HL Deb 02 February 1960 vol 220 cc790-802

2.57 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Hailsham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [General provisions for registration of users of radioactive material]:


moved to add to subsection (1) (c):"or is exempted from registration under that section". The noble Viscount said: As mobile radioactive apparatus comes within the definition of radioactive material, persons having such apparatus on their premises would, but for subsection (1) (c), need to register their premises under Clause 1, notwithstanding that Clauses 3 and 4 deal specifically with the registration of this apparatus. Subsection (1) (c) does not at present cover the case in which the mobile radioactive apparatus itself contains such a small amount of radioactive material that the Minister has felt able to exempt the apparatus itself from registration. It would plainly be absurd that premises containing such apparatus should be subject to registration when the apparatus itself was exempt, and this Amendment has the effect that, if the apparatus is exempt, there is no need to register the premises containing it. I hope that your Lordships will agree that I really could have said that this was a drafting amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 20, at end insert ("or is exempted from registration under that section")—(Viscount Hailsham.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


moved to add to the clause: () The Minister shall maintain a register of all premises in respect of which a person has been registered under this section including all material particulars and where necessary a map or maps showing the position and limits of any such premises and shall make arrangements for that register or a copy thereof to be available for inspection by the public; and he shall cause notice of those arrangements to be made public in such manner as may appear to him appropriate: Provided that the said register shall not be required to show any premises in respect of which, for reasons of national security, it is in the Minister's opinion necessary that knowledge of the registration should be restricted. () Every local authority shall maintain a register including all material particulars contained in every certificate sent to that local authority under this section, and shall make arrangements for that register or a copy thereof to be available for inspection by the public; and the local authority shall cause notice of those arrangements to be made public in such manner as the Minister may prescribe.

The noble Lord said: It is appropriate that I should first declare an interest. I am a member of the Metropolitan Water Board. Perhaps I should also apologise for what might appear to be a formidable array of Amendments, but I bring your Lordships such comfort as I can by saying that many of them, as your Lordships will have discerned, are drafting or consequential.

In order to appreciate the purpose of the Amendments standing in my name, perhaps it is as well to briefly recapitulate the purposes of the Bill, which are to control premises where radioactive material may be located and to control the disposal and discharge of such material. A register of persons who use or store radioactive material is to be kept and that register will apply to all premises other than those of the Atomic Energy Authority or Government Departments or sites which are licensed under the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959. Waste must not be accumulated or disposed of except as authorised by the Minister or Ministers.

Thus these two stages, or phases (if I may use that word), differ in application. Authorisation is not necessary for the accumulation of radioactive waste by the Atomic Energy Authority or on sites which are licensed under the Act of 1959, but the disposal of waste from these places is to be controlled. The Amendments in my name seek to improve the machinery of control both as regards registration and disposal and to provide for registers to be kept both by the Minister and by the local authoritities, with the right of inspection of these registers conferred upon the public.

The water authorities of this country are closely concerned with the control and the disposal and discharge of radioactive waste, and they feel that it is not satisfactory that the Minister should be required to consult with the water authorities only if he thinks it is proper so to do. They take the view that this should be obligatory upon the Minister and not discretional, and several of my Amendments seek to make that provision in the Bill.

The Amendment which I am now moving is closely related to, indeed, runs with, Clause 5, which has a complementary purpose. As I have said, the purpose of my Amendments is to require the Minister and local authorities to keep a register of the premises which are to be registered under Clause 1 and to make that register available for inspection by the public. It is clearly the intention of the clause, even as drafted, to enable a record to be made of all the premises in the country where radioactive substances are in use, so that the appropriate authorities and persons may know exactly where these dangerous substances are kept. The clause provides for the Minister to register a person as being entitled to use these substances on his premises; it also provides for the Minister to furnish that person with a certificate of registration and for the Minister to submit a copy of that certificate to the appropriate authority. There is, however, no provision for the Minister to keep a list or register of the certificates issued, and, as the clause stands, there need by no record kept of the certificate issued. Similarly, there is nothing to say that the local authorities are to have copies of the certificates sent to them.

In the first place, therefore, these Amendments seek to make good the submission, and are intended to complete, as it were, the machinery for registration laid down by the clause requiring the Minister and the local authority to keep a register of the certificates issued and received. Secondly, they seek to make both the central register kept at the Ministry and the local register kept by the local authority available for inspection by the public. After all, this Bill and other Bills and actions are all designed to protect the public from the harmful effects of these materials. It is the public who will be endangered, and it is presumably the protection of the public which is sought. In those circumstances, and having regard to those considerations, the water authorities take the view, which I believe may well be shared by the local authorities, that the register kept locally should be available for inspection by the public.

There is no doubt that there will be persons and bodies other than the Minister and the local authority who will need to know where these registered premises are. The water authorities, particularly, were given to understand that they would be able to see the certificates or register so that they may at all times know where the potential dangers are, and so that they may the better he able to make adequate arrangements for meeting any emergencies—and one cannot exclude the possibility of these—that might arise in the case of accident. Another argument in favour of making the register open to the public is that it will not only assist the other persons and bodies to carry out their duties, but will also assist the Minister. For the Ministry inspectorate to be established under the Bill cannot, it is conjectured, be large enough to ensure that in every locality the law is being observed and that all premises are properly registered. The local public bodies and the local people may be of considerable assistance in ensuring that all premises which ought to be registered are, in fact, so registered.

Finally, I would say that there is a precedent for these Amendments seeking this purpose, and it is not necessary to look very far back for it. Section 3 (3) of the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959, passed last Session, provides for the Minister to keep a list showing every site in respect of which a nuclear site licence has been granted, and for the Minister to make that list available for inspection by the public. That, it seems to me, rounds off, as it were, the formidable and, as I hope, acceptable case for this Amendment and the consequential Amendments which are related to it; and I hope the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal will be able to tell your Lordships that the Government accept the Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 17, at end insert the said subsections.—(Lord Latham.)


I think it may be convenient and save the time of the Committee if I make the few remarks I have to make at this stage, and then the Lord Privy Seal can answer anything which he thinks fit.


I do not know whether it will assist the noble Viscount, but I was going to take a rather different course with my reply, for a reason which perhaps I had better give now, and he can then follow the course which he finds most convenient to himself. I take the view that this particular Amendment does not raise all the general problems which I should wish to discuss at a later stage of Lord Latham's Amendments and I was not proposing to address myself to all of them in replying to him now. If the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, wishes now to raise the point which I know he has in mind, I will of course answer it as a matter of courtesy, but personally I should think that a later stage would be more convenient. I was expecting him to raise it on the Motion that the House resolve itself into Committee, but when he did not do so I thought that probably the later stage would be more convenient.


I gladly defer to the noble Viscount's suggestion.


The noble Lord, Lord Latham, began by disclosing an interest. I think perhaps I should say that I do not think it necessary to disclose membership of a public body as an interest in a matter of this kind. That, I think, might be considered a needless act of delicacy. I do not know that there is much between the noble Lord and myself in principle about some of the general matters which he raised and which I think would be better answered at a later stage of these proceedings. I was proposing, for the convenience of the Committee, to handle the question of a central register rather separately from some of the other issues which the noble Lord has raised, although I fully recognise that some of the reasons which may have activated him in moving this particular Amendment may have something in common with those which have motivated the others.

There are, I think, two or three separate questions to be considered here. There is the degree to which local authorities are entitled to consultation before radioactive waste is discharged. Speaking generally, the view of the Government is that the consultation provided in, I think, Clause 8 (2) and Clause 9 (3) is, broadly, adequate consultation. I shall explain later what it involves. That is one set of issues, and I do not think it is directly raised by this particular Amendment. Then there is the important set of issues about the way in which local authorities are to be told about either the authorisations for disposal of radioactive waste or the premises upon which radioactive material is kept.

Your Lordships will remember that when we were discussing the Bill on Second Reading I pointed out that it involved a two-stage type of control—registration of premises to tell people where the radioactive material was, and control of disposals to limit the ways and occasions upon which it could be disposed. I do not think there is any difference at all between the noble Lord and myself that all the responsible local bodies are entitled to know where the radioactive material is. The only question is, what is the most appropriate machinery to ensure that they do know. The issue raised by this Amendment is really whether there should be a central national register, or whether the process described in the Bill, of registration with the Minister, plus a certificate of registration for the holder of premises and the posting of it, as is provided in the Bill, plus the possession by the general local authority of the district of a copy of the certificate, is the right way, or whether there ought to be both a national register and a local register over and above the possession of the copy of the certificate by the general local authority. I think that any difference there may be will not extend beyond a question which is the more efficient way of doing the same thing, at any rate as regards the local authorities. We take the view that the method laid down by the Bill is the better way of setting about it.

The first point I would make is that there are a great number of types of local authority involved. The noble Lord is, of course, preoccupied, understandably, with the water undertakers. I know the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, is concerned with the river boards. But there are all kinds of other local authorities—county districts of one sort or another, boroughs, sewerage authorities, fishery authorities—all of whom have the same legitimate interest in knowing where the radioactive material is kept within their district. The method to which the Bill is committed is that in each district it is the general local authority who will keep the certificates, so that there is one place in each district to which all the other authorities will go for information. This, we believe, is the only efficient way of doing that particular job.

In discussion with the associations of local authorities, before the Bill was drafted, it was made plain to them that the local authorities would be authorised, and indeed expected, by the Minister to hold their records of certificates (that is, in effect, a local register) available for inspection by other local bodies having a bona fide interest—the river boards, the local fishery committees, the statutory water undertakings, the joint fire authorities, the joint police authorities, the joint sewerage boards, and so on—so that they obtain in one place the information in relation to any area that concerns them. It was thought—and it is the conviction of those who have been advising my right honourable friend and are advising me in this matter—that it would be administratively, if not impracticable at any rate less certain, and far more complicated, if it were the duty of the Minister to inform each one of the separate bodies respectively and separately every time he had to give a certificate of registration in respect of premises (and already there are more than 1,000 users of these premises) where radioactive substances are used, quite apart from the mobile apparatus. We still think that that is the best way. So that on the issue of information we think that the pattern laid down by the Bill is the best pattern, and we do not see the need for a central register of the kind the noble Lord has in mind; although of course, for the purposes of our own records, the list of certificates and the files relating to the certificates will, in a sense, constitute such a separate register.

We have, therefore, discussed with the associations of the various local authorities the arrangements whereby water undertakers, among others, may obtain the information. Subsection (6) of Clause 1 provides that copies of certificates of registration shall be sent, subject to considerations of national security, to each local authority in whose area the premises are situated. As I say, it has been made plain to the associations representing these authorities that they will be both authorised and expected to make the information they receive available to other public authorities, including water undertakers, with a bona fide interest. So, simply by making a visit to the local authority office, these bodies will be able to get more information about the whereabouts of radioactive material than they can about any other potentially polluting substance that we know about.

There is one other point which I ought to mention in this connection in relation to the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Latham. Both his registers would contain the phrase"all material particulars" as part of the material which would be available to the local authorities and, indeed, to individual members of the public. The phrase,"all material particulars" in this context will, I am afraid, frequently include information about confidential trade processes which have been developed after much trouble and expense. It is necessary for the Minister to have that information, in order that he may discharge the control of registration for the purpose of enabling him to control the disposal, which is the real object of this Bill. But because this information is of such a highly confidential character, it has been necessary to include in Clause 13 (3) a restriction on its unauthorised disclosure. I do not think it would be fair that the users of radioactive materials, in addition to being made subject to the meticulous terms envisaged by the Bill, should also have particulars of their trade processes open to anybody who cared to look them up in a public register. For this would not only put them at the mercy of potential competitors but would, I think, be a serious menace to the trade knowledge available to this country against foreign countries who were engaged in the same line of business.

For those reasons, and not because there is any wide difference of principle between the noble Lord and myself, the Government do not intend to accept this Amendment. But I hope that, in rejecting it, I have done so in a way which indicates clearly that it is not the intention of the Government to withhold any information from the local authority but that it is simply that they think their way is the right way of doing it.

3.20 p.m.


I regret very much that the noble Viscount was unable to indicate that the Government are disposed to accept this Amendment which, as I have said, is in general line with the provisions of the Act passed last year. In his reply, the noble Viscount said that people will know where the materials are stored. That is not the case. It may be that the authority will know from the certificate, a copy of which must be sent by the Minister, where the materials are stored, but surely the general public are entitled to know where these materials are stored and how they are to be disposed of. As I have said, it is the general public's interest that we are seeking to safeguard in this Bill, as was the case in the two earlier Acts, notably the one passed last year. Why the Government cannot follow their own proposal, as embodied in the Act of 1959, with regard to keeping a register and having it available to the public I cannot understand.

It is the case that there are quite a spate of differing local authorities, but, of course, these materials will not necessarily be stored in the area of any particular category of local authorities. All the local authorities are to be advised if the materials are stored on premises within their area: a copy of the certificate must be sent to them. Why, therefore, is it proposed by the Government that there should be a kind of selective right to inspect? I understood the noble and learned Viscount to say that river boards and other statutory bodies, local authorities and the like, could go along to one particular local authority in whose area some of this material is to be stored and to which authority a certificate has been issued. But that, I submit, is not making the information available to the public. What is the difficulty in making this information available to the public? I hope that the noble and learned Viscount will be willing to consider this matter again with his right honourable friend the Minister in order that it may be dealt with again at a later stage in the consideration of the Bill. If that be the case, I shall be prepared to withdraw the Amendment for later consideration.

3.22 p.m.


Before the noble Lord withdraws the Amendment, I should like to ask the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Privy Seal for a little more elucidation of this matter. He has said that subsection (6) of Clause 1 provides that the Minister shall communicate a copy of the certificate to each local authority, and"local authority" is defined later on as being"the council of a county, county borough, metropolitan borough or county district". I gathered from what he said that those local authorities to whom this information is given will then be at liberty to give it to other local authorities who have functions to perform in that area. I do not think there is anything in the Bill (though I may have forgotten about it) which says that the local authority to whom the information is given in the first place is under an obligation to give it to the other local authorities. Perhaps there is. At any rate, it ought to be made clear that the local authority which receives a copy of this registration is entirely free to communicate the information to interested parties. And if it is free to communicate that information to other local authorities, why should it not be free to communicate the information to members of the general public who may have quite a considerable interest, if they are owners or occupiers of adjoining premises in knowing whether or not they are being used for these purposes?


The noble and learned Viscount used the term"a general local authority". Was he referring to a county council or a county district council?


I apologise for that. I was using it in the sense defined in the Bill which was just read out by the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch.


For a county council area it will be deposited with the county council and the county district council? Is that correct? So that in the case of a county area or a two-tier authority area there will be a double deposition?


That may be the true explanation, but I should like to be at liberty to correct my impression if it is wrong.


It is getting fairly widely diffused if it is going to be every county council and every county district council, and it becomes a little difficult to say that it should be confidential so far as members of the public are concerned.


This is a misunderstanding, if I may say so. There are two separate points here. The confidential character of some of the information is created by the fact that the phrase"all material particulars", which includes a great deal of very confidential information, is included in the Amendment. But there is a general point which I think has caused some confusion here—perhaps I should have referred to this point in my former utterance. It arose, I think, as a result of something the noble Lord, Lord Latham, said in moving his Amendment.

I understood him to say at the very beginning, when he recapitulated what he claimed to be the purpose of this Bill, that the purpose of the Bill was to control premises at which radioactive substances were used. I made it very plain on the Second Reading that that was a misunderstanding of the purpose of this Bill. This is a Bill dealing with the disposal of radioactive waste. In order to dispose of radioactive waste it is necessary to impose a two-stage control: first, a registration of premises, and secondly an actual physical control of the accumulation or disposal of waste. But the first is done only as a means to the second. This is not a Bill for making premises safe. That is the object of the other legislation in the family of Bills. I explained this point at much greater length and greater detail on Second Reading. That is the purpose of the Radioactive Substances Act. 1948, and for instance, of the Act for nuclear sites which we passed last year, 1959.

The short answer to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, and the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, is that these questions would be material only if the purpose of the Bill were other than it is, if we were now debating the Radioactive Substances Act, 1948, or the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959. As the noble Lord, Lord Latham, pointed out, the Act of 1959 contains a provision for a central register which is open in that way. This Bill, however, deals simply with the control of radioactive waste and with the register of certificates: it has a different and much more limited purpose. And the people who ought to see these certificates are those who are interested on behalf of the public in disposing of radioactive waste. This is the point I should perhaps have made a little plainer when I spoke first.


I am still not clear whether they should go to the county council or the county district council.


The answer is they will go to both, as the noble Lord divined.


May I pursue this point a little stage further? Is it correct, then, that all the premises which will be dealt with in this Bill are already covered by the two Statutes to which the noble and learned Viscount has referred, and that they will be registered under those Acts? If that is so, then the point is met I should think.


Again this is a most complicated point, and I want again to answer perfectly frankly, but with liberty to be corrected if I should turn out to be wrong. The method of control on which this Bill is based relates to premises or mobile apparatus. The Radioactive Substances Act, 1948, one purpose of which is to protect the safely of user, is, according to my recollection, primarily related to the substances, and not to the premises on which they are found; and that Act provides for the making of regulations for the protection of workers on the premises and so on. This Bill has quite a different purpose, and I should not like to let the noble Lord suppose that the kind of registration and control which is proposed in this Bill is already set up, under the Act of 1948 or the Act of 1959, because the kind of registration and control under those Acts is more complicated and is based on different principles. But I was seeking to show that that kind of problem was cared for in one way or another under those Acts, although not necessarily in the same way, because the same way might be inappropriate.


Even after that lengthy and informed explanation I still cannot understand why, if it is desirable, in order to have an effective control of disposal of these substances, that there should be registration and that a copy of the certificate of registration should be sent to local authorities, there cannot be kept a central register and especially a local register which is open for inspection by the general public. The general public are interested in the method proposed by the Government to control disposal or accumulation of waste, and the Government have thought fit, no doubt quite properly—I raise no question as to that—to divide the process into two stages or phases, one registration and the other authorisation. Why the general public, including statutory authorities and local authorities, should not have the advantage of a central register and a local register I really cannot understand. I hope the Minister will be willing to consider with his colleagues whether this Amendment could not at a later stage in the proceedings be accepted.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

House resumed.