§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Amendments reported (according to Order).
§ Clause 1 [Licensing of sites for nuclear installations]:
LORD SHACKLETON moved, in subsection (1) (a), to leave out "maintained" and insert "self sustained". The noble Lord said: My Lords, I apologise both to the Minister and to your Lordships
for putting down this Amendment at such short notice. Although it is a small matter, none the less it has quite a profound significance from a research point of view. If your Lordships will look at Clause 1 of the Bill, at line 9, you will see that there is an obligation under the Bill for any nuclear installation:
designed or adapted for the production of atomic energy by a maintained and controlled fission process "—
to be licensed. As I understand it, no discretion is given to the Minister to decide whether or not such a licence is necessary; nor is there in that case any discretion to avoid the ultimate obligation for insurance.
§ If I may detain your Lordships for one moment by explaining the precise significance of what my proposal represents, it is necessary briefly to recall that atomic energy is created from radio-active materials such as uranium. The normal process by which energy is produced, either for the bomb or for electricity, is by bringing this material in a large enough quantity and in a large enough mass in relation to the area of surface of the particular material, and at a certain point a chain reaction develops and this material becomes super-critical. At that stage there is what is known as a diverging reaction. This is a self-sustaining reaction: once it is started unless some artificial method of absorption of the neutrons takes place—for instance in cadmium—or the material is separated, that reaction continues. But it is also possible (and for this it is necessary to look back at the definition in the original 1946 Act) to produce a chain reaction which is sub-critical, where there is what is known as a diverging reaction. That means that the output of neutrons will never be large enough to produce a situation when more and more neutrons are produced and you get a super-critical state.
§ In order to carry out research and, furthermore, to train nuclear physicists, the scientists have to devise various instruments, devices and assemblies which will enable them to observe the performance of neutrons, and in particular a neutron flux of a kind that is produced at the Imperial College of Science with an apparatus (I apologise for having to use the name; I hope I shall get it right) called a sub-critical exponential assembly. This particular device operates in this 333 way. The usual basic material—I presume, uranium 235—is brought into close proximity or some juxtaposition to an irradiated material in the Imperial College of Science apparatus. It is, in fact, an alloy of antimony and beryllium which has been previously irradiated. This leads to an increase in the output of neutrons, but by its very nature it can never become super-critical; it can never become a reactor in the ordinary sense of the word. It is purely an instrument for research and for teaching. But under the definition in the original 1946 Act it is covered specifically in Clause 1 (1) (a), because the definition quite specifically refers to anything that leads to an output of energy.
§ I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give consideration, even if he cannot do it to-day, to a change which will restore to him the discretion as to whether or not it is necessary to license such a piece of equipment. At the moment, as I understand the Bill before us, he has no discretion. I am not saying that such apparatus ought not to be licensed; but if we are to see the development of research that is, I am sure, desired by everyone, clearly there must be reasonable freedom for researchers, whether they are in universities or in industry, to carry out such research without being faced with the obligation automatically to get the licence and face the problem of insurance.
§ The output of this particular assembly is one milliwatt, and it is negligible comparison to the ordinary atomic reactors. None the less, it is important; and I am quite sure that it was never the intention of those who drafted the Bill to bring this type of apparatus automatically within its scope, as is the case with the other items which are automatically within the scope of the Bill. If we alter this particular phrase from "maintained" to "self-sustained", it will have the effect of transferring the application of this Bill to such apparatus from subsection 1 (1) (a) to 1 (1) (b), where the Minister can still do it under the permissive powers which are laid down; because it is laid down "as may be prescribed". This is a quite simple Amendment. We are in a difficult field dealing with words and expressions which are obviously not very familiar to Parlia- 334 mentary draftsmen, but I am assured, I believe on the best scientific advice, that this is the best phrase. I hope very much that the Minister may see his way here and now to accept this Amendment. If he is not able to do so, I hope that he will have an opportunity to consider it and perhaps consider means of removing in another place what might be troublesome legislation requiring him or a successor to come to Parliament for an Amendment of the Act.
Page 1, line 9, leave out ("maintained") and insert ("self-sustained"). — (Lord Shackleton.)
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, this Amendment would change the definition of "nuclear reactor" in Clause 1 (1) (a) of the Bill. Instead of referring to a plant for producing atomic energy by "a maintained and controlled fission process" the Amendment says by "a self-sustained and controlled fission process". The existing form of words originated from the Atomic Energy Authority and was designed to cover nuclear reactors. The noble Lord was good enough to say that I might find it desirable to take action at a later stage. I should like to bring to the notice of the Atomic Energy Authority what the noble Lord has said on this subject, and if necessary a Government Amendment will be put down at a later stage. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Lord.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for his very courteous and, if I may say so, quick reply, because he has not had long to look at the point. In view of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 3:
§ Licensee's Liability
§ (4) Notwithstanding anything in any other enactment, but subject to subsection (3) of section four of this Act, an action by virtue of subsection (1) of this section in respect of any hurt to any person or any damage to any property may be commenced at any time before, but may not be commenced at any time after, the expiration of the period of ten years commencing with the last date on which any ionising radiations to which the hurt or damage is wholly or partly attributable were emitted.335
§ 3.15 p.m.
LORD MILLS moved, in subsection (4), to leave out all words after "enactment" and to insert instead:
an action to establish a claim by virtue of subsection (1) of this section may be commenced at any time before, but may not be commenced at any time after, the expiration of thirty years from the occurrence on, or in connection with the use of, the site in question which gave rise to the claim:
Provided that, where any such claim is duly established but is made in circumstances such that it is not one for the full satisfaction of which funds are required to be available by subsection (1) of section four of this Act or is made more than ten years after the occurrence aforesaid, the licensee shall not be required to make any payment in satisfaction of the claim unless or until Parliament has made provision such as to secure that the amount required to satisfy the claim, or, if the claim is made within ten years of the occurrence aforesaid, so much of that amount as is not payable out of the said funds, will, if the licensee so requires, be reimbursed to the licensee by such means as Parliament may determine; and after the making of such provision no payment by way of settlement of the claim by agreement between the licensee and the claimant shall be made unless the Minister has approved the settlement.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, my purpose in moving this Amendment is to meet, so far as I can, anxieties expressed by noble Lords in Committee on two matters. First, it will be recalled that noble Lords opposite moved an Amendment to Clause 3 (4) of the Bill which would have enabled claims on account of radio-active injury or damage to be presented without any limit of time, and the noble Lords, Lord Silkin and Lord Shackleton, have now tabled another Amendment with the same purpose. Secondly, noble Lords opposite proposed to substitute for Clause 4 of the Bill a new clause which sought to provide that all duly established claims should be met in full from the Exchequer in the first instance, and that the Minister should have power to recoup the expenditure from the licensee in whole or in part. The anxiety of noble Lords opposite can, if I am not mistaken, be summed up in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 212 (No. 16), col. 1044]:
that those who have been injured should be under no doubt whatever as to what will be the compensation they will get as a result of their injuries. It should not depend upon the insurance or the aggregate amount of the claim.
§ Let me now explain the effect of the Amendment which I am asking your Lordships to accept. It would make the time limit for the presentation of claims thirty years instead of ten years. Since, however, claims presented after ten years or in excess of £5 million for each occurrence will be an uninsurable risk, it is necessary to make special arrangements so that the licensee may be reimbursed when he has met them. Therefore, under the Amendment claims presented within ten years or which do not carry the total above £5 million will be dealt with by the licensee or his insurers in the ordinary way. Claims presented after ten years or carrying the total beyond £5 million are not to be paid unless or until Parliament has decided how the licensee is to be reimbursed for paying them. To enable Parliament to make provision in good time I shall be moving an Amendment to Clause 4 which we shall be discussing shortly. Once Parliament has decided how the licensee is to be reimbursed, claims are not to be settled out of court without the Minister's approval, because the licensee will not in the last resort be footing the bill, and some control is therefore necessary.
§ Your Lordships will, I hope, agree that this Amendment substantially meets the anxieties expressed in Committee. Under the existing law, the time limit for personal injury claims is three years and for property damage claims six years—twenty years in Scotland. Therefore, thirty years is, I suggest, a very liberal time limit for the presentation of claims under the Bill. At the same time I hope that it is now clear that the amount of a claimant's compensation will not in any way be reduced by reason of the £5 million ceiling on the insurance or other cover required to be held by the licensee. It would be contrary to all precedent to commit future Governments to an indefinite liability to meet from the Exchequer all claims presented after ten years or carrying the total beyond £5 million. Short of this, I submit that the arrangement for reimbursing the licensee by such means as Parliament may determine substantially assures what noble Lords opposite had in mind. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 44, leave out from ("enactment") to end of line 5 on page 5, and insert the said new words,—(Lord Mills.)
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN moved, as an Amendment to the Amendment, in the first part, before the proviso, to leave out all words after "at any time." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to say, first of all, that I think the House is indebted to the noble Lord for the serious consideration which he has obviously given to the discussion that we had on the Committee stage, and for the fact that he has put down this Amendment, which goes a considerable way to meet the points that we then put forward. Indeed, if the issue were merely a time limit during which claims must be made, I should say that thirty years is a very generous period indeed and I should have no complaint whatsoever about it. But, for the reasons that I have given, I hope the noble Lord will understand that, as at present advised, we still find that any time limit is unacceptable.
§ We are dealing with a type of injury which none of us—most eminent scientists, as well as noble Lords in this House—really understands. We are at the beginning of something which may have enormous powers and enormous repercussions. We have had some slight experience as a result of the Hiroshima bombs, the effects of which are now about thirteen or fourteen years old, and we know that those effects are manifesting themselves to-day, even after that period. None of us knows how long it will be before further effects of radio-action will become manifest, but on the best advice we have it is quite conceivable that injuries will appear thirty or forty years—or even longer—after the occurrence which gives rise to the possibility of injury.
§ There may well be a child who has been present in the area at the time of an occurrence and who feels no particular after-effects for years to come, and then, perhaps, in middle life, finds itself suffering from the effects of this occurrence. What we are concerned with is that such a child, when grown up, and finding itself suffering from the effects of such an occurrence, should not be debarred from making a claim. Such a person is going to have very great difficulty, in any case, in establishing a claim. If the noble Lord had been willing to accept the Amendment we put 338 down on Committee stage, that the onus should be on the Government or on the licensee to disprove that the injury was caused as a result of the occurrence if certain facts were established by the injured person, the noble Lord might have had an easier passage. Admittedly, after thirty years—possibly after forty years—a person is going to be in great difficulty in establishing a claim. Nevertheless, we are anxious that such a person should not be debarred by the terms of this Bill from making the claim if he can establish it.
§ What is the case against us? I understood that there was a certain amount of logic in restricting it to ten years, which was the period during which the licensee could get cover. I accept from the noble Lord that aften ten years no insurance company would take the risk. That is understandable, and therefore the noble Lord said that ten years must be the limit. But as a result of the views that were expressed from all parts of the House, he has had to accept that in practice ten years is not long enough and that it would impose a great hardship on many people, particularly in view of the uncertainty of the effects of these occurrences. He has therefore generously extended the period to thirty years, but, as I say, nobody can say that even thirty years is sufficient. I should like to lay down the principle, and the House to accept it, that no person who suffers from the effects of such an occurrence as that which we have in mind should be debarred from making a claim whenever the injury occurs. I invite the noble Lord to say why he should want to limit or restrict that principle. It will be obvious that, so far as people who are grown up to-day are concerned, few will be in a position to make a claim in thirty years' time. It is the young person of to-day who is going to suffer and who ought not to be deprived of the opportunity of making his claim
§ In accordance with the terms of the Amendments which the noble Lord has put down to this clause and later clauses, the cost of compensating the injured will be on the Government or on other monies provided by Parliament, on the assumption that Parliament will be disposed to provide the monies, and there is no reason to suppose that Parliament will not be prepared so to do. Therefore 339 what we are talking about is the opportunity of any person who suffers injury as the result of an occurrence to make a claim against the Government, even if the injuries should break out more than thirty years after the date of the occurrence. I feel that there is no justification for drawing a line at thirty years or at any other period, having regard to our present-day experience and to the advice that we have that these injuries may show themselves at any time long after thirty years. In those circumstances, I hope the noble Lord will be prepared to reconsider his view and to accept the Amendment in principle.
§ Now, I am not asking the noble Lord to accept the Amendment in the form in which it is put down. It is largely impressionist. I think it is good enough to argue about. If he is prepared to accept the principle, I imagine that the clause would need rather more drastic altering than the Amendment in the form in which I put it. In the hope that the noble Lord will show sympathy with the idea behind the Amendment, I beg to move.
Amendment to the Amendment moved—
Line 4, leave out from first ("time") to end of line 6.—(Lord Silkin.)
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mills, not only for going a long way to meet us in this matter but for the generally receptive consideration he has given to suggestions that have been made to him on the Bill. I should feel that I was a super-critical reactor if I did not recognise the long way he has gone already to meet us on this matter. But I agree with my noble friend Lord Silkin that in the present state of our knowledge an arbitrary limit of time is not what is required. We do not know enough yet to write ten, twenty or thirty years into an Act of Parliament, which still would commit future Governments to the possibility of unlimited payments under the Bill as it now is. Since the noble Lord has found it necessary to do that, it seems to me that he might as well remove the thirty year limit and leave it open until we know more about it.
There is one other point I should like to make. Obviously this is a Bill which 340 has been difficult to draft. I am glad that the noble Lord has retained the requirement to bring the matter before Parliament in certain circumstances, but I find the wording of the middle part of this clause open to some objection. Beginning with "Provided" it reads:Provided that, where any such claim is duly established but is made in circumstances such that it is not one for the full satisfaction of which funds are required to be available by subsection (1) of section four of this Act…I gather that that is draftsman's way of saying "£5 million." Would it not be much simpler and clearer if the words "£5 million" were used instead of this jargon? This is a bad example of drafting by reference, because in Clause 4 we are referred to another section and it might mean a number of things besides £5 million. I would ask the noble Lord to look again at this clause and see whether some more straightforward and direct form of wording is possible. Once again I should like to thank the noble Lord.
§ LORD TAYLOR
My Lords, like my noble friends, Lord Silkin and Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mills, for his substantial concession in proposing a 30-year instead of a 10-year limit. I am afraid that I made a rather technical speech on Committee stage and since then I have had the opportunity of considering it with one of the best experts in the medical field in this country. Though what I said was substantially correct, there are two small points where I feel that I might have misled the Committee, both of which have a bearing on this 30-year limit.
The first was when I suggested that radio-active iodine was not dangerous because it has a half-life of only eight days. I understand that this is not so, and that a large dose of radio-active iodine, getting into somebody immediately after an occurrence, despite its quick decay and its fairly rapid elimination from the body, could produce changes in the thyroid gland as much as thirty years later. Indeed there are cases that have occurred of people who have had thyroid glands treated with X-rays and who have developed cancer in the gland some thirty years later. This capacity of radio-active iodine to be concentrated in the thyroid gland is the reason for its danger, and in suggesting, 341 that it was harmless I was quite wrong. It could produce an effect thirty years later.
The second technical error I made was in referring to changes in the testes and ovaries simply as genetic changes. They are genetic changes which would occur very much later. When two people have both been exposed to radio-active damage, a subsequent generation might be affected. This is the appalling problem which radio-active activity presents. I think that it serves to reinforce once more the argument that any time limit is, technically and medically speaking, wrong and that the only right answer is to permit claims to continue so long as there is evidence of radio-active damage. I therefore support the Amendment to the Amendment.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
My Lords, as one of those who ventured to say that the 10-year rule should not stand, I should like to thank the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Mills, for having substituted for it a 30-year period and also for having accepted the suggestion which I ventured to put forward, by analogy from the case of the "Queen Mary" and other large vessels for whom private insurers could not take the whole risk, where there might be public cause why the State should intervene and take the risk: beyond a certain point. The noble Lord has done exactly that.
The question before us now is whether there should be a 30-year limit or no limit. We are advised that we have to make a choice in this matter and Members of the Opposition may press it to a Division. If they do, I shall support the Minister, and I want to say why. First of all, as I think has been admitted by the Opposition, the noble Lord has gone a long way towards meeting us. Secondly, the art of politics is the art of practicability, and we cannot always have the ideal at which we aim. Thirdly, if a person can initiate a claim within thirty years, it seems to me extraordinarily likely that within that time a number of signs that something is coming to him will begin to show themselves. In the analogy which I ventured to put before your Lordships when last we discussed this matter, I spoke of a particular affection of the eyes which occurred after the First World War and did not become serious until ten, twenty, thirty or even 342 forty years afterwards; but it did begin to show itself even in the second decade and there was a continuous history which could be brought to prove that the condition was connected with the original application. In this instance, it was an application of mustard gas.
I find it hard to believe that no signs could possibly show themselves in a healthy person for some thirty years and that thereafter some affection might occur. Moreover, I feel convinced that, if it did, a Parliament that was already beginning to meet claims in respect of acidents, showing themselves in twenty-five or twenty-eight years' time—your Lordships will remember that after ten years it is Parliament which has to be consulted on the amount of compensation—would hardly allow the 30-year rule to stand when the end of the limit came. Therefore I am certain that the Government have done the best they can in this difficult matter and I am prepared to give them my support and my thanks.
My Lords, I apologise for not being in my place at the beginning of the discussion but I should like to align myself with the noble Lords, Lord Silkin and Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, particularly in their tribute to the Minister in charge of the Bill, who always takes particular trouble when points of this nature are put to him. I ought to declare a personal interest of a kind, because the small amount of agricultural land which I own is near Calder Hall, where the outfall took place. The children in one farm there, a very healthy bunch of eight or nine children, all drank the forbidden milk right through the forbidden period and looked very healthy on it, but one does not know what may happen in the future. It seems to me that the Government's attitude (if I may put it in a nutshell and, I hope, quite inoffensively), in the original measure, was rather this: "If there is an element of doubt after five years, well, we would rather be protected and the sufferer must pay for it." They have now been generous enough to put the period at thirty years. But surely the thesis still remains, in that they cannot prove that it was due to this particular accident. But the Government are saying: "If there is any element of doubt, and it cannot be proved either way, we shall be the beneficiaries and the sufferers 343 shall not." For those reasons, I support this Amendment.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I intervene only briefly because of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, which I find a little puzzling and somewhat inconsistent. He reminded us that the art of politics is the art of the practicable. But surely there is nothing at all impracticable in the Government's accepting responsibility for a liability the extent of which cannot possibly be known at present. The noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, has given us, from his experience, an example of the way the Government have accepted a liability which, when it first arose, could not possibly be foreseen: he quoted the example of men who suffered from a dose of mustard gas in the First World War, and who claimed as much as forty-four years later and were granted pensions which were found to be attributable to that particular cause.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord, because I am sure he does not wish to misquote me. If he reads what I said, he will find that I referred to a continuous medical history of trouble. I was citing it as sore eyes for ten years; more sore eyes for a second decade, then leading up to kerotitis which caused blindness. I oppose a short term, but I cannot believe that as long as thirty years can pass without some signs showing themselves on which the patient can rely for proof.
§ LORD STONHAM
I should not dream of attempting to misrepresent what the noble Lord said. I heard and was very much impressed, and indeed moved, by what he said in Committee on an earlier occasion, and I listened with the greatest attention to what he said just now. But I think it is the case that the people to whom he referred were not pensioned until some forty years, and even forty-four years, after the time when they first experienced the mustard gas which eventually gave rise to the cause of pension. I do not think that that is in any way misrepresenting the particular case. Obviously there would have been a progressive history of disease, but apparently it did not reach such acute form as to necessitate action on behalf of these 344 men, even by such experienced organisations as St. Dunstan's or the British Legion, until the point when the disease became sufficiently acute.
I think this analogy is a perfectly fair one. We are here discussing an extreme limit of thirty years or no limit at all; and a period of forty-four years is well in excess of thirty years. I feel, therefore, that in that particular case we have an example of a disability caused by physical causes of the likely consequences of which, although our knowledge was imperfect, we had much more knowledge than we could possibly claim to have about the effects of these nuclear reactors in the case of an accident. As my noble friend Lord Taylor has pointed out, these consequences may well affect the next generation. I should have thought that that fact was in itself conclusive as showing that no limit can possibly be regarded as fair or equitable, and that it is within the art of politics and practicable for the Government to say they will not impose a limit of years, but that, if it can be shown that any disability arises to any person as the result of a nuclear accident, such person will be compensated, whatever the period of years.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I should like briefly to support the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that in these radio-active matters it is impossible to put any time limit on the period within which some bad effects may become apparent. That has been known for quite a long time, and often cases can be referred back to some accident that occurred in the past. It is not necessarily the same amount of time with different people. In the case of the same occurrence; one person may be affected ten years after, and others twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years after. Therefore, I think the Government should put their minds to this to see whether we can have no time limit, because we cannot be certain about it.
I do not think that the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, is at all parallel here, because in the case of mustard gas people knew that something was wrong, whereas with these radio-active matters it is impossible to tell whether anything is wrong. I do not 345 think that one can detect this, with modern methods, although we may be able to do so in the future. It is therefore impossible to say to-day that there would be a long medical history leading up to the event. I support the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin.
§ LORD GRANVILLE-WEST
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mills, has gone a long way to meet the points of view expressed from this side in Committee, and I hope that he will not stand too rigidly upon this thirty-year limit now. I hope he will apply the same consideration that he has given previously to the Amendment which has now been moved by my noble friend Lord Silkin. After all, it must be remembered that if anyone has suffered ionising radiation, and the effects do not manifest themselves until after a period of thirty years, then it is quite clear that he should be compensated in precisely the same way as those people who have been affected where the injuries manifested themselves within the thirty years. In principle, there is no difference; and since the noble Lord has gone as far as thirty years, surely it can make little difference if he makes the time limit unnecessary, because anyone who claims has, of course, to prove the case.
We had a discussion about this matter on some earlier Amendments, and there is no question—because, although we tried to get the onus of proof shifted on to the industrialist, this was resisted by the Government, and therefore the position remains—that anyone who is affected by ionising radiation, whether the effects manifest themselves within thirty years or after thirty years, the claimant has still to prove his case to the satisfaction of a court If a person is, in fact, affected in this way, and can prove to the satisfaction of the court that the injuries have manifested themselves after a period of thirty years, is there any reason why that person should not receive compensation? I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Mills, in all earnestness not to stand too firmly upon this point of thirty years. It is surely reasonable that anyone who is injured in this way should have the right to receive compensation, provided the case can he established—and that is the whole point. I hope, therefore, that he will consider the Amendment of my noble friend and concede it.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, may I pose one question to noble Lords who want no time limit? I am asking for information, because I am trying to make up my mind on the point. If there is no time limit, what happens to the unborn generation that is affected by the occurrence? As I understand it, in this Bill, if I have read it aright, they would have a claim. Are they to have a claim, or a possible claim, for ever, going back to the original occurrence? This is a point which I think needs considering if you have no time limit at all, and I hope from one side of the House or the other I shall get an answer.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
My Lords, may I say one word by leave of the House? Certainly the effect would be that persons unborn at the time of the occurrence would, under this Amendment, receive compensation if they could prove their case. But they are required to prove their case
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
It would be the same with the succeeding generations. If the horrors of this thing pass on from generation to generation, surely it is right that the community should be the sufferer and not the individual person who was unborn when it happened.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, I think we are getting into very deep water when we begin to deal with the question of what will happen to succeeding generations, and I do not know that anybody has offered an authoritative opinion upon the Bill as it is drafted, so far as that is concerned. The succeeding generation might appear before the lapse of thirty years—very easily so. That is not really the point which is at issue upon the Amendment to the Government Amendment which the House is now considering. The issue is whether there should be a time limit of thirty years or not. It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord, Lord Mills has said, that there is no precedent for the assumption by a Government of liability unlimited in point of time. But we are dealing with an entirely novel situation, and precedents created in the past in 347 relation to different circumstances should not bind or fetter us in any way in considering the problem with which we are now confronted.
I do not believe the noble Lord or anybody could possibly say that it is at all certain that the evil results could and would necessarily manifest themselves within thirty years. The evidence is only too clear that they may not manifest themselves in a person who has been subjected to such radiation until more than thirty years has elapsed. If that is once admitted—and the noble Lord has not said anything to the contrary—then it seems to me that the case for a time limit entirely disappears.
Let us remember also that what we are considering here is a question of Government policy. It is the policy of the Government to develop nuclear energy as a source of power. This is a policy which has been embarked upon after, I have no doubt, profound consideration, as part of a far-reaching and extensive plan for substituting such power in a large part for existing sources of power, and for setting up at many points in this country nuclear installations for the purpose of generating power. If that is the policy of the Government of this country—and it is not disagreed with in any part of the House—surely the Government ought to take full responsibility for this act of policy, and not say that some people shall be compensated for evil results which may follow from it and others shall not. I cannot see any logical reason or any ground of equity upon which such a proposition can be sustained, and I beg the Government to accept this Amendment which would bring a great deal of reassurance to people in the country—and thinking people all over are beginning to worry quite considerably about this problem. It is an extremely serious one in a field in which we know there are great dangers and in which much more knowledge may yet be revealed.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, two noble Lords opposite raised the point about the unborn child. I think my noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston answered them, but may I refer them to a few words of the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, speaking on the Com- 348 mittee stage? He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 212 (No. 16), col. 1035]:I beg the noble Lord"—that was the Minister—to take into account that it is wholly contrary to natural justice to leave the citizen undefended against an unknown horror like this.I should have thought the noble Lord would have agreed that "the citizen" would include the unborn citizen. I feel that my noble friends on this side of the House would have had some disappointment at the speech made this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale. I personally believe that it was his speech on the Committee stage which finally persuaded the Minister that he should retreat from the position he took up when my noble friend Lord Taylor moved his Amendment.
We were all deeply conscious of the great problems involved, particularly when the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, dealt with the question of mustard gas poisoning which was arising forty-two years after the gas attack. The noble Lord stated that he would support the Government because we had to take a practical view. This afternoon the noble Lord, Lords Mills, said that it would be wrong for us to place an unlimited liability upon a future Government. We have already placed an unlimited liability upon any future Government: the Atomic Energy Authority has an unlimited liability for an unlimited period. Why do the Government insist on treating this section of the nuclear industry differently from the Government side of the industry, the Atomic Energy Authority?
We have heard time and time again from various noble Lords on all sides of the House that we know little about the possibilities of disease and sickness arising from radiation. We know very little. I believe that if we are to err we must err on the side of the community and the unborn community. I should like to read a few words from the report of a statement that was made last night at the Insurance Institute of London. The statement was made by Dr. W. E. Belser, the Swiss director of the Atomic Energy Commission of the European Insurance Committee. In the course of his remarks he said that since even the specialists did not yet know the extent of the 349 damage that could arise from the production of nuclear energy, and the liability of the reactor operators was absolute, there had to be limitations of insurable liability. Obviously, no insurance company will accept unlimited liability. But, my Lords, the risk which we are asked to protect the public from is something similar to a war risk; it is something that the nation must accept. I believe it can be done only if the insurance cover is taken out by the Government, and I ask the Minister, even at this late stage, whether he will take the Bill back and think about it and produce a measure which will give whole cover to the community and the unborn people yet to come.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I, too, find it rather difficult to understand the logic of the Government's present position about this matter. I can quite appreciate that the Bill in the first instance, which conferred upon the private entrepreneur the right to have considered his application for a licence to create nuclear power, looked at the problem of compensation in what one might term the orthodox outlook of the law; that is to say, to provide compensation in the ordinary way. That is, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, an intelligible outlook, but one which is based on the past and does not face up to this problem, which is a problem of the modern world, in the terms of the modern conditions which have been created by nuclear fission. The inadequacy of this attitude was, I think. brought home to the Government at the Committee stage of this Bill, and they have, I think very properly—and I join myself with the words of commendation which have been passed upon them—agreed that this is an obligation which must be placed upon the community as a whole.
I compared nuclear fission to a wild beast which we were trying to harness in the interests of the community, and we have taken the view that it is in the interests of the community that a certain number of entrepreneurs shall be licensed to help in the process of using this wild beast. But surely it is the community which is taking upon itself the responsibility of allowing this work to go on. and if something goes wrong with it as a result of which, possibly in the distant future, men and women citizens in the 350 community suffer harm, surely the duty is on the community to compensate them. Surely thirty years is neither here nor there in respect of this matter, except in so far as problems of proof are concerned, which, after all, should not be regarded as the main element in the situation. I would, therefore, also ask the Government to look at this matter again and see whether they cannot, in a very much simpler clause that this, as the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmestor, emphasised, try to establish a responsibility on the community, acting through the Government, to face up to these risks which are so problematical but which are obviously so real.
This would have advantages in a number of other ways. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has drawn attention to one aspect of this matter, which is that the experimental work is to a considerable extent carried on in the universities. We do not know what is going to happen if an incident occurs in one of the universities. How is the insurance for that going to be provided for? I think that is one example of the sort of problems which have not been properly looked at and which, in my view, can be handled only on the basis that the Government will accept responsibility in this type of case. Therefore I suggest that this matter should be taken back; it should be looked at in much more comprehensive terms, and much more comprehensive responsibility should be established.
My Lords, I want to support the Minister in his Amendment for three reasons. First of all, I am convinced that we must at this stage—and I emphasise at this stage—put a limit somewhere. After all, thirty years is a very generous time. Thirty years ago we had scarcely flown the Atlantic—indeed, I am not sure that we had. I think that in thirty years from now some of us may know what we are talking about in this matter—I am sure that we do not to-day. What is to prevent somebody present at an incident in this country being affected between now and thirty years from now by an incident in Europe? All that would be needed would be to have the wind coming from Europe. Europe is playing around with, and carrying out for America her experimental reactor programme, a far less 351 safe programme than ours. How are we going to cater for damage done by actions in Europe? Surely this is a matter for international consideration, and if the Amendment which the noble Lord the Minister proposes goes through, we shall have security for thirty years. Surely thirty years is a reasonable time to think it over. This Bill can always be amended. We have led so far in atomic energy; we should continue to do so. At the present moment the Euratom countries are busily engaged in trying to work out their own insurance schemes. I think we should not ignore that, and I think this thirty-year limit is a very generous one and, in our present knowledge, one to which we should all subscribe.
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords opposite, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Silkin, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston and Lord Taylor, and to the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, for their help to me in this difficult matter. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, for his reference to me.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said the difference between noble Lords opposite and myself in this matter is one of principle. The time limit of three years under the existing law for presenting claims on account of personal injury is admittedly not suitable for the kind of claims dealt with in this Bill. It is accepted that symptoms of radio-active injury may not appear for many years after the exposure which caused them. The difference between us is that noble Lords opposite regard this as justifying the unprecedented step of abolishing the time limit altogether in such cases. In moving my own Amendment I hope I made it clear that I am
§ very conscious of the anxieties which were expressed in Committee on both sides of the House. The time limit of thirty years which my Amendment would provide, although described by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, as neither here nor there, is three times as long as the limit originally provided in the Bill, and ten times as long as the limit provided in the existing law for personal injury claims. I will now explain why, in my view, there must be some time limit.
§ I am sure that we listened with great interest to what was said on this subject in Committee by my noble and learned friend the Lord President of the Council. As he then indicated, ever since 1623 it has been found necessary to impose some arbitrary limit on the time within which claims must be presented. We have conceded a thirty-year period for claims against licensees under this Bill, not only because of the long time which symptoms may take to appear, but also because of the large scale upon which licensees will be handling radio-active material. What we cannot agree to is that for any particular class of claims a time limit can be dispensed with altogether. I have still to answer the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, who drew my attention to a description in the Bill of the £5 million limit. I find it perfectly satisfactory, and therefore I do not propose that we should alter it. With regard to this Amendment, for the reasons I have given your Lordships, and because it is quite impracticable, I must ask your Lordships to reject the Amendment to my Amendment.
§ On Question, Whether the Amendment to the Amendment should be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 37; Not-Contents, 69.353
|Attlee, E.||Darwen, L.||Rea, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Douglas of Barloch, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Elton, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Addison, V.||Geddes of Epsom, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Stansgate, V.||Granville-West, L.||Stonham, L.|
|Greenhill, L.||Taylor, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Haden-Guest, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Harvey of Tasburgh, L||Uvedale of North End, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Kershaw, L.||Williams, L.|
|Amwell, L.||Latham, L.||Wilmot of Selmeston, L.|
|Burden, L. [Teller.]||Ogmore, L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.||Winster, L.|
|Crook, L.||Quibell, L.||Wise, L|
|Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Cilcennin, V.||Gifford, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Grenfell, L.|
|Hailsham, V. (L. President.)||Mersey, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Soulbury, V.||Hastings, L.|
|Buccleuch and Queensberry, D.||Stonehaven, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||Hayter, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Aberdare, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Willingdon, M.||Abinger, L.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Bathurst, E||Birdwood, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Chesham, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Conesford, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Mills, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Croft, L.||Newall, L.|
|Gosford, F||Denham, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Home, E||Derwent, L.||Ravensdale of Kedleston, Baroness.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Digby, L.|
|Munster, E.||Dovercourt, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Onslow, E. [Teller.]||Ebury, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Poulett, E.||Elliot of Harwood, Baroness.||Sandford, L.|
|St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]||Ennisdale, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Selkirk, E.||Erskine, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Winterton, E.||Ferrier, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Geddes, L.||Waleran, L.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the negative, and Amendment to the Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mills, whether any, and if so what, significance is to be attached to the fact that the Amendment in his name refers to a period ofthirty years from the occurrence on, or in connection with the use of, the site in question which gave rise to the claim",whereas the original wording of the Bill was:…the period of ten years "—and I am not now questioning the number of years—commencing with the last date on which any ionising radiations to which the hurt or damage is wholly or partly attributable were emitted.I should like to be assured that the change of wording does not mean that the date of the thirty years runs from a later or an earlier date than that of the emanation of the ionising radiation, and on why it was thought necessary to change the wording in this particular respect.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, I wonder whether, when the noble Lord answers that question, he would also answer this further question. The noble Lord will remember that during the Committee stage I put to him the question as to whether Clause 3 (1) (b) referred also 354 to isotopes, in addition to irradiated nuclear fuel. His answer, if I remember aright, was that it did not apply to isotopes. Then when I asked why it did not, the noble Lord, I believe, asked for time in which to consider his reply. I should be very glad, for two reasons, if he would give me his reply to-clay. One reason, as he well knows, is that last week there was an occurrence when a radio-active isotope being transported by an aeroplane was found to be radiating energy and there was some apprehension as to the possible effect of this escape of radiation. Fortunately, no serious harm was done, but the man who handled the stuff had to be examined, and some delay was occasioned before he could be given the "all clear". I hope that he has suffered no injury on any account at all, either immediate or even remote but the fact is that there was that mild occurrence.
Then to-day, strangely enough, one reads of a position in West Ham where some developer had bought a factory on a site. The factory had been used for the purpose of chemical manufacturing. The chemical manufacturing firm had gone bankrupt, and this developer had bought it: and it was then discovered that the site was highly radio-active. I believe that the chairman of the West Ham Council said they would not allow that site to be developed and that it would become what he called a "reserved area"—in other words, we may describe it as an area sterilised because of the danger of 355 using it. One reads in an account of the matter that some forty tons of this chemical stuff, a good deal of which was radio-active, had been dug up. Here was an instance where danger from a radioactive emanation might do harm and give rise to injury.
The noble Lord may reply, with some justification, that this Bill is limited in its application, in the sense that only licensed sites for the purpose of erecting reactors are under consideration, and that here we are dealing purely with the question of insurance against anything happening. But if one may refer to the talk given last night, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred, I would draw the noble Lord's attention to the final senence in a newspaper report of Dr. Belser's remarks. It is this:Nuclear risks, Dr. Belser concluded, were insurable, but to satisfy all interests internationally the legislator and insurer would have to co-ordinate their technique.That suggests to me that here we have an almost unknown kind of risk which we are all anxious to have covered; yet for the reasons I have already given, it is precluded from this Bill. One wonders, therefore, if the noble Lord would be kind enough to indicate to us whether that kind of risk also could be included in this Bill.
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Latham, asked if the alteration in wording which appears in my Amendment as compared with that in the original Bill had any significance. Its only significance is to make sure that the period, which is now thirty years, goes back to the earliest possible date. Therefore the date of the occurrence is taken to cover that.
§ LORD MILLS
I cannot see how that calculation is made. If it runs from the earliest possible date, it must be to the advantage of the claimant and not to his disadvantage.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
If the noble Lord will forgive me, if the 356 time limit is taken from the earliest occurrence it will run out earlier than it would do if it was taken from a later occurrence.
§ LORD MILLS
I am grateful for the correction. What I meant to say was that we have chosen a phrase which means that the earliest possible date that there could be any radio-activity was the date which we thought more suitable. In regard to Lord Greenhill's question about isotopes—
§ LORD SILKIN
Before the noble Lord leaves the first point, that does mean that the injured person is going to be at a disadvantage—it may be a slight one—as compared with the position as it was before on this point.
§ LORD MILLS
I have already thanked the noble Lord for the correction. If he calls taking the first date on which the radio-activity could occur a disadvantage, then I accept it.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt again, but, if I may be permitted, the point is this. In the Bill the date taken was the date when the ionising radiations were emitted. I am not a scientist and I do not know, but it might be that there would be a period between the occurrence and the emission of these radiations. If that be the case, then if the period of claim is to date from the occurrence, as distinct from the date of irradiation, as was the case under the Bill, then the claimant is put to that time disadvantage. I should like the Minister to say why that should be so.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
My Lords, perhaps the House will forgive me for speaking again, but this is a very important point that my noble friend is on, because there may indeed be long periods between the original occurrence and the emissions which cause the damage. For instance, there might be a continuing effluent which is found later on to have given rise to such a condition. In regard to the Windscale disaster, it was feared at one time that the effluents into the sea would irradiate fish and that the eating of the fish—not only those fish, but their heirs and successors—might give rise to trouble in the people who ate them. These time limits are terribly important, because one has got an elastic series of emanations. My 357 friend is on such an important point that I hope the Minister will give it very serious consideration.
§ LORD MILLS
I personally fail to see the importance of this point. I think the right thing is to establish the date from which the liability could occur, and that the Bill does. In regard to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, as to isotopes, I propose to deal with that in my speech on the Third Reading, if he will permit me to do so.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, I am sorry that I do not find the answer which the noble Lord has given to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, and others of my noble friends, at all satisfactory. However, so far as I ant able to gather from what he said—and it was by no means clear—his Amendment has the result, as compared with what now stands in the Bill as amended in Committee, of making the time limit run from an earlier date—in sonic cases, at any rate—than it would otherwise have run from. This can conceivably happen where there has been more than one incident, and in that case, apparently, under the Amendment we are now considering, the time limit will run from the earlier of those incidents. Surely that is riot reasonable. It might make a very considerable difference to the position of the claimant. I am sure that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack will be fully seized of this point, and I would ask the Government to think about this matter again. Surely we do not want to be niggardly in dealing with a question of this kind, and try to devise ways and means of reducing the claims and of limiting them as much as possible. In dealing with such an extremely serious matter as this, we ought to adopt the more generous view and allow the time limit to run from the latest possible date, not from the earliest possible date.
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will reply to that point. If there is another incident, then of course the limitation period does run from the latest occurrence on the site which causes a claimant to be exposed to radio-activity, so I do not think the noble Lord's point has anything in it.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
With all respect, that seems to me to be 358 an entirely different answer from that which the noble Lord gave before.
§ LORD LATHAM
May I put it in this plain and simple way? What were the reasons for altering the wording as it appeared in the Bill to the wording as it appears in the Amendment? That is the issue. What were the reasons?
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, this Amendment is consequential on the Amendment to Clause 3 (4) which has just been agreed. Its effect is that the Common-Law liability of the licensee continues to be extinguished even though the payment of claims made after ten years, or carrying the total over £5 million, may be temporarily held up pending Parliament's decision on how the licensee is to be reimbursed. I beg to move.
Page 5, line 24, leave out from ("notwithstanding") to end of line 25 and insert ("that by reason of the proviso to subsection (4) of this section the licensee is not for the time being required to make any payment in satisfaction of the claim").—(Lord Mills.)
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for this Amendment, which I think helps us a good deal. I would, however, ask him just one small point, because this is the first time we have seen this Amendment on paper. When is he going to lay this report before Parliament? I am thinking more of his successors than of the present Minister. Is there some time limit? It is very important. Let us remember that in such circumstances as these the normal compensation machinery is suspended, and it is not until Parliament has taken action on the report which the Minister brings to Parliament that matters begin to move. Is that not so? It is therefore rather important to know that the Minister will come before Parliament with his report within a reasonable time. Could we have a word on that matter?
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, if the noble Lord will have a little patience until we come to Amendment No. 5. I think that he will find that his question is answered.
§ Clause 4 [Provision of cover for licensee's liability]:
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, this is another Amendment which is consequential on my Amendment to Clause 3 (4). I beg to move.
Page 5, line 43, leave out from "if" to "remains" in line 1 on page 6, and insert "a claim in respect of any earlier cover period made within ten years of the occurrence on, or in connection with the use of, the site which gave rise to the claim".—(Lord Mills.)
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, could the noble Lord say what is the significance of having a period of ten years in this connection?
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, this deals with insurance cover, which is limited to ten years, and that is the reason for having ten years in this place.
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, this is a drafting Amendment though not connected with the Amendment to Clause 3 (4). Its purpose is to bring the definition of "cover period" at the end of Clause 4 (1) into line with Clause 3 (1) (b), in so far as it relates to the licensee's liability for radio-active injury or damage from fuel in transit in the United Kingdom after being irradiated at the licensed site. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 19, leave out from "carriage" to end of line 21 and insert "on behalf of the licensee within, or between places within, the United Kingdom of nuclear fuel irradiated in the course of its use at the site under his licence."—(Lord Mills.)
LORD MILLS moved to leave out subsection (3) and insert:
(3) In the case of each licensed site, the licensee—
and the Minister shall as soon as may be lay before each House of Parliament a copy of any notice received by him under paragraph (a) of this subsection and a report (in such form as, having regard to the proviso to subsection (4) of section three of this Act, he may consider appropriate) with respect to any statements received by him under paragraph (b) of this subsection".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, when we were debating just now the Amendment which I proposed in Clause 3 (4), I mentioned that I should be moving another Amendment to ensure that Parliament was able to take action in good time on claims which carried the total beyond the £5 million of the licensee's cover or were presented after more than ten years. This Amendment substitutes a new subsection (3) in Clause 4. It requires the licensee to inform the Minister immediately it appears that claims arising out of any occurrence have reached £3 million—I repeat, £3 million. In other words, he must notify the Minister when the rate at which claims are coming in suggests that the £5 million cover may possibly be exceeded. The licensee must also inform the Minister immediately he receives any claim relating to an occurrence which happened more than ten years before. As soon as he receives a notice of either description the Minister must lay a copy of it before each House of Parliament. The object, of course, is to enable Parliament to take action in good time to lay down how the licensee is to be reimbursed for established claims in excess of £5 million or for claims presented after ten years. By this means the disposal of claims will be expedited and consequent hardship to claimants avoided.
§ The Amendment also requires the I Minister to make an annual report to Parliament on the disposal of claims 361 arising out of any occurrence. Thus at regular intervals Parliament will be able to form an idea of the extent of the problem and the rate at which claims are being received and disposed of. I am satisfied that this Amendment will greatly facilitate the arrangements provided in my Amendment to Clause 3 (4), and I therefore commend it for your Lordships' acceptance. I beg to move,
Page 6, line 40, leave out subsection (3) and insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Mills.)
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
My Lords, in this case the Minister has met all the points we made on the earlier stage, and we are very much obliged to him.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ LORD GRANVILLE-WEST moved to leave out Clause 4 and insert the following new clause:
§ Provision of cover for licensee's liability
§ "4. All claims in connection with the use of the site which have been or may be duly established in respect of any hurt to any person or any damage to any property caused by such ionising radiations as are mentioned in subsection (1) of section three of this Act, whether made by virtue of the said subsection (1) or otherwise, shall be defrayed in full out of moneys provided by Parliament:
§ Provided that there shall be attached to all nuclear site licences granted by the Minister such provision for the indemnification of and the reimbursement by the licensee in whole or in part of any moneys so defrayed by Parliament and any costs and expenses incurred in connection therewith and for securing the payment thereof as he may think fit."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment standing on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friends and myself. It is a very simple one. It seeks to extend Parliamentary responsibility with regard to claimants who have established their claims beyond the amount set out in the amended Clause 3 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mills, to-day. The object of the clause is to bring the responsibility to Parliament for the payment of compensation for persons who are injured and who have established their claims.
§ Under the amended Clause 3, an injured person may fall into one of two categories. if he establishes his claim 362 either by action in court or by agreement, it may well be that, if he is among a limited number of claimants where the aggregate claims do not exceed £5 million, he will receive his compensation in the ordinary way. But if he is unfortunate enough to have been involved in a specially dangerous occurrence where the claims exceed £5 million, although he brings an action in court, establishes his claim and obtains judgment in respect of compensation, he is not entitled to receive payment of that compensation or enforce the judgment of the court until there has been a report to Parliament and Parliament has decided in what way the licensee is to be reimbursed for the excess of his liability.
§ Similarly, a member of the public who has been injured by the emission of nuclear ionising radiations and the effects of that radiation do not manifest themselves within a period of ten years but after that period, and who brings an action, establishes his claim, satisfies the court that he is entitled to judgment and is awarded compensation, is not entitled to enforce his claim until Parliament considers the matter and decides what contribution should be made to the licensee or in what way the licensee should be reimbursed to meet the claims for compensation.
§ There seems to have been an endeavour in this Bill to make the provisions as complicated as they possibly could be. This Amendment will tend to simplify the procedure. All that the claimant has to do is to prove his case to the satisfaction of the court. Having done that, then Parliament, which already is accepting responsibility for the excess of £5 million and far the satisfaction of claims which arise after ten years, can in the first instance pay the compensation and then recoup itself for such amount as may be necessary from the licensee whose nuclear reactor or installations cause the damage complained of. It would therefore seem to me to be highly desirable that this rather simpler procedure should be adopted. Parliament is accepting the responsibility, and although the noble Lord, Lord Mills, said on the earlier Amendment that we cannot bind succeeding Parliaments, what he has done in his own Amendment in Clause 3 is either to bind succeeding 363 Parliaments (because Parliament will have to decide in the future how the excess payments shall be reimbursed to the licensee) or, if future Parliaments are not bound, to lay down that a person who has established a claim may receive no compensation whatever. In those circumstances I would ask the noble Lord to view sympathetically the object of this Amendment and to concede it. I beg to move.
Leave out Clause 4 and insert the said new clause.—(Lord Granville-West).
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, as I understand it, the main object of this Amendment is to ensure that established claims for radio-active injury or damage are paid in full out of monies provided by Parliament. My Amendment to Clause 3 (4) in fact ensures that such claims are met in full without the fundamental objections inherent in the present Amendment. In the main, the nuclear reactors with which we are concerned in this Bill will be run by commercial undertakings—mainly the nationalised Electricity Boards and, in a few cases, presumably, by private enterprise. The reactors will be operated by these bodies in the ordinary course of their commercial business, and the Government see no reason why they should not be required to insure in the ordinary commercial way against the risks involved.
Furthermore, we regard it as advisable that the long-established organisation of the British insurance companies should be available for settling claims against those licensees who choose to cover their liability by insurance. The insurance companies' organisation has long experience of settling claims of all kinds. It is, therefore, the agency most likely to settle expeditiously the kind of claim which might arise under the Bill; and more so if such claims should arise in any volume. In so far as claims arise beyond the insurable limit, these will be taken care of by the Amendments that I have moved this afternoon. The taxpayer should not be committed without Parliament having had an opportunity of reviewing the situation in the light of the circumstances arising at the time. I therefore submit to your Lordships that this Amendment should be rejected.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I was a little disturbed by what the noble Lord just said about reactors being mainly operated by industry, and I should like to return to a point that I touched on earlier; that is, the position of the research reactor. There are a number of different kinds of reactor. There is the large 5-megawatt reactor which might be operated by a power station; and then there could be the small 100-kilowatt reactor, which would be a sort of middle-scale reactor which might be operated by the university. If the Government took on this general responsibility, they would remove from a university carrying out research work a burden which, unless I have misunderstood the Bill, is likely to be quite serious. I do not know how far the university, faced with the upkeep of a research reactor, is going to find the large amount, of possibly several thousand pounds a year that would be necessary.
Whilst it is not strictly relevant to the Amendment as drafted, I am wondering whether, in considering this matter, the Minister could consider how such universities are to carry on their operations, and whether we may not be in danger of driving out of this country the type of research reactor which is absolutely essential for the further advance of nuclear energy. I appreciate that those reactors which are controlled, say, by the Atomic Energy Authority are already dealt with. The position, however, of the independent research reactor in the university, which cannot by any stretch of imagination, except possibly through the medium of a body which the National Research Development Corporation might take up, expect to recoup themselves, is different and this is likely to add seriously to the expenses. All these problems, as I understand it, would disappear if the Government were willing to accept this Amendment. I should be grateful if the Minister could deal with that particular point.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mills, has not really dealt with the case made by my noble friend Lord Granville-West. My noble friend put forward a proposal which, in his view—and I think he made the case—would simplify the procedure by which claims would be paid without involving the Exchequer in one penny piece extra 365 expense. The noble Lord, Lord Mills, did not attempt to suggest that it would be more expensive to accept this Amendment; and I do not think he could have made out such a case. It is going to cost the country no more to do it in the way my noble friend Lord Granville-West has suggested than to do it in the way proposed in the Bill. On the other hand, the advantage of the Amendment is that it is simple. The claimant knows exactly where he stands: his claim is against the Government. The Amendment has not the disadvantage of having two different methods of payment, one if the claims exceed £5 million, and another if they do not exceed £5 million, with one method of payment if the claim is made after ten years, and another method if the claim is made before ten years. The Amendment eliminates all those uncertainties and complexities, and the claim is made against one body—the Government.
What are the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Mills, gave for not accepting the Amendment? He said, first of all, that he saw no reason why the licensee should not be required to insure. I see no reason for that either. But this Amendment does not excuse licensees from insuring. As the Bill now stands, they will still be liable for the first £5 million, or whatever sum is agreed upon, and the Amendment itself requires that the licensee should recoup the Government, in whole or in part, for any moneys they expend. As the Bill stands, the licensee would be required to insure up to £5 million, and the Government would find the rest. The recoupment would come out of the insurance, and the wise licensee would, of course, insure, and he would not be excused from insuring if it were made one of the conditions of the grant of the licence. So I could not follow what the noble Lord meant by saying that under the Amendment the licensee would be excused from insuring. I hope he will agree that that is a misrepresentation—not a deliberate one, of course—or a misunderstanding of the intentions of the Amendment which says, quite clearly, that there must be recoupment.
The noble Lord's next point was that insurance companies had an organisation which was accustomed to dealing with claims, and therefore they, rather than the Government, were the more suitable bodies to deal with claims. I would say two things to the noble Lord in answer 366 to that. In the first place, the Government have a great many claims made against them, as the noble Lord will know. The Government are constantly having to meet claims, and in my own experience as a lawyer I should say that the Government are quite as efficient in resisting claims and have as good an organisation as any insurance company. Indeed, acting for claimants I would rather deal with an insurance company than I would with the Government. I find that the Government are much tougher and much better at resisting claims than insurance companies are.
Apart from that, let us suppose that one is as good as the other. The fact remains that the Government must still have an organisation in respect of claims over £5 million, and in respect of claims that are made after ten years. Those will be dealt with, not by insurance companies but by the Government. Indeed, the noble Lord's clause provides that there must be no settlement after ten years except with the approval of the Government. The Government will be required to have an organisation to deal with claims, and would it not be much simpler that there should be one organisation dealing with all the claims rather than two separate organisations, one dealing with claims in one set of circumstances and one dealing with claims in another. For these reasons, I would ask the noble Lord to think about this point again. I can promise him that if he does not he will be hearing about it again in another place. There is no money involved in this matter, and there is no particular advantage in resisting this Amendment, which would make it simpler for the claimant to establish his case and, I think, simpler for all parties. I suggest that this is an Amendment which is well worthy of the most serious consideration.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, before the noble Lord rises, I think the House would agree that, throughout the course of debates on this Bill, none of us has any real idea of the magnitude of the problem. We may have only a few nuclear reactors to-day, but in the course of years we may have them spread throughout the country in much the same number as the oil power stations which are such a prominent part of our life to-day. If we have this large number of 367 reactors held in the hands of private industry, how are they going to be insured? With what insurance company? Are they going to be insured with individual insurance companies, or are they to be insured with a combination of some of the biggest insurance companies? If they are to be insured with quite a number of insurance companies, what is the position of a youth who has contracted a disease? His parents may be dead, and there may be little written evidence as to how that child contracted that disease. During the youth's life there may be a number of explosions. How does the youth go about making his claim? Has he to go from one insurance company to another making a claim and having it rejected? If that is the situation, it is quite intolerable, and should not be permitted by this House.
I believe that the safeguard lies in the Amendment which has been moved this afternoon by my noble friend. There would be one body, the Government, to whom a legitimate claim would be made, and then it would be up to the Government to obtain repayment from the licensee. If they were unable to put the blame on to any particular licensee, then they would have to accept the obligations. I think it would be intolerable that any person, for ten, fifteen or twenty years, should have to go round from one insurance company to another lodging a claim and having it rejected. The only people who would gain by it would be the legal profession.
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, I rise, with the leave of the House, mainly to say to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that he should read this Amendment again and the original Clause 4. He will find that the system of insurance which was provided in the Bill is wiped away by this Amendment. I would also remind the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that the conditions of insurance are to be to the satisfaction of the Minister; there is that safeguard in the Bill. So far as research is concerned—a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton referred—of course the Government are anxious to promote research and to do everything they can to facilitate it. But this Bill places a duty upon the Minister to lay down conditions under which certain 368 reactors shall be operated and certain materials shall be transported.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
May I interrupt the noble Lord? He said "certain reactors". Does he in fact mean all reactors other than Government-owned ones?
§ LORD MILLS
It does in fact mean all reactors, and there is power in Clause 1 (1) (b) to bring other matters within the ambit of the Bill. But it is the Minister's duty to lay down the conditions, for safety reasons, under which they shall be operated, and also to arrange for compensation if anyone should suffer injury.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, the noble Lord said that there was nothing in this Amendment about insurance. If he reads the Amendment he will see that it says:… that there shall be attached to all nuclear site licences … such provision for the indemnification of and the reimbursement by the licensee … as he may think fit.Surely, that implies insurance—I agree that it does not say so in actual words. But if the noble Lord, Lord Mills, does not like the actual wording of the Amendment I am sure that my noble friend Lord Granville-West will take it back like a shot if Lord Mills will undertake to put it in a form he would like. This Amendment certainly would enable the Minister to require that an insurance should be taken out to cover the indemnification. It does not preclude the insurance at all.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 5 [Dangerous occurrences in connection with licensed sites]:
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, Clause 5 (2) requires a licensee to report at once to the Minister (but to no one else) occurrences which may be listed in regulations as capable, directly or indirectly, of affecting public safety. There may be some kinds of occurrence which might require immediate action by local services such as, for example, the police. Consequently it is desirable that the Minister should be able to require a licensee to report occurrences of those kinds direct to the local service concerned, or to the authority responsible for it, as well as to the Minister himself. The present Amendment would enable 369 the Minister to place this obligation on the licensee. I beg to move.
Page 7, line 24, after ("Minister") to insert ("and to such other persons, if any, as may be prescribed in relation to occurrences of that class or description").—(Lord Mills.)
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, moved an Amendment in Committee with the object of making it clear that if a person does not register his presence in the vicinity of a nuclear occurrence under Clause 5 (5), he is not thereby debarred from making a claim for injury or damage later. Though I thought the Amendment unnecessary I promised to consider the noble Lord's proposal further. I am still not entirely convinced that an Amendment is needed here, but I am anxious to set the noble Lord's mind at rest if I can, and therefore hope that the present Amendment will be acceptable to him. I beg to move.
Page 8, line 1, at beginning insert ("Without prejudice to any right of any person to claim against the licensee by virtue of subsection (1) of section three of this Act").—(Lord Mills.)
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the Amendment that he has moved. It seems to me fully to meat the case and settle any dubiety there might have been as it was originally, and of course we support the Amendment moved by the noble Lord.
§ Clause 8 [Liability of Government Departments and Atomic Energy Authority in respect of nuclear installations]:
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, this Amendment applies the thirty-year time limit to the presentation of claims for radioactive injury or damage against a Government Department. But there is no question of having to seek further legislation where a claim is presented after ten years or carries the total above £5 million, as there will be in the case of licensees. The reason for this is that Government Departments do not normally insure and it does not therefore matter whether the risk is insurable or not. I beg to move.
Page 10, line 5 after ("(1)") insert ("and the proviso to subsection (4)").—(Lord Mills.)
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to deal with Amendment No. 10 and Amendment No. 11 together. These Amendments apply the 30-year time limit to the presentation of claims for radioactive injury or damage against the Atomic Energy Authority. I should remind your Lordships again that the time limits under the existing law are not as the noble Lord. Lord Shepherd, presumed, but are three years for personal injury and six years for damage to property (for damage to property in Scotland, twenty years). The Amendment therefore provides a very substantial extension. Like Government Departments, the Atomic Energy Authority do not normally insure, and therefore there will be no need for further legislation if claims are presented after ten years or if they carry the total to more than £5 million. I beg to move.
Page 10, line 2, leave out ("and").—(Lord Mills.)
§ Amendment moved—
Page 10, line 30, at end insert—
("(d) in subsection (4) of the said section three, the proviso shall be omitted, and for the words 'the occurrence on, or in connection with the use of, the site in question which gave rise to the claim' there shall be substituted the words the occurrence which gave rise to the claim being an occurrence on, or in connection with the use of, premises occupied by the Authority or an occurrence (whether or not in connection with the use of such premises) in the course of any carriage of irradiated nuclear fuel on behalf of the Authority within, or between places within, the United Kingdom.'")—(Lord Mills.)
§ Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of December 11):
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty The Queen to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Bill, has consented to place 371 Her Majesty's interest, so far at it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Mills.)
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I understood that the noble Lord was going to say a few words on the Third Reading.
§ LORD SILKIN
This Bill has occupied a good deal of time of the House, and I think quite rightly. The noble Lord, in introducing this measure—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
As I understand it, the noble Lord is taking the Third Reading formally, because he was then going to move the privilege Amendments, and, having moved the privilege Amendments, then move that the Bill do now pass and have a discussion on that. I only wanted the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to know what the procedure was.
§ On Question, Bill read 3a.
§ Moved, That the privilege Amendments be agreed to.—(Lord Mills.)
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. Let me first of all remind your Lordships why this Bill is necessary. The Electricity Boards will before long have in operation or under construction half a dozen nuclear power stations and more will be constructed later. One private firm is already operating a research reactor. The majority of these installations will be handling radio-active materials on a large scale. It is necessary, first, to protect the public, so far as is reasonably possible, by imposing under licence safety controls on the design, construction, operation and maintenance of these installations, thus ensuring that the best current practice is observed and the risk of radio-active 372 injury or damage is reduced to the minimum.
Secondly, it is necessary to ensure that if anyone suffers radio-active injury or damage from such an installation, he may be able to obtain compensation. At present a claim on account of injury or damage by radio-activity against an Electricity Board cannot succeed unless negligence is proved. Since the risks arising from the licensee's operations will be comparable with those from the operation of the Atomic Energy Authority, licensees. whether Electricity Boards or private firms, should be required like the Authority under the 1954 Act to pay compensation in such cases, whether they have been negligent or not otherwise claims might be difficult, if not impossible, of proof.
To ensure that claimants who establish their claims will be compensated, it is provided that licensees should be required to take out cover in the form of insurance or liquid assets. Since the licensee will be liable, whether negligent or not, the cover is limited to £5 million, and if established claims carry the total beyond that sum, the Amendments which pour Lordships have accepted this afternoon should secure that they are paid and the licensee reimbursed by such means as Parliament may determine. The Amendments will also enable claims to be presented within thirty years not only against licensees but also against the Atomic Energy Authority and Government Departments. These requirements cannot be secured under existing legislation. In case noble Lords opposite are under any misapprehension that this Bill worsens the position of the ordinary citizen vis-à-vis the operator of a nuclear installation, let me say at once that this is not so. There was, moreover, some suggestion that the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954, gave the Government all the necessary powers of control, and that this Bill was therefore unnecessary. I must try to remove this impression also.
Under the law as it stands, no claim for personal injury by radio-activity is admissible unless it is presented within three years, whether it be against the Atomic Energy Authority or anyone else. Under the Bill as drafted, the time limit was to be ten years and, as amended by your Lordships, it is to be thirty years 373 for claims against licensees, the Authority or a Government Department. Under the Atomic Energy Authority Act the Authority are liable for radio-active injury or damage regardless of whether they have been negligent, but in the case of Electricity Boards to which that Act does riot apply, negligence would have to be proved were it not for this Bill.
Finally, the Bill enables the Minister to impose statutorily the safety conditions under which licensees must construct, operate and maintain their installations and for rendering safe installations no longer in use. These objects cannot be secured at all under the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954, and cannot he effectively secured under the Atomic Energy Act, 1946. I hope, therefore, that on reflection your Lordships will agree that this Bill would confer on the ordinary citizen greater protection against radioactive risks and better facilities for obtaining compensation than he at present enjoys.
I promised in Committee to think again about the proposal of the noble Lords., Lord Shepherd, Lord Silkin and Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, that the Minister should revoke a nuclear site licence if, without his consent, the constitution or control of the licensed body were materially changed. I have attentively considered this suggestion and have come to the conclusion that it would be a mistake to include such a provision. Safety, together with compensation for radio-active injury or damage, is the object of the Bill. The interests which control the affairs of a licensed body are only relevant in so far as they affect the safety of the installation or the licensee's capacity to pay compensation. The Minister will have means of knowing through his inspectorate whether the licensee's installations are being operated in accordance with the conditions of the licence—that is, in accordance with the best safety standards. It would be alien to the objects of the Bill to provide specifically for revocation on change of ownership.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, asked me in Committee whether it would be desirable to include the transport of isotopes in the Bill and I promised to consider the matter. Isotopes are normally transported in small quantities, and, although they might be dangerous 374 if carelessly handled, the risk is similar to the risk in transporting many other substances, such as acids, and far less than the risk in transporting irradiated nuclear fuel. The Bill imposes on the licensee an absolute liability, irrespective of negligence on his part, for injury or damage from irradiated fuel elements in transit, because the material is highly radio-active and the quantities comparatively large. It would not be appropriate to impose the same liability in respect of relatively small quantities of radioactive materials. (Besides the substances which are commonly know as isotopes, other radio-active substances are frequently required to be transported.) Regulations and a code of practice for the transport of all radio-active materials are under consideration by the Ministry of Transport, and the necessary statutory powers exist in section 5 of the Radioactive Substances Act, 1948.
§ My Lords, before I sit down—
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that subject, would he mind if I ask this question? Do I understand that the present law is that they are liable in the case of negligence? Is that the position?
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
understood the noble Lord to say that he was not going to make a licensee liable in all cases for isotopes in transit. I understood him to say that without the Bill a great many people would be liable for negligence when there was damage caused, if they were negligent. All I am asking is: under the present law, without any alteration, before the passage of this Bill and before any results of any consideration that the Government are making, am I right in thinking that for negligence a firm would be liable?
§ LORD MILLS
Yes, my Lords, I think I said on that question that radioactive substances frequently required to be transported, and that the risk is similar to that in transporting many other substances, such as acids; and of course the person transporting those materials is liable at Common Law for any damage. I also said that regulations and the code of practice for the transport of all radio- 375 active materials are at present under consideration.
Before I sit down, may I thank my noble and learned friends the Lord Chancellor and the Lord President of the Council and my other noble friends for their assistance. I should also like to repeat my appreciation, which I have already voiced, to the noble Lords, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, Lord Silkin, Lord Taylor and other noble Lords opposite for their helpful contributions to our discussions. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Mills.)
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, since we are in a thanksgiving mood I should like to express my appreciation of the friendly words of the noble Lord, Lord Mills, and to express my appreciation of the great help that some of my noble friends and I have received from the new accessions to this House. We have already welcomed those concerned to this House, but this is the first measure in which they have participated. I think that noble Lords on all sides of the House will recognise that a change has taken place in the atmosphere of this House, and I am sure that most noble Lords will agree it has been a change for the better.
§ LORD SILKIN
Every speech made has been a reasoned speech. I will not say for a moment that all the right has been on one side or the other, but every new noble Lord who has spoken has expressed himself clearly and succinctly and stated a point of view which he genuinely believed; and I believe this House has been immeasurably strengthened by the new noble Lords who have taken part in this debate to say nothing of other noble Lords.
May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mills—and I am sure he will understand that I say it in the friendliest possible way—that he would have saved himself a good deal of trouble if he had only been a little more explanatory at the outset as to the purposes of this Bill. I found myself puzzled for a long time as to what this Bill was all about. I am not a scientific person, and therefore I found it more difficult than many people would. I knew 376 that the Bill was stated to be for the purpose of enabling the Minister to make conditions as regards safety and for the granting of licences, but I could never quite make out to whom these licences were to be granted and what was their purpose. As the discussions developed I realised that the noble Lord was apparently disguising what I think is the beginning of a new Industrial Revolution. This seems to me to be a far bigger thing than he ever led us to believe, from the way in which he introduced the Bill and from some of his early speeches. I now find that this is an introductory stage to a complete revolution in forms of energy and power, and that this initiation of the principle of the granting of licences is one of the big things of the present century. The noble Lord has been unduly modest in not claiming for this Bill the importance it deserves. I hope he will be able to say that my view of the importance of this Bill is justified by what has taken place through its various stages.
I am glad that the noble Lord feels that he has been assisted in the passage of this Bill, not only by his noble friends but from all parts of the House. We believe that this Bill is to-day a much better Bill than it was when it first appeared; and this is due in large measure to the hard work which a great many noble Lords have put in in dealing with it. And I believe the end is not yet in sight. The noble Lord has some more hurdles to go through in another place, and I do not suppose for a moment that the Bill is today in its final form. But I feel that in this particular case your Lordships' House has justified itself and that we have played a good part, an important part, in dealing with a measure which, as I have said, is of such far-reaching importance.
I want to say just one or two words about the matters which, in my view, are still in dispute. There are really two broad matters of policy which are still in dispute and which the noble Lord will have to think about in the further stages in another place. The first is whether there should be unlimited liability or liability for a period; and I feel sure that on this point he is going to be pressed further. Certainly, with every desire to look at this matter objectively, I remain completely unconvinced by the case that has been made against unlimited liability. I think it only right that, with this unknown 377 peril from which we are suffering, but which may, at the same time, be connected with something which is a tremendous boon to mankind, we should not be niggardly about compensating people who are its victims.
One rather tends to be carried away by the use of words. When we say "The Government should pay" or "Parliament should pay", what we are really meaning is that we—all of us; the nation; every individual—should feel a responsibility towards the unfortunate individuals concerned—who might be ourselves. Noble Lords on that side of the House and noble Lords on this side of the House are just as liable to be victims of "an occurrence" as the people whom we are talking about. What we are saying is that whoever is injured, at whatever time, should be compensated by the community. And is there any one of us, individually, who would grudge the necessary payment? I am sure there is not, because we should feel that the injury was sustained in the public interest, just as that was the case with people who were the victims of war damage.
We had no difficulty about that, my Lords. I see in the House the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton. He and I were associated during the war on questions of war damage and matters of that kind. Nobody grudged the payment of war-damage compensation to people who were the innocent victims of enemy attack; and this is just the same sort of thing. There is no question of negligence; there is no question of people getting in the way of radio-activity. People contract the disability through no fault of their own, and it should undoubtedly be a national responsibility. The Government acquired a good deal of experience in dealing with war-damage claims. The noble Lord spoke about insurance companies having experience. But the Government acquired a tremendous amount of experience in dealing with such claims, and they have been doing so every day—not only in dealing with war-damage claims but in dealing with all sorts of other claims against the Government. However, I do not want to pursue this point. I want to express, finally, the gratitude of myself and my noble friends for such advances as the noble Lord has been able to make in this 378 Bill, and to give him the assurance that he will be pressed for more.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD MCCORQUODALE OF NEWTON
My Lords, I have not taken part in the discussions on the details of this measure, but I wonder whether I may say one thing. I have for many years past been pressing the opinion that Parliamentary draftsmen should be instructed by their Ministers on all occasions to make their Bills as simple as possible and to make it as easy as possible for them to be understood by ordinary people. This Bill is a technical Bill, and is bound to be complicated, but the idea behind it is a perfectly simple one, and one that anybody can understand if it is put into simple language. I should have thought that it should not have been beyond the wit of man to design a simpler vehicle than this rather cumbrous coach (if I might put it in that way) to bring this idea into effect. I beg your Lordships' pardon, but I could not resist raising this as another peg on which to hang my plea for simplicity of language in Acts of Parliament.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, may I add one word to that which has already been said in appreciation of the noble Lord, Lord Mills? My noble friend Lord Silkin very properly stressed the great assistance that we on this side of the House have received from the new Members. As one of the older Members, I should like to say a word in order to provide a peg on which to hang this particular plea of mine. It is this. When the noble Lord, Lord Mills, referred to the danger of transporting isotopes as being no greater than, or comparable with, the transport of acids, I could not help feeling that perhaps he was overlooking the enormous increase that has taken place in recent times in the business of selling isotopes. It is not only that isotopes are now being used greatly and increasingly in medicine: they are also being used not only in research work but in the everyday processes of ordinary industrial production. The risk of possible injury from ionising radiation is therefore very great. While thanking the noble Lord, Lord Mills, as is undoubtedly his due, for his very kind attention to the points that we raised, I feel that the time is ripe for considering the dangers which are being run 379 by the increasing, daily use of this highly toxic product.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.