Government acting with such speed, and why is blight being foisted on areas such as my constituency?
In his evidence to the Select Committee, Lord Marshall said,We do not see urgency attached to this matter".Against that background, why are the Government acting so quickly? To do so is an affront to the Select Committee, which addressed itself to the first full and detailed consideration of the issue. Surely it deserved a full and detailed reply from the Government if it was to be done justice. The Select Committee's report has been treated shabbily.
No strategy or planning has been evident on the Government's part. Instead, there seems to have been a process of improvisation and an opting for a cheap and nasty system of disposal, which is to be pushed through by means of the Government's majority in this place. That is an undemocratic approach, and my constituency and other areas will suffer the consequences.
In their response to the representations that have been received from my constituency, the Minister and his ministerial colleagues have insulted the intelligence of my electors and others. I said to my electorate, "It is important at this juncture to take the democractic approach and to write, to persuade and to put arguments to the Minister. He is a reasonable man and he will listen. If we can convince him that there is no case for that which the Government propose, our representations will have some effect. So write, sign petitions, go through the democratic processes and make representations, and a reasonable Minister will listen."
The letters poured in, but they were not answered before the special development order was laid. The Minister was sent letters urging him to think again and not to blight the area, but he did not have the decency to reply to them before rushing in the order. Petitions have poured in. I shall be presenting later tonight, with the full support of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown)—it is only an accident that I am presenting the petition and not he—a petition from Humberside that is supported by 155,000 signatures. In effect, the petition states, "Do not inflict this on our area."
Unfortunately, the Minister has not listened. There is a weight of opinion and reaction which has been demonstrated in the Chamber, but the Minister is adopting a steamroller-like, ill-considered and over-speedy approach. If he forces that upon the people, we know what their response will be. If he ignores the representations that are made democratically in letters and petitions, there will be a violent reaction later, and if that happens, he will be responsible. He has not listened to the arguments and he has not considered the case that has been put in opposition to the Government's approach.
I advised my constituents to organise deputations and to put the argument to the Minister. The deputations have flocked to him, but he has not even been willing to hear or see some of them. I asked him to receive a deputation of Humberside Members—the request was made well before the process of consultation was under way—but 472 my request was not granted. Without seeing that deputation of hon. Members, he has rushed in a special development order.
I asked him to receive a deputation from Britain Against Nuclear Dumping, but there was no accommodation, no acceptance and no reply. It is true, however, that the Minister has seen some deputations and that junior Ministers have seen others. They have acted as rubber cushions to absorb the arguments rather than as relays to the Minister. They cannot have listened to the arguments, which were extremely well put by the delegations. Ministers have not listened and the deputations have been fobbed off.
We were advancing four arguments in the letters, deputations and petitions, all of them powerful. First, we argued that there was no need to rush into a decision at this stage. We said that if the Government were to carry conviction, to demonstrate that they had a considered programme, to show that they had a plan and to make it clear that they had thought the matter through, they must take time to present the arguments to show that they had considered the issues from scratch, to demonstrate that they were not going for the cheap-and-nasty option, to make it clear that they would not foist on Humberside an option that has not been accepted by most other countries with nuclear waste—an option that has been used only by the United States, where it has produced problems, and in France, which is not known for the democracy of its planning and other organisational decisions—and to show that they had chosen the sites on the basis of a full consideration of the alternatives. In fact they chose these sites not because they were the best sites but because they were owned by the Government or NIREX partners. That was why our site was chosen. The Minister admitted that to me when he said:I understand that ownership was a factor in NIREX's choice of sites insofar as it seemed likely to affect availability." —[Official Report, 29 February 1986; Vol. 92, c. 506.]That was why that site was chosen. They chose that site to avoid another fiasco like that at Billingham when ICI pulled out in the face of local pressure. The Government have chosen sites that they can obtain because they own them, not because they are the best sites. We have had this site foisted on us simply because there is a site owned by the Central Electricity Generating Board in the area. That is hardly democratic. The Government did not consider looking for the best site and they did not consider the matter rationally. They did not consider the alternatives. They should not have rushed into this.
Our second argument was a warning. We warned that it would be a setback if there was a site in our area. It would be a setback to house prices and to the prospects of development for the area. This area is struggling for development and it does not have the advantages of full development area status and the financial benefits that flow from that. We do not want the image that is associated with nuclear dumping. That would not be attractive for an area that deals with food production. It would not be a great asset for us. The Minister agreed with that when he met the deputation and he accepted that it would not be a good selling point and would not lead to the establishment of food factories in Grimsby.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
There is another aspect to this issue which my hon. Friend might consider. People who would have gone to that area 473 are now reconsidering going near it. I spoke earlier this evening to the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers who told me that around Sellafield they are finding great difficulty in filling teaching posts—especially posts for scientific study—because people who would have gone there no longer want to go to areas where there is nuclear power or nuclear waste.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The Minister appears to be willing to attach the mark of Waldegrave to my area and give us the stigmata. The function that is proposed for my area will not aid us in our struggle to attract food industries, to present the area as a food town or as a suitable site for the development of food industries. What advantage will there be in having the site in our area?
The Minister ignored that and the third argument. The fact is that the blight begins with the order. The blight does not begin with the planning process or with the final decision. The association between the areas of nuclear dumping is contained in the special development order. We pleaded desperately with the Minister to take us out of the list of sites and not to inflict such a blight on us in a casual and cack-handed manner. Other areas have made similar pleas to the Minister. However, he has not listened to any of the arguments. That is absolutely abhorrent. I feel betrayed.
Most of the people I took to talk to the Minister have also been betrayed because their arguments were not heeded. The Minister is presenting us with his smooth, bland apologetic face, but he has not listened to the arguments. The list that has been presented tonight is the same list that NIREX shoved into the Minister's hand in January. It is unchanged and there has been no consideration of it. Not one dot or comma has been altered. That is sickening.
The next argument is simple. The site is not suitable for various reasons. There are gas caves, and chemical and oil industries in the surrounding area. This area gave the country the tragedy of Flixborough and the mess at Barnetby where there was a serious oil spillage recently. Does the Minister really mean to inflict nuclear traffic, transport and dumping on such an area? That is simply not acceptable
The Minister has not listened to the arguments. The consultation that he made so much of was an absolute farce. The deputations were robbed. The Minister should at least have had the decency to pay their train fares from and back to Grimsby and reimburse the money that those people spent coming to London to make their points for him and his colleagues to ignore. He has not considered the alternatives or questioned whether NIREX has chosen the best site. He has not fulfilled his responsibility.
The Minister has simply put his signature on the NIREX list, and it is inconceivable that he could have listened to any of the arguments. His mind has been closed throughout, which is tragic for him and for us. The Department of the Environment has a greater responsibility to the environment and the people who live there than to act as the political arm of NIREX, because NIREX is the public relations arm of the nuclear industry, and we do not trust the nuclear industry. If the Department responsible for our environment is to taint itself with those associations and act as a rubber stamp for NIREX, it will forfeit all credibility and responsibility for the area. What confidence can people have in that Department? What trust can they have in a Department that has behaved in 474 that way? What trust can they have in the reasonableness of the democratic procedures in which they are asked to participate when the Minister behaves in this way and rushes in so quickly to foist this on us.
Why has the Minister behaved so stupidly and so criminally towards my area? Why do so at a time when the Russian tragedy at Chernobyl has highlighted anxiety in the country? Why rush into this when an election is approaching? This is a disasterous issue to be stirring before an election. Why behave so stupidly and unfairly? Why answer the arguments that have been put seriously by my constituents with what amount to half truths`.' It has been said that there are half truths, lies and ministerial replies. The letters that my constituents received after the decision was taken and the order was published were half-baked apologies for the truth and insults to their intelligence.
For the Minister to give the impression in those letters that all that will be dumped on the site is bandages and crutches thrown away by people suddenly rejuvenated by radium treatment is a distortion of the truth. The bulk of the material will come from nuclear power production and from reprocessing. Even if it does not come directly to those sites, we shall simply be making available sites to take material that used to go to Drigg, so that Drigg can absorb the waste from reprocessing plants. It is not about medical treatment, but about the power programme and reprocessing.
Why is the Minister behaving like this now? Is there a conspiracy? Is the nuclear industry getting its way again—that public relations mafia which gets its way all too often? I do not believe so. The Minister's speech tonight has given us the clue. It is dull, pedantic duty. He has a sense of duty which leads him to impose this on us. He is not thinking, questioning that sense of duty or examining the arguments, but plodding on with it in this way. A man with that sense of duty, in charge of a majority that can force through anything in the House, is a man who should be watched, for he is dangerous. He does not need to weigh the matter for himself and fulfil his responsibility to examine the issues, because his sense of duty drives him on.
That sense of duty compels the Minister to have a policy. Several years ago, the Flowers report said that the Government had to have a policy for nuclear waste and that we had to solve the waste problem before we could expand the nuclear power programme. The nuclear industry wants the Government to solve the waste problem, because otherwise the industry will drown in its waste. The Government want to expand the nuclear power programme. That is what is behind it. It is not the stations we have, but the stations for which we are making way. The Government will lie low for a bit and keep quiet until the embarrassment of Chernobyl dies down, but that is their intention. They also want to expand the reprocessing operation, as though that was an appropriate destiny for an overcrowded country such as Britain—to become the wash house of the nuclear world. That is what we are hiring ourselves out to be. It is to make room for that sort of waste that our areas have to be blighted.
Those pressures produce the waste problem. The Government feel that they cannot go ahead with either of those programmes until the waste problem is solved. Humberside and the other areas must take the 475 consequences, and the consequences begin tonight. The blight on house prices and development prospects begins here. That is why we are fighting to defend our areas.
The Minister is turning people against the nuclear power programme and producing the sort of emotions that we saw earlier. I was a doubtful supporter of that programme until all this came along. I was forced to ask whether I want the nuclear power programme at this expense. My decision is not particularly important, but that is the intellectual process that I went through and the same thing is happening to thousands of people in my constituency and in all the other affected areas. They are thinking it through and deciding that the game is not worth the candle. The Minister is producing a rising tide of anger and hostility to the nuclear industry and the nuclear power programme.
The Select Committee issued a serious report, but it has been ignored by the Government. The report brings out the "not in my backyard" problem and says:we also believe that there are ways of reassuring local people that their area has been chosen as the result of a systematic and rational process.Has it? Can the Minister put his hand on his heart and tell
me that South Killingholme has been chosen as the result of a "systematic and rational process"? I will give way to him if he wishes to intervene.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The report says:People need to know that choice of their area is not simply the result of some quirk or quite extraneous reason such as site ownership.The Minister has told me that it is as a result of site ownership.
The processes have been bad, the methods are uncertain, the disposal system is wrong—we should examine alternatives such as those used by countries that are more responsible in their treatment of nuclear waste—and we are approaching the problem from the wrong end. We should be looking at the wider issues first. The Minister says that transport, communication and all the other local problems will be considered by the planning inquiry. But the odds at an inquiry will be loaded against the local authorities, because they will have to fight with one hand tied behind their back—because of the restrictions on their spending—against NIREX, which has a budget of £800,000 a year for distorting publicity, and against the Government who are in conspiracy with NIREX.
I hope that hon. Members in the affected areas will show their courage and independence and will serve their constituents by voting against the order. I do not question their integrity, courage and conviction; they should be on the side of sense and right. However, there may be some hon. Members who are considering doing my area down and saying. "There but for the grace of God go I. Hard Cheddar Humberside." I say to them, "You are next. Our fight is your fight. We are fighting for everybody in this matter. Do not use your votes to steamroller this on to us, to foist on us a programme which the Government have not thought through and which they cannot justify." They are proceeding in a half-baked fashion and I ask hon. Members not to use their votes to foist the result on us. 476 Hon. Members should ask themselves whether it is necessary to do it now, to do it in this undemocratic fashion and at this speed. Have the Government behaved fairly and democratically and have they listened to the arguments and considered the matter?
Hon. Members should realise that it is our turn now, but it will be their turn next, because it may well be that at the end of the day none of these four sites will be suitable. A pointless search will blight us, but we do not know whether the sites will be suitable. The Government may land in their constituencies which may be eligible for the next site. Once one site has been obtained, others will become necessary as the programme expands and as the Government achieve their ambition of turning Britain into the dirty laundry centre of the nuclear world. Once they do that, other sites will become necessary.
I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind that if the Government get away with this here, they can get away with it in other constituencies. I am fighting for my area. It is not Homes and Gardens country and the Minister knows that because he has been there. It is not even his kind of country, Tatler country or Country Life country, but it is our country and we are proud of it. We will not have nuclear waste there. We abhor the manner in which the Minister is proceeding. I would rather build Jerusalem in Humberside's green and pleasant land and I certainly will not allow it to become a dump. We are not allowed to build Jerusalem under this Government, but we can fight to keep out the detritus of their nuclear policy.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. Many hon. Members wish to speak and I appeal for brief contributions. We have less than two hours to go.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
I shall be brief because I know that other hon. Members have much more urgent reasons for speaking than I have. I was a member of the Select Committee on the Environment. I say to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) that I do not view the response we have had so far from the Government to be in any way shabby. Intermediate waste has been removed from the order. It would have been shabby if the Government had made an instant response to something that all Governments have agonised over the years. I have no doubt that when the time comes we will get a proper response.
I know that the Minister has already said that he does not agree with the point, but I say that sites similar to the ones in the order can easily accommodate low-level waste. Technically, there is not the remotest problem about getting rid of low-level waste. Our Committee, representative of the whole spectrum of views in the House, agreed on that. The Committee said that things needed to be done. First, it did not want a low-level waste depository to contain intermediate-level waste. That has been accepted. It wanted proper verification of what was going into the depository and it wanted incineration to reduce the bulk. Above all, it wanted compaction. If those things are done, low-level waste can be contained in an area much smaller than we have envisaged so far.
In addition to the sites we are looking at, we should also look at sites similar to the one that Sweden is considering. There ought to be the option of burying low-level waste 477 not in a deep depository and certainly not in a shallow land depository, but in a moderately deep depository. I accept that to do that is to throw money down the drain, but unless we begin to move in that direction we will not take public opinion with us. The Government should not make a mistake about the difficulty of convincing people. In some ways we have heard that reflected in the debate. It has been said that we can discuss, discuss and discuss, but that we cannot get across the fact that low-level waste is not a problem. If that is the case, we must meet the difficulty head on. If we want a stable nuclear industry in this country, the one way to achieve it is to satisfy public opinion.
All four sites will get my support, because I am confident that any one of them will probably be satisfactory. I would feel much happier if we were looking at the possibility of an underground site—perhaps at expense that is unnecessary—because because in the end that may be the salvation of our industry. Public opinion will not allow it to continue unless we take steps that are probably unnecessary.
It is no use asking NIREX because it will tell the truth—I say that after six months of investigation—and say that these sites, or similar sites, will be fine; but that is not the point. We must satisfy public opinion, so the Government would be well advised to take that step.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
My colleagues and I will support the prayer and oppose the Government. We do so, regretting the fact that the new Secretary of State does not have the courtesy to be here on such an important and sensitive matter for which he has now taken responsibility on behalf of the Government. If this shows the new caring face of the Conservative party after its election defeats, it will not do much good.
As the Minister and all hon. Members rightly agree, the issue before us is how and where we dispose of our radioactive waste in the future. As the Minister properly said, this is an inescapable problem. Our views may differ substantially on how we can increase or decrease the amount of nuclear waste—either through the nuclear power programme or through reprocessing—but we still face the problem, we must be responsible, we must face up to the options and we must take decisions.
Given that we have high, intermediate and low-level waste, we must plan responsibly for its disposal and storage. The preliminary question that follows—which the Minister dealt with inadequately—relates to the time scale. What is the deadline by which we must take this decision? Our task has been made easier by the fact that now we are talking only about low-level waste, and I acknowledge that concession by the Government.
Originally the Government were going to propose land storage for intermediate and low-level waste, but now they are talking only about low-level waste. We welcome that. That retreat from the brink may indicate the vulnerability of their position. They realise that their original argument would have been impossible to win, while this one is merely extraordinarily difficult even though its consequences are more limited. But there is still no general scientific agreement about the different categories of waste. There is still no unanimity on where the boundaries between the low and intermediate levels end or begin, and it is clear that there is work still to be done in that regard.
478 The evidence as to the timetable within which we must make the decision is to be found in both the Select Committee's report and the Government's response to it. I am talking about the completed report, not the now infamous draft. Paragraph 63 of the report states:the Drigg disposal site is likely to be full some time at the beginning of the next century, if another site is not found and if reprocessing continues.The paragraph also says that the volume of about 500,000 cubic metres by the year 2000 which is containable at Drigg can be reduced significantly by various compacting techniques. In their response the Government accept that in paragraph 13, where they say:Assuming that available techniques for compaction are used by 1987, and that it is possible to develop the whole of the existing site, Drigg would be full by about 2010 in the absence of any alternative facility.So we have 24 years. The only argument that the Government put counter to the time that is clearly available is that it would be prudent to start now. Of course it is prudent. The question is: is it prudent to start going down only one route, or would it be more prudent to contemplate all the options logically at the same time? The latter is our argument and it is supported by the evidence of other countries, as well as the expert evidence given to the Government.
Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friends and myself, though appreciating the concern of hon. Members who rightly have a prior duty to their constituents, would say that the argument "not in my back yard" should not be the one most often advanced. Clearly the waste will have to go somewhere. We cannot make national policy from a collection of "not in my back yard" responses. The problem is that the Government have forced such a response. First, it was Billingham for intermediate-level waste. There was a retreat from that because of ICI's retraction of its support, massive public concern and general concern about that not having been a well-thought-out plan. Elstow remained on the table, and since then other sites have been named. We cannot proceed with a "take it or leave it" option of four sites without having been asked to decide on the principle of how to store or dispose of the waste. We are not being asked that question tonight.
What is the position about future disposal options? The Select Committee, in paragraph 83, said that investigations were still at a very early stage. Even though he says that we may disagree about the amount of research that may be needed, I hope that the Minister accepts that there is not in Britain, and has not been, any proper research programme to examine coherently, and in an adequately financed way, the range of options. We should have such a programme. Other countries have managed to develop such programmes. For example, Canada has done so from the beginning of the decade and has reached a conclusion as a result of that considered approach. Therefore, we need to research all the options of near-surface land disposal, deep-facility land disposal suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) as the other option to be considered now, and sea bed disposal.
The Select Committee took a clear view. I anticipate that at the end of all the debate the Government will have shown themselves to have been misguided in going down the route they have chosen, because there is general agreement in the House that a deep disposal option is likely to be the most satisfactory for all forms of waste and is 479 most likely to alleviate the anxieties of people who otherwise will have a low-level, near-surface disposal facility in their neighbourhood.
We could avoid all those concerns if we considered the best options as Sweden and other countries are doing. Not only is it misguided to come down in favour of proceeding down one route only—near-surface disposal facility investigation—but there is no evidence at the moment to prove that that is the best option in any event. The Select Committee, in paragraph 99, clearly said:The poor state of research in the UK means that it is impossible at this stage for us to recommend any disposal option with total confidence.We should be able to make a recommendation with total confidence if we are to dispose of nuclear waste near people, and we should wait until we can do that before we mike the decision.
There are objections to near-surface facilities, and the Select Committee made it clear what they are: experience abroad and anxieties at home. Evidence and anxieties have led many countries to opt for the deep underground disposal option. Only France and the United States now have near-surface disposal programmes. Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and Finland have opted for deep geological disposal of all waste. That has not been considered here, and it should have been.
Clearly there are understandable fears. They have been dealt with at Billingham, but they remain in Elstow, South Killingholme, Fulbeck and Bradwell. The Select Committee said that the feelings of the people at Elstow in Bedfordshire were based on reasonable scientific doubt. It is the same elsewhere. We should seek political consensus. We can allay those fears. That would be a responsible attitude. In addition, there are strong site specific objections. Bradwell is arguably wholly unsuitable on account of its geology, neighbouring facilities, position near the coast and the fact that it is a site of special scientific interest. On analytical evidence, criticisms similarly apply to some other sites. There are strong arguments why those specific sites are inappropriate. Therefore, to choose the "take it or leave it, these are the sites" option is clearly misguided.
It is also foolish to follow that road because no site criteria have been laid down. I ask the Minister to reconsider the Select Committee's recommendation that there should be site criteria, although his Department rejected this in its response. The Select Committee was in no doubt about that. In paragraph 280 it states:We therefore recommend that site selection criteria should be established in advance and published for each type of waste disposal route likely to be developed. Thereafter, the Department of the Environment should ensure that any possible future disposal site identified by NIREX should satisfy the site selection criteria for that disposal option.The Department of the Environment is then undertaking a review. It should complete the review, establish the criteria and then we can make a judgment. People are not being convinced by the alternative procedure. A letter was sent to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) from a person living six miles from the proposed site at Fulbeck. It reads:I live about six miles away from … Fulbeck and am therefore sufficiently removed from the area to take an objective view … Because the issue is of such importance … there have been various meetings in the area at which speakers from480NIREX have put their case. I have listened to this with great interest and even more so, because it could provide jobs for between 200 and 300 people …However, I have also heard with even greater interest … the case not only against Fulbeck as a possible site on geological, hydrological and environmental grounds, but also about the thinking of choosing inland sites at all as possible areas to dump any sort of nuclear waste.I have noted the undisguised reluctance of anyone from NIREX to state positively why or how Fulbeck or the other three sites were chosen and have been saddened and angered to see their indifference and patronising manner to many of the local villagers, who are extremely worried about their future and the safety of their families.The Association of County Councils has expressed a related view. It believes that the procedure that the Government propose removes the possibility of full consultation on the Select Committee's report and completely bypasses democratic planning participation by local government in the local areas in question. The Liberal party and many other people—we are not exclusive about this—who care about local government reassert that local people and local elected representatives have a right to participate in such decisions and that they should not be retained in the House for their conclusion.
It would not be so bad if NIREX had any element of democratic accountability, but clearly it is an industry-biased body with no participation by people with environmental concerns or local government interests. So NIREX, which has a vested interest and is unaccountable, has put forward four proposals, and the Government have come to the House and said that that is what they want us to accept. The steamroller method that we are discussing is unacceptable. The Government must go back to the drawing board. We should look at all the options, not just one. We should treat the subject, on research needs, concerns, local government, the people and Parliament seriously.
I received a note of a telephone message from the leader of the alliance group on Bedfordshire county council, which said:Hope your resolve does not weaken.Our resolve not only has not weakened so far, but, whatever happens tonight, it will not weaken. We shall go on until we persuade the Government of the folly of the course that they have taken.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I speak for Elstow, in mid-Bedfordshire, in the heart of the county of Bedfordshire, which has had the threat of a shallow land burial nuclear waste dump hanging over it for longer than any other site.
I want to make my position on the NIREX proposals clear: I oppose them. I am amazed at the suggestion that a 300-acre shallow land burial site should be placed in the heart of a crowded inland county such as Bedfordshire, scarcely a mile from the nearest villages. There are five villages—Elstow, of which we have all heard, Stewartby, Houghton Conquest, Kempston and Wilshamstead—all within a mile or two of the site. The great town of Bedford, represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) and myself, is within a maximum of three miles, and its nearest border is scarcely a mile from the site. I cannot believe that that is the right place for such a nuclear waste dump.
I say that with some confidence because no other country in Europe has followed anything like such a 481 course. The only comparable site in Europe is in northern France, at Centre de la Manche. It is important to note that that site depends not on absolute containment, but, to a significant extent, on fail-safe drainage through to the sea. It is not even a site that is based on clay. It relies on placing the nuclear waste in drums, and if there should be an escape it flows down to the sea through monitored drains and is washed away by the tide.
However much experts may hope that an inland site such as Elstow will be safe, or however much they may even believe it to be safe, no one who is conscious of Murphy's law—what can go wrong will go wrong—could ignore the risk that at some point, in an area as large as 300 acres, over the decades and centuries the drums containing the waste will break down, the concrete will disintegrate, and the water bearing radionuclides will escape and find a pathway to man.
Those facts combine with the blighting effects of the development on the area, and the waste—an important issue for Bedfordshire—of a large amount of important brick-making clay, which has the capacity to burn itself. That is why Fletton bricks are the cheapest in the world. It is a great mistake that such a valuable mineral resource should be lost to the nation and the local industry.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)
My hon. and learned Friend has referred to the blighting effects in the area that he represents. Does he acknowledge that my constituency of Luton, North and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) are also blighted by the proposal, and that the opposition in those constituencies is just as strong as it is in his own?
§ Mr. Lyell
I notice that my hon. Friends from those areas are present. The blight not only affects their constituencies but it spreads across beyond Sandy to south-west Cambridgeshire. Great anxiety is expressed as far afield as Milton Keynes and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) who is not present tonight because he is abroad.
The problem with nuclear waste has to be solved. I have always made it clear that I support the nuclear industry. We need nuclear power not only to provide 20 per cent. of our electricity but to keep our children and grandchildren warm. Even if we were to close down the power stations today, which I would oppose, we would still be faced with the problems of existing nuclear waste. I support the Government in their attempt to tackle the problem.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
May I take the hon. and learned Gentleman back to his words on blight? I have spent half my life living within 27 miles of Windscale, and I know of no property anywhere in west Cumbria that is blighted to the degree that the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests. Yet he referred to hon. Members with constituencies adjacent to his within 50 miles and even as far away as Milton Keynes, and suggested that their constituencies would be blighted. Is he not exaggerating the case?
§ Mr. Lyell
The hon. Gentleman often makes sensible interventions, but, on this occasion, I do not think his intervention was up to his usual standard. As the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) points out constantly, about 6,000 people rely on Sellafield for a job. 482 It is hardly surprising that those people would look at the matter rather differently from those in a constituency which is simply getting the dumped waste and very few jobs.
The problem must be solved. So far, it has not been tackled in the right way. Initially, NIREX—mistakenly, in my view—sought to name only two sites—one at Billingham for intermediate level nuclear waste and one at Elstow for low and, at that time, short life intermediate level waste. We all know that the site at Billingham was cancelled, as the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) made clear at the beginning of his speech, on political rather than technical grounds.
The site was cancelled because public pressure, which I well understand, frightened away ICI. When ICI was frightened away, the nuclear industry no longer had the opportunity to make use of some underground caverns so large that one could drive a London bus 300 miles through them without retracing one's tracks. That was probably, geologically, one of the best sites in Europe. That is important, because the political aspect is as strong in my constituency and those of my hon. Friends and other objectors as it is in Billingham. When I go on to develop practical, alternative solutions, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will bear that point in mind.
§ Mr. Frank Cook
I caution the hon. and learned Gentleman. He should not allow his enthusiasm to run away with his eloquence. ICI was never frightened off. There are not 300 miles of roadway under the ground capable of taking a London bus. That is not the best site in Europe. The proposals were turned down because of the good sense of the community and of the Department. Thai was quite a misrepresentation by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Lyell
I can at least agree that there was strong political pressure. I shall take the opportunity later to talk to the hon. Gentleman in more detail about the size of the caverns.
When Elstow was suggested as a site, I immediately asked the Government to conduct a proper comparative survey of alternative sites, including—bearing in mind Centre de la Manche in northern France—coastal sites. To be fair to my right hon. and hon. Friends, they listened. My hon. Friend the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Local Government emphasised that, although it was for NIREX to propose sites, it was for the Department of the Environment to judge them. I hope that we never lose sight of that. It is not for the Department to put forward proposals and railroad them through. I do not believe that it is doing so, but I emphasise that it is vital, if the House allows this procedure, that we do not get on to tramlines.
In due course, in January 1985, the Government announced that they had ordered NIREX to bring forward at least two further sites for comparison. In fact, three further sites, including two coastal sites, have come forward. At the same time, it was emphasised—this was vital—that other methods were to be considered also. It was pointed out, fairly, that in comparing several sites it was not reasonable to expect every site to go through a preliminary planning inquiry simply to ascertain whether a drilling rig and other investigatory material could be put on it. I have never understood how it was sensible or 483 logical to go through what would have been the charade of such a planning inquiry simply to enable investigatory procedure to take place.
In so far as the use of the special development order has caused the Government to move from the untenable position of simply plumping for one site to a proper comparative survey, I support them. I recognise that in some senses I am speaking of what is a gain for Bedfordshire, and I am pleased when we make such a gain for Bedfordshire. I am sure that other hon. Members understand that.
If the House allows this SDO to proceed, we must not simply go to sleep and leave it to NIREX. We must continue wider investigations into all the alternatives. It is clear from the reaction in the House, which I understand and support, that it will be hard to gain the public acceptance for disposal of nuclear waste that we must gain, even for a coastal site. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider more carefully the altenatives, especially the deep-mined or sub-sea manifold-type solution.
The best practical environmental options put forward to the Government showed the costing of a deep-mined site. Such a site is acceptable as necessary for all intermediate-level waste. The costing of a deep-mine site is £2,500 a cu m—a horrendous amount. A fully engineered shallow land burial site—the Rolls-Royce solution for the Elstow, Fulbeck, Bradwell or South Killingholme sites—is said to be £615 a cu m, and that is horrendous enough.
The sub-sea manifold-type solution, which uses proven North Sea oil techniques and upon which I believe very responsible papers have been brought forward by Dr. Wheeler and others, is costed at about £410 per cu m. that is less than any of the other proposed solutions, even the preferred solution for the disposal of low-level waste. Therefore, I call on the Government not simply to leave it to NIREX but to do the following.
First, they should analyse carefully the true scale of the problems with which we are faced. The figures that I produced last week in my speech—they were the Government's own figures—indicate that the total volume of low-level waste relevant to the four sites whose future we are debating is only about 63,000 cu m when it has been compacted. It is 191,000 cu m divided by a minimum of three, bringing it down to about 63,000 cu m. That is less than a quarter of the amount that is to be placed in Drigg in the years up to 2030. It will be noticed that I have modified my figures. That is because in answer to one of my questions the Government modified their parliamentary answer from a fifth to a quarter. But that is still less than a quarter of the amount that is to go to Drigg.
Only one qualification needs to be made. That figure does not include the low-level waste from the decommissioning of Magnox reactors. However, I believe that I am on fairly firm ground when I say that a decision has not yet been made about exactly when or how to decommission, or about whether it would be sensible to remove low-level waste from the decommissioned sites when the highly radioactive cores are to be left on site in any event.
484 Secondly, I ask the Government to study carefully compaction and incineration systems. Thereby the volume of waste could be reduced by significantly more than the factor of three to which I have just referred.
Thirdly I ask the Government to set up a system properly to monitor all nuclear waste. At the moment we do not really know which parts of low-level waste are significantly dangerous and which parts of it are perfectly harmless. Monitoring will not only enhance public confidence but will probably show that large quantities of allegedly radioactive waste are completely harmless and can and should go on to a council tip. The BPO study says that a great deal of merely suspected material is to go to these sites. That is nonsense.
Fourthly, there should be serious and urgent thought about how to deal with intermediate-level waste. About 200,000 cu m of such waste will have to be buried deep. To add a small amount of low-level waste to that, at marginal cost, is likely to bring down even further the figures I have given.
Fifthly, the Government should look searchingly at the comparative costings. I have already dealt with that aspect and the fact that the sub-sea manifold solution may be cheaper.
Finally, the Government should ensure that Parliament, local authorities and the public are kept fully and fairly informed about the progress of the investigations and of the consideration that is being given to the available methods of disposal.
A crowded county is not the place for this type of waste. It is doubtful whether shallow land burial is the right solution. There are alternatives. I approve of the fact that we are tackling the problem, but I hope that we shall tackle it in a broader and more open-minded way.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
Fortunately, we are discussing this evening the disposal of low-level irradiated materials. They are similar to those to which I referred when I complained about the deposit of some of these materials in a domestic repository in the village of Cowpen Bewley, in my constituency. That material still reposes there, and is strictly monitored by the Northumbrian water authority to ensure that the drainage mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) does not occur.
There is a tale of incompetence, inconsistency, dishonesty, treachery and, I fear, incest to relate. I refer to the incompetence of NIREX, which entered the fray with a very badly prepared brief. It proceeded to bombard the unwitting electorate with a blizzard of bland assurances which included everything from granny's alarm clock, two cigarettes a year, the risk of crossing the road, and closing the window at night to tanker loads of chlorine. I suppose that if someone was crossing the road to obtain two cigarettes and closed the window with a tanker load of chlorine to make sure that the building he left was secure, granny's clock might get very alarmed, but NIREX almost told such childish and puerile stories to try to convince the electorate that its proposals were acceptable. Sadly, such a patronising attitude was bound to antagonise rather than placate an anxious public.
Moreover, NIREX was also responsible for the inconsistency. The definitions of the types of radwaste were changed with monotonous regularity. Two and a half years ago NIREX started with three categories: high, 485 intermediate and low. Those categories were them changed to high, high-level intermediate, low-level intermediate and low. Persistent questioning about where one couuld draw the line of distinction between those different classifications led only to more confusing explanations. We do not hear about the "high" anymore. That has been shelved and forgotten until NIREX has solved its problems. In addition, "high-level intermediate" seems to have disappeared from the scene. Now we have simply low level and the category that we are discussing tonight, "very low-level" waste.
I come to the dishonesty of NIREX, which has manifested itself in the way that it has moved its goal posts. I do not object to people moving goal posts, so long as that movement is consistent and in one direction. That allows us a fall-back position, and we may know exactly where the next questionable area will arise, but the goal posts have been moved not only from side to side, but to and fro and up and down. We have been thrust into a game of almost three dimensional chess. NIREX has done that with the changes in the design facilities. They have gone through such a mangle of modification that the Advertising Standards Authority was compelled to rebuke NIREX for giving the public misleading information.
Moreover, NIREX has been dishonest in describing the type of facility and the method of management. It has also been dishonest in describing the means of transport. When it staged its display of a geriatric Deltic-diesel running at about 75 miles per hour into a fuel flask, it stressed that barrier wagons would be used on each flask, but one went into Seaton power station in the constituency bordering mine a fortnight ago without a barrier wagon. I am not accusing British Rail of breaking any regulations. According to its rules, it acted perfectly safely, but I accuse the CEGB and BNFL of misleading the public by making such statements.
Treachery is a strong word to use, but only 48 hours ago, in a Committee Room off the main corridor, and only 18 months after NIREX had accepted the Ministerial instruction about Billingham, it was still referring to Billingham's suitability as a site for the disposal of such waste. Such action leads some people to think that perhaps the whole exercise tonight might be no more than a charade or an elaborate hoax to con a gullible electorate into thinking that democratic processes really work. They could be no more than circus hoops for ministerial lapdogs to leap at and through and to land, just as adroitly as before, on the predetermined site at Bedford.
We have heard how unsuitable Bradwell, Fulbeck and South Killingholme are. When it is realised how suitable is transport to Bedford, and how the clay content is so suitable at Bedford, reasons for rejecting the other three sites will be found. This could be no more than an elaborate con job.
On the question of incest and NIREX, I have to point out that NIREX was begat by BNFL and the UKAEA in a menage a quatre, with the CEGB in the most unsavoury degree of kindred with the SEGB. The patriarch of this inbred household was the Department of the Environment itself. In other words, it is totally introvert, totally introspective and totally incestuous. Until that constitution receives an infusion of new and healthier blood, the animal is doomed to premature death from incipient blindness.
Let us try to remove some of the blindness and take away the blinkers. What should be done? I refer specifically to all kinds of radioactive waste, not 486 particularly to the low-level waste to which the order refers. The volume of such stuff is not necessary. We are dealing with it in the wrong way. We should nor be creating it in the way that we are, to start with. We should stop recycling it by crushing the Magnox cassettes into a crumbled swarf. I suspect that the reason why we do that is that we do not have the technical expertise to remove the cassette without breaking it. Perhaps our research should be in that direction.
If we were able to manipulate the cassettes and to store them in dry conditions above water, with circulated air correctly filtered and at the right temperature, there would be no need to look at them again. We would then be able to contain the volume of the stuff to about one thirtieth of what we create at present.
Some Magnox stations have had their licence extended by more than 50 per cent. of their design life. We are told reliably, since Chernobyl, that some which are currently operating would not be granted a licence today. So why do we not decommission them? Why do we not use the existing buildings as stores or dry silos? Why can we not pack drums and cassettes in them? Why can we not pack them right up to the ceiling, seal them, and put our radiation signs on them? We could even build our pathetic Stonehenges of recognition, as suggested this week in the feeble competition in the United States, and build concrete monoliths on top so that people recognise them in 1,000 years' time.
Talking of monoliths, I remind the House that a NIREX spokesman compared some of the means of disposing of this stuff underground with monolithic structures which he said could be created in such a manner that they would outlast creation itself. That idea did not last long, because it was pointed out just how fragile and friable concrete can become in certain circumstances. He soon plugged for the salt mine-type disposal, so that the salt crystals have a self-filling, backfill role to play. That is an example of how NIREX mislead the public.
Putting the waste in the very buildings that created it and sealing them would at least contain the problem to the sites that are already blighted by the creation of the stuff. Why should we spread our filth all around the kingdom? By disposing of it in a way that would keep it dry, corrosion would be prevented. It would be kept cool and it would be possible to monitor it. That would enable us and our successors to learn if all was not well with the insidious legacy that we decided to bequeath to our offspring, and enable them to redeem it and package it safely.
We do not clean our kitchens by collecting the dross under the mats, so why should we treat the country like a collection of mats? Having changed the rules of consultation once from those promised originally, the Minister should listen again as he listened before, but sadly not for long enough. He should learn from the old soldiers' adage, "Keep your enemy where you can see him and within your sights." If the Government will not do that, and if they are intent on dumping the waste, dump it in Dulwich.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)
A brief from NIREX about its proposed investigation of four named sites reached me, and presumably other hon. Members, only yesterday. Had it been sent a month ago, it would have been a brief about investigating four sites for the 487 disposal of intermediate nuclear waste. That is not the position now; the order refers only to low-level waste. Our protests in the past two debates have evidently borne fruit, and for that we must be truly thankful.
I invite the House to examine the proposal to include the site at Bradwell in Essex, which is within the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Government Chief Whip and not far from my own. I hope to show that its inclusion throws considerable doubt upon the whole procedure. The brief, at paragraph 18, states:Before NIREX can marshall the particular arguments to support the development of a repository, it must acquire detailed information on the geology and hydrogeology necessary for the design and assessment of a repository. The Secretary of State for the Environment asked NIREX to name three or more sites for investigation so that comparisons can be made.That sounds eminently reasonable, but in paragraph 20, under the headingHow will NIREX Choose its Preferred Site?",the brief states:Throughout the investigatory stage, NIREX will consult a wide range of bodies whose expertise or interests will contribute to the design and assessment work. Such consultations will take a variety of forms: in some cases they are required by legislation, in others they are a matter of common sense and courtesy.I shall have something to say about the common sense and courtesy displayed thus far by NIREX.
Paragraph 25 of the brief, under the heading "Why These Sites?", reads:The four sites chosen for detailed investigation were identified following a painstaking site selection process, starting with areas of search defined by geological considerations (recognising the value of clay environment for its ability to retard and inhibit the movement of radionuclides to man).It then refers to various criteria.
The first criterion is the geological nature of the site.Paragraph 26 asserts that Bradwell hasvery good geology with up to 50 metres … of clay.That is all that it says on the subject of geology. The site has to satisfy a number of criteria, but Bradwell does not satisfy even one of the criteria laid down by NIREX. What is said about the geology of the area is complete nonsense. Either NIREX is incompetent because it has not studied the known facts or, worse, it has deliberately ignored them.
I have a copy of a report drawn up by the environmental protection unit of the Institute of Geological Sciences at Harwell. This was published in June 1980 and has been available to NIREX, to the Government and to hon. Members ever since. The report describes work carried out for the Department of the Environment acting on behalf of the Secretaries of State for the Environment, for Wales, and for Scotland and the Commission of European Communities as part of its research programme into radioactive waste management. The report examines the suitability of the Bradwell site for the disposal of radioactive waste. I will quote from the report because it goes to the heart of the matter. Under the heading,Potential for the disposal of radioactive waste",and referring to Bradwell, the report states:The potential for the disposal of radioactive waste beneath Bradwell is poor. The London clay is only 50 metres thick and only 34 metres of this is true clay. The clay may be a partial hydraulic continuity with the chalk and this renders it unsuitable even for shallow burial of low-level, high-bulk radioactive waste. The clays of the Lower London Tertiaries are insufficiently developed to act as a containment formation. The chalk is a valuable public supply aquifer in the region to the west and for this reason must be considered unsuitable. The Upper 488 Greensand is a thin, confined aquifer offering no potential and even though the Gault offers low transport rates and a high sorption capacity, it is insufficiently developed to satisfy the low and medium level radioactive waste disposal criteria.Remember that those facts have been known since 1980. The report concludes:There is little potential for the burial of radioactive waste beneath Bradwell … Shallow burial of low-level radioactive waste in London Clay is not feasible owing to its limited thickness and the proximity of the chalk aquifer which may be in partial hydraulic continuity with the clay.Despite the specialist jargon, we have here a clear statement from the most expert body that could have been summoned to carry out that task. I ask the House to contrast that report with the sentence or two in the brief that was sent to hon. Members only yesterday.
Both versions of the facts cannot be correct. I invite the Government to have a close look at the report which I have quoted. That report is not, of course, the only document available that should be studied. I understand that a report, prepared by the Electro Watt Engineering consultancy at the request of NIREX, reaches similar conclusions to those in the Harwell report. I have not seen the consultancy report and I must not lead the House to believe that it will support the argument that I am advancing. However, I want to know whether the former Secretary of State for the Environment ever saw either of those reports. I want to know whether the present Secretary of State, in the brief time that he has had available after assuming office, has studied those reports. I take this opportunity to congratulate him on achieving his high office. I am sure that he will bring great flair and distinction to his office. However, I doubt whether he has seen these reports.
Why has there been so much secrecy? Why do independent experts say one thing and NIREX something else? Perhaps the answer can be found in the arrogance and extraordinary failure of NIREX to provide even basic information to Essex county council, which, after all, is the planning authority. The House will recall that when we first debated this matter on 13 March, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham) and the Essex county council, I complained and asked that a proper request made by the council should be granted and that details of the borings carried out before the building of the Bradwell nuclear power station, which is adjacent to the Bradwell site, should be made available. That request was ignored.
In April, I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy, which stated:I am happy to say that CEGB have advised me that they have now sent to Essex County Council, via NIREX UK Ltd., copies of cross-sections of boreholes made for the foundations of Bradwell Power Station.By the time of our second debate on 13 May, the information had still not been supplied. The chief executive of the county council has informed me that it arrived only on Monday.
Who are these people to defy Parliament? Who are they to mislead Ministers? The Minister told me in writing that the information had been passed to Essex county council, but he was misled. What right has anyone to deny a properly elected local authority basic information upon which it can form a judgment?
We begin, therefore, knowing that NIREX has chosen in Bradwell a site which does not satisfy the geological criteria. Nor does it satisfy any of the other criteria. For many years, the area has been subjected to inundation from the sea. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for 489 Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) will remember the east coast flood disaster of 1953 and how the entire coastline from Harwich to Canvey island in the Thames estuary was inundated by the sea. The area is liable to flooding, yet this is the site at which it is now proposed to store low-level nuclear waste. What nonsense.
The road and rail communications do not satisfy the criteria laid down by NIREX. They are almost non-existent. As I have said previously — this would be laughable if it were not for its tragic implications—the site is adjacent to a fault line which, since the 17th century, has seen four earthquakes, the last in 1884. [Laughter.]—That is not a laughing matter. The last earthquake in England was in Essex and its epicentre was only four miles away from Bradwell. People were killed and buildings were destroyed.
What can one say about the competence of experts who choose a site that does not satisfy even one of the criteria that they have laid down for selection?
§ Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that as Bradwell is patently unsuitable for the site of nuclear waste storage, those of us who live in Essex and who represent Essex constituencies have nothing to fear from the special development order? Sir Bernard Braine: There is something to be said for voting for the order and getting the investigation over as quickly as possible. However, the Minister told us that it will take many months, so people will be left in uncertainty for a long time. But I concede my hon. Friend's point. For Bradwell that may be the easiest way of disposing of this unpleasant business. However, the way in which this matter has been conducted so far does not inspire any confidence in NIREX or the industry.
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
Does my right hon. Friend not see that four sites are locked into the procedure and that the Minister has said that if NIREX carries out its borings and finds that two or three of the sites are unsuitable, they will immediately be released? All the uncertainty and blight will be lifted. 'he most likely sites to be released are South Killingholme and Elstow.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I have great respect for my hon. Friend, but he is trying to make the best of a bad job. Having regard to Bradwell's known geological unsuitability, the site should never have been chosen in the first place.
My colleagues from Essex will readily agree that, more than any other area in the kingdom, our county has been the repository of noxious and dangerous wastes. Indeed, 72 per cent. of the hazardous waste and 50 per cent. of the commercial waste deposited in Essex in recent years has come from outside the county. It has been the county council's policy to reduce the volume of waste, to regenerate derelict land in co-operation with the private sector and to promote employment and tourism, capitalising on the twin advantages of the M25 and our growing reputation as the gateway to Europe.
The Bradwell proposal goes against everything that Essex county council, on behalf of our constituents, has sought to achieve. That Bradwell could become a repository for low-level nuclear waste runs counter to its policies. The chief executive told me today that all this is having a damaging effect on what the council is trying to achieve. From Colchester in the north to my constituency 490 in the Thames estuary people are worried. Yet the Bradwell proposal has been a non-starter from the beginning.
I also find it astonishing that there has been no real study of alternative methods of storing either intermediate or low-level nuclear waste. It is not that there is no alternative. The speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) will bear reading for days to come. He referred to the POWER system for nuclear waste disposal which makes use of proven offshore oil industry technology and which has been in use throughout the world for 20 years. It costs only about two thirds of that for land sites.
What should we do? I can understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) said. There is a case for approving the special development order so that borings can proceed without delay. At least three of the communities might then be relieved of further anxiety. However, where it is clear, as it is at Bradwell, that the site should never have been chosen in the first place, we should then be agreeing to go through a charade, involving a waste of public money. For that reason I will find it difficult to vote for the order. If it is passed, and I expect it will be, I must ask the Government to insist on a study of the two expert reports I have mentioned and I must call for an explanation as to why these have so far been ignored.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
There is something slightly wrong with this debate, in that not only are we debating at 1 o'clock in the morning a serious matter of importance ultimately to every part of the country, but we are dealing with the consequences of having a nuclear power industry without dealing with the causes of nuclear waste.
Conservative Members who have made passionate and effective speeches on behalf of their constituents against the deposition of nuclear waste in their constituencies should ask themselves a couple of questions. If they do not want it in their constituencies—and they obviously and patently do not—are they suggesting that it should go somewhere else, or will they view the matter logically and say that they are opposed to the nuclear power industry? If they do not do that, this debate will go on and on, because all our people say quite properly and correctly that they do not want nuclear waste.
It may be that we are debating nuclear waste being dumped in a number of thinly populated rural areas, but as the sites are turned down one by one—and I am sure that they will be turned down by one means or another—other more densely populated places will be tried. No doubt there will be pressure once again for dumping at sea, and there will be problems as the dumping gets nearer to urban areas. Every night a nuclear waste train passes through my borough on its way from Bradwell. It passes through London and eventually it reaches Sellafield. The dangers of that are obvious.
The use by the Government of a special development order is yet another consequence of the denial of democracy and the secrecry that surrounds the nuclear industry. Why are the Government not prepared to allow local planning authorities to discuss the NIREX proposals? It is because they know very well that in every case, and wherever this dumping is proposed and whoever is in control, the local authority and public opinion will ensure 491 that planning permission is refused. The consequence of a nuclear industry is that the Government take over the quite proper functions of local authorities in order to inflict this blight on our country.
I ask those Conservative Members who have spoken so strongly against the order to think further about the consequences of dumping. They all represent local interests which oppose this dumping. Will they vote for the order, even though they are against it? They should think the thing through. If they are opposed to the order—and I am sure that many of them genuinely are—I hope that they will vote against it, and that their hon. Friends who support the order will take the view that unless they also are prepared to vote against it, we will be back here in a few months debating the same thing for a different part of the country.
The dangers of nuclear power, and nuclear power itself, were debated a few weeks ago following the Chernobyl disaster, a disaster that could not happen, in the same way as the disaster at Windscale in 1957 or the Three Mile Island disaster could not happen. I appreciate that we are debating the sites for waste disposal, but we must also bear in mind where the material comes from in the first place.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not talk about that. He must confine his remarks to what is contained in the order.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I am speaking about what is in the order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The order contained NIREX proposals for sites for the dumping of low-level radioactive waste. Those proposals are a denial of local democracy and are a step towards other dumping that could well take place, as other hon. Members have said. We talk about safety. I do not know how many hon. Members are scientifically trained. I am not in any sense a scientist, and I expect that 90 per cent. of hon. Members are in a similar position. However, we are all quite capable of understanding that the technology that exists to protect people from long-life, half-life or short-life radioactive waste is entirely fallible.
It was originally proposed that this material should be put in unlined trenches. It was then proposed that it should be put in concrete-lined trenches. It was later proposed that perhaps it should be buried and that perhaps the higher-level waste should be vitrified. From time to time other proposals were dreamt up, but none of that technology has been known to exist for anything like the life time of the waste that it is supposed to protect and encase. This House has responsibility to face the consequences of voting for a nuclear policy if we cannot dispose of the waste that this industry creates.
I accept that even if we closed all the nuclear power stations tomorrow — I wish that were the case—there would still be a problem of nuclear waste from power stations and other sources. Therefore, some proposals must be made for the safety of that waste. However, as hon. Members have pointed out, there is a problem in respect of every site that has been suggested. At Bradwell there is the problem of flooding and of the water table. The same problem exists at the Bedfordshire site, and the same problem will exist in respect of every other site.
I hope that the House will think seriously about what we are discussing. We should think of the consequences of the nuclear accidents and leaks that have taken place. 492 We should reject the order and insist that local authorities should have an opportunity to hear local representations and to discuss the issue. We should reject the steamroller of central Government, which is very much the hallmark of the new Secretary of State for the Environment. We should look to a future that provides safety for our environment and people.
There is no question but that cancer deaths have been caused by nuclear power and nuclear dumping. In my mind there is no question but that in the long term cancer deaths will result from the Chernobyl incident. Now is the time to take stock of the dangers of nuclear power, nuclear waste and nuclear dumping. We should reject the order and look to a future that protects our environment, instead of hobnobbing around the country destroying one area after another.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)
This matter affects my constituents directly, and because of that I had thought of making many comments about what is proposed, but in view of the lateness of the hour I shall not do so. I am anxious that others of my right hon. and hon. Friends should have the opportunity to participate in the debate. I and they will therefore confine ourselves to about five or six minutes each. I very much hope that because of that the Minister will not assume that we are making any concession to what he proposes.
I oppose the special development order and will vote against it, on both narrow and broad grounds. I shall deal first with the narrow grounds. I am against a special development order per se, because it bypasses the ordinary democratic procedures. Furthermore, it is an inappropriate way for us to regulate any form of planning development because conditions need to be imposed. A statutory instrument cannot be amended, and this House cannot therefore impose appropriate conditions on a development of this kind.
I shall also oppose the SDO on a broader ground that falls into two parts. First, the road down which we are being asked to go is wrong. The argument against the choice of Fulbeck is very powerful. It has major drainage problems, it is subject to seismic disturbances, there are faults on the site, and the clay is not of adequate uniformity.
I make those points simply to tell NIREX and the Secretary of State that we are aware of the relevant criteria. We know that Fulbeck does not match up to them, and any attempt to move the goal posts will be pounced on by us and denounced.
My last point is also a broad one. I do not think for a moment that this system of disposing of nuclear waste is appropriate. I agree entirely with what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell). The nuclear industry is now more vulnerable that it has ever been. It would take very little for this country to become wholly hostile to it. One of the things that would make the country hostile would be a waste disposal policy that was unacceptable. This waste disposal policy is unacceptable to my constituents, and I believe that it is unacceptable to the community as a whole.
In the course of the next 18 months we must make urgent and pressing inquiries into alternatives. I support everything that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) said about the 493 alternatives and in particular about volumes and cost. My suspicion is that at the end of the day the differentials in cost between an acceptable and an unacceptable system are not great, but even if the distinction is great, that is a price that we will have to pay, first, for public confidence, secondly, for a continuation of the nuclear industry, and thirdly, for justice to my constituents.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
I also shall try to confine my remarks, since it does not seen that I shall have the luxury of having as much time as some other hon. Members have rightly taken. We should have had a much longer debate than the three hours that we finally secured.
Every hon. Member who casts a vote tonight should stop and ask himself, "How would I vote if this special development order affected my constituency?". That is the question that all hon. Members have to ask themselves when they go through the Division Lobbies.
Four hon. Members are faced with the problem, and they have been ably supported by hon. Members of all political parties representing their neighbouring constituencies. I want to place on record my thanks for the support given to me and my constituents by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), by my hon. Friends the Members for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh).
My constituency has had this hanging over its head for the past year. It is an industrial constituency with much unemployment. The proposed area has been chosen, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby indicated, for no other reason than that it happens by pure chance to be owned by the Central Electricity Generating Board, a partner of NIREX. I want to emphasise the remarks that were made about the way in which NIREX has gone about its local public relations in my constituency, as in other constituencies
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) drew attention to the insensitive approach that had been taken at public meetings. I agree with him, but I have news for him. It transpires that the first man from NIREX whom I met in my constituency is the prospective parliamentary Liberal candidate for the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page). I suggest that the Liberal party gets its act together and explains to its prospective candidates the policy that its spokesmen outlined this evening. I will not have Liberal candidates coming to my constituency wearing the NIREX hat and taking the NIREX stand.
I come now to the position of the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). I have respect for the speech that he made the other day. It was an honourable speech, and I applaud him for that, but he made it clear that if he were Secretary of State he would probably recommend a shallow burial facility such as has been recommended by NIREX. I am sad about that, but I respect the manner in which he stated his view.
There are alternatives. A blight is to be cast upon these constituencies. Just as I have a duty to oppose the possibility of a waste dump in my constituency, so also have I a duty to make sure that it is not foisted on the 494 constituencies of other hon. Members. For that reason I recognise the challenge that has been made to me in previous debates.
One must address oneself to the whole question of the nuclear industry. As my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) said, if we are to secure public confidence in the future of the nuclear industry we must recognise that the way in which we dispose of nuclear waste, particularly the method proposed by NIREX, could kill its future.
If it is Government policy to maintain the nuclear industry, they must recognise the intense strength of feeling on this issue. That feeling has literally spilled over into the Chamber this evening, but it is nothing compared with the strength of feeling that we see daily in our constituencies near the four sites and in the counties.
I should like to place on record the courteous way in which my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues have received us. They say that they listen, and I am grateful for the fact that they have scrapped their plans on intermediate-level nuclear waste, which they say was a result of our representations, but that is not enough. All it has shown is that we are right in what we say. It has made our constituents even more determined to oppose this move. I tell my right hon. Friend the new Secretary for State that I shall make his life sheer misery until he tears up this order.
§ 1.1 am
§ Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)
The Fulbeck site is within a few miles of my constituency boundary. so I am happy to support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). The site is within 10 miles of 125,000 people. At first I thought that one of NIREX's criteria would be to seek an area of low population. NIREX has broken the first criterion that it set out.
I am sorry that the common denominator of the four sites is the fact that they are Government owned. It must be concluded that the Government looked for easy sites rather than the best. When I asked NIREX why it did not look at Scotland and Wales where there are far more remote areas than those being considered tonight, I was astonished to hear that the Department of the Environment had instructed that they were not to be considered. It is monstrous that NIREX is told that it must not consider the most appropriate and remote sites in the United Kingdom for a suitable spot.
My constituents' fears are based on their experience of experts. Thirty years ago the experts told us that asbestos did no harm. Thirty years hence we are told that it does harm. Thirty years ago we were told that the sort of reactor at Chernobyl could be used in the United Kingdom. Are we not glad today that we did not follow that advice? We must not always listen to experts when we make our decisions.
The experts do not appear to have noted that my area has a high water table. If nuclear waste is left in water one is exposing one's area to huge risks.
Lincolnshire and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham form an area of considerable agricultural interest. Some 25 per cent. of the nation vegetables are grown there. Just suppose that the experts were wrong, and the water could get through. Just imagine then the horror of the vegetables being subject to radiation 495 without our knowledge. I accept that that is supposition, but we must be sure that this waste does not go in an area where the water table is so high.
I do not wish to speak for too long, but I do not want it to be thought that, because I am curtailing my remarks, I have little more to add. However, I shall make two further points, one of which my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham mentioned. The area of Fulbeck is an area of considerable geological disturbance. We have earthquakes, and the geological map shows that the crust of the earth is not safe there. Dry Doddington church, near the Al, is on a slope as a result of disturbances. It cannot be right, however we think of nuclear waste, to put it in an area of geological disturbance.
We must not be confused about the reactions of our constituents. They are not necessarily afraid of radiation. They are afraid of the unknown and of disruption to their lives, and these are natural and honourable fears for them. It would be wrong if I did not recognise that, or that the experts could make their lives a misery. On their behalf, I shall be voting against the order.
§ 1.7 am
§ Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)
We are almost on the point of drawing stumps, but I feel that I should have the opportunity to say one or two things, although briefly because I know that one or two of my colleagues still wish to speak.
The nuclear industry is on the point of collapse, and with it will go thousands of jobs, unless we are careful in our response to one chance accident in the Soviet Union. It could be said that, because of Flixborough, where 32 people were killed, we should have closed our entire chemical industry. That did not occur. The crisis in the Soviet Union is no reason why we should place our entire nuclear industry in jeopardy.
The order is simple, and is only to allow an assessment of whether all or any of the land is suitable for the depositing of low level waste. It goes no further. It is being followed by a public inquiry into one of the sites that might be selected, or alternatively, all of them may be rejected. I said earlier that if, as my colleagues have said, the choice of sites in their constituencies is so absurd, they have nothing to fear.
It is useful to be able to say, "Let the geological surveys go through. Let us trace the water table and find out precisely where it is and the movement of the flow." This may take a year, but then those sites that are unsuitable, such as Elstow, will be discharged, and discharged for ever, and those sites that are suitable will be included.
It is worth bearing in mind—I have done a lot of work on this subject—that Bradwell has been storing waste for the past 15 years, has a nuclear power station, good geology with 50 m thickness of London clay and saline water with no local abstraction. It is not for me to judge the facts. All I am saying is that, when there are four sites, why should we say that none should be considered? I suggest that a public inquiry should be held at which the issues can be considered in depth.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
On what basis does my hon. Friend allege that Bradwell has good geology, and from which document was he quoting? Was it the NIREX document?
§ Sir Trevor Skeet
I can recommend the geological survey of that site. It is important that, when four sites are recommended, they should be examined cautiously. There should be a public inquiry lasting for about a year. We must be satisfied that people are given an opportunity to express their views fully. It is perfectly right for constituents to put forward their views, vigorously.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
I shall vote against the order tonight, but not because I oppose the development of our nuclear industry; I do not. I believe that, in an increasingly energy-hungry world, nuclear power will provide man's only salvation. I shall vote against the motion, not because I doubt that disposing of nuclear waste can ever be safely accomplished; I do not. I believe that world-wide experience, especially that of Canada, West Germany and Sweden, proves that nuclear waste can be disposed of safely.
I shall vote against the motion tonight because the only hope for a successful and progressive nuclear industry is to secure public confidence. It is said that the country cannot be governed on the NIMBY—"Not in my back yard"—principle. I agree.
The objectors to the order are not similar to those few who object to the building of motorways. In this case, whole counties are saying "No"—over 100,000 people in the county of Humberside and over 12,000 in my small part of Lincolnshire. We cannot turn our backs on that volume of concern. Democracy must proceed by way of consent.
At this late stage I beg the Government to approach the problem not in a spirit of bypassing normal planning procedures or of blighting four sites simply because they happen to be convenient, but in a spirit of developing a coherent nuclear strategy based on public confidence. Deep mining may be expensive. Destroying public confidence in the nuclear industry will be even more so.
§ Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
I shall vote against the order tonight because I believe that what the Government propose in pushing it through will do enormous damage to the nuclear industry. I represent a steel constituency. We need cheap energy. The country should have a balanced energy policy. Over 150,000 people in my part of the world object to the proposals of NIREX. If one casts aside such opposition and ignores those fears and worries, one builds up opposition to the nuclear industry as a whole.
If my hon. Friend the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Local Government believes in the future of the nuclear industry, he must bear in mind the great fears that are felt as a result of NIREX's proposals about the waste disposal sites. We may be taking a decision which, in 20 years time, we will see as a watershed in the development of the nuclear industry. If we accept the order tonight and establish nuclear dust-bins in the constituency of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), we will be confining the nuclear industry itself to the dust-bin.
§ Dr. David Clark
By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
497 As I expected, this has been an emotional debate. It is interesting that only one Back Bencher could in any way be construed as supporting the Government's line, and I hope that will be reflected in the Division Lobbies.
Some hon. Members rightly used their local, technical and geological knowledge to substantiate powerful cases not only against siting nuclear dumps in their areas but against the order. One theme has dominated the debate and been taken up by every hon. Member — public confidence. The Government must take that on board.
I should like to raise some points that arose from the Minister's speech. How many sites will be considered before a public inquiry after the initial exploratory work has been undertaken? I think that many people understand that if the order is accepted, and if only one site is recommended after the exploratory work, only one site will be considered before a public inquiry, and the blight will be lifted from the other three sites. The Minister suggested, at a time of some turbulence and therefore may not have quite understood what he said, that more than one site would be considered.
Will the Minister give an assurance about the type of low-level waste, especially non-alpha material, that will be dumped? I have already asked the hon. Gentleman for that assurance. The Environment Committee specified certain types of waste that should be dumped.
I return to the debate's main theme of taking the public with us. Earlier—I think every hon. Member agrees—I praised the work of the Environment Committee. Much of the information in the debate has been drawn from the Committee's report. The Committee recognised the problem associated with public involvement. Paragraph 235 of the report states:Effective public involvement in decision-making is one major key to unlocking the present stalemate in setting up waste disposal sites.Those wise words were written with due consideration after months of study. The Government are turning their back on them.
Through the SDO, the Government are bypassing the normal planning procedure and stifling public debate. They are not doing a service to the general public or the nuclear industry. I hope that hon. Members will join us in the Division Lobby to vote against the order.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to respond first to the two points put by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). First, we are using the definition of low-level waste used in last year's report by the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee. Secondly, if no site turns out to be suitable, no site will be considered before a public enquiry. I suppose that it is possible for NIREX to take more than one site, but the expectation is that it will take one or perhaps two sites. That is ultimately for NIREX.
I was impressed by the discipline of my right hon. and hon. Friends in restricting the length of their speeches. They made powerful points. They had already been put to me and to my right hon. Friends, but it was right that they should be aired again tonight. I shall have to reply to some of the more detailed points by letter. Nevertheless, in the short period available before the end of this debate I shall try to deal with some of them.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said that there has been a great rush about this. A 498 justifiable criticism of Governments of both parties is not that they have been in a great rush but that they have delayed taking a decision. It is now 10 years since the Flowers report.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
Criticism would be much more justified if we were to listen to the siren voices on both sides of the House and seek reasons for delay. That would be the easy and the obvious course to take, but it would not be right.
The hon. Member for Great Grimsby used the word "duty" as an insult. I did not insult him, because he is doing what he believes to be his duty towards his constituents. The only point at which the debate reached a low level was when he sought to insult me in a variety of ways for doing what I regard as my duty.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) made the abolutely fair point that the Committee upon which he serves has said that no question of safety is involved if the design is correct and a proper place is found for the site. However, he then made a point that was taken up by a number of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friends the Members for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). I was slightly disappointed to find that my hon. Friend. the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle had altered his initial response. My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hicktnet) also referred to the fact that, regardless of safety, it is worth spending more in order to buy confidence in the nuclear industry. I understand that argument, but the House has to consider the danger to the nuclear industry if it backs off yet again from taking the first step. Would that not do more ultimately to shake confidence in the nuclear industry?
Many right hon. and hon. Members, including myself, believe that a nuclear industry is needed by this country and that, because of environmental problems, it will be needed even more in the next century. Therefore, the duty of the Department of the Environment is to seek safe waste disposal systems. We have to gather all the evidence we can about safe ways of dealing with low-level waste and then recommend to the House a reasonable way forward.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) accepts that it is prudent to act now, but he said that action should be taken on a wider front. We have narrowed the problem and made our task somewhat easier by saying that we shall deal only with low-level waste. There is now sufficient consensus to allow us to proceed along that route.
The hon. Gentleman asked me a question that I was asked during my visits: why does not the Department of the Environment specify in detail the kind of sites that it wants? I understand that argument, but it contains dangers. My Department ultimately has to be the arbiter as to whether a particular site that the inspector may recommend is suitable. If the Department were to define what would be a suitable site, legitimate accusations would be levelled at it that an inside track was being offered to a particular type of site. That would narrow the nature of the inquiry.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) and several other hon. Members 499 asked whether we could continue for a longer time with Drigg. Drigg has a finite capacity. I am writing to my hon. and learned Friend. I have also answered questions from him about it and have given him our best assessment, based on the available figures. The advice that has been given to me is that, after a reasonable assessment of the amount of compaction and after a minimalist assessment of the nuclear programme — by which I mean no expansion—we shall still need a site after 2010. I think my hon. and learned Friend referred to that date, and I do not disagree with it.
In view of the likely length of the inquiry and the time that it will take to build any facility that is agreed, it is prudent that we should begin, carefully and steadily, to go ahead. Indeed, care and steadiness in all our responses was the theme in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet). It would be tragic for this country's future if we damaged the nuclear industry's long-term prospects because of the understandable passion that the subject arouses, particularly in the present climate.
But care, steadiness and slowness have been the watchwords. Indeed, there has almost been too much slowness. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) spoke about the geological report called, I believe, the Robbins report, that deals with the Essex site. I am advised that NIREX knows all about that. If any of the sites are wrong, as he and others argue, the sooner we investigate them, the better. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North rightly made this point. The sooner those arguments are put to the test and settled, the better for all concerned and the better for the country. Other proposals would have to be brought forward in due course if none of the sites was suitable.
Contrary to what some may think, hardly any hon. Members have argued tonight that there should be no disposal site. They have not even argued that there should be no shallow disposal site in the country. They have been arguing for the continuation of one existing disposal site, although it is not the most ideal site. That point has not really been made. Hon. Members have been arguing not against low-level waste, but against an additional low-level waste disposal site in another place.
It was responsible of Opposition Members not to stand against the concept of low-level waste disposal if a properly designed facility can be found. If they vote against us, it will be because of the special development order. With all respect, that is a bit thick coming from a party that used an SDO itself. If it is necessary to have a debate in Parliament for the very same reason as before, that must be a slightly illogical argument.
§ Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)
Since the Minister mentioned the use of an SDO by the previous Labour Government in respect of the extensions to the BNFL site in my constituency, I should put the record straight. The planning authority agreed the application. It was then called in by the Minister, and he decided to operate the SDO procedure. In other words, the planning application went through the normal local government planning procedures. We are saying that that should happen in this case, but it is not being done.
§ Mr. Waldegrave
I quite understand that the SDO procedure was used then to give the House a chance to debate the issue. The argument made about the time that 500 alleged blight might hang over a community is one justification for using the SDO tonight, and for holding this debate. Although I respect the anxieties of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I hope that the House will, in the face of an unpleasant, difficult but utterly necessary duty, which is laid on us all, take the first step towards the safe disposal of these wastes. That duty is laid on us regardless of our view of the nuclear industry and its future. Having listened to the arguments with respect, I hope that hon. Members will reject them. Otherwise our successors will be landed with an even worse problem.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 166, Noes 244.502
|Division No. 193]||[1.30 am|
|Alexander, Richard||Fatchett, Derek|
|Alton, David||Faulds, Andrew|
|Anderson, Donald||Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Fisher, Mark|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Flannery, Martin|
|Ashton, Joe||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Forrester, John|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Foster, Derek|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Foulkes, George|
|Barnett, Guy||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Barron, Kevin||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||George, Bruce|
|Beith, A. J.||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Bell, Stuart||Gould, Bryan|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Hancock, Michael|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Haynes, Frank|
|Blair, Anthony||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Body, Sir Richard||Hickmet, Richard|
|Boyes, Roland||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)|
|Brown, M, (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Home Robertson, John|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Bruce, Malcolm||John, Brynmor|
|Buchan, Norman||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Caborn, Richard||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Lamond, James|
|Campbell, Ian||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Leighton, Ronald|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Litherland, Robert|
|Clarke, Thomas||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Clay, Robert||McCartney, Hugh|
|Clelland, David Gordon||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Cohen, Harry||Madden, Max|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Marek, Dr John|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Martin, Michael|
|Crowther, Stan||Maxton, John|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Meacher, Michael|
|Dalyell, Tarn||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Michie, William|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Deakins, Eric||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Dewar, Donald||Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
|Dixon, Donald||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Dobson, Frank||Nellist, David|
|Dormand, Jack||O'Brien, William|
|Dubs, Alfred||O'Neill, Martin|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Eadie, Alex||Park, George|
|Eastham, Ken||Parry, Robert|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Patchett, Terry|
|Ewing, Harry||Pendry, Tom|
|Penhaligon, David||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Pike, Peter||Stott, Roger|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Strang, Gavin|
|Prescott, John||Straw, Jack|
|Randall, Stuart||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Raynsford, Nick||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Redmond, Martin||Thomas, Dr R, (Carmarthen)|
|Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Richardson, Ms Jo||Tinn, James|
|Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Rogers, Allan||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Rooker, J. W.||Wallace, James|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Sheerman, Barry||Wareing, Robert|
|Shields, Mrs Elizabeth||Welsh, Michael|
|Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)||White, James|
|Silkin, Rt Hon J.||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Skinner, Dennis||Winnick, David|
|Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)|
|Soley, Clive||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Spearing, Nigel||Mr. Ron Davies and Mr. John McWilliam.|
|Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Dover, Den|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Durant, Tony|
|Ancram, Michael||Dykes, Hugh|
|Arnold, Tom||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Ashby, David||Eggar, Tim|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Evennett, David|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Fallon, Michael|
|Baldry, Tony||Farr, Sir John|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Favell, Anthony|
|Batiste, Spencer||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Bendall, Vivian||Forman, Nigel|
|Benyon, William||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Best, Keith||Forth, Eric|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Fox, Marcus|
|Blackburn, John||Franks, Cecil|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Freeman, Roger|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Gale, Roger|
|Bottomley, Peter||Galley, Roy|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Brinton, Tim||Gow, Ian|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Grant, Sir Anthony|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Greenway, Harry|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Gregory, Conal|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Grist, Ian|
|Budgen, Nick||Ground, Patrick|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Grylls, Michael|
|Burt, Alistair||Gummer, Rt Hon John S|
|Butcher, John||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Butterfill, John||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hannam, John|
|Cash, William||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Harris, David|
|Chapman, Sydney||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Chope, Christopher||Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)|
|Clark. Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hayes, J.|
|Colvin, Michael||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Coombs, Simon||Heddle, John|
|Cope, John||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Couchman, James||Hill, James|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hind, Kenneth|
|Crouch, David||Hirst, Michael|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Holt, Richard|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Howard, Michael|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Page, Sir John (Harrow W)|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Jackson, Robert||Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)|
|Jessel, Toby||Pawsey, James|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Pollock, Alexander|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Porter, Barry|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Portillo, Michael|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Powley, John|
|Key, Robert||Price, Sir David|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Raffan, Keith|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Knowles, Michael||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Knox, David||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Lang, Ian||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Rowe, Andrew|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Lester, Jim||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Lightbown, David||Silvester, Fred|
|Lilley, Peter||Sims, Roger|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Lord, Michael||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Spencer, Derek|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Steen, Anthony|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Maclean, David John||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)|
|McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Major, John||Sumberg, David|
|Malins, Humfrey||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Maples, John||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Marland, Paul||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Marlow, Antony||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Mates, Michael||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Mather, Carol||Thurnham, Peter|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Tracey, Richard|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Trippier, David|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Mellor, David||Viggers, Peter|
|Merchant, Piers||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Walden, George|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Waller, Gary|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Ward, John|
|Moate, Roger||Watson, John|
|Monro, Sir Hector||Wheeler, John|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Wilkinson, John|
|Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Murphy, Christopher||Wolfson, Mark|
|Neale, Gerrard||Wood, Timothy|
|Nelson, Anthony||Yeo, Tim|
|Newton, Tony||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and Mr. Gerald Malone.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.