HC Deb 07 March 1988 vol 129 cc9-10
8. Mr. Hannam

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he has recently met the chairman of the National Nuclear Corporation to discuss British involvement in the pressurised water reactor programme.

Mr. Parkinson

I have met the chairman of the National Nuclear Corporation on various occasions. United Kingdom industry has contributed 93 per cent. of the value of the contracts let for Sizewell B to date.

Mr. Hannam

Did my right hon. Friend approve the recent decision by the CEGB to prevent the formation of a new PWR construction company by the National Nuclear Corporation and Westinghouse? How does he see the future involvement of the NNC and British contractors in PWR construction in Britain?

Mr. Parkinson

I regard the NNC as a valuable national asset. At the moment there is a question mark over its future which I am anxious to see removed. I am discussing this with various parties, and as soon as I have more to report to the House I will do so.

Mr. Frank Cook

Did the Secretary of State discuss the level of insurance cover for liability on PWRs? I thank the Secretary of State for the letter that he kindly sent to me today. In view of the Minister's comments today on how safe and how far ahead of the rest of the world our nuclear industry is, will the Secretary of State explain why the cover that is required is only £20 million, when the cost of any accident could be infinitely greater than that? Why is it that after privatisation the public taxpayer will have to fund any compensation over and above £20 million, whether the accident is at Sizewell or at any other station?

Mr. Parkinson

The agreement that is incorporated in the Act, which sets the £20 million limit and puts the rest of the cost on to the general body of taxpayers, is an international agreement to which Britain is a signatory, and one that we intend to uphold whether the industry is in the private or the public sector. We do not accept that there will be any change in the standards of safety in the private sector. There will be no relaxation in those standards, and we shall continue to remain a signatory to the international agreement that is embodied in that Act.

Mr. Neil Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the National Nuclear Corporation has a first-class record in the design and project management of nuclear power stations under construction, that Torness and Heysham have been built both to time and to cost, that it is vital for the future of the nuclear industry that power stations continue to be built in a cost-effective way, and that the best way of achieving that is to have an independent contractor constructing these stations after privatisation?

Mr. Parkinson

Yes. I think that the 3,000 employees of the National Nuclear Corporation have done a good job for Britain and I want those skills maintained and that expertise to remain available. That is why I am in discussion with various parties. I shall report as soon as I have more to say to the House.