HC Deb 26 January 1987 vol 109 cc7-9
7. Mr. Stern

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he expects to announce his decision on the report of the inspector on the proposal by the Central Electricity Generating Board to construct a pressurised water reactor at Sizewell.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

In an answer pursuant to a question from my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) on Thursday 22 January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would publish the report today. He has done so and has placed copies both of the full report and of a summary in the Library and Vote Office. My right hon. Friend has asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to arrange a debate before he makes any decision.

Mr. Stern

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Did he note that during the recent cold snap the CEGB transmitted more electricity than ever before, and that even ignoring that, the demand for electricity is approaching the higher end of the estimates given by the CEGB to the Sizewell inquiry? In view of that, will my right hon. Friend ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to arrange the earliest possible date for the House to consider and accept the main conclusions of the Layfield inquiry?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I note what my hon. Friend says. It is important that we should have a full debate in the House before a decision is taken, and that will be the position.

Mr. Benn

Is the Minister aware that a decision to purchase an American reactor, which the Americans have not chosen to order for 10 years, is a major political act and the decision should be taken by Parliament and not by the Minister? Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be no advance spending authorising the PWR, simply because the Layfield report has now been published, pending a decision by Parliament and, preferably, by the electorate, because during the election this issue will be a central matter between the parties?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I simply emphasise what I said a moment ago — that no decision will be taken until Parliament has debated this important issue and that important report.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

Is not an early decision essential if we are to avoid large sections of the United Kingdom power construction industry going out of business altogether? In arriving at a decision, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that Britain has had 30 years of building and working gas-cooled reactors, which are now in place and performing satisfactorily, but that while the PWR may be old technology we have little direct experience, except in military applications, of operating it in Britain, and the sums upon which Sizewell was originally based have now been turned completely upside down? Therefore, will he assure the House that even if the go-ahead is given to Sizewell, he is not shutting the door on further AGR development in the future?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I know that my right hon. Friend, as is his custom, will consider very carefully all the points that are made in the debate.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Given that the report concludes that there has not yet been sufficient public and political consideration of the regulation of the safety of the nuclear industry, will the Government give two undertakings? First, will they undertake that no decision will be taken before the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has published its report and the report has been given satisfactory consideration? Secondly, will they ensure that there is sufficient time for the political and public process of consultation to take place on that huge report, especially because on cost and needs grounds the prospect of Sizewell is far less likely to be justified now than ever before?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman has a number of points that he wishes to make. In those circumstances, I am sure that he welcomes the fact that there will be a full debate on the matter in the House.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Would the security arrangements for a pressurised water reactor be any different from those existing at present in Britain's nuclear power stations? Is it true that Mr. R. W. Marshall broke into the Trawsfynydd power station in Wales and that damage could have been done? If such an incident took place in the future, it might turn the British people against nuclear power and some of us do not want that to happen. Can we therefore have assurances about security at power stations?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Gentleman's question relates to the Sizewell report. We shall have an opportunity to debate that matter and I take note of the hon. Gentleman's points.

Sir Trevor Skeet

Is my right hon. Friend aware that less than 1 per cent. of average radiation comes from the nuclear industry and that chapter 2 of the Sizewell report provides ample justification for going ahead with the Sizewell PWR programme as the most suitable programme for the United Kingdom?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I commend my hon. Friend for the speed with which he has managed to read what he regards as the relevant parts of the report since its publication. However, in all seriousness, it is important that the recommendations and conclusions are read in the context of the report as a whole. They must be considered together before any conclusions can be reached.

Mr. Barron

Paragraph 12 of chapter 108 of the Sizewell report refers to safety and states: The examination of safety was not exhausted. It continues: many matters were examined only briefly if at all. It also states: Furthermore, the design was incomplete and not yet susceptible of a final assessment of its safety. I understand the position if that is not the case. If that is the case, following the debate in the House, will it be left in the hands of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the CEGB to make the final decision on safety? Is the Minister satisfied with that, as both those bodies seem to operate in a cloud of secrecy most of the time?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not take the advice that I gave earlier. I suggest that he takes that advice. Even knowing the assiduity of the hon. Gentleman, I cannot believe that he could have read the whole report in just one hour and 45 minutes.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Now that the planning process has reached publication, can the Minister tell the House the Department's intentions for the future CEGB proposals following on from Sizewell and other Magnox sites, including Trawsfynydd in my constituency?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Let us deal with Sizewell first.

Mr. Haynes

I should have thought that it would be more appropriate for the Secretary of the State to be present to answer such important questions. Bearing in mind that the report has been produced by an inspector by way of consultation, when will other people be consulted about nuclear power?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would regard himself as one of the representatives of the people. He will have an opportunity to take part in the debate in the House. I am sorry that, from his own mouth, he has said that he feels that he is not able to represent the people properly. If that is his view, it may not be the proper one.

Mr. Kennedy

Will the Minister and his departmental colleagues resist the temptation, which seems to be with him this afternoon, of suggesting that the acceptability of a balanced provision of energy resources, by nuclear or other means, necessitates acceptance of a report which points to the advisability of constructing a PWR? On the question asked by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), relating to PWR, why does it appear that the Government wish to accept American technology which the Americans do not believe is safe enough for their people?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Gentleman asks me not to yield to temptation. That is precisely what I have done this afternoon.

Mr. Orme

May I press the Minister on the question of the debate? He and the House will agree that it is important to have a debate in the country as well as in the House. Can he give us some idea of the Government's thinking on the date for that debate?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I understand fully what the right hon. Gentleman says. It is a matter for the business managers of the House, and I have no doubt that they will have noted what he said.