HC Deb 26 April 1991 vol 189 cc1322-40

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

9.38 am
Mr. Dudley Fishburn (Kensington)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Although this is a private Member's Bill, I hope that the House will not think it boastful if I say that it is an important Bill. It will enable new rules to be set that will govern the way in which nearly 500,000 shipments of radioactive and nuclear material go by road in this country every year.

It is a radical Bill in its way, for it gives the Department of Transport powers of entry and inspection and allows penalties to be exacted on those who break the rules when carrying highly dangerous radioactive material on our roads. The regulations that will be enabled by the Bill will set the safety standards for the nuclear and radioactive industries at the highest international levels. They will determine the parameters for nuclear tranport in the generation ahead—a generation which is likely to see the rapid growth in that industry, which is so important to modern life, whether providing nuclear fuel for power plants or cancer-searching radioisotopes to the hospitals. Within the power of the atom lies the certain source of our future energy needs. As we unlock it, we will gain in knowledge—an ally and not an enemy—but only if we are rigorous in controlling that power and in restraining the methods by which it is used, and in the case of the Bill, ensuring that when radioactive material is moved from one place to another it is secure.

Although it is an important Bill, it has not been a controversial one. I am afraid that in this House we often muddle the two. We think that anything that does not kick up a political dust storm cannot be of real worth.

The Bill slipped through to Third Reading with uncommon agility. The Second Reading was over and done with in six minutes flat. The Committee stage, I am afraid, took longer, but in eight minutes from start to finish no critics appeared and thus I bring the Bill to the Floor of the House unamended. In the incomprehensible way, to me at least, that these things work, this Bill, which was ninth in the list of private Member's Bills when it started, is now second and, with a fair wind, it looks like being the first private Member's Bill to reach the statute book this season. There has been good reason for that turn of speed because, by passing the Bill into law, Parliament is bringing Britain into line with its international commitments that were given as long ago as 1985. The deadline for meeting those commitments disgracefully ran out last year without any action having been taken by the United Kingdom, although all our major trading partners have by now taken the necessary steps to comply.

Britain is a leading member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an arm of the United Nations in Vienna, which lays down standards for the world's radioactive and nuclear industries. That authority has long been concerned with the quality of the regulations that govern the movement of radioactive materials by road. After all, that is perhaps the moment of their greatest vulnerability. A fuel rod that will soon be surrounded by tonnes of concrete in a power station is on nothing more substantial than a truck when it is being delivered. A radioisotope, which is safe in the hands of a surgeon, has to be handled by a driver or a porter in a hospital.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is concerned, first, because of the sheer number of shipments—about half a million in Britain every year. Some of those shipments are in large trucks trundling to nuclear power stations from the railhead. Sometimes small parts of radioactive material are almost chucked into the back of an engineer's van on the way to measuring the stress in, say, a North sea oil rig.

The powers that the Department of Transport has to oversee such shipments need to be brought up to date because they date back to the last time that the House considered these matters, which was in 1947—a time when the nuclear industry was in its infancy and when there were probably no more than 100 shipments a year by road.

That is one cause for concern, but there is a second. Whenever a shipment of radioactive material goes by boat across the channel, for example, or by air, as do tens of thousands of packets every year, due to the thriving market that Britain has built up in medical exports, the regulations are modern and effective because as soon as they travel outside this country they are governed by regulations set by international agencies. However, if one puts a dollop of radioactive material in the back of a road vehicle, by a curious loophole of our legislative history, the method of enforcing standards of safety and packaging for that material dates back to 1947. Hence the reason for the Bill.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has requested that all its members have a central, competent authority for road transport to make and to enforce the rules. In Britain's case the Bill makes the Department of Transport that authority, which is why I welcome the Minister's presence this morning.

The Bill does not set down the rules. It is an enabling Bill because it is not a matter for laymen like ourselves to write such rules. Besides, the needs and requirements will change constantly. The Bill enables the Secretary of State for Transport to set regulations, which will cover such aspects as the design and nature of containers for radioactive materials, their resistance to burning or crushing, how many small packets, when put together, can be transported safely—as the total radiation grows exponentially—and how such packets should be labelled.

Regulations in such a highly expert and scientific area will be set after close discussion with the industry, and that is entirely right. It is worth pointing out at this stage that the nuclear and radioactive industries have been wholly behind the Bill. For the most part they already more than meet the highest standards and they understand the need to modernise the legislative framework within which they operate. That is something that the nuclear industry welcomes, not something which it fears. Why? Because without the Bill the Department of Transport is only able to make general regulations which fail to reflect the world standards in packaging, labelling and transport documentation. However, such standards are needed if we are to convince other countries that the United Kingdom applies the United Nations transport regulations of 1985 to its radioactive industry.

Although this legislation would apply only to domestic road transport, it would also cover radioactive material intended for international transit. Therefore, by adopting the International Atomic Energy Agency's standards we shall bring ourselves into line with other countries which compete with the United Kingdom in world markets. Some of those countries have a reputation for using non-tariff barriers to protect their own markets. They say that they will not let in British supplies of medical radio isotopes or nuclear material because they are not packaged up to international scratch. That is an excuse which they can cling to until we pass the regulations for which provision is made in the Bill. We must be able to demonstrate that packages used to transport radioactive material nationally and internationally comply fully with standards laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency. At the moment we cannot.

In view of 1992, what is the position of other EC member countries? After all, they are now our major trading partners, and all the EC countries are members of the IAEA. As such, they are under the same obligations as the United Kingdom, and almost all of them have already adopted the international regulations that I am seeking to introduce by means of the Bill.

The European agreement for transporting dangerous goods by road, to which all EC states are a party, came into effect on 1 January 1990, more than a year ago. In line with other international regulations, it uses the standards laid down in this enabling Bill as guidelines. The provisions of the Bill are aimed at ensuring that the regulations made under it fully reflect the International Atomic Energy Agency's philosophy of building safety into the packages used to transport radioactive materials. It is a philosophy which the agency and its member states have operated effectively for the past 30 years. In stark constrast to much of the criticism of the nuclear industry, we have had an extraordinarily strong record both in this country and in the western world of developing the industry along safe and reasonable lines.

Clause 1 will empower the Secretary of State to appoint inspectors to implement the Bill and to enforce any regulations made under it. Clause 2 will give the Secretary of State power to make a comprehensive set of regulations to cover all aspects of the transport by road of radioactive materials. In clause 3, further provisions set out the circumstances in which an inspector appointed under the Road Traffic Act 1988 could stop a vehicle transporting radioactive packages. An inspector could prohibit the transport of such packages or the use of a particular component in the packaging of nuclear material. Those powers are not available at present to the Department of Transport. However, other agencies that work in the field of nuclear material, such as Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution in the Department of the Environment, already have such powers. The Bill therefore gives the Department of Transport powers that it would otherwise not have. It closes a loophole.

If an inspector believes that someone is failing to comply with the regulations, he will be able, under clause 4, to issue an enforcement notice. Such a notice will specify the failure and the steps that must be taken to remedy it. Again, that is something which other agencies have available to them. What is novel is that under the Bill the regulations apply for the first time to this very important industry.

Clause 5 gives powers of entry and sets out the circumstances in which inspectors and examiners can enter vehicles and premises with or without consent. It also specifies when an inspector may seize evidence.

Finally, clause 6 makes it an offence to contravene or to fail to comply with the regulations made under the Bill. The same clause also contains penalties for the committing of such offences. It will allow prosecution to be either by summons or by indictment, depending on the severity of the offence. Again, the general thrust is that the clause serves only to bring the Secretary of State's powers on the transport of nuclear material by road into line with those that are available in other areas of the nuclear industry.

With those provisions, the Secretary of State will be able to ensure that when he makes regulations they can be effectively enforced. Then we shall be sure that the increase in the transport of nuclear material for industry, medical use and engineering can be effectively controlled.

It is a good Bill. It addresses an immediate and real need. It closes a loophole. It will set guidelines for a generation. Those guidelines will be the world's best practice. The Bill is so sensible and overdue that the Opposition have mounted no criticims of it, for which I am grateful. It is supported by the industry, by users and by the Government. It sets a new legislative benchmark for the movement of what are potentially the most hazardous materials known to man. It dusts off legislation that was last touched in 1947. It is necessary if we are to meet our international obligations. Therefore, I commend the Bill to the House.

9.51 am
Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) on bringing the Bill before the House. As it stands, the Bill is not controversial and, to the extent that it goes, we very much welcome it. However, there are wider considerations that it is appropriate to bring before the House on Third Reading.

Today is the fifth anniversay of the Chernobyl disaster. Nearly all of us can remember exactly where we were five years ago today when we had that terrible rainstorm and realised that a good part of the contamination was spreading from Chernobyl all round the world and finding its way to parts of our country. It is right and proper, therefore, that today of all days, five years on, we should be dealing with a measure that concerns the transportation of radioactive substances. If ever the House needed a reminder of how important an issue this is, it need look no further than at what happened at Chernobyl.

It is also important to point out that five years after Chernobyl there are still problems and that there will continue to be problems for thousands of years. They will affect the people who live in that part of the Soviet Union. There will continue to be problems over the safety requirements for the reactors that continue to function there. Moreover, there will continue to be problems over the transportation of radioactive material. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to do everything that can be done to impose the highest possible standards for the occasions when there is no alternative but for radioactive substances to be transported by one mode or another.

Although I do not take issue with the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, I take issue with the Government. The Opposition believe that an integrated transport system is needed that will enable goods, whether or not they are dangerous, to be transported safely by different modes of transport. We believe that the highest possible safety standards should apply to all those modes and that such standards should apply to radioactive goods, just as they apply to the transport of all forms of dangerous goods.

The Opposition are greatly concerned about the fact that although in this Session the Government have introduced five transport Bills and found sufficient parliamentary time to deal with issues that they consider to be the highest on their list of priorities, they have not found time to address this issue. They have introduced a measure to privatise the trust ports, which are likely to be sold off. Today we learnt that the hospital trust at Guy's is to shed 600 jobs. However, the Government have not found time to bring before the House a Bill that would deal comprehensively with the transportation of all dangerous goods by all modes of transport—ship, rail, road and air. We criticise the Government for their piecemeal approach. A major cornerstone of our policy is the integration of the transport of all dangerous goods and the making of detailed regulations to cover their transportation, including packaging, monitoring, enforcement and all the other issues that need to be covered if we are to ensure that when dangerous goods are transported the highest possible standards apply.

Only yesterday I discussed with freight forwarders in the south-west region, including south Wales, their concern that regulations governing the movement of goods by road to Europe are incompatible with those that apply to the movement of goods by sea. Their great concern is that the convention governing the carriage of goods by road, imposed by most other European countries as a mandatory requirement, has a get-out clause in this country. There are big loopholes concerning the carriage of all sorts of dangerous goods. The Bill should be viewed within the framework which could exist, but which, because of lack of political priority, does not exist.

The regulations governing the transport of radioactive material in the United Kingdom implement International Atomic Energy Agency regulations, which are kept under continual review. Major revisions take place every 10 years and the most recent was in 1990. The point has already been made that it is disgraceful that the latest regulations were not implemented at the earliest opportunity and that the introduction of tighter regulations has been left to a private Member's Bill. I condemn the Government for that.

Within the United Kingdom, different regulations apply to transport by the four modes of road, air, sea and rail. The Bill is designed, as we have heard, to update the legislation on the transportation of radioactive material by road and to bring it into line with the IAEA regulations. We welcome the fact that the Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to make regulations and that inspectors or examiners are provided with the authority to impose prohibitions on the driving of a vehicle or on the transportation of a radioactive package. They will be able to serve enforcement notices if there is a failure to comply with the prohibitions. It is also important that powers of entry should be provided for inspectors or examiners and the Bill should be enforced by means of a series of penalties if offences are committed.

We have one concern about the Bill which we could not raise during its earlier stages and which we might not have raised anyway, because we want the Bill to reach the statute book. Had a comprehensive Bill been introduced, we should have wanted the regulations to provide for prior notification of the movement of any radioactive substances. Local authorities, the emergency services and the nuclear-free zone movement feel very strongly about that. We believe that there are compelling reasons why the emergency services and local authorities should be made aware in advance of the passage through their areas of all radioactive, toxic and hazardous substances. It is impossible to draw up effective emergency plans if the emergency services are given no information until an accident occurs. I urge the Minister to give that some consideration when drawing up the regulations.

More information about freight lorries carrying dangerous materials could prevent accidents, injury and loss of life. Two years ago there was an accident near Peterborough where a lorry carrying explosives caught fire. The fire brigade was called and, tragically, one firefighter died when the explosives detonated. The fire brigade had not been notified of the contents of the lorry and therefore had been unable to make contingency plans. I hope that the Minister will have regard to that important matter.

Luckily, the contents of the lorry were not radioactive. It would have been much more devastating had the fire brigade been called to deal with an accident involving the release of radioactivity without being given prior warning.

It has always been claimed that low-level radioactive substances make up the vast majority of freight transported by road and are not considered to be a great threat to safety and the environment. However, spent fuel rods for research make regular journeys by road from Harwell to Dounreay for reprocessing. A considerable quantity of such goods is transported by road.

Up to 50 research reactors in 22 countries use the same type of fuel and may wish to do business with plants in Britain. Foreign business could eventually build up to £25 million a year. The transport methods and routes which could be used in that context are uncertain, but it is likely that more spent fuels would arrive by sea at Scrabster. However, large shipments from Berlin, Holland, Saxony and perhaps from Australia would have to come into larger ports and thereafter be transported by road.

There would be a greater threat to the environment from the risk of an accident involving spent HEU fuel in transit. The International Atomic Energy Agency requires flasks for transporting spent fuel to be designed to survive the impact of a 9 m fall, which is equivalent to an impact speed of about 30 mph; being engulfed by fire for 30 minutes at a temperature of 800 deg. C; and immersion at a depth of 200 m for one hour. The independent consulting engineers Large and Associates consider those tests not particularly onerous.

Last year there were several attempts to ship from Germany to Hull radioactive material which was to be sent to Dounreay by road. Only the refusal of dock workers in Rotterdam and Hull to handle the cargo prevented shipment in an unsafe vessel. The shipment was first attempted by a container ship. Then it was proposed that it should be carried by roll-on, roll-off ferry. Such an approach in shipping can be easily translated to all modes of transport, with industry taking the attitude that the flasks are so indestructible that it is unimportant how they are transported. However, nuclear explosions in the relatively controlled environment of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island caused disasters on a devastating scale. The risk of transporting weapon-grade radioactive substances are obvious causes for concern and are one reason why in the United States there is a moratorium on imports until proper environmental assessments have been made.

Had there been a comprehensive Bill on the subject, we should have tabled an amendment to ensure that regulations apply equally to transshipments dealt with by the Ministry of Defence and by the Department of Transport. The road transportation of nuclear weapons which are not subject even to the most elementary regulations because the Ministry of Defence is exempt from them is another cause for concern.

I do not know whether the Minister is aware of a report by the panel on the safety of nuclear weapons. On 18 December the United States House Armed Services Committee was informed by eminent physicists that flaws in past computer modelling can be indentified and that a major consequence of new modelling is the realisation that unintended nuclear detonation presents a greater risk than was previously estimated.

I should refer to representations that have been made concerning the road transport of nuclear weapons. That issue is not covered by the Bill, but would have been in a comprehensive Bill. It is particularly important in the light of the American report on nuclear weapon safety which was highlighted in The Guardian earlier this week.

Many local authorities, including that in Stoke-on-Trent, have made representations to the Department of Transport. They have considered the report of Large and Associates entitled: "Transportation of nuclear weapons through urban areas in the United Kingdom." That report was commissioned by the steering committee of nuclear-free zone local authorities, which are greatly concerned about possible disasters, including a major release of radioactivity from a nuclear warhead which could affect areas up to 40 km away and the consequences for the immediate population. If the Department of Transport has any concern about an integrated transport policy, it should consult the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Defence to come up with some emergency arrangements which, instead of leaving us ill prepared to deal with accidents, would enable us to take the necessary precautions.

It is also possible that road accidents could involve unintentional detonation of weapons. The worst possible scenario would be a nuclear explosion, not just a limited leak or a radioactive cloud. The fact that at least two journeys involving radioactive freight are made every week gives rise to considerable concern. I relate those findings in the context of today's debate to emphasise the need for a totally integrated approach to the transportation of radioactive and hazardous substances.

The Labour party supports freedom of information and open discussion about public safety issues. We believe that we can learn from the American experience of ensuring that information is publicly available instead of hidden behind a cloak of secrecy. Public safety can only benefit from increased openness and local authorities with responsibility for dealing with disasters should have the necessary information to enable them to deal with accidents involving the transportation of nuclear waste.

We believe that environmental considerations should be paramount in any transport policy involving safety. Efforts should be made to minimise the amount of radioactive substances transported, instead of planning to move such substances from A to B along the safest route and allowing profits to be made.

The introduction of inspectors is certainly a step in the right direction towards greater regulation and safety. However, those inspectors must not be policy administrators from the Department of Transport, but must have experience of dealing with road accidents and be experts in safety and dangerous materials. The Bill refers to the financial considerations. I have grave fears that not enough inspectors may be appointed. How many people does the Minister expect to be appointed to deal with those new regulations? If they are to be associated with the radioactive waste movement unit and inspectorate at the Department of Transport, it is essential that there are enough inspectors to enforce the regulations.

I draw the Minister's attention to the question of spot checks. Back in June 1989, the Atomic Energy Authority was found guilty of allowing one of its vehicles to be used in an unroadworthy condition and was fined £1,600. It is really not on for such materials to be transported in vehicles that are not safe to be on the road. There are huge question marks over public safety.

Let me gibe an even more recent example. In late February this year a load of spent fuel from India—part of a 30-year-old contract—was travelling by road from Felixstowe to Dounreay. At Dounreay, it was found to be contaminated and the contamination was traced back to Felixstowe, where a crane was dismantled and taken to Harlow for checks. Even though there is much secrecy surrounding the transportation of radioactive material, we know that there was contamination at Felixstowe. But as there was no legal obligation on the carrier to monitor en route, it was not discovered until the load reached Dounreay. The contamination involved will be a persistent problem for a 200-year period at least, given that caesium has a half life of 30 years. That is why we believe that the new regulations should include proper provision for spot checks so that a load can be monitored anywhere along its route.

With the large-scale transportation of weapons and standard radioactive substances on our roads, people will rightly be concerned that the regulations are rigorously enforced. Where necessary, regulations should be strengthened to ensure maximum environmental and public safety. The Bill takes us one step nearer to that objective. It would have been much better had the provisions been incorporated in a comprehensive Bill dealing with all aspects of the transportation of dangerous goods and the various modes of transport used. Having said that, I do not wish to delay proceedings on the Bill, which is long overdue. I hope that the Minister will respond to the points that I have made and that the Bill will soon reach the statute book.

10.12 am
Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

I join hon. Members in welcoming this important Bill and commend my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) on the thoroughly professional way in which he has carried it through the House. I hope that it will meet with equal success—and lack of delay—in the other place, and that it will reach the statute books very soon. I apologise to my hon. Friend for not having been able to speak in support of the Bill on Second Reading, but he had only six minutes, and he seemed to be doing perfectly well without my intervention.

My hon. Friend the Minister will no doubt defend himself, but I feel that I cannot let the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) go without comment. The hon. Lady demanded an integrated transport policy. Heaven preserve us from such a monstrosity. Fortunately, no Labour Government have ever managed to achieve such a thing. The Department of Transport is quite big enough. The idea of a huge department in Whitehall deciding where all the transshipments of every commodity are to go and how they will all match—and, of course, consulting the unions at every stage—fills me with horror.

Ms. Walley

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Currie

No. The hon. Lady has had half an hour; it is my go now.

That is not the way to run a modern, complex, industrial and commercial society. It just does not work, and it is about time that the Labour party realised that and did with that policy what it has done with most of its others, which is to drop them in favour of more intelligent philosophies.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North referred to the delay. I understand that the Bill was introduced in the last Session, but was delayed because of technical problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington therefore deserves even more credit for introducing it in this Session.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North said that the emergency services should be advised every time there is to be a transshipment of dangerous material, particularly radioactive material. As I shall explain further in a moment, I have considerable interest in the transportation of radioactive material. A fair number of the 500,000 transports every year go through my constituency involve work conducted by my constituents. The thought that the emergency services must be notified on every single occasion fills me with horror. Must we really devise a system of telling the emergency services, setting up road blocks and God knows what? It is a preposterous proposal.

Is the hon. Lady saying that Derbyshire county council should be advised every time Derbyshire royal infirmary requires a new isotope for its cancer treatment machine? How long would it take for the bureaucracy to deal with the request? What is my constituent with cancer to do in the meantime? Is he or she to wait until some stupid little bureaucrat in Matlock has decided whether the competent professional company that has produced the isotope is capable of transporting it safely through south Derbyshire and installing it safely at the hospital? The whole idea is absolutely ridiculous.

Ms. Walley

Does not the hon. Lady think that there is any merit at all in the proposal? Does not she realise that we are dealing with radioactive substances, nuclear weapons and highly inflammable material, and unless the emergency services know what material is being transported they might deal with it in a wholly inappropriate way? Public safety is at stake and should be given the highest priority. It is possible to deal with the matter in a reasonable way.

Mrs. Currie

The hon. Lady is shifting her ground. That is not what the nuclear-free zone exercise involved. She now says that most nuclear material and most dangerous material does not fall into the relevant category. That is not what she said earlier, and she has not answered my question.

Ms. Walley

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Currie

No, I will not give way to the hon. Lady again. It is about time that I had my say. The hon. Lady can sit and listen for a minute.

Let me pursue the matter further. Like the hon. Lady's local council, Derbyshire county council is a member of the nuclear-free zones international committee, or whatever it is called. Some years ago, when it got involved in this silly activity, Derbyshire announced that no nuclear or radioactive material would be in use anywhere on its patch. That gave rise to guffaws of derision because it was plain—and the hon. Lady has shown this again today—that those who proposed such policies did not have the faintest idea how a modern society functions in the 1980s and 1990s.

We have large amounts of nuclear material in Derbyshire, as is the case everywhere in the country. The quantities may not be huge, but nuclear materials are used in a large number of places. For a start, we have some of the finest hospitals in the country, which are outstanding in their treatment of cancer. We are immensely proud of them. I want them to function properly in the interests of the patients concerned. We have extremely strict rules to protect the staff who use the equipment. As a former Minister of Health, I am only too aware of how important such equipment can be, how strict the rules are and how good the training is. Thousands of people owe their lives to the availability of nuclear material for treatment.

In my part of the world—not far from the hon. Lady's constituency—we have industry of the highest standard. Nuclear material is used to establish the quality and high standards that we need in modern engineering. We have some of the highest-tech industry in the world. We are world beaters. We have no fears about 1992 or a Japanese invasion. We can take on anyone and beat them. One reason for that is that we are not frightened of new technologies. We create, design, implement, install and monitor those technologies and we are certain that we know how to use them. The materials have to be transported.

Most important of all, Derby is the heart of the nuclear industry in Britain in ways that are perhaps not generally appreciated. It is in the nature of the way in which the industry has developed in Derby that on the whole the industrialists have kept fairly quiet about it. The time is approaching, however, when we must recognise the quality of the work that is being done and its importance to the nation and the rest of the world. I am afraid that that will mean more transportation of materials in future, and that is why the Bill is so important.

We manufacture nuclear power stations in Derby. A large number of businesses are involved in the manufacture, design and contracting of nuclear power stations which go all over the world. We also have a company of which we are immensely proud—Rolls-Royce and Associates. It was set up some 40 years ago when the Americans agreed under various defence contracts to transfer technology on the nuclear power pack for submarines from the United States to Britain. RR and A was then set up and it has been functioning since with not a whisper of criticism. Indeed, I suspect that many people do not even know that the firm is there, right in the heart of Derby. It employs over 1,000 people. It has probably the largest concentration of PhDs outside any university. We have nuclear physicists of the highest calibre in commercial industry. We are immensely proud of the work that they do.

I visited Rolls-Royce and Associates not long ago. To say that I was immensely impressed is an understatement. My query to it was why the company did not talk more about the work that it did, for now it makes the nuclear power packs for not only submarines which carry nuclear weapons but many other submarines. It is now standard practice to equip most submarines with power packs that do not need renewing in the conventional way. They are nuclear power packs. They run silently and for many months without any need for maintenance. They are extremely safe. There is no problem in recruiting people to work on those submarines.

It always struck me as ironic that much of Derby was represented for many years by that noted pacifist Philip Noel-Baker when meanwhile in the middle of the city we were manufacturing the most essential part of nuclear submarines. Perhaps it is not so ironic if one considers that the very existence of the nuclear deterrent and nuclear submarines have kept the peace for so long.

I asked Rolls-Royce and Associates for its views on the Bill. I received a letter this week from Mr. Tony Jaggers, the company quality manager. He said: we believe that the Bill is a responsible attempt at regulation. Compliance should only enhance the image of the nuclear industry. He was right about that. We need to take the industry a substantial step further. We need to lose our fear of the nuclear industry. We need to put on one side our feeling that radioactivity is a magic miasma against which we should have incantations and regulations and that we should cloak the industry in the bureaucratic blanket that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North suggested.

That is why this legislation is so timely. We are updating legislation which goes back to 1948. If the Labour party had been so worried about the transport of radioactive materials, it had plenty of opportunities in the 1960s and 1970s to update the regulations. It never took them. It is a credit to this Government that we have.

It is about time that we started revising our ideas, especially about nuclear power. Let me describe my experiences. My constituency is in the Trent valley. We have been mining coal for a long time. Within sight of my home in south Derbyshire there are four coal-fired power stations. There are several more just over the hill. It is well known in my constituency that I bought a cottage in France, in the Loire valley. I like valleys. Not far from the cottage is the nuclear power station of St. Antoine. There are four nuclear power stations in the Loire valley. Therefore, as a housekeeper and a domestic person, I can make comparisons between life in the Trent and Loire valleys.

The first and most obvious difference is that the air in the Loire valley is a lot cleaner than that in the Trent valley. I can go back to my house there and find that it is not dusty. The air is breathable. The plants in the garden do not have a rime of dust on them. Yet in south Derbyshire I and my constituents are for ever trying to keep our homes clean. There is a permanent film of dust in every house, in every garden and on every car. I can leave my car for a week in France and at the end of the week it will still be clean. If I leave it for three days in the car park at Derby station, it needs to go to the car wash.

We have taken for granted and willingly accepted for too long the risks associated with non-nuclear power and all the dangers that go with it. Does anyone in Britain count the cost of our being so dependent on non-nuclear power? Does anyone work out the effect on the chests and hearts of my constituents and other people who live in areas where power stations endlessly pollute the atmosphere, even with all the effort—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I am finding it difficult to relate what the hon. Lady is saying to the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mrs. Currie

I am making a point which relates to what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North said and the importance of the Bill to the future development of our country. We have for so long taken it for granted that we cannot use nuclear power in this country or that it should be kept to a small proportion. Countries which do not take such a view. and therefore transport more nuclear material, do not have that problem.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Has my hon. Friend read the latest edition of Euratom in which it is announced that the Swedish Government, which had a policy of phasing out all nuclear power stations, have reversed that policy on a multi-party basis? Irrespective of the party in power, the Swedish Government will move towards nuclear power precisely because of the arguments that my hon. Friend makes.

Mrs. Currie

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am sure that he is right. It is noticeable that the Swedish Government are changing their policies on many issues and perhaps moving into the modern capitalist world in several welcome ways. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

The Bill is much more important than the relatively short debates on it have shown. It will enable us to transport nuclear material more safely. If we need to revise all our ideas about the type of power that we shall use in future, we need to be sure that we can transport the materials safely. Of course, we can. But whenever people talk about nuclear power, they talk about the risks and the cost. The aim of the Bill is partly to reduce those risks.

However no one has ever worked out the true costs associated with not using nuclear power. No one has worked out the costs of pollution and its effect on the lives of people living near non-nuclear power stations. No one has ever worked out the costs of cleaning up after coal mining. Planning applications have been made in my constituency for cleaning up many worked-out coal mine sites. The cost is horrendous. No one has worked out the costs of deaths in the coal mining industry.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North mentioned Chernobyl. It is entirely appropriate that we should think about such matters now, on the fifth anniversary of that dreadful disaster. She mentioned Three Mile island. She did not mention the two young men who died in the roof fall in a coal mine in my constituency not long ago. She did not mention the 24-year-old man who was pulled out after the accident minus his foot. The hon. Lady went on about unexpected explosions. She did not mention that most of the coal mines in her area and mine were subject to spontaneous combustion for many years. She did not mention that one of the results of that was an 18-month underground fire in the south Derbyshire and north-west Leicestershire coalfield. That caused a lot of fear and worry partly becauses it manifested itself to everyone in the neighbourhood. The constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) dug up their potatoes from their allotments ready roasted. That is what the coal industry does. My constituents have walked away from that industry without a backward glance.

We have an old power industry in my area, the coal industry, which is facing decline. We also have a new industry, the nuclear power industry, which I am sure will take the place of the old one.

In the years to come as, with the help of this Bill, material is transported by road through my constituency according to the highest possible standards—the Bill establishes standards which are world leaders—Rolls-Royce and Associates will not just put its nuclear power packs just into submarines but will adapt them for domestic and commercial use. I am happy to predict that the day will come when from the start we shall provide how equipment for nuclear power is to be transported, how it is to be inserted, perhaps buried in the ground, and how the disposal procedures are to operate so that many problems associated with the industry will no longer cause anxiety.

We now have half a century of experience of using and transporting nuclear materials in this country and abroad. Naturally, there are risks. It is not possible to wrench energy from nature without some sort of risk. The Bill is an intelligent and sophisticated part of the world's efforts to reduce that risk, and I commend it and my hon. Friend's efforts.

10.30 am
Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

I join my colleagues in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) on having the good fortune to come so high in the ballot and on his choice of Bill. I am particularly pleased because I canvassed for him before he was elected at that great by-election victory in his constituency. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), I apologise for the fact that I was unable to be present on Second Reading.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on piloting his Bill so expeditiously through Committee. As he said, the Committee sitting started at 10.30 am and ended eight minutes later, at 22 minutes to 11 o'clock. An even greater achievement was that he managed to get the Bill through Committee unamended. That must be a tribute to his eloquence and good standing. As one who has always believed in financial rectitude, I am impressed that he did not draw the £200 that is available to Members who introduce a private Member's Bill. His career in this place will prosper. I should like to see him eventually moving with those attributes to the Treasury.

All hon. Members will owe my hon. Friend a great debt on behalf of their constituents. The transport of radioactive materials is important and the general public are anxious that it should be carried out under maximum safety regulations. I understand that there is a large number of shipments a year and perhaps my hon. Friend will clarify how many. I noticed that a figure of 300,000 was mentioned in Committee, whereas 500,000 was given on Second Reading. That is a material difference and it would be helpful if my hon. Friend could clarify the matter when he replies to the debate.

The shipments range from nuclear waste to medical isotopes and sometimes go to ferries for export, to airports or to hospitals. My constituency is adjacent to the ferry terminals in Hull from where North Sea Ferries operates five ferries a day to Zeebrugge and Rotterdam. My home town of Hull, which used to be the country's third port but which declined year after year because of the national dock labour scheme until it was no longer in the first 10, is benefiting from this Government's wisdom in abolishing the National Dock Labour Board. As a result, traffic through the port is increasing rapidly.

Some of the 300,000 or 500,000 shipments, whichever is the correct figure, will undoubtedly travel along roads in my constituency, so my constituents are particularly grateful for the Bill. They have considerable experience of vehicles carrying hazardous loads travelling on our local roads because we have a large chemicals plant near the ferry terminal, at Saltend, We also have North sea gas terminals and a certain amount of hazardous material is transported to them. Therefore, road safety in relation to hazardous loads is a high priority in their minds.

Clearly radioactive materials are most hazardous loads. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South that people sometimes get carried away and go over the top when talking about nuclear waste. Therefore, my constituents believe that there should be strict controls and safety regulations.

The present controls are derived from the Radioactive Substances Act 1948 and are now inadequate. The United Kingdom is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency which is centred in Vienna and is a specialist agency of the United Nations. As members of that important body, we are bound by its rules. As it has insisted that all its members should have more up-to-date regulations to control the transport of nuclear materials by road, my hon. Friend's Bill is opportune and appropriate.

It has been mentioned that the Bill should have passed through the House last year. It would have done but for a technical hitch. Clearly it has the support of the Government. My hon. Friend has been public spirited in giving his slot high in the ballot over to a Bill which is of such public importance.

As my hon. Friend said, it is an enabling Bill. It allows the Department of Transport as the competent authority to make regulations, which the Minister will be able to keep up to date, and to respond to further regulations issued by the IAEA in Vienna.

Clause 2 sets out all the subjects to be covered by the regulations. My constituents will be particularly relieved that under clause 2(1)(a) the Secretary of State may make regulations to prevent any injury to health, or any damage to property or to the environment, being caused by, or by an incident arising out of, the transport of radioactive material". I particularly support clause 2(2)(a) which concerns the design of packaging for radioactive material and the manufacture and maintenance of packaging components That is important because the public need to be assured that, if there is an accident involving a vehicle carrying radioactive materials, there is no possibility of that packaging being damaged to the extent that radioactive materials could leak from the vehicle and contaminate people or goods. The packaging therefore must comply with strict design specifications so that it can withstand any impact that it is likely to receive as a result of a serious road accident.

Clause 2(2)(b) relates to clear labelling. That is also important, because, in the event of an accident, it is necessary for the emergency services to be aware of the problem that they may face. Given the nature of radioactive materials, it is equally important that their storage and handling, as well as their transportation, are strictly regulated.

Clause 2(2)(c) relates to the placarding of vehicles used to transport such packages That is important for two reasons: to aid the emergency services—the police and fire service—in the event of an accident; and to reassure the public. The public are frightened of hazardous materials being carried in secret. It is therefore important that hazardous loads are clearly marked when transported.

Clause 2(2)(d) relates to the keeping of records and the furnishing of information". That is important not only for reasons of safety but for public confidence. It must be right that any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any regulation made by the Secretary of State should be guilty of an offence—it could well be a serious one.

Clause 3 relates to prohibitions and directions. It must be correct for an inspector or an examiner to have the right to prohibit the driving of a vehicle which has been used to carry radioactive materials or packages if either that vehicle or any radioactive package carried in it fails to comply with the regulations made by the Secretary of State.

It is right that clause 3(1)(b) should enable an inspector or examiner to prohibit the driving of a vehicle if the vehicle, or any radioactive package which is or was being transported by it, has been involved in an accident". The inspector or an examiner has a similar right under clause 3(1)(c) if any radioactive package which was being transported by the vehicle, or any radioactive material which was contained in such a package, has been lost or stolen It is vital that such dangerous materials should be transported in properly designed packages. It is therefore important for an inspector to have the power available to him in clause 3(2) to prohibit the transport of any radioactive package that he believes has failed to comply with the regulations made by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Holt

My hon. Friend has spoken specifically about the design of the packaging and the safety of the vehicle, but are there any constraints in the Bill relating to the person who will drive that vehicle? If a person passed his heavy goods vehicle driving test 15 or 20 years ago—before he had his bronchitis, arthritis and his eyesight started to deteriorate—would he still be allowed to get behind the wheel of a vehicle transporting radioactive material? Are there no controls over such a person? If not, that is a weakness in the Bill which we should consider, even at this stage. We should ensure not only that the packaging and the vehicle are right, so that people are happy, but that the drivers are right. After all, most accidents occur as a result of human failure.

Mr. Townend

My hon. Friend raises a pertinent point which I do not believe has been dealt with in the Bill. It is a pity that my hon. Friend was not on the Committee as he might have tabled a relevant amendment. No doubt when my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington replies to the debate he will he tell my hon. Friend whether he has considered that point and whether there are particular reasons why there is no specific clause on that matter in the Bill. There is no doubt that it is no good going to all the expense of introducing safeguards for the packaging and labelling of the radioactive materials and the placarding of the vehicles if there are no strict controls over those who can drive the vehicles. That matter should be considered.

I want to make progress as I know that there is another important Bill before the House today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Keep going".] I am pleased that hon. Members find my speech so fascinating and want me to continue. I shall do my best to oblige.

If an accident occurs, the first requirement is to ensure the safety of the public and for that reason clause 3(4) is essential. It is vital that the inspector should have the power to remove a vehicle to a safe place. Subsection (4) states: Where an inspector or examiner imposes a prohibition under subsection (1) above, he may also by a direction in writing require the person in charge of the vehicle to remove it (and, if it is motor vehicle drawing a trailer, also to remove the trailer) to such place and subject to such conditions as are specified in the direction; and the prohibition shall not apply to the removal of the vehicle or trailer in accordance with the direction. That is an important power.

I have one further question to put to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington which I hope he can clarify. Does the Bill apply to Scotland? I notice that Northern Ireland is mentioned and has been dealt with separately, but it is vital that the Bill should apply to Scotland. I know that we have the queer situation in this place where sometimes we have to produce separate Bills for the two countries.

When one imposes regulations, one must also consider the possibility of their being breached. In a serious situation involving health and safety the penalties for a breach of the regulations should not be insignificant. Clause 6(2) provides: Any person guilty of an offence under section 5(5) above shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale. I am not sure what that level is, but I hope that that fine is substantial as it is important that the regulations are complied with because we need to keep public confidence in the transportation of radioactive material.

Clause 6(3) states: Any person guilty of any other offence under this Act shall be liable— (a) on conviction on indictment, to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both; That seems a reasonably stiff penalty. Subsection (3)(b) sets down the penalty on summary conviction as a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two months or to both Subsection (4) provides: The court by or before which any person is convicted of an offence under section 2(4) or 3(8) above in respect of any radioactive material may order the material to be destroyed or disposed of and any expenses reasonably incurred in connection with the destruction or disposal to be defrayed by that person. I was rather amused by clause 7, which reads: Any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of the provisions of this Act shall be payable out of money provided by Parliament. I have not noticed whether that provision is in every Act, but it seems strange. Nobody would expect the Secretary of State to pay out of his own pocket the money spent as a consequence of the Act's provisions.

I shall close by saying that I am convinced—

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

It would be helpful if the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) put it on record that his real interest is not in this Bill but in the one that follows. The following Bill is an important animal welfare measure to which the hon. Gentleman takes exception. Will he explain why he did not attend the Second Reading debate, which involved only a six-minute speech, and why he did not attend the Committee where the proceedings were completed in eight minutes? Will he also explain why he has not tabled any amendments up to Third Reading but has now made the longest speech on the Bill? Will he confirm that he has no interest in the Bill but merely seeks to delay proceedings so that he can kill the animal welfare measure?

Mr. Townend

The hon. Member is most presumptuous. He cannot have heard my speech. I apologised—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South—for not being able to be present for the Second Reading debate as I had constituency engagements. On Fridays most hon. Members have engagements.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the next important Bill. If he looks behind him, he will see that there is nobody there. Therefore, the Bill cannot be that important to the Labour party. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my speech, he would have understood that, as busy roads from the ferry terminal and from the port of Hull run through my constituency, I have a legitimate constituency interest in this Bill. Because of the important chemical works and North sea gas terminals in my constituency, my constituents are more aware than those of most right hon. and hon. Members of the dangers of carrying hazardous materials.

The hon. Gentleman is right: I have a great interest in the next Bill because my constituency has the largest concentration of pig farmers in the country. If that Bill is passed, many of them will go bankrupt, so I am also here for that Bill. However, the hon. Gentleman was wrong and presumptuous to say—or to insinuate—that I have no interest in this Bill or no right to speak on it. He went over the top when he spoke about attendance at the Committee. He knows as well as I do how rarely hon. Members who are not members of Committees attend those Committees.

Mr. Ron Davies

The record is accurate. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I was listening to his speech at the Bar of the House and I followed his arguments carefully. I did not suggest that he had no right to speak on the Bill. I recognise and uphold that right. I was questioning his motives rather than his right. I am grateful that he has confirmed his objection and his wish to kill the animal welfare measure which follows the Bill.

I accept the hon. Gentleman's assertion that he has an important constituency interest. I should have thought that his cause and the interests of his constituents would best be served by bringing the debate to a close so that we can proceed to Third Reading and hasten the Bill's passage into law.

Mr. Townend

Again, the hon. Gentleman is presumptuous. If my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Spalding—

Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

Not Spalding anymore.

Mr. Townend

If my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) listens to my amendments and has a heart for the poor pig farmers in my constituency, he will accept them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We must not anticipate debates that may come later.

Mr. Townend

I apologise, but, with respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) accused me of having said that I wished to kill the Bill. I did not say that. I am saying that, if the amendments were accepted, I should be happy to vote for the Bill because they would mean that our pig farmers would not be at a disadvantage compared with European pig farmers.

It is important for my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington to see that all hon. Members who vote, vote for the Bill. I shall give him the opportunity to see that by calling a Division. I am convinced that the Bill will be passed and I do not expect anybody to vote against it. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington. After a relatively short time in Parliament, he will have made a small piece of parliamentary history by having successfully introduced and steered the Fishburn Bill through the House.

I strongly support the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South about the importance of nuclear energy. There is no doubt that the industrial revival in France is very much based on cheap energy which comes mainly from nuclear power. As she said, as we advance into the nuclear age, the safe transportation of nuclear waste will become increasingly important. In a few years the people who do not realise it now will realise then what an important contribution the Bill will have made. There is no doubt that many people in this country have suffered from hydrocarbon fuels. We know the problems about coal mines which my hon. Friend mentioned.

I shall not detain the House any longer as we have important business to do, but again I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington.

10.57 am
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Christopher Chope)

If I correctly detect the feeling in the House, it is that we should move as quickly as possible to conclude Third Reading.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) on successfully steering the Bill to Third Reading and confirm the Government's full support for his efforts. It is an important Bill and, were it not for my hon. Friend's generosity in giving up his place in the private Members' ballot for this measure, we should not have been guaranteed that it would be on the statute book this Session.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) raised a number of issues. She explained to me that she must attend a constituency engagement—as I, too, must do shortly—so I shall write to her with the details of those issues. However, most of them were irrelevant to the core of the Bill. She was especially interested in the issue of inspectors. At the first stage, there will be approximately 10 inspectors and 215 traffic examiners. That is the correct level of enforcement to begin with, but it will be kept under review. I have great pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.

10.59 am
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Mr. Fishburn) on introducing the Bill. However, he has done so on behalf of the Government. With respect, I must say that this is not a private Member's Bill; it is a piece of Government legislation. As it is a piece of Government legislation, we should be debating it not on a Friday morning, but properly in Government time. It should be introduced by a Minister and opposed by the Opposition and we should debate it in that context. Although it may have been slightly offensive to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) made a contribution, we must put it on record that although we congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington on getting a Bill through the House of Commons, we believe that it is not a private Member's Bill, but Government legislation. Is it good or bad Government legislation?