HC Deb 25 April 1991 vol 189 cc1223-59

`(1) It shall be an offence for any person to store radioactive waste under the land without first informing SNH of their intention to do so.

(2) Where SNH are of the opinion that any such dumping could result in damage to the natural heritage they shall serve notice of that fact on the person proposing the storage.

(3) Where such notice has been served it shall be an offence to commence or continue with the storage without the permission of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

(4) The Secretary of State shall not give such permission without first consulting SNH.

(5) For the purposes of this Act "radioactive waste" has the meaning assigned to it by section 18 of the Radioactive Substances Act 1960. "Land" includes land covered by water and the definition of land in section 21 of this Act shall not apply for the purposes of this section.'.—[Mr. Wilson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.11 pm
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am glad that we have begun the debate early. The Opposition certainly do not intend to prolong the proceedings unnecessarily. However, in the spirit of our proceedings in Committee, I hope that we can have a series of fairly short but substantial debates before we come to Third Reading.

New clause 1 is of tremendous importance to the Scottish environment and will attract a great deal of interest in Scotland. I hope that at the end of the debate, we shall hear from the Minister something of substance about the Government's attitude towards adopting Dounreay as a site for nuclear dumping. There is no doubt that there is overwhelming opposition in Scotland to that proposal. It would be no bad thing if the Government, who this week have made some efforts to get on the right side of public opinion, came out and said that they, in common with every other party represented in the House, will have no truck with the proposal.

It may be worth pointing out at the start of the debate what a lonely figure the Minister poses. This may be the only Scottish debate in which the Minister replying to the debate is the only Scottish Tory Member in the House of Commons. I do not know where the other Scottish Tory Members are. The mind boggles about where they might be. As our discussions proceed, I hope that there will be some evidence that they exist and have some interest in these matters. We are discussing a matter that may be peculiarly of interest to the Highlands but is also of great interest to all parts of Scotland, including several of the constituencies represented by Conservative Members. I know that one has to trail around a little to find any Scottish Tory Members, but in this matter the Perthshire constituencies at least are directly affected by the transport issues. We shall be watching closely for the presence of those hon. Members as our discussions continue.

This is an important debate, with four purposes. The first is simply to give an airing on the Floor of the House of Commons to the prospect of using Dounreay or perhaps Caithness for deep nuclear storage. I think that it is overdue and I am pleased that, by tabling the new clause, the Labour party has succeeded in having a debate that will be noted by all parties and people interested in the issue.

4.15 pm

The second reason for having the debate is to flush out the Government's views on deep storage at Dounreay and in particular to force them to defend their apparent willingness to trample upon local democracy. In particular, I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us today whether it is the Secretary of State's intention to overrule the planning authority on the latest application by Nirex for 6,000 test bores in the same way that he overruled that authority on the issues of both the structure plan and the initial test bores. It would be helpful for guidance if the Minister told us whether it is once again the intention of the Secretary of State to thwart local democracy and to overrule the planning authority.

A frisson of excitement has run through the House as a second Conservative Member has entered. We all know of the interest in these matters of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), so we are not surprised to see him.

The third reason for having the debate is to state unequivocally that the possibility of Dounreay being used as a nuclear dump will immediately vanish with the election of a Labour Government. The fourth reason for having it, particularly appropriate in the context of this Bill, is to encourage—I hope that the Minister will join in this encouragement—the new Scottish Natural Heritage to express a view on this and other enormously important environmental issues, rather than steer clear of them, as has sometimes been the practice of the Nature Conservancy Council, for fear of offending its political masters. It was remarked at a meeting that we had with the Highland regional council yesterday, when some people were down from Caithness, that it was deemed very odd in Caithness that the Nature Conservancy Council is prepared to tell people where they can and cannot cut peat but at the same time desists from taking or expressing a view on the desirability of having a nuclear dump on their doorsteps.

The transport issue is also important, apart from the immediate impact within Caithness. This is where the whole of Scotland becomes directly involved, because part of the price that would be paid, if by any chance this were allowed to go ahead, would be that nuclear loads would be passing through Scotland on an extremely regular basis. There is no need to take my word for this; I have a letter from Nirex which was sent to Mr. Mervyn Rolfe, the excellent Labour candidate for Perth and Kinross. Mr. Rolfe had asked Nirex how many trainloads would be passing through Perth in the event of deep underground repositories being established at Dounreay.

I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) is not present to hear this information, but Mr. McInerney, the managing director of Nirex, was nothing if not frank. He said: Consultants acting for Nirex are carrying out assessments of the transport implications of moving radioactive wastes to Dounreay or Sellafield. Should the repository be sited at Dounreay, we estimate that about 15 trains a week would pass through Perth. Road transport would be used infrequently to Dounreay … Should the repository be sited at Sellafield, only waste generated at Dounreay would pass through Perth. This would amount to around one small train load per week. Mr. McInerney went on to say: the likelihood of an accident involving a train carrying radioactive waste of sufficient severity for the release of radioactivity from a waste container is extremely remote. It is only fair for me to place that caveat on the record.

I should have thought that the great majority of the constituents represented by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross, and those in all points north and south who are threatened with the prospect of 15 trainloads per week of radioactive nuclear cargoes passing through their communities, would, to say the least, be disturbed by that prospect. It is not a regular trade that Scotland wishes to see. In addition to the security and safety problems that would immediately be created in Caithness itself, monumental problems of security along the route would be created. We have it on the authority not of any political scaremonger but of Nirex itself that that is the volume of cargo that would be involved if Dounreay were selected and approved by the Government for this purpose.

I was astonished to read in the Glasgow Herald of 23 January 1991 the headline Nuclear dump safety 'cannot be guaranteed'". Once again, it might be supposed that this was scaremongering by some vested interest opposed to the selection of Dounreay. Not so. With your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, I shall quote a little of the report. It states: The nuclear waste agency Nirex will not be able to guarantee that Britain's first national nuclear waste repository will be completely safe until after it has been built. This was confirmed yesterday"— not by a scaremonger— by a Nirex spokesman at the agency's headquarters at Didcot in Oxfordshire. The admission astonished Highland region, the planning authority which would have to consider any planning application for a nuclear waste repository at Dounreay. I have no doubt that it will astonish hon. Members who are hearing it today.

The report continues: The Nirex spokesman said the company would select Dounreay … or Sellafield … as its preferred site for a national repository for low and intermediate waste some time between November and the beginning of 1992. `After that we would submit a planning application'. In this remarkable statement, according to the Glasgow Herald the spokesman went on to say the regulatory authorities, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Pollution, would be able to form a provisional view of the acceptability of the repository, but Nirex would not be able to present its full safety case. The newspaper goes on to quote the Nirex spokesman directly: We will only be in a position to do that once the repository is actually built and we have managed to established quite conclusively if there are any problems with the geology of the site. Only then would the regulatory authorities be in a position to inspect everything before granting an operating licence. I have no need to embellish or embroider, because the case is here in black and white from the Nirex spokesman. He continued: With the present schedule that might not be until the year 2003 or 2004, and we"— that is, Nirex— might have spent up to £500 million constructing the repository but we could still end up walking away from it. That's the risk. The report continues: Highland regions vice-convenor, Councillor Peter Peacock, said yesterday: `It beggars belief that Nirex could suggest going forward to a planning enquiry without considering fully the safety case, probably the most worrying aspect to the public.' Hon. Members on both sides of the House would be astonished if the proposition were that any Secretary of State should give planning approval, in any shape or form, for Nirex to go ahead at Dounreay on such a basis.

I was most interested to read in The Daily Telegraph of 11 March 1991 a report under the heading Nuclear chief attacks lack of information on dump's safety". Once again, I am pleased to quote the source. Here too, it is not some over-enthusiastic anti-nuclear person, but Professor John Knill, chairman of the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee. I quote from The Daily Telegraph report by Mr. Roger Highfield, the newspaper's science editor: The failure of British Nuclear Fuels to have a full safety assessment of £2.7 billion national nuclear waste dump ready in time for a public inquiry has been attacked by the Government's most senior adviser on the industry. The BNF argument that safety at the site is a matter for experts rather than for the public has been branded as unsatisfactory by Professor Knill …. Government nuclear waste advisers wanted a public discussion at the inquiry of the technical case for the safety of the repository, the location of which was expected to be announced later this year. But by the time of the inquiry, according to Mr. Christopher Harding, chairman of BNFL, one of the principal shareholders of NIREX, we won't have the full safety case. There's a huge amount of work involved … We believe it is desperately important to get on. This may be seen by the public as the industry trying to pressurise it through … That would worry me. If it worries Mr. Harding that BNFL and Nirex are seen as trying to pressurise the development through on that basis, it must be worrying to the people of Caithness and all who are living on the doorstep of the proposed development and along the transport route.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that I was late arriving because I was involved in discussions concerning the naval base at Rosyth, where we have an interest in nuclear capability. He will know that a number of his hon. Friends, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and I have today been trying to see what can be done to keep the base open.

Mr. Wilson

That is one of the most convincing notes to the teacher that I have heard for some time.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

My hon. Friend will not object to my intervening, since I have listened to all his speech. He is to be thanked for the revelations that he has produced, particularly the revelation that not only will the events he has been describing take place without guarantees about safety but that, in one case, Nirex has admitted that £500 million may be spent before the safety issue has been analysed. Did my hon. Friend go on to say that at that stage Nirex would be prepared to walk away from it? Can my hon. Friend think of any other example of an enterprise, private or public—with the exception of the poll tax—where hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent and the concern involved has walked away from that enterprise?

Mr. Walker

Ground nuts.

Mr. Wilson

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) suggests a strange analogy.

At least Nirex might have the grace to apologise and admit that it has done a great public disservice. It is astonishing to think that it is intending to spend £500 million on a £2.7 billion development without knowing whether the geological conditions are right and the safety conditions can be met. It would be absurd beyond belief if, while all of that was going on, the new agency set up to be concerned with all aspects of the Scottish environment was the one organisation not charged with having responsibility to comment on what was going on.

Creating the repository in Caithness—even if, at the end of the day, Nirex were to walk away from it and decided that £500 million could be written off to experience—would have an immense effect on the Caithness environment. Even more serious is the prospect of Nirex going on, after the expenditure of £500 million, to spend the entire £2.7 billion in creating the facility. Then the trains would roll and Dounreay would be identified with the nuclear dumping capital of Europe. That, ultimately, is unacceptable.

Yesterday, some.of my hon. Friends and I—I should say representatives of the three opposition parties; as is predictable in these matters, no representative of the Government was present—met representatives of Highland regional council, who came to London to brief Scottish Members on the case against nuclear dumping at Dounreay.

Councillor Jim Fry, a member of that delegation, worked, until he retired, at Dounreay and by no stretch of the imagination can he be described as anti-nuclear. He said that the Caithness people had been, and remained, loyal to the nuclear industry but knew that Nirex was trying to exploit that loyalty to an end that was unacceptable to the Caithness people.

They know that Nirex is not interested in Caithness because of its geological suitability. Nirex has not gone round the country in good faith looking for the area that is most suitable geologically. When it did so, it came up with a site somewhere in the Tory heartland of middle England. We remember that, in the week the general election was declared in 1987, the Government told Nirex that it could not go there because some marginal Tory seats were involved. That was the ,outcome of the geological examination. A political decision was taken to tell Nirex that it could not go ahead with its choice of site.

4.30 pm

We know that Nirex has not arrived at Dounreay because of its unique geological suitabilty, which for this project above all others should be the one factor that matters. What Nirex knows is that Dounreay and Caithness have a long history of involvement in the nuclear industry. As Councillor Fry said, they have been loyal to the nuclear industry and have been good neighbours to it, as indeed the nuclear industry has been to them in the view of most people in that part of the world.

Nirex saw the difficulty of Caithness as its opportunity. It saw vulnerability in Caithness because jobs were to be lost. The place had a nuclear background. When other places said that they did not want anything to do with Nirex and deep storage, Nirex decided that, if it moved into Caithness while it was vulnerable, the people might swallow the proposition. That was the crude thinking behind Nirex's proposal for deep storage at Dounreay.

As Councillor Fry also said, the people of Caithness and, indeed, of Scotland are capable of making the distinction. There is no overwhelming hostility to the civil nuclear industry in Scotland. Certainly there is none in my constituency where a nuclear power station is the biggest employer, or in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). We live with civil nuclear power. Whatever the rights and wrongs of its emphasis in our energy programme, they are not being debated today.

The people of Caithness can differentiate between playing a positive and mutually rewarding part in the British civil nuclear programme and being used as a dump simply because unemployment looms and because they have a background in the industry. They have made that distinction successfully.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Does not the hon. Gentleman also agree that the people of Caithness have, through a referendum, shown everyone how overwhelming is the opposition of the community to the use of Dounreay as a site for the disposal of nuclear waste? Is he aware that in other areas of Scotland where referendums have been conducted there has always been overwhelming democratic opposition? Is not that a strange contrast to the effect of four Conservative voices that were raised in 1987 when there was a threat to Huntingdonshire and other places in England?

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I agree entirely with the point that she has made. At the briefing which we both attended yesterday. Highland regional council stressed the outcome of the referendum in Caithness. Propaganda had suggested that there was majority support for the proposal in Caithness and only voluble minority opposition. That was put to the test in a local referendum and was shown clearly to be untrue there, as in other parts of Scotland. No doubt Nirex was taken aback by the result of the referendum, because it almost certainly thought that Caithness was one of the few places in Britain where it would get a warm welcome. I do not want to introduce inter-party dissent among Opposition parties, but I suspect that Lord Thurso might not have been completely dissociated from encouraging that belief.

Caithness does not want Dounreay to be the repository for nuclear waste for Britain or Europe. Scotland does not want it to be there. The Labour party says that the proposal will not go ahead when we are in office. Only the Government are ambivalent about the idea.

The new clause is perfectly clear. It states: It shall be an offence for any person to store radioactive waste under the land without first informing SNH of their intention to do so. To say that it is an offence for any person perhaps draws it a little widely because the average citizen would not do that. We mean Nirex. We are using the Bill as a vehicle for a debate on this issue but it is right to stress that there is an environmental interest and that many industries in the highlands and islands depend on the image of a clean and healthy environment, which would be fatally tarnished by the presence of a nuclear dump at Dounreay. I hope that the Minister will join me in encouraging Scottish National Heritage to express views on the matter.

I do not expect the Minister to say that he will write the new clause into the Bill. However, I draw a parallel with similar debates in Committee on fish farming, shipping in the Minch, forestry and other environmental interests in Scotland, when the Minister's response was that there was no need to write into the Bill specific responsibility to make representations on those issues because the terms of Scottish National Heritage are drawn so widely that it can and will be expected to do so.

If the Minister says today that he is prepared to encourage Scottish National Heritage to come forward with views on this matter, it will be a great step forward and will embolden and strengthen the new agency from the outset. However, we stress the environmental, economic and wider national interests. To say that Nirex will provide jobs is a false bait: for every job that is gained in the short term, two or three will be lost in the long term because of damage done to the image and environmental purity of the highlands and islands.

I shall not prolong the debate, as we have made our point. We are delighted to have the opportunity to debate this subject and I hope that the Minister will take on board the strength of feeling on this subject which will be expressed in the debate and which exists throughout Scotland.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

It may be helpful if hon. Members cast back their minds to the days before the 1987 election, when the Government made the most extraordinary bare-faced about-turn that the Tory party has ever made—it was even more extraordinary than the Government's about-turn on the poll tax. The then Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) made a statement in the House on I May 1987 about a letter that he had received from Nirex. He said: Nirex … concludes that, although a safe near-surface disposal facility could certainly be developed at any of the four sites currently being investigated, the economic advantages of separate near-surface, low-level waste disposal are nothing like as great as Nirex earlier thought". The four sites to which he referred are in constituencies represented by Conservative Members of Parliament. Bradwell is in Colchester, South and Maldon represented by John Wakeham; Fulbeck is in Grantham, represented by Douglas Hogg——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I remind the hon. Lady that she should refer to the constituencies and not the names of Members.

Mrs. Michie

The third site is Estow; and the fourth is South Killingholme.

The right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury went on: Nirex will therefore now concentrate on identifying a suitable location for a deep multi-purpose facility for both intermediate-level and low-level waste".—[Official Report, 1 May 1987; Vol. 115, c. 504.] We would do well to remember what happened then. I recall extremely well the day when I heard the announcement on the radio. Later that day, in a speech at Pitlochry, I said that the Secretary of State for the Environment had made the decision because he knew that Conservative seats would be lost unless he made this about-turn and, having done so, he need not allow Nirex to turn its attention north of the border. Nirex did just that very thing.

Although the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) spoke at length about Dounreay and Caithness, I want to make it clear that my opposition to a nuclear waste dump or deep level storage relates to the whole of Scotland, particularly the highlands and islands. The Liberal Democrats believe and have proposed on many occasions that there should be on-site, aboveground, dry storage until safe methods of long-term disposal and management are found.

I hope that the Minister will say how much money is being put into research. Nirex has been spending millions of pounds boring holes in Caithness—that money could have been used for research. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North spoke of the billions of pounds that are being used. We need to know what effort is being made in research. This is not a case of the "Not in my back yard" syndrome. We have to acknowledge that we must look after our own waste, and we do not advocate it being sent up and down the country into England or wherever for deep disposal. We know that we must look after our waste on site.

The Nirex document, "The Way Forward", identified 35 per cent. of the United Kingdom as suitable for waste disposal. I recall that the people of Argyll and Bute were alarmed, as I was, because the map in the document identified districts in my constituency such as Islay, the Ross of Mull and Iona as suitable geological sites, which was unbelievable. So concerned were local people that they organised a petition to be sent to Nirex. More than 10,000 signatures were collected in various locations in support of the policy of the local council—Argyll and Bute district council—which had already taken a decision that it would as a matter of policy, oppose with the utmost vigour, any attempt to place a repository within the area of Argyll and Bute district or under the seabed around the shores. That is a quote from a so-called independent council, which is not Labour, Conservative, or even Liberal Democrat or Scottish National party—all those parties are represented on it. A cross-party view was taken on the issue.

I want to highlight the fact that I am talking about the highlands and islands and the whole of Scotland, not just Dounreay. It is disgraceful that the then Secretary of State should have overruled in such a cavalier manner the decision of the elected members of the Highlands regional council to refuse Nirex planning permission to drill test bore holes. What right had he, one man at the Scottish Office, to take such a decision? We have no way of making him account for or justify his actions. It is another reason why the Government refuse to set up a Scottish Select Committee: because they can thus get away with such decisions and nobody can question them or the Scottish Office on exactly what is going on.

We have heard much about the clean image of the highlands and islands, and I cannot stress too strongly how important that is. To go ahead with a nuclear dump in that district would destroy that image at a stroke. It would harm farming, fishing, tourism and the whisky industry—all of which depend on the district being kept pollution-free and environmentally safe.

4.45 pm

There is another threat coming down the line. In an exclusive report in the Sunday Mail on 21 April, Angus Macleod stated: A total of 17 sites around Scotland's coast are being touted as possible 'graveyard' sites for radioactive submarine hulks". Some five or six of the districts mentioned are in my constituency—Loch Goil, Campbeltown, Rothesay, Loch Striven and Loch Fyne. Are we to be threatened with a nuclear dump and then threatened with nuclear submarines being parked for goodness knows how long in that beautiful district of the highlands?

Unless the Minister gives a categorical assurance today that there will be no nuclear dumping in this district, it makes nonsense of the Bill and its fine words about caring for and protecting the environment. The Minister has already been asked, and I push him again to answer the question—what are the views of the Scottish Nature Conservancy Council and the Scottish Natural Heritage Agency? If they have not already done so, they must make a statement; they cannot sit on the fence. If they do, their credibility will sink even lower.

As we have heard, the Government can pronounce happily about what should happen in the so-called flow country, but are they not going to make a statement on the dumping of waste in the highlands? If they do not, their membership, like the membership of the health boards appointed by the Secretary of State, must be called into question.

The dumping of waste is not a decision for the Minister, the Secretary of State or the Department of the Environment, but a decision only for the people of Scotland.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) that there are a wide range of well-canvassed reasons why Dounreay would not be an appropriate site for a repository for nuclear waste. I strongly agree that there must be effective safeguards for the environment, and in every other respect.

The proposals of Nirex and other authorities for the disposal of nuclear waste are widely misunderstood. The subject needs some well-informed debate—perhaps we can start it here this afternoon. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (M rs. Michie) referred to the remains of decommissioned nuclear submarines. We already have one lying at Rosyth—HMS Dreadnought—which has been there for many years and has now been joined by HMS Churchill, which is being decommissioned. I do not know whether HMS Warspite is there too—it may be at Devonport. That is an example of what goes wrong if decisions are not taken about where such material is to be stored in the long term. At present, the submarines are lying on the dockside in Rosyth. A decision must be taken about what to do with them.

I have a particular interest in the nuclear industry, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North. He has the Hunterston power station in his constituency, while I have the Torness power station in mine. Yesterday, I received a parliamentary answer to a question that I had put to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I had asked him to make a statement on his policy for the storage of used fuel from nuclear installations in Scotland after 1993. I received the following answer from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart): Questions about operational aspects of nuclear installations in Scotland, such as spent fuel storage, are a matter for the operators concerned. Scottish Nuclear Ltd. have recently put forward proposals for the long-term storage of spent fuel at both Hunterston and Torness; these proposals are currently being evaluated."—[Official Report, 24 April 1991; Vol. 189, c. 458.] That is a major departure from the original planning consents for both Hunterston and Torness.

The understanding was that the intermediate waste would be stored on site in a vault that is part of the integral design of the power station and that low-level waste would be transported to Sellafield. We need not get unduly worked up about low-level waste—overalls, boots and so on—but we understood that the fuel, probably the most sensitive material of all, would be taken away either for long-term storage or reprocessing at Sellafield. The Minister's reply, however, was that there had been a proposal to store not only the waste substances but also the spent fuel on site.

I understand that, from now on, Torness will produce approximately 37 tonnes of waste fuel each year. Over the full life of the power station, therefore, that amounts to 1,200 tonnes of waste fuel. The spent fuel is not being reprocessed at present. There is no call for advanced gas-cooled reactor spent fuel to be reprocessed, as no more AGR reactors are being built. The Government are actively considering the proposal, therefore, that spent fuel should be stored in dry stores at Torness and Hunterston. That material continues to generate heat for about 50 years, after which it is possible to store it in an underground repository, were there to be such an underground repository. Nirex is considering constructing an underground repository but that will not be for spent fuel, so we do not yet know where it would go. The new suggestion is that it should be stored in dry stores at Torness and Hunterston.

This is a long-term problem. If Torness is to be decommissioned in 2030, the earliest possible date for clearing the dry store, if such a store were to be built at Torness, would be 2080, and that would depend upon whether by then a long-term store would be available for the material.

All these issues ought to be properly considered and evaluated, but the fundamental issue is whether it would be better for there to be a single national processing and storage plant, as at Sellafield—a specialist facility to handle all this material—or whether there should be a proliferation of smaller stores dotted around the country at the various nuclear installations.

What worries me about the suggestion that there should be a dry store at Torness is the evidence concerning the only dry store in the United Kingdom—at Wylfa power station in Anglesey—where Nuclear Electric has a dry store. According to an article in the New Scientist of 2 March 1991: Rotting fuel rods in the world's largest dry store for spent radioactive fuel in North Wales could cause a catastrophic fire. The manesium 'can' which surrounds the rods has corroded so badly that the radioactive metal is exposed. If water penetrates the cladding of the element it can react with the metallic uranium fuel. One of the corrosion products is uranium hydride, which can ignite spontaneously in air. If enough uranium hydride burns, it can ignite the metallic uranium and release the highly radioactive fission products `held' in the uranium bar. This would constitute a major nuclear accident … The design of the facilities at Wylfa forms the basis of a new store for spent fuel from advanced gas-cooled and pressurised water reactors. Nuclear Electric has been looking at a potential site for such a store at Heysham, in northwest England. It would like to be able to keep spent fuel in dry storage for up to 100 years., removing the need for early reprocessing. We understand that similar dry stores are now being suggested for Hunterston and Torness.

I recognise the value and importance of the nuclear industry to the economy of both my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North. I recognise that these nuclear installations are doing a valuable job and that they will continue to do so for a long time. However, well-considered decisions must be taken about what to do with the waste products—in particular, about what to do with the spent fuel.

We are debating the possibility of providing an underground repository somewhere in Scotland. The environmental issues must be discussed. I have yet to form a firm view about the best thing to do, in the light of the evidence. However, my instinct is to say that it would be far better to continue to reprocess the material in a specialist facility, such as that at Sellafield, rather than that there should be a proliferation of small stores at nuclear sites all over the country where things could go wrong, as they appear to have gone wrong at Wylfa.

There should be the fullest and the most open public debate about what to do with this material. All these matters could then be properly considered, and acceptable decisions reached from the point of view of the nuclear industry and the wider public.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

In supporting new clause 1, I wish to refer to amendments that were tabled but not accepted. I have been asked during the last few days why Scottish Members of Parliament should be considering the disposal of nuclear waste when dealing with this Bill. That is an absurd question. The most critical environmental question that faces the people of Scotland is the disposal and transport of nuclear waste and its management. Therefore, the amendments that my hon. Friends and I tabled dealt with the transport of nuclear waste.

Many people believe that this problem relates specifically to Dounreay and the highlands of Scotland, but the whole of the country of Scotland is affected by it. It is intended to dispose of nuclear waste created in the United Kingdom and, furthermore, in other countries. The nuclear waste from other countries would have to be transported through Scotland to a particular site for processing. If Dounreay were to be selected as the processing site, the A9—the main arterial route that runs from north to south in Scotland—would become the irradiated spine of our nation.

The debate therefore affects all the people of Scotland. I am wearing a badge that was produced by Highland regional council, which is currently spearheading the campaign against Nirex's plans to come to Dounreay. Highland regional council says that it wants a nationwide campaign to be organised against the disposal of nuclear waste in Scotland.

This is a key issue for Scotland. Earlier today, I met the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) outside this building. He referred to the badge that I am wearing and suggested that we want to close down all nuclear plants in Scotland. I had to point out to him that the words on the badge produced by Highland regional council are "Bury Nuclear Waste." Everyone accepts that there is a responsibility to dispose of the nuclear waste that is created in our country, but there is a consensus—it is certainly the view of my party—that it should be stored on site, above ground, where it can be carefully monitored and is accessible for regular checking.

Mr. Bill Walker

I am astonished by the hon. Lady's remarks. She follows the speech of the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who, if I understood him correctly, said that he did not want the waste from his constituency's nuclear station to be stored on site. He said that it should go to Sellafield. That is the opposite of what the hon. Lady wants.

5 pm

Mrs. Ewing

Thankfully, I am not responsible for the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). I must stress that, in the campaign against a Nirex site at Dounreay, it should not be regarded as a victory if nuclear waste is buried at Sellafield. The burying of nuclear waste is the greatest danger we face, because no one can predict seismic or underwater movements. The waste will need to be monitored for centuries, and that is why it must be stored on site and above ground.

There is an international aspect to the issue, and the disposal of nuclear waste should be dealt with internationally. It is such a major issue that one country cannot come to grips with the problem. We should consider with other countries more effective ways of disposing of nuclear waste.

Safety is critical. Highland regional council was at pains yesterday to stress that Nirex has said that it cannot put the case for safety in time for any public inquiry. In The Independent on 21 January, Ron Flowers—a director of UK Nirex—referred to the nuclear waste disposal company and a possible public inquiry. The article said that Nirex would present a preliminary safety case to the inquiry but detailed geological research will have to continue—possibly for as long as a decade after the inquiry ends—before the safety case is finished … Dr. Flowers believes that at the planning inquiry, the regulatory bodies—the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Pollution—will give provisional views of the ultimate acceptability of the repository, provisional views of what they expect to say by the year 2000, when the repository is expected to open. When the residents of Caithness and the people of Scotland are being asked to accept that the disposal of nuclear waste will be safe, it is ridiculous that there cannot be a ruling on safety until the repository is open.

The Daily Telegraph in March stated: The failure of British Nuclear Fuels to have a full safety assessment of a £2.7 billion national nuclear waste dump ready in time for a public inquiry has been attacked by the Government's most senior adviser on the industry. There is report after report showing that neither Nirex nor the Government can produce correct safety arguments to persuade the people of Scotland that they should accept the plans for the disposal of nuclear waste. I fully understand the reservations of the communities involved. Referendums and public opinion polls have all shown an overwhelming opposition to the idea of Nirex taking our country into its greedy hands.

I wish to stress the implications for industry. Much reference has been made to the perception of a clean environment and its importance for Scottish industries. The best references that I can cite are those from people involved in the industries of Scotland. Highland regional council produced a document following its conference on 28 November 1990. Several hon. Members attended the conference but, as happened yesterday, no one from the Government attended, even though they had received invitations. Other hon. Members representing industries in their constituencies managed to attend.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

The hon. Lady should put her criticism in context. The invitation gave only two days' notice. Many hon. Members already had fixed commitments on Scottish matters at 4, 5 and 6 o'clock on that day, so it was not possible to attend at such short notice.

Mrs. Ewing

All hon. Members have difficulty in meeting many of our obligations, but some did manage to attend the conference at short notice. Given the circumstances, it was possible for someone from the Government at least to turn up and listen to the arguments of duly elected representatives of the community.

At the conference, Mrs. Julie Crowe of the Caithness National Farmers Union made a lengthy speech about the importance of agriculture to her area. One short quote will suffice to give a taste of what she said: The whole world is now striving to produce the environmentally safe food so we have to compete. However, with a dump in Caithness I would suggest the playing field will not be level for us. The presence of a nuclear repository—dump—and the transport of nuclear waste through the area will blight local produce. This will mean we have a problem marketing our produce. In referring to the fishing industry, Mr. Douglas MacLeod of the Association of Scottish Shellfish Growers said: The clean waters of the Highlands were a priceless asset to shellfish growers and it would be a major disaster for the industry if Nirex was successful in identifying Dounreay as the site for the establishment of a repository. There was no apparent means of ultimately preventing leakage of radiation into the marine environment and accordingly the future of the shellfish industry and its employment prospects rested with the success of the campaign of opposition to Nirex. Mr. Jamie Stone of Highland Fine Cheeses said: The existence of a nuclear waste repository in the Highlands would have a detrimental effect on the clean image of the area which was a vital element in the marketing of specialty food products and whisky from the Highlands and also in the tourist industry. The Highlands were widely acclaimed for being one of the cleanest areas in Europe at the moment and this situation should not be threatened by Nirex. Mr. J. P. MacDonald, the manager of Dalmore Distillery in Alness said: As you are probably aware, being a distiller one is constantly monitoring the quality of the distillery water supply for any contamination, be it oil, diesel, sewage or whatever. Should a disaster happen during the transportation of radioactive nuclear waste across our water supply, either by road or rail, the consequences to us would be horrific. Our water supply is of prime importance and is guarded, if you like, jealously. I could give many other quotations. I recommend the Minister to read the report and to take account of the views of those who provide jobs in the north of Scotland—vital jobs in my constituency. They are desperately worried that the perception of an unclean environment will prevent them from competing in the world market. More than 40 distilleries operate in my constituency, and just one unscrupulous Japanese whisky producer spreading a rumour throughout the world that Scottish whisky may be contaminated would result in the bottom falling out of the market. Where would the Chancellor of the Exchequer be if he no longer had revenue from the Scottish whisky industry?

The statements at the conference were made not by scaremongers but by people anxious to maintain the industries in their communities. They are trying to ensure that there is a future for young people in the rural communities of Scotland. I do not know what the politics may be of any of those people, and I do not really care: they work in the highlands of Scotland and are deeply concerned and angry about the Government's attitude.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North is twitching. I wish to quote no less a person than the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am sorry that he is not here to listen to the debate. In 1980, consideration was given to using Mullwharchar, in the Galloway hills, as a disposal site. It appears that there are double standards at the Scottish Office.

It is important to put on record exactly what the then hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), a Back-Bench Member, said during the inquiry. On 3 March 1980, the 10th sitting day of the inquiry, the then hon. Gentleman said: The terms and nature of this inquiry are inadequate and risk bringing our democratic processes into disrepute. The drilling itself would be a 'serious case of planning blight', and would affect tourism, agriculture and the locals' peace of mind. He claimed that public opinion in Galloway was strongly against the proposed geological research programme. On 16 November 1980, The Scotsman reported the then hon. Gentleman as saying: the lingering threat of the dumping of nuclear waste casts a dark shadow over all his constituents. 'They are concerned with the long term threat to future generations who would have to live in an environment ravaged by the irretrievable lodging in their midst of poisonous waste matter of inestimable danger.' Those were the words of the man who is now the Secretary of State for Scotland. I hope that he will recall his words and ponder them carefully. Having done so, perhaps he will reverse the governor-general attitude that was displayed by his predecessor. For example, the structure plan for Highland regional council and reports of planning inquiries were overturned with a few strokes of a red pen in St. Andrew's house. If there is genuine democracy—I hope that the Minister will convey my remarks to the Secretary of State—what is good enough for Galloway is good enough for the rest of the people of Scotland.

We are supposed to live in a democratic society. Those who have been consulted have overwhelmingly stated their opposition to the siting of a deep waste depository in Scotland. They have made their opposition crystal clear on every possible occasion. I hope that the Minister will say clearly that he is prepared for once to listen to democratic opinion. We are not prepared to sit back any longer while the people of our communities are the victims of autocratic treatment as the Government ride roughshod over them. We want public opinion to be taken into account. Jobs should be protected. Future generations should be able to feel that they have a future in our country instead of being forced to emigrate.

I feel passionately about these matters, because I know how the people in my constituency feel about them. Everyone in Moray—fishermen, farmers, distillers and everyone else—presents the same case as that which I am advancing this afternoon. The Government have not advanced logical arguments. They are unable to advance arguments that will persuade my constituents to think otherwise. In a recent visit to Buckie in my constituency, SAND—Scotland Against Nuclear Dumping—with its specially designed nuclear dustbin, found that everyone in the area was willing to sign the petition that it had prepared.

Will that petition and others mean anything if the Scottish Office will not listen and will not take account of the genuine views of the people of our country? It is no wonder that the Tories were left with only 10 seats in Scotland after the 1987 general election. I suspect that they will have even fewer seats after the next general election. There will be Scottish National party gains in constituencies such as Tayside, North, where people feel as strongly about these matters as those elsewhere.

The Conservative party appears to have double standards when it is in power. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) referred to what took place in 1987—shortly before the general election—when four Conservative Members were not prepared to accept low-level waste disposal in their constituencies. When the Secretary of State, who was then the Back-Bench Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, argued his case during the Mullwharchar inquiry, it was accepted. When the people of Scotland speak with a democratic and united voice against something they do not want and about which they have strong feelings, why cannot it be accepted?

5.15 pm
Mr. Bill Walker

The new clause is important because it touches on a controversial matter that should be discussed objectively, rationally and sanely. I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson): this matter is much too serious to be treated flippantly or to be presented in a manner that distorts the truth.

We have just listened to the most appalling speech that I have heard for a long time, on nuclear dumping. One of the difficulties that we face in Scotland is misinformation, which is disseminated by certain politicians and political parties. I am reminded of a leaflet about nuclear dumping that was distributed in my constituency during the 1987 general election. It was full of lies. It suggested that the Government had decided that there should be nuclear dumping in the Schiehallion area, which is an area of special scientific interest in my constituency. It stated that the source of the information was a well-known Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Post. It failed to explain that the story that was being referred to in the Sunday Post was the result of a press release of the prospective parliamentary candidate of the Scottish National party for Western Isles. He issued the press release a few days before the general election, and it was reported upon in the Sunday Post on the following Sunday.

The report alluded to the source, but the leaflet referred to no source. It was not stated that the Scottish National party was presenting an SNP story—a lie. It did not claim that the source was the Sunday Post. I believe that the wrong date of publication was a deliberate error and a means of ensuring that a check could not be made. That is the sort of nonsense that we have learnt to expect from the SNP. It involves itself in various controversies and then dresses up the issues, misrepresents them and tells downright, blatant lies to obtain political advantage. A careful study of the speech of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) will reveal examples of deliberately placed Goebbels-type misinformation.

Of course everyone in Scotland is concerned about keeping the environment safe. Those of us who have a special interest in the Scotch whisky industry—the hon. Member for Moray is not the only one—realise that it is vital that watercourses and the sources of barley and grain are uncontaminated. Those are essential ingredients in the manufacture of whisky. I must declare an interest, because I sponsored the Scotch Whisky Act 1988, which sets out minimum standards. I am also treasurer of the Scotch whisky parliamentary group.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walker

I shall. Incidentally, the hon. Gentleman failed to visit the Marines before they went off.

Mr. Welsh

I contacted the Marines and said, "If you have just returned from Northern Ireland and you are going to Iraq, the last thing you will want is a Member of Parliament chatting you up."

The hon. Gentleman objects to the purported actions of others but acts similarly himself. If Tayside, North were targeted as a nuclear dump, would the hon. Gentleman adopt the same attitude as the Secretary of State for Scotland, or would he join his constituents in opposing the siting of the dump in the area? I invite the hon. Gentleman to have regard to the large mote in his own eye.

Before he talks about leaflets, for example, the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that the Conservative party in my constituency issued a leaflet in Scottish National party colours. It contained no statement to tell the reader whence it had come. I suppose that it was an example of attack as a means of defence. The Lord Advocate was taken to his own courts and his election agent was defeated. Heavy expenses were incurred.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman puts a hypothetical question, and I could equally ask him such a question. My answer is clear. I hope that if, at any time in the future, anyone proposes any kind of nuclear disposal anywhere in Scotland, the matter will be debated fully, sensibly and clearly, just as the hon. Member for East Lothian suggested. That is the correct way to tackle a difficult and tricky problem.

Mr. Wilson

I do not want the debate to turn into a bickering match between the tiny Tayside tigers about leaflets that have nothing to do with it, but there is a serious question here. It is proposed that 15 trains with nuclear cargoes should pass through Perth, if not through the hon. Gentleman's constituency, every week. I am sure that his constituents would like to know whether he views that prospect with equanimity.

Mr. Walker

That is a realistic question. If an area north of my constituency were to be chosen for the disposal of nuclear waste, the hon. Gentleman would be astonished if I did not ask all the relevant, important and pertinent questions regarding safety and transport. The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that I hope later to raise the whole question of transport, including nuclear waste transport.

Mr. Alistaire Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) on reminding us what the Secretary of State for Scotland said 10 years ago, when there was a realistic prospect of Nirex dumping nuclear waste in his constituency. However, she should not hold out too much hope that he will stand by those same concerns 10 years later. If she has followed what he has said about the poll tax, she will know that the Secretary of State is flexible about his firmly held views. I am sure that, when it comes to the dumping of nuclear waste in Caithness or anywhere else, the Secretary of State will take a quite different line.

Following Nirex's proposals is rather like swotting flies: every time one tries to hit it on one site, it lands on another site with similar proposals for the dumping of nuclear waste.

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), because, if the nuclear waste generated by the power station in his constituency is moved, it will go by rail through my constituency and the constituencies of other Edinburgh Members—but not, of course, that of the Under-Secretary of State.

I do not profess any particular expertise in the properties of nuclear waste. I prefer to approach the problem with common sense. It is daft to dump nuclear waste where it cannot be recovered when we do not know what will happen to it in the next 50 or 100 years, or even the next few thousand years. Once we put nuclear waste beyond recovery, if it is discovered in the distant future that it can cause untold damage, whether through leakage or in generating heat which might lead to the cracking of rocks and so on, it will be too late to do anything about it. Therefore, until we know what to do with the stuff it is eminently sensible that it should be kept in a place where we can keep an eye on what is happening to it. I wish that those who were responsible for developing nuclear energy and nuclear power had, within minutes of discovering what it could do, set about discovering what we should do with the end products of the industry.

All of us are rightly concerned about the damage that has been done to our environment by what I might call conventional energy sources. Many of us see the smoke belching from power stations such as Longannet, not far from Edinburgh. We wonder what it is doing to the ozone layer and the environment, and naturally we look to alternative sources of energy. The people who promote nuclear energy have always done so on the grounds that it does not cause that much damage, but I am not fully convinced about that, particularly as it is not known what happens to the end products of nuclear fusion. Until we know that, it is madness to go ahead with producing more and more waste which will have to be kept on site or moved across the country. It is certainly daft to dump it down a hole with all the attendant problems.

If nuclear waste is produced at Torness it will be transported along Edinburgh's suburban railway line system and possibly along part of the mainline system to Sellafield. Because I was so concerned about the matter, I arranged to visit. Torness, and last year I spent a day there with Scottish Nuclear, which now owns and operates the plant.

I often feel that the nuclear industry is its own worst enemy. It is excessively secretive. It has been at pains to deny things that were subsequently found to have been fact. For some reason, it seems to prefer to shroud its business in secrecy, repelling any inquiries and treating those who ask questions with disdain and sometimes contempt.

When I went to Torness and spoke to some of those at Scottish Nuclear, I was pleased to find that they showed an openness with which I was not familiar when I spent some years as a member of the joint consultative committee when the Torness power station was being built. At that time, truth was often one of the first casualties when we were discussing the legitimate concerns of people living in the area, particularly on employment questions, of which my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian is well aware.

I went into the chambers at Torness where the nuclear products will be produced, and spent some time clambering across the cask where the nuclear material will he loaded. I am satisfied that Scottish Nuclear has done much to try to reduce the risks, but it can never be absolutely confident that there is no risk. Nuclear material could leak through the seals on top of the cask that will carry the spent material. That possibility could never be excluded, and Scottish Nuclear was candid about it.

I suggested that Scottish Nuclear should invite the community groups and the people living in Edinburgh and along the railway lines to see for themselves and should hold public meetings, as the previous chairman of the South of Scotland electricity board had said that he might be prepared to do. At the time, I thought that it responded positively, so I was dismayed to find yesterday that, when the Edinburgh Evening News made inquiries about such public meetings, there had been a complete about-turn and there were to be no such meetings. If people wanted to visit Torness, they could do so as part of the general public tours that are being organised.

I hope that the Minister will use his influence with the nuclear industry to encourage it to start being open with people, to discuss people's legitimate fears and to admit that there might be mistakes, leakages and some risk. People might then more easily believe what it has to say.

The present problem—Nirex is no exception—is that people have no confidence in the nuclear industry because of its track record. It is for the nuclear industry to put matters right and to show openness that hitherto it has not shown. If it does not, it cannot be surprised when people vehemently object to anything it proposes.

If nuclear material is taken by train to Sellafield, for some reason using the more elderly Edinburgh suburban line, there is a risk of derailment. I know from having travelled on passenger trains that have been run by British Rail on special occasions on that line that the trains have to travel extremely slowly. If trains have to travel the length of Scotland, there is the risk that they may be the subject of a terrorist attack or something of that sort.

Unless such matters are addressed, people are right to be concerned about the prospect of nuclear waste being transported around Scotland. That concern is not helped by the suggestion that, at the end of the day, some nuclear waste is to be dumped in a place from which it cannot be recovered, if not at Caithness then at some other point. There is no guarantee that Nirex or one of its successor bodies will not crop up somewhere else, if not in the north of Scotland then in the United Kingdom. People living in different parts of the United Kingdom cannot rely on a general election to save them, as happened to people living in four constituencies in England in 1987.

I conclude by asking the Minister to respond to a question asked by other hon. Members—what research has been carried out into the treatment and safety of nuclear waste? Has the nuclear industry any idea what might be done to make it less dangerous or to reduce the risks for people who come into contact with it? What urgency has been injected into such research?

For the time being, I am happy to agree that nuclear waste should be stored on site and not transported around the country. I am also happy for it to be put where it can be recovered and checked, but that is not a long-term solution. Unless we can deal with such problems, the nuclear industry will always have the same question mark over it.

5.30 pm

Lest I am thought to be concentrating overmuch on the nuclear industry—although that is clearly what the movers of the new clause had in mind—I should say that there is no doubt that, if the Government were to concentrate on additional research into other forms of energy generation, perhaps some of the problems with which we are dealing today would be solved. I accept that there are forms of nuclear waste which are not the direct by-products of the nuclear industry and that we must deal with them, but we must consider the fundamental question about nuclear waste.

All types of waste are being generated every day, yet it seems that the effort made to deal with the end product is minimal. Unless the Secretary of State can reassure us, the same questions and doubts will continue. In any event, I hope that he will support the new clause, because surely the dumping of nuclear waste must have some bearing on the heritage of Scotland. I hope that he can make some encouraging noises rather than merely read one of his interminable briefs supplied by the Scottish Office.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), because he has added a tone of moderation and constructive thought to the debate, which, to a great extent, had become an attack on the nuclear industry.

For 35 years, I have lived within two miles of a nuclear power station and brought up a family there. I have confidence in the safety of operation at Chapelcross, and I am sure that the same could be said for those at Hunterston and Torness. The standard of safety at our nuclear power station is exceptionally high, and rightly so. I am glad that, over the years, Chapelcross has passed the tests carried out by the nuclear inspectorate and will continue in production for about another 10 years or more.

I say in passing that there are over 500 employees at Chapelcross. If the advice of candidates fighting me at general election after general election—from the Labour party, the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens—had been taken, the power station would have shut down long ago with an immense loss of jobs. I have every confidence in the exceptionally high standards at Chapelcross, and in all the work put into maintaining that standard and the safety of everyone who lives in the surrounding district. That work is accepted by the neighbourhood, by those who work at Chapelcross and by all involved.

Nuclear fuel is moved from Chapelcross to and from Sellafield. It is transported by road, with extreme safety and caution, in vehicles of exceptional toughness which I do not think would cause a nuclear accident if they were involved in an incident. Road transportation could not be practical other than for the relatively short distance from Chapelcross to Sellafield, because the vehicles are large and move very slowly. The thought that they might travel longer distances on Scottish roads is a non-starter.

Doubts—or worse than doubts—have been expressed today about rail transport. All of us will remember the spectacular film on television which showed a train crashing at 100 mph into a nuclear transporter truck. The truck emerged unharmed, so it is fair to say that, with regard to rail transport, the nuclear industry has taken immense trouble—and rightly so—to ensure that its transportation vehicles are of the highest standard. It is wrong to imply that there will be a series of rail crashes in Scotland in which nuclear fallout could occur. Such scaremongering is unacceptable.

I agree that nuclear dumping is an emotional issue. The word "dumping" is not strictly correct, but it has now become standard. The thought of nuclear dumping anywhere in the United Kingdom, or anywhere in the world, brings an immediate reaction. I agreed with my right hon. Friend that there should not be dumping in Mullwharchar. That was 11 years ago. [Interruption.] Let me finish what I am saying. I still say what I said then. Eleven years ago, Nirex's knowledge about the disposal of nuclear waste was even less broad than it is now.

Mr. Home Robertson

Even less?

Sir Hector Monro

Yes, it had not gone into the issue in the depth that I should have liked. Its knowledge of vitreous disposal, storage under the sea or elsewhere, was then not as deep as it is now.

It is right to say—and I keep saying it—that we are rushing the issue. There are magnificent new facilities at Sellafield for reprocessing an enormous amount of nuclear fuel, so what are we hurrying to make a decision about? Dry storage was mentioned by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). It is merely an insurance policy should Sellafield be unable to reprocess the fuel. In that case, the fuel would go into a dry store, which would be used as a waiting station until it could go to Sellafield for reprocessing.

Mr. Home Robertson

It is an insurance policy not merely in case the fuel cannot get to Sellafield but for Scottish Nuclear's business plans. The current debate might have more to do with the business plans of British Nuclear Fuels plc at Sellafield and of Scottish Nuclear Ltd. negotiating about the price of processing waste fuel. I am not sure that that is the most satisfactory basis on which to make such decisions.

Sir Hector Monro

We are getting into details, which shows the complexity of the operation of the Atomic Energy Authority, or of British Nuclear Fuels and Scottish Nuclear.

The problem at Chapelcross for the past 10 years has been that of selling the power because, geographically, Chapelcross is not where the power is required. That is why the long-term future of Chapelcross and of its possible successor plant, on which British Nuclear Fuels is carrying out a detailed survey, is so important.

We cannot sweep the issue under the carpet, but Nirex is accelerating the search for a solution which is perhaps not required while Sellafield can cope adequately. The new facilities at Sell afield where British Nuclear Fuels is dealing with reprocessing cost hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds. There are adequate facilities for storage, so I do not think that storage at Dounreay immediately or in the next couple of years, is as urgent as the nuclear industry is implying in Scotland.

I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say. Delay and further study a re the answers in the disposal of nuclear waste. We should not press on too fast when there may still be an alternative method of disposing of waste other than at Sellafield. From all my contact with the nuclear industry, I believe that that is some years ahead.

Mr. Wilson

I should like the hon. Gentleman to address himself to the specific question of Scottish Natural Heritage. He has experience of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, so I should be genuinely interested to hear whether he thinks that it is a matter on which Scottish Natural Heritage should at least take a view and express it to the Secretary of State.

Sir Hector Monro

I must return to the narrow issue of the new clause, around which we have wandered a long way for the past couple of hours. However, the issue is important and it is rare that we get a chance to talk about the Scottish heritage on the Floor of the House.

If I remember rightly, the Nature Conservancy Council was asked about the marine aspect at Dounreay. It would be right for Scottish Natural Heritage to take a view. I am saying not so much that the new clause is necessary, but that it is impossible for me to think that we could go into the issue without the major statutory bodies such as the NCC. We are leaping a year ahead because Scottish Natural Heritage will not come into being for another 11 months. We must live with the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland until 1 April 1992. I cannot believe that, in his deliberations over this major issue, the Secretary of State would not consult those bodies to hear their view.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will say that it is very likely—I cannot imagine otherwise—that SNH will be consulted when it is in place. If there was ever an issue on which we must try to take everyone in Scotland together, the disposal of nuclear waste is it. My own feeling is that Sellafield will be able to manage for a long time. We are rather rushing an issue which we do not need to do at present.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I follow the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) in begging colleagues not to use the phrase "nuclear dump". We are talking about a repository that will be fully engineered, managed and monitored. Its design will take account of the results of extensive research into the behaviour of radioactive waste underground, including leaching and gas generation. That will be augmented by detailed studies into the behaviour of natural deposits of radioactive material over hundreds of thousands of years, which will enable the designers of the repository to plan the optimum method of containment.

Anyone who has been to Sellafield will have to concede—I note the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey), a member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, who may catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that, whatever his view on general nuclear issues, Sellafield is quite superb. Having visited it six times over the years, I think that it is one of the most impressive places to which I have been.

5.45 pm

I have a question for the Minister. I am an unashamed friend of the nuclear industry. I am an unashamed friend of the Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive, of British Nuclear Fuels plc and of Trade Unions for Safety in the Nuclear Industry. Mr. Roger Morgan, officially on behalf of the AEU, and Mr. Eric Hammond have invited me to be one of the speakers at its conference in Edinburgh on 18 May. I say that simply to give myself the credentials for asking my question. Is it really necessary to stir up a gratuitous hornets' nest?

I have listened to the speeches of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). She obviously feels passionately about the issue and I do not doubt for a moment that, in this matter, she represents her constituents. I listened to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and to my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). Whatever I think, and my view of the nuclear industry is deeply different from theirs, I have to concede that they represent strong feelings—not only theirs, but those of many people.

During the 1987 election, I was asked all about my supposed views on the storage of nuclear waste in various parts of the West Lothian constituency, as it used to be. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who told me how foolhardy I had been on the subject, will no doubt recollect, that.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

indicated assent.

Mr. Dalyell

I see my hon. Friend nodding.

Is it necessary to stir up a hornets' nest when there is an easy way out of the problem? The easy way out is at least to wait until such time as the geological surveys in the Sellafield area have been completed. Christopher Harding, the chairman of BNFL, whom I contacted before the debate, said: The selection of a repository site is not limited soley by geological consideration, although these are of major significance. For instance, a substantial proportion of Britain's radioactive waste is currently stored at Sellafield and, from a logistical point of view, this makes Sellafield an attractive option if the geology is acceptable. The sooner we find out whether the geology is acceptable the better.

I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) has a very real point. Many people are concerned, whether I like it or not, about transport. I said to a Government Whip that I thought that the Secretary of State for Energy should be with us for this debate. Cannot we wait, before creating any more difficulties in the north or elsewhere, to find out what the answer is from Sellafield? I have met plenty of people at Sellafield who are content to live against or above the waste facility that is envisaged. Any visitor to the thermal oxide reprocessing plant project—I have visited it recently—and to the various engineering projects at Sellafield must be deeply impressed by the sheer expertise there, and rather proud of Britain having it. I suspect that we are the best in the world.

Mr. Home Robertson

I am interested to hear what my hon. Friend says about his recent experience of a visit to the THORP project at Sellafield. It is a purpose-built, specialist facility for handling, processing and storing nuclear material. Would not it be rather ridiculous if, when we have such a national facility in public ownership through BNFL, organisations, including Scottish Nuclear, went off at a tangent, failed to take advantage of that facility and started using a new, largely untried and perhaps rather suspect technology to store the material in dry stores at individual power stations?

Mr. Dalyell

I am very much against untried technology. I do not want to take up the time of the House, because we have a lot of business. I want simply to say that, for heaven's sake, we should look at the Sellafield option.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

The brevity of my contribution owes most to the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) has spoken in the debate and I agree with everything that she said. It is also due to the fact that time is moving on, there is a lot more business on the amendment paper, and I want to hear the Minister's reply. The issue arises from within the boundaries of Highland regional council and from the campaign—which I very much support—that the regional council has run against the Nirex proposal.

I agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about how one is constantly caught, and that is not merely true of the Nirex issue but about matters nuclear more generally. It is rather like the abortion debate. No matter how much persuasion is used, people have a gut instinct about where they stand on nuclear matters, and persuasion in the House or on any other public platform tends to go out of the window.

Let us compare the Nirex issue to the poll tax. Adherents of that former flagship called it the community charge, whereas those who were against it let it be known that it should be called the poll tax. Similarly, people who are against what Nirex has been instructed to get on with call it a nuclear dump whereas people who are more neutral—perhaps more scientifically accurate—or who are in favour of what Nirex is doing tend to talk about deep site nuclear repositories, which has a more neutral sound than the more emotive and more easily understood expression, a nuclear dump. Part of the problem is that people have gut reactions on the issue. While people follow details of both sides of the argument, once they form a conclusion there tends to be very little shifting of opinion.

The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) and I attended the opening of the Highland regional council campaign in Inverness some time ago. She quoted a number of people who spoke there. The cross-section of business, cultural and tourist potential and opinion that they represent within the area speaks for itself. I pay her special credit because she quoted my constituents far more than I would ever have dared to do, with any degree of modesty, in a speech.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) spoke about the need for an informed debate, and I agree with him. However, those of us who have been dealing with the Nirex proposals, or the investigations that it has been carrying out in Highland region in the past four years, have found that Nirex would have nothing to do with any opportunity extended to it to appear on a public platform and put its case. I was involved in a local referendum, which Lorraine Mann, a constituent of mine and a leading member of Scotland Against Nuclear Dumping, helped to organise, and I pay tribute to the work that she has done on this issue in the past few years. Once again, when ballot papers were sent out, Nirex was invited to enclose information material to put its side of the argument, but, as on every other occasion, Nirex would have nothing to do with it.

It is difficult to have the informed debate that the hon. Member for Tayside, North and many others want when the agency charged with carrying out the investigations will not put its case except within carefully controlled circumstances of its choosing—as opposed to public dissemination of the facts—often with personnel that it has invited. All too often, that makes for a frustratingly one-sided debate. I do not think that Nirex does itself much good by pursuing that line.

One must consider the backdrop to this issue—the natural heritage and its role within the highlands. Successive Governments, both Labour and Conservative, in the late 1950s and through to the 1960s, supported opening up the highlands to try to reverse historic depopulation. Successive Governments supported the establishment of the Corpach pulp mill, the Invergordon aluminium smelter and the Dounreay fast breeder reactor research site.

When the late Willie Ross opened the Second Reading debate on the Bill that formed the basis for the Highlands and Islands development board, he said that the highlander was "the man on every Scot's conscience." I suspect that that would no longer be the case, because the sort of problems that have visited themselves upon the highlands have affected in equal measure other parts of Scotland, whether in the steel or coal industries or elsewhere.

There was general public support for development in the highlands. However, in the past 10 years, the pulp mill and the aluminium smelter have gone; and, more recently, the fast breeder reactor research programme was run down.

Let us be clear about the Nirex proposals. Although I cannot claim any scientific qualification, I understand that any jobs that might accrue from the siting of a nuclear repository—with respect to the hon. Member for Linlithgow, I shall use the neutral term—will not require the same scientific qualifications that have been developed at Dounreay in the preceding decades. Also, the numbers involved will not be nearly as encouraging as was perhaps first thought. However, that is not the crucial issue, which is that, as both my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute and the hon. Member for Moray made clear, given the essentially fragile nature of the highlands—their location and economic base—the public perception of products from that part of the country is all-important to ensure success in the national, European and international markets.

As successive chairmen of the HIDB and anyone else who has tried to promote the economy of the highlands will confirm, if added value is the name of the game and is the only viable means of securing an economic base for the highlands, something that is liable to run directly against the indigenous interests of added value in any form—whether fishing, farming, tourism or any other activity—clearly has little economic rationale.

People say of matters nuclear, especially a nuclear dump, "Not in my backyard." We saw a graphic example of that before the last election. However, Highland regional council, with all-party support, has put a distinctly different case. We are not saying, "Not in our back yard." If nuclear material is produced in the region, whether Dounreay is the source or whether it is low-grade waste from Raigmore hospital as a result of hospital processes, the council has been the first to say that we have a geographical and moral responsibility to take stock of it, to look after it and to secure it within Caithness, above ground level in dry storage, so that it is retrievable at a later date.

We are not saying that we will have nothing to do with it. We want to take responsibility for waste that accrues in our region. However, we are saying "Not in our back yard," to a nuclear dump and we are also saying that it should not be in anyone else's back yard either. It does not represent success if one moves the problem from one part of the country, that has perhaps been earmarked, to another.

I referred at the beginning of my speech to the fact that there are different views about the efficacy and desirability of civil nuclear power. I speak as one who sees a continuing need for a civil nuclear power programme in this country. I do not think that it is sage, in the long term, to put all one's energy eggs in one basket. A mixed provision of supply is only sensible for a country that is dependent on declining fossil fuels.

Scotland Against Nuclear Dumping is a good example of an interesting aspect of the Nirex proposals. Some people in that organisation oppose anything to do with the nuclear industry, whether a power station, a reprocessing plant or Nirex. Others may accept the need for civil nuclear power as a part of electricity generation, but do not want the Nirex proposals or may not be in favour of foreign reprocessing contracts being carried out in the United Kingdom.

However, there is a unanimity of view about Nirex. People may be in favour of a civil nuclear power programme of against it, but whatever their views on the rights and wrongs of that per se, everyone has agreed that Nirex is not a worthwhile object that they would wish to support. When people who would otherwise support civil nuclear power think that, it should cause the Scottish Office, the Department of Energy and the Department of the Environment to think again.

6 pm

Only last Friday, the Minister was in Dornie, a part of the highlands that he knows rather well, as he spends the occasional family holiday there. As he opened the new Dornie bridge bypass, he waxed lyrical about the natural beauty of the area. I know that he appreciates how crucial that perception is to the highlands as a whole, so I hope that he recognises the genuine and deeply felt acute anxiety in the highlands and elsewhere in the country about the damage which even talk about deep-site nuclear disposal could do. If he does, I hope that he will have a word with the Secretary of State and tell him not to ride roughshod over Highland regional council as the planning authority, as the Scottish Office has done so far.

He should also ask him to encourage sanity in other parts of Whitehall and of government and recognise that to lock away nuclear material so that it will not be retrievable in the future is madness. Even if we went for on-site storage, we might discover in future the scientific knowledge to deal with the long half lives involved. We might be able to find a solution. If that is a scientific possibility, it would be crazy physically to block off future access to the material.

Not one hon. Member has spoken in support of what Nirex has been instructed to do. It is worth stressing that that is what has happened. The argument is always directed against Nirex, but it has been instructed as an agency to do something in the name of the Government. At the end of the day, it is a political decision. As we saw before the last general election, the Government are in a position to put an end to the hornets' nest, as it was rightly described, and the damaging uncertainty that has been created. I hope that, in his reply, the Minister can go a long way to calming the waters.

Mr. Andrew Welsh

The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) raised a major issue. How can we register the feelings and anxieties of people and ensure that the worries of the people of Scotland who will have to live with these decisions are given democratic expression? Will Scottish Natural Heritage be able to fulfil that purpose? I have my doubts.

We have had a wide-ranging debate on one of the most important issues that will face Scotland for generations ahead. It has shown how inadequate a body is Scottish Natural Heritage to deal with the issue. The Minister said that SNH will be able to comment on such matters. That is not good enough. The Minister can comment. Anyone can comment—the Minister's granny can comment. But it is important that SNH should have the powers to make inquiries, be consulted and take action. Clearly, SNH does not have such powers now.

Any environmental agency worth its salt should have a major say and be able to take action on issues such as the dumping of either nuclear or toxic waste. It is incredible that SNH will not. Those are the most important issues which face our environment. The acid test is whether SNH, as planned by the Government, has the power to take action or even to be consulted. That shows how inadequate an instrument the Minister is creating.

I appreciate the Labour new clause, but I note that it uses the word "person" when it seeks to make nuclear dumping without SNH permission an offence. However, the greatest dumping threat does not come from individuals. It comes from an organisation—Nirex. Labour probably has in mind individuals such as landowners who may be only too happy to allow their land to be used for dumping. Perhaps that is why the new clause is phrased in that way. However, there is an obvious distinction between a legal persona and a Government Department. I do not care which one proposes nuclear dumping—it simply should not be allowed.

I hoped that the Scottish National party new clause would be selected. It would have strengthened the purpose of the Labour new clause. It is incredible that we do not have an adequate democratic forum in which to discuss these matters. We should be able to call representatives of Nirex and question them in detail about some of the anxieties raised in the House today. The obvious way of doing that would be through the Scottish Select Committee. Such a Committee could bring in Nirex, other organisations and expert witnesses and question them in detail. Such matters should be brought before the Scottish people——

Mr. Bill Walker

The Scottish National party refused to serve on the Committee.

Mr. Welsh

As usual, the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) appears to be jumping his guns. If anyone is to be blamed for the lack of a Scottish Select Committee, he is a prime candidate. It is a pity that we do not have a forum in which these matters could be discussed.

I regret that the much stronger SNP new clause was not selected. It refers to both nuclear dumping and the dumping of toxic waste. Scotland needs the protection of a cast-iron guaranteed halt to threats of nuclear dumping. Our new clause takes a much stronger stand against nuclear dumping. It includes protection against the transportation of nuclear waste. The lack of such protection is an unfortunate and serious weakness in the Labour new clause, which appears to be more of a probing new clause than one which Labour Members intend to press. I hope to find otherwise, and that the Labour party will press the new clause.

I also regret that there is no mention of toxic waste dumping in the Labour new clause. Dumping of toxic waste is not a greater threat than nuclear dumping but in many ways is a massive threat to the environment of Scotland. The acid test for the Minister is whether, with the powers proposed in the Bill, Scottish Natural Heritage, will be able to take a major part in making decisions on such issues. It should be a sounding board for the views of the people of Scotland.

No environmental protection organisation can fail to tackle or discuss nuclear and toxic waste dumping. The ramifications of such dumping spread across the whole social and economic fabric of Scotland. If Nirex or any other body uses Scotland as a nuclear dumping ground, it will be a disaster for the entire Scottish population who have to live with it, and for all visitors to the area. It will be a disaster for tourism, agriculture, fishing and other industries dependent on a good, clean environment and the worldwide understanding that Scotland has a wholesome environment.

We are discussing employment, as well as the primacy of safety. Nirex proposes to create only a few jobs, but the dump will result in a massive loss of jobs locally. On the basis of Nirex's own figures, the operational phase of the Dounreay installation would create only about 100 jobs. Yet in the fishing industry alone, 250 jobs would be lost if the industry lost only 1 per cent. of its capacity. If that is extended to other industries and activities in the highlands, we shall face a disaster in local employment.

The Bill is simply inadequate, for the reasons that I have given and other reasons given today. Unfortunately, inadequate as it is, it is probably the best that we are ever likely to get out of the Government. The issue of nuclear and toxic waste dumping shows how deficient the Bill is in meeting, the environmental needs of Scotland.

What is the Minister's personal position not only on the plans for Scottish Natural Heritage but on nuclear dumping? What standing does he have in the debate? We have already noted that the Secretary of State for Scotland was opposed to nuclear dumping in his constituency. His colleague the Secretary of State for Energy, who is responsible for Nirex, was opposed to nuclear dumping in his constituency. Both Ministers stopped the creation of such dumps in their constituencies. What firepower does the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), have to offer in these circumstances? We have a right to know the Minister's position on the subject. Does he agree with his colleagues, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Energy—the man in charge of Nirex—in opposing dumping?

Will the Minister give a commitment to the people of Dounreay and of the whole of Scotland that he will ensure that they are not subjected to dumping plans for their area similar to those to which the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Energy were opposed? The timing is right. We are headed for a general election, as we were when the Secretary of State for Energy opposed nuclear dumping in his constituency. He succeeded because the Government feared a loss of votes.

Perhaps they do not have too many votes to lose up there, but what is the Minister's own personal position? Will he join his right hon. Friends in coming out and clearly opposing nuclear dumping in Scotland? If he does, I will certainly applaud him. Let us hear from the Minister what he says on this issue.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

I will be extremely brief on this matter, but I feel compelled to say something, since I have been unashamedly put in the frame by my unashamed hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who mentioned my own unashamed membership of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and I may have to say something unashamedly about its policy in the nuclear field.

As one who was from the beginning very much opposed to the whole concept of nuclear energy, my views have been somewhat tempered—not because of any direct pressure through my trade union but through a great deal of discussion throughout the trade union movement, especially on the whole aspect of safety. Irrespective of one's view of nuclear energy, I think we are all united on one thing: we are all extremely concerned about safety in that industry and will try our best to see that the safest methods are used for the production of nuclear energy. The AEU in particular taught me the lesson that we have a problem with the removal and storage of nuclear waste and how best to do it.

On many occasions, I have unashamedly been the ally of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Munro), who has unashamedly joined me in several campaigns—one, obviously, about the production and excellence of Scottish whisky of which he is the chairman. I can therefore understand why he wants to keep the water in Scotland as pure as possible. However, he said that there might have been a smack of hysteria in this debate. I honestly have not detected any hysteria. I welcome the debate because I think that it is extremely useful, and I believe that we shall have to go into this matter very much more fully in the near future.

One point that the hon. Gentleman made and on which I agree with him conceived haste. Why is there this undue haste? I went to Sellafield with my hon. friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) when we were invited to see for ourselves what they had done there about safety. I have to say, as someone who was apprehensive, to say the least, about that visit, that I was extremely interested in what I saw, and very impressed. The people there were trying to extend the range of what certainly seemed to me, as a layman, a centre of excellence as in the storage and handling of this dangerous matter.

Why, then, is it considered necessary to seek to impose this repository upon the people of the Highlands? There should be no imposition upon the people of the Highlands. We should not say that they must handle the storage because we happen to believe that the borings we have done show, that that is the best part of the country in which to store these wastes. If the people of the highlands say that they do not want it, that ought to be the end of the matter.

I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will reflect on the words that he used 10 or 11 years ago, speaking quite eloquently, before an election. He fought his corner; he certainly did not wish waste to be dumped in his own backyard, as was going to happen then. No matter how we dress it up, although the safest repository in the world might well be in the highlands, if the people in the highlands do not want it there, that should be that.

The Secretary of State ought to learn the lessons of recent events. We did not want the poll tax in Scotland. It was foisted upon the people of Scotland, and we can now see the result of foisting it not only on us but on the people of the rest of the United Kingdom. We do not want opted out hospitals to be foisted on us, and we are having that rammed down our throats. We certainly did not want the examination of our seven-year-olds, and we are having that rammed down our throats. But the people of the highlands—they will be backed by the rest of the people of Scotland—will not have a repository for nuclear waste brought in from outside that area and stored in the highlands. We and the Secretary of State ought to learn that lesson: we cannot foist that upon the people of Scotland.

I saw the report that came up from the Highland region. Unfortunately I could not get to the meeting because I was at another meeting on Scottish business. I was impressed by the fact that the authors of the report said that they recognised that there was waste arising from production in their area and were prepared to take care of their own waste. They are not saying that the waste should be shoved into some other area. They have faced up admirably to their responsibilities.

We should recognise that the campaign is not hysterical but very responsible. The Secretary of State ought to recognise that, and he certainly ought to be in the lobby with us tonight supporting a genuine attempt to bring this matter fully in front of the people of Scotland and to legislate for it. We are giving the Secretary of State for Scotland the opportunity tonight to do so.

6.15 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

When this debate began, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) made it clear that this was a vehicle for a general debate as well as a debate on the specific terms of the new clause. May I first make it absolutely clear that Scottish National Heritage, under clause 2 as drafted, would be expected to advise the Secretary of State on any matter affecting the natural heritage of Scotland, and that would most certainly include the disposal and storage of radioactive material and waste.

The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North said most appropriately that a distinction should be drawn between nuclear power and nuclear waste, because it is within the knowledge of all of us that successive Governments have supported nuclear power. In fact, it was the former Secretary of State, Bruce Millan, who gave approval for Torness to be built under the electric lighting Act. Therefore, we all—certainly the members of the major parties—have a moral obligation to make absolutely certain that nuclear waste is dealt with in the safest possible way and in a way that gives the greatest reassurance to the public.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and other hon. Members that there must be as much openness as possible on this subject. That is why, in the last Parliament, I sought to discuss on the Consolidated Fund with the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) the subject of nuclear power.

One point which I feel that I should answer concerns the planning implications. If Nirex were to decide that either Sellafield or Dounreay would be suitable as a repository for nuclear waste, planning permission would be required. The Government have made it clear that, if such an application were made, it would be called in for decision by the relevant Secretary of State and a full public local inquiry would be held. Scottish National Heritage, as the Secretary of State's adviser, would be asked for its views. Any proposals and objections that it might make would be fully considered at the inquiry. The planning framework is well established and capable of dealing with contentious cases. No special legislative provision is necessary.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) made a courageous speech. He made absolutely clear his support for the trade unionists who are most engaged in safety procedures. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) rightly suggested that the safest method possible should be used, and that I wholeheartedly support. I am sure that Nirex will take careful account of what the hon. Members have said.

Mr. Home Robertson

I thank the Minister for confirming that a planning application would be called in and would be covered by a full public inquiry. Can he confirm that similar planning arrangements would apply to the establishment of a dry store for nuclear fuel waste at Hunterston, Torness, and so on?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Member takes me a stage further on. I can confirm that that subject is now under consideration. The hon. Member made a speech about spent fuel. Spent fuel which is not radioactive waste is currently sent to Sellafield for reprocessing. Dounreay is involved in reprocessing smaller quantitites of reactor fuel. Recently, however, Scottish Nuclear Ltd. put forward proposals to store spent fuel on site at Torness and Hunterston rather than send it to Sellafield. These proposals are currently under consideration. However, I shall be very happy to correspond further with the hon. Gentleman if he wants me to follow up any details in relation to spent fuel. If hon. Members wish, I can tell them how different forms of waste are dealt with.

Mr. Darling

Is the Minister saying that Scottish Nuclear has abandoned its plans to take spent fuel by rail, through Edinburgh, to Sellafield, and is considering keeping it on site? If that is what he is saying, it seems to be a departure from the position that the Government have taken up to now. The people of Edinburgh, as well as people elsewhere, will want to know.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I did not say that, but I shall make inquiries and write fully to the hon. Gentleman.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North about the Secretary of State's decision on Nirex's application to drill 6,000 boreholes. Nirex appealed to the Secretary of State against the regional council's decision to refuse approval. The Secretary of State will announce shortly the decision and the outcome of the appeal.

I was asked about the views of NCCS and SNH. Obviously, it is for NCCS to express its own view; it is not for the Government to speak on its behalf.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) asked me about submarine hulks. No decision has yet been taken on the most appropriate means of disposing of out-of-service nuclear submarines. Currently, when a submarine has finished its active live, it is defueled, the radioactive material is removed for storage, and the submarine is beached at secure moorings. The disposal of the residual radioactive components of such submarines is now under active consideration.

Mr. Dalyell

This matter was raised nine years ago. It has been considered for a long time.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's comments to the attention of the Secretary of State for Defence, who clearly is involved in these matters.

I was asked about expenditure on research into the long-term disposal of radioactive waste. In 1990–91 the Department of the Environment spent about £9 million on such research. Details are given in the annual report of the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee. In 1990–91, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food also spent £3.5 million, and the industry itself spent about £27.5 million. The total of £40 million shows the seriousness with which this problem is rightly treated.

New clause 1 seeks to give to Scottish Natural Heritage new functions which, in our view, are inappopriate. The purpose of SNH is to combine the functions of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland—not to cross the work of the pollution control agencies. The hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Environmental Protection Bill in 1990. That legislation introduces tighter controls over possible sources of pollution, but uses the expertise of the existing regulatory authorities, which, with regard to nuclear substances, are the nuclear installations inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution.

Part I of the 1990 Act established a new system of control over the most potentially polluting processes that do not involve emissions of radioactivity. This will be administered by the industrial pollution inspectorate and the river purification authorities. Part II introduces tighter controls over the disposal of non-radioactive wastes. These will be exercised by the waste regulation authorities, overseen by the hazardous waste inspectorate of the Scottish Office. Part V of the 1990 Act strengthens the Radioactive Substances Act 1960, which is the statutory framework within which the industrial pollution inspectorate controls the keeping and use of radioactive material and the disposal of radioactive waste.

I do not recall that during the passage of that legislation the hon. Member for Angus, East expressed any dissatisfaction about this matter. It really is not good enough for him to suggest that it should be dealt with in the context of this Bill. Everybody knows that Scottish Natural Heritage is much more concerned with soft green issues. The Standing Committee of which the hon. Gentleman was a member dealt with hard green issues. He had every opportunity on that occasion to raise the matter if he was dissatisfied.

Mr. Andrew Welsh

Is the Minister saying that the new agency will have no say whatsoever if it is proposed that a nuclear dump be located at Dounreay? He says that SNH has the right to advise the Secretary of State, but has no legal right to be consulted or to take action. In refusing to rule out nuclear dumping in Caithness, is the Minister a Scottish Office NIMBY, like his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, or a Scottish Office namby?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

New clause 1 seeks to give Scottish Natural Heritage statutory power in relation to any development of an underground repository for radioactive waste that may be proposed for Scotland. I am glad to see that the new clause leaves the final word with the Secretary of State. In effect, therefore, it merely requires the Secretary of State to consult Scottish Natural Heritage before allowing the development of any underground repository. For a very simple reason, that is unnecessary.

I am very happy to give an undertaking that, if there is any proposal to develop an underground repository, the Secretary of State will make certain that Scottish Natural Heritage is notified and given the opportunity to express its views. It will be free to express its views to my right hon. Friend directly, or at the local planning inquiry, to which we have already committed ourselves, if Nirex proposes that the United Kingdom's underground repository should be located at Dounreay. That commitment dates from 1984.

I want to refer to a point that is of particular importance and is relevant to a matter raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow. Nirex has made it clear that, other factors being equal, Sellafield—not Dounreay—will be the preferred site because of transport considerations. It would simply be much cheaper to site the repository near Sellafield, where most of the waste arises. Of course, this gives rise to the question of transportation, about which I want to speak briefly, although it comes within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Dalyell

Some of Nirex's friends, of whom I am one, are rather exasperated. Why should Opposition Members and their constituents be stirred up if the Government have more or less made up their minds—rightly, I believe—that Sellafield should be the location? I am told that the geological conditions there are very favourable. Why on earth should all this trouble be caused gratuitously? The Government's friends begged them not to take this course. They did it once in Ayrshire, and now they are doing it again.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Nirex will take careful note of what the hon. Gentleman has said, and will bear in mind the fact that he is a very strong supporter of nuclear power and of the most stringent safety conditions.

The question of transportation was raised—in particular, by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling).

Mr. Kennedy

Hon. Members have made the point that Nirex is not a free-standing agency, that it has a degree of accountability to Ministers. The Minister may draw the remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) to the attention of Nirex, but can he explain what the Government were thinking of when they decided to drill in Caithness? By strong implication, we are now being told that Sellafield has been the preferred option all along, and is beginning to look as if it was the more likely option all along.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that, if various parts of Britain have nuclear power, the best and safest means of disposing of waste must be employed.

I have been asked what contact there has been between Secretaries of State and Nirex in the past. To answer that question, I shall have to check in great detail the minutes of all the appropriate meetings, and I shall be happy to do so.

The matter raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow should be well within the knowledge of Nirex, which would be wise to take it fully into account.

The issue of the transportation of nuclear waste is really a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. This Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for discussion of the issue. However, I can say that the safety record in the transportation of nuclear material in this country is excellent. The safety regulations for the transporting of such material are based on stringent internationally agreed standards, laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency. This question has been considered several times in recent years—at the Dounreay, Sizewell and Hinkley public inquiries—and in no case did anyone produce evidence that cast doubt on the adequacy of the regulations.

In nearly 30 years of nuclear flask movements, not one incident has occurred that led to the release of even the smallest quantity of radioactivity. The transport of nuclear waste to a deep repository, wherever it is ultimately sited, would of course be considered in detail at the local planning inquiry to which we have committed ourselves.

Mr. John McFall (Durnbarton)

Nuclear submarines and reactors are extremely large objects to decommission. How feasible does the Minister think it would be to have such constructions taken to Dounreay? In other words, Dounreay seems to be ruled out from the start.

6.30 pm
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am not putting forward any such proposal tonight. I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that the matter is under consideration. If he has a proposal to make, I strongly suggest that he sends it to the Secretary of State for Defence, with a copy to the Scottish Office.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow had my total agreement when he said that it was inappropriate to use the expression "nuclear dump". It is extraordinary to find that phrase being used so much when most of the radioactive waste that is produced in Scotland is transported into England for disposal or reprocessing. It is perhaps a commentary on the extremes to which scaremongering has extended that some people believe blatant untruths. It should be borne in mind that 50 per cent. of Scotland's electricity is supplied by nuclear energy.

The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) spoke about reprocessing. There is an important distinction between reprocessing fuel from abroad—in which case the waste will eventually be returned to the country of origin—and the disposal of radioactive waste created in this country. Dounreay's reprocessing business, which has safely and successfully been carried out in the past, has nothing to do with Nirex's current geological investigations at Sellafield and Dounreay, which are to determine whether either would be a suitable site for a deep repository for United Kingdom waste.

To sum up, the new clause seeks to give SNH statutory power over the development of an underground repository for radioactive waste. In doing so, the new clause cuts across the existing statutory framework in the Radioactive Substances Act 1960. The Act contains adequate provisions for controlling the disposal of radioactive waste. The authorisation procedures for disposing of radioactive waste require consultation with appropriate bodies. I assure the House that SNH would be included in any such consultations.

I hope that, with those reassurances, Opposition Members will not think it necessary to press the clause to a Division.

Mr. Wilson

I said at the outset that I was pleased that we had managed to get this issue raised on the Floor of the House. At the end of the debate, I am even more pleased, for this has been a first-class debate, which has proved extremely useful. Remarkable about it is the fact that we have achieved great consensus on the issue, beyond the immediate subject under discussion, of whether a repository should be established at Dounreay.

I cannot say that this will prove to have been an influential debate, but it should be. The Official Report of it should be read in the proper circles, because the unanimity among the parties—hon. Members speaking from different standpoints but arriving at the same conclusion—is impressive. The consensus is clearly against the development at Dounreay. My hon. Friends and I are grateful to the Chair for allowing the debate to range wider than the immediate subject of the new clause.

There have been some key contributions to the debate. Much of what the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said was common sense, although he said that there had been some hysterically anti-nuclear speeches from the Opposition Benches. A characteristic of the speeches of Opposition Members, certainly of Labour Members, has been the strong support for the civil nuclear industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and I have major nuclear installations in our constituencies, as have my hon. Friends the Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey), whose views have been changed somewhat. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) recalled visiting Chapelcross during the 1987 election and giving assurances that there was no threat to that station during its commercial lifetime.

In other words, the hon. Member for Dumfries must not lump all his past opponents together in the way he did. Any hon. Member who represents a constituency which includes an establishment such as Hunterston has his or her mind fully concentrated on the need for nuclear power and the contribution that it makes to the wider Scottish economy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow was right to ask whether it is necessary to stir up a hornets' nest over the issue. The Secretary of State has been told that he more than anyone should recognise the unnecessary storm that will be created if he allows the matter to proceed further. He must be aware of the way in which it could develop into an enormous issue. It is not in his interests, or in those of Scotland or the community most directly affected, to allow it to be at the centre of the brouhaha that would develop particularly if at the end of the day it turned out to be a false start, either because there was no interest in Dounreay or because it was discovered, after the expenditure of £500 million, that the place was not geologically suitable.

The Secretary of State has power quickly to bring the whole matter to an end. We were told by the Under-Secretary that he would be deciding soon on the 6,000 test bores. That could be the moment for him to make some virtue of the fact that he will uphold local democracy and say that the Dounreay option will not be pursued further. It is clear, on the basis of tonight's debate, that he would earn the gratitude of hon. Members in all parts of the House, and that would give the clearest possible message to Nirex.

The Under-Secretary said that Nirex would take careful note of what has been said in the debate and particularly of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow. While Nirex may take careful note of our words, it would take even more careful note if it received a letter from the Secretary of State saying that he was not of a mind to overturn the democratically arrived at planning decision of Scottish National Heritage.

I welcome the comments of the Minister about the role of SNH and I hope that, on this and other issues with which the Bill is concerned, SNH will take heart from the fact that it seems to be the will of the Government that it should become involved in contentious matters in a wholehearted way. In other words, SNH does not exist simply to discuss the birds and the bees and peat cutting and the minutiae of nature conservation issues. It must get involved, from an environmental point of view, in the big issues of Scottish life and politics.

Having said that, I fear that I must tell the Minister that he did not go far enough, and that we feel it necessary to press the matter to a Division to reinforce the arguments that we have adduced.

I should have referred in my opening remarks to the fact that, when representatives of Highland regional council came to the House yesterday, they stressed strongly the commitment that Caithness had given to the nuclear industry. Caithness is also in the eye of the storm in conservation matters. Instead of proposals from Nirex to take up the slack in the Caithness economy, Highland regional council would like the Government to say that the scientific research base for SNH will be centred in the place which is relevant to environmental concerns, which has a strong scientific background and which is facing great economic difficulties.

The convenor of Highland region, Duncan McPherson, wrote to the Secretary of State in those terms this week. He concluded his letter by hoping that the Secretary of State would support Highland regional council's desire to have the scientific research base, initially of the Nature Conservancy Council and subsequently of Scottish Natural Heritage, established in its area. What a constructive note we would end on if we could send that message to the people of Caithness and if we could tell them at the same time that the Secretary of State is turning down the application for 6,000 unwanted test bores.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 93, Noes 132.

Division No. 128] [6.39 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Livingstone, Ken
Allen, Graham McAllion, John
Archer, Rt Hon Peter McFall, John
Armstrong, Hilary McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) McKelvey, William
Bellotti, David McLeish, Henry
Bermingham, Gerald McMaster, Gordon
Bray, Dr Jeremy McWilliam, John
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Madden, Max
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Meacher, Michael
Canavan, Dennis Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Moonie, Dr Lewis
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Crowther, Stan Mullin, Chris
Cryer, Bob Nellist, Dave
Cummings, John O'Brien, William
Dalyell, Tam O'Hara, Edward
Darling, Alistair O'Neill, Martin
Dewar, Donald Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Dixon, Don Patchett, Terry
Dobson, Frank Pike, Peter L.
Doran, Frank Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Prescott, John
Eastham, Ken Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Reid, Dr John
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Richardson, Jo
Fisher, Mark Robertson, George
Foster, Derek Ruddock, Joan
Fyfe, Maria Salmond, Alex
Galbraith, Sam Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Galloway, George Skinner, Dennis
George, Bruce Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Golding, Mrs Llin Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Gordon, Mildred Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Soley, Clive
Grocott, Bruce Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Home Robertson, John Walley, Joan
Hood, Jimmy Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Howells, Geraint Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Hoyle, Doug Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Wilson, Brian
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Winnick, David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Ingram, Adam Tellers for the Ayes:
Kennedy, Charles Mr. Frank Haynes and
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Mr. Thomas McAvoy.
Kirkwood, Archy
Amess, David Arnold, Sir Thomas
Amos, Alan Ashby, David
Arbuthnot, James Aspinwall, Jack
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bellingham, Henry Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Knowles, Michael
Benyon, W. Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Blackburn, Dr John G. Latham, Michael
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Lawrence, Ivan
Boscawen, Hon Robert Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Boswell, Tim Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Bottomley, Peter Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Bowis, John MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Brazier, Julian MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Bright, Graham Maclean, David
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) McLoughlin, Patrick
Browne, John (Winchester) Malins, Humfrey
Budgen, Nicholas Mans, Keith
Burt, Alistair Mates, Michael
Butterfill, John Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Mills, Iain
Carrington, Matthew Mitchell, Sir David
Carttiss, Michael Monro, Sir Hector
Chapman, Sydney Morrison, Sir Charles
Chope, Christopher Moss, Malcolm
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth) Neale, Sir Gerrard
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Neubert, Sir Michael
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Cope, Rt Hon John Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Couchman, James Norris, Steve
Cran, James Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Oppenheim, Phillip
Dunn, Bob Patnick, Irvine
Dykes, Hugh Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Evennett, David Porter, David (Waveney)
Fallon, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Fishburn, John Dudley Redwood, John
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Rhodes James, Robert
Fox, Sir Marcus Ridsdale, Sir Julian
French, Douglas Rost, Peter
Gale, Roger Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Gardiner, Sir George Sayeed, Jonathan
Goodhart, Sir Philip Shaw, David (Dover)
Goodlad, Alastair Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Squire, Robin
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Stanbrook, Ivor
Gregory, Conal Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Stern, Michael
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Stevens, Lewis
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Hannam, John Sumberg, David
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Summerson, Hugo
Harris, David Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Haselhurst, Alan Thornton, Malcolm
Hawkins, Christopher Thurnham, Peter
Hayward, Robert Townend, John (Bridlington)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Hill, James Twinn, Dr Ian
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Warren, Kenneth
Hunter, Andrew Widdecombe, Ann
Irvine, Michael Wilshire, David
Jack, Michael Yeo, Tim
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Kilfedder, James Tellers for the Noes:
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Mr. Tom Sackville and
Kirkhope, Timothy Mr. Timothy Wood.
Knapman, Roger

Question accordingly negatived.

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