HL Deb 30 November 1972 vol 336 cc1481-508

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Carrington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Transfer of Atomic Energy Authority Weapons Group to Secretary of State]:

6.58 p.m.

LORD WYNNE-JONES moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 10, at end insert: ("(a) the power of the Authority to manufacture or otherwise produce, buy or otherwise acquire, treat, store, transport and dispose of any radioactive substances pursuant to section 2(2)(c) of the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1954,")

The noble Lord said: This Bill has a very simple purpose, but when one starts looking at it carefully one finds that the purpose is not defined with the clarity that one would expect in a Bill which is going to affect quite a lot of people and quite a lot of work. Throughout the Bill reference is made to the transfer of the Weapons Group of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. Now the Weapons Group is a group which works at Aldermaston and deals, as the name suggests, with weapons, but it also deals with a number of other very important activities in connection with atomic energy which have nothing to do with weapons at all. It deals with the production of radioactive isotopes, which is of tremendous civilian, medical, and industrial importance, and further there is work which is done there in connection with the fast breeder reactor. This was all referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, during the Second Reading of this Bill on November 16 at column 828, when he said: Civil work at present carried out at A.W.R.E. accounts for about a fifth of the establishment's effort. Part of this is devoted to the Authority's research and development programme on the fast breeder reactor, most of which, of course, is carried out in the Authority's Reactor Group.

The fact that such a large amount of work is done in this establishment for civil purposes means that there must be about 1,000 people in the establishment engaged on civil work. The proposal is that all these should be transferred to the Ministry of Defence. That is something which I think will raise complications in the future, and because of that I wish to move this Amendment which would have the effect of retaining the civil work under the Atomic Energy Authority.

In the original Act of 1954, one finds that the Atomic Energy Authority were given very clear and specific powers. They appear in Section 2(2), in which there are six paragraphs, one of which I have repeated in my Amendment in order to make it clear that it remains the right and, indeed, the business of the Atomic Energy Authority to deal with this question of the production and distribution of isotopes. If this is not done, it will mean that the production and distribution of isotopes will be effectively under the control of the Minister of Defence. It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said on Second Reading, that work could be done under contract for another Department, but the trouble about that is that whenever work is done inside a Ministry of Defence establishment it tends to become secret or classified work. Because of that, even though it may be quite permissible for material to be produced and sold to other bodies, the information is not always clear enough. In consequence, there is a retardation in the distribution of both mater al and information which could be avoided if this activity were clearly transferred to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. If the purpose of this Bill is to transfer the weapons work to the Ministry of Defence, it would seem that it should not at the same time transfer other work to it. My Lords, I beg to move.


I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, will be glad to know that his Amendment is really unnecessary. First of all, may I tell him that there is no intention whatever to transfer from the Authority their power relating to the manufacture and disposal of radioactive substances, and indeed nothing in the Bill derogates from this power which they already have. The power of the Authority in respect of radioactive substances is of course only one of many powers which they have under the subsection to which the noble Lord referred. Clause 9(4) of this Bill covers the point, because it makes it clear that nothing is transferred from the Authority, except as provided in Clauses 1 and 6. So there is no need whatever to make a specific exclusion in respect of radioactive substances.


I am grateful for that explanation. The noble Lord opposite will know that I made a brief intervention earlier—having paid tribute to the work of the Atomic Energy Authority over the years—in regard to isotopes, because of my knowledge of their use in a laboratory with which I am linked. At this late hour there is no need for me to make a long speech, but another matter crops up here. Without sounding as though I am teaching anybody anything, may I refer to the analysis, called Ten Year Innovations, written by Christopher Layton in 1968? The Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology asked Mr. Christopher Layton to explore the reasons why Britain appears to be obtaining a poor return for its large investment in qualified scientists and engineers. Ultimately, the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, took a part in this work and P.E.P. published it.

May I ask whether, when these discussions took place with our future partners about our going into Europe and Euratom—which at one time I attended—there was any discussion about this problem and about the hiving-off? I think that such a discussion should take place. My second question is this. I spent some time on a very important Committee in the other place discussing the distribution of radioactive substances and wastes and safety. May we have a guarantee that the same stringent regulations for safety in the movement, assessing or packing of radioactive substances will be maintained? In view of the Minister's answer, I shall not say anything further, but I should be grateful for a reply to those two points.


With regard to the discussions, I cannot say precisely whether our allies were notified; but, as I tried to point out in my answer, all that is happening is that the Weapons Group is being transferred to the Ministry of Defence. So I do not think that that will affect the problem which the noble Lord has in mind. With regard to his second question, I can of course give him the guarantee that the same regulations will apply.


The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has said that under Clause 9 of the Bill the position which I am trying to safeguard by this Amendment is fully covered. If he can give me positive assurances about that, then naturally I shall be very happy. But I must call attention to the fact that in the Second Reading debate the noble Lord said: I can assure your Lordships that this work"— the work on radioactive isotopes— together with the other civil work at A.W.R.E., will continue uninterrupted: the expertise and facilities at A.W.R.E. will be made available to the Authority and the Department of Trade and Industry under contracts which they will place with the Ministry of Defence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16/11/72; col. 828.] That does not suggest that the work is being transferred back to the Atomic Energy Authority, but rather that the work will be retained by the Ministry of Defence, who may be gracious enough to allow the Atomic Energy Authority, or any other Ministry or body, to have the work done.

Clause 9 states that the question whether, … property of the Authority was held for the purposes of the Weapons Group, or in the course of carrying on any activities of the Group, shall be determined (in case of doubt) by reference to the Authority's books, and entries in those hooks with respect to any property shall he conclusive as to how it was held at the time in question". If that means that any property that was being used on work for civilian purposes is to be determined as now belonging to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, then I should be very happy; but it did not seem to me that the statement made by the noble Lord in the debate meant quite the same thing as Clause 9 seems to mean.


Perhaps I can reassure the noble Lord and ask him if he will look very carefully at Clause 9(4). That says: Except as provided by sections 1 and 6 of this Act nothing in this Act is to be construed as taking away from the Authority any power, right, liability or obligation expressly conferred on them by name by any enactment. Since neither Clause 1 nor Clause 6 in point of fact takes away that which the noble Lord wishes to restore, the position really is wholly safeguarded. The Atomic Energy Authority would be able to carry on these practices by themselves; they have the power to do so. If they wish the Weapons Group to do it at Aldermaston, then the Weapons Group could do it under contract for them. They have the absolute power to do what they wish.


Yes, I assumed that they have the power; but, on the other hand, this Bill, if it means anything at all, means that there is to be a transfer of all the property and all the people who are working in this field—that is to say, the field of radioactive isotopes. Am I correct in that?


I had hoped that we had got through this barrier at the Second Reading. The object of this Bill is to take from the Atomic Energy Authority the Weapons Group at Aldermaston. Eighty per cent. of the work at Aldermaston is for the Ministry of Defence, 10 per cent. is for the A.E.A. and 10 per cent. for other civil Departments. It has worked very well, the A.E.A. managing the business of the Ministry of Defence. There is no reason at all why the Ministry of Defence managing 10 per cent. of the A.E.A.'s business should not work equally well. If it does not work equally well, the A.E.A. have power under this Bill and under the other enactments to go and make their own arrangements.


I think the noble Lord is really trying to avoid the issue here, because what he is saying is that the Atomic Energy Authority have the power to do it. Of course they have the power to do it. But what I am saying is that the Ministry of Defence is now going to take over the actual physical assets plus the staff concerned. It is very nice to have the power, but if the staff concerned are 1,000 people, as I believe they are, approximately, and if there is actual equipment there which is quite considerable, and if this equipment is to be the property of the Ministry of Defence and the staff are to be employed by the Ministry of Defence, as according to this Bill (if I understand it correctly) they are, then it seems to me that whatever rights the Atomic Energy Authority have, the actual fact is that the Ministry of Defence is taking over this work.


But the noble Lord's Amendment does not remedy that in any degree. All that the noble Lord's Amendment does is to give the Authority power to do something, which power they already have. With great respect to the noble Lord, I should not have thought that it was really very sensible to say that you should hand over 90 per cent. of Aldermaston to the Ministry of Defence and that the A.E.A. should keep 10 per cent.


But 10 per cent. is 1,000 people. The noble Lord says it is 10 per cent., but he previously stated it was 20 per cent. We really are getting into the most extraordinary state where, on the one hand, the noble Lord uses a figure of 20 per cent. in order to show how excellent his establishment is. and then turns round and says, "But the baby is really much smaller than this; it is only 10 per cent. "The 10 per cent. is work done for the Atomic Energy Authority directly; but the other 10 per cent. is work done for civil purposes. I am contending that the whole of the civil work should be the business of the Atomic Energy Authority, which is what they were originally set up to do. If the noble Lord says that my Amendment is unnecessary, I should like to point out to him—and he really will have to be patient with me—that according to the terms of the 1954 Act it is quite clear that the Atomic Energy Authority had no right to work on weapons except when they were asked to do so by the Minister of Supply, who is now presumably replaced, under present arrangements for procurement, by the Minister of Defence, and that the Minister of Defence alone can ask the Atomic Energy Authority to do work on weapons. If that was so under the old Act, then there was nothing at any time to prevent the Minister of Defence from ceasing to ask the Atomic Energy Authority to do that work and to do it himself. He did not have to introduce a Bill to do this.


I think the issue has become clear in discussion. It is this, if I get it right: that the Bill does not prevent the transfer of this civilian work on isotopes; and the Secretary of State has told us that my noble friend's Amendment does not prevent it either. So I would suggest to my noble friend that if he wants to prevent it he might put down another Amendment at Report stage specifically prohibiting that which he wants to prevent, and this could then be debated on its merits.


Does the noble Lord wish to exercise his right of reply and to say whether he wishes to press his Amendment or withdraw it?


I have nothing further to say. I have, I think, succeeded in getting a little information from the Minister on this matter, but it is quite clear that the Amendment would not be carried, and therefore I do not wish to press it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

7.17 p.m.

LORD CHALFONT moved Amendment No. 2: After Clause 1 insert the following new clause—

Accounts of Weapons Group

. Notwithstanding any provision of this Act the Secretary of State shall separately in respect of the Weapons Group keep proper accounts and other records and shall prepare in respect of each financial year statements of account in such form as the Treasury may direct, and those statements shall, on or before the thirtieth day of November next following the expiration of the financial year in question, be transmitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General who shall examine and certify the statements and lay copies thereof together with his report thereon, before each House of Parliament.

The noble Lord said: I shall be as brief as possible. The reasons for this Amendment, the effect of which would be to insert a new clause, Clause 2, are simple. The Amendment itself may look rather complicated, but its simple effect is to require the Secretary of State, should this Bill pass into law, to keep and publish separate accounts for the Weapons Group, which is now passing from the Atomic Energy Authority to his Department. The reason for proposing this Amendment is that it is extremely significant legislation which is now passing through your Lordships' Committee. Indeed, it is so important that I am astonished at the apparent lack of interest which is being taken in it. We are now faced with a Bill which, if it passes into law, will mean that of the five nuclear Powers in the world Britain will be the only non-Communist country in which the research, development and procurement of nuclear weapons is directly under the hand of the Secretary of State, or Minister, for Defence. In the United States and in France there are Commissions similar to the Atomic Energy Authority which, with certain variations and differences, carry out these duties. I make that point not to say that it is any good reason why the Bill should not pass into law, but simply to emphassise that this is extremely important legislation. This is not just a Bill about administration, a Bill about who handles and who manages what: it is a Bill of extremely great significance for the future of this country.

Even if there are people who have no objection in principle to this Bill, I should like to point out that in the future there may be certain dangers which will arise from it. The psychological effect of placing the procurement of nuclear weapons under a separate commission or authority is that nuclear weapons are quite clearly seen to be different in kind from other types of military hardware. There is a danger, I believe—and a very real danger—that if this responsibility passes into the military Department, into the Department of Defence, that distinction will be blurred, and that we shall gradually move toward a situation in which people come to regard nuclear weapons as simply another military option. It is, I think, extremely important that all decisions regarding nuclear weapons, and particularly the research that goes into nuclear warheads, their development and the improvements made to them, should be a matter of collective decision and not of Departmental decision. The noble Lord said on Second Reading that he could assure the House that this would continue to be the case: that all matters of nuclear policy and nuclear weapons would be the subject of collective decisions and would not be Departmental matters. I believe him; I accept his assurance. But there may come a time when there is a Government in power in which a Secretary of State for Defence is tempted to take certain decisions on his own. It seems to me that under this Bill he would be in a position to do so if not legally empowered to do so.

The effect of my proposed Amendment would be to make it much more difficult for him to do so. This is a safeguard for the future. Its effect would be to prevent the accounts of the Atomic Weapons Group from being buried and unidentifiable in the Defence Estimates among the whole mass of Defence appropriations and Estimates. As I have said, it would require that he should keep and publish separate accounts for the research, development and testing of nuclear weapons.

It may be said that this would be dangerous in the security sense. I am sure that this argument will be put forward, if not by the noble Lord to-night then by others. My answer is that I do not believe that the simple publishing of figures in this way would be damaging to the national security. It is not precisely how much money is being spent in any one year on nuclear weapons that is going to be useful to a potential enemy; he wants more precise technical and useful military intelligence than that. It seems to me that even if we are going to move away from the situation in which weapons of mass destruction are dealt with in a different way from the more conventional military weapons, at least we ought to have this safeguard which should prevent any future ill-disposed Government or military Department or Defence Secretary from carrying out work on the development and production of nuclear weapons without a collective decision which could be seen to be taken openly and taken with the full knowledge of its long-term implications.

For that reason, I propose that the Amendment be inserted to have the effect of publishing the separate accounts and therefore of making it apparent if there is any great change in the level of work being carried on in the development research or procurement of nuclear weapons. I beg to move.


My Lords, may I crave the indulgence of your Lordships for a few minutes? I rise to support my noble friend's Amendment. I will peg out three points. The first is that I think it essential in this period when we are hoping to get an understanding between East and West, since President Nixon has made visits to the icier parts of the world known as Russia and China and has broken down the attitude to the Eastern sections of the world, that we should not give the impression that we are overtly wanting to encourage a nucleonic approach to our strategy. There is no such thing as a tactical nuclear weapon. It is rubbish to talk of that. Secondly, it is essential that the Houses of Parliament, and the other place in particular, should have the power of the purse and information. Thirdly, I would remind your Lordships of the quite famous Trend Report of 1955 which asked that the spin-off from nuclear production for military purposes he moved into peaceful purposes. We have the example of the spin-off from space research—everybody knows that it produced the non-stick frying pan—but many wonderful things resulted from the spin-off from military research in the nuclear field.

From that third point there emerges a fourth. Scientists, like politicians, like to talk shop. I do not want to bore the House with figures, though I have them in the Report, The Use of Qualified Scientists and Engineers in Britain and America. But once a man gets into a military area he is afraid to talk shop—in fact, he cannot talk shop because of the classified matters. Believe it or not, because of this we sometimes limit the possibilities of recruiting. I do not want to make derogatory remarks about the brilliant people who are already in military work; but the tendency in our universities and technical colleges is for young scientists to shrink from military jobs because it stops this wonderful exchange of ideas which has built up civilisation; it prevents them from talking the jargon of their subject, particularly if they are dealing with military affairs. Consequently, I think that as much as possible of these matters should be made public and that the Houses of Parliament should in the future have full information about the trend which has developed in this new approach.


My Lords, I think I understand what both noble Lords are seeking to do. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, he overestimates the scale and importance of the change which this Bill brings about. What happens at Aldermaston as regards nuclear weapons is only research, and the development and manufacture of components of the warheads. Everything else is now, and has been, under the control of my Department. The warheads, after fabrication at Aldermaston, are in the custody of my Department. The only thing we are doing in this Bill is to change the responsibility for the management of the establishment at Aldermaston. I must say to him that, having now been Secretary of State for Defence for two and a half years, I can conceive of no possible circumstances in which I as a malign or mad Secretary of State for Defence could do the sort of thing that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has in mind. I do not believe that it would be possible to do it. There are so many people in the upper echelons of Government who are concerned with nuclear policy and nuclear matters that I do not think it would be possible for such a thing to happen.

I have sympathy with this Amendment for another reason. It is that I have sought in these last two and a half years, as did my predecessor, Mr. Healey, to give as much information as possible about defence; because I think that the more people know about it, the more they understand it and the more they will feel that what is being done has logic and that although it may be expensive it is worth while. But I am afraid on this occasion in asking the noble Lord to withdraw his Amendment, I have to say that I think there are rather good security grounds why one should not single out this particular establishment and require its accounts to be presented separately. I think that the consequences of doing that would be to pinpoint the expenditure on nuclear weapons research and development and warheads in such a way that it would be possible for anybody who cared to do so to see the trend which we are going through; and from the trend I think it would be possible for them to estimate pretty accurately the sort of things we are doing. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, wants that to happen. He wanted this Amendment for different reasons, which I understand. But for security reasons I do not think I can accept his Amendment and I ask him to withdraw it.


My Lords, before my noble friend comments on what has been said by the Secretary of State for Defence may I say that it is no surprise that the Secretary of State should "pump" security on him about it. I am sure that my noble friend was not surprised. I do not know whether the Atomic Energy Authority has until now published accounts in the detail envisaged by my noble friend's Amendment. Although such a proposal for fuller publication of accounts may not be practicable at the moment, there is in the future a possibility of an international system in which such a thing would be practicable. I believe that the publication of military accounts, and especially the details of nuclear weapons accounts, could in future prove a valuable part of an enduring arms control situation between East and West. In other words, the only point I would make is: let this not sink without trace; let us be prepared to do this when other countries, including our adversaries, are prepared to do the same.

7.30 p.m.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for his very full reply to my few remarks introducing this Amendment. He is, as I have said elsewhere, a reasonable man. I am sorry that his reasonableness does not extend to accepting this Amendment. I would make three brief points. The first is that of course I realise that what goes on at Aldermaston is restricted almost exclusively to the weapons field and the research and development of nuclear warheads. This is the most important area of research and development in the whole military field, and it is that that I was trying to catch with my Amendment. As to the possibility of some ill-disposed Government or Minister of the future not having the power to engage in a nuclear weapons policy secretly, I can only say that I am considerably less sanguine than the noble Lord: I will go no further than that.

As my noble friend has said, I was not surprised that the question of security was the noble Lord's main answer to my argument. He has said that if these accounts were to be published a potential enemy might be able to pinpoint trends in the development of our weapons, indeed they might; and, as the noble Lord has said, that is something that I would not wish to see happen. However, I should like to follow my noble friend Lord Kennet in saying that I believe that if we are ever to bring the nuclear weapon under control, and if we are ever to get any form of sensible nuclear arms control and disarmament, we shall have to have a more open society and more open exchanges of this kind of information. I hope, therefore, as my noble friend has said, that we can bear this in mind. And, perhaps even if the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will not accept this Amendment this evening, we might suggest that this could form the basis of some initiative which this country might take in the arms control field and which might lead to some area of arms control and disarmament that we have not yet examined. I am grateful to the noble Lord, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Weapons Group employees]:

7.33 p.m.

LORD WINTERBOTTOM moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 30, at end insert— ("The terms and conditions of service of every person who is taken into employment in the Civil Service in pursuance of the arrangements made by the Secretary of State shall, taken as a whole, be no less favourable than those provided for in his contract of employment with the Authority.")

The noble Lord said: This comparatively simple Amendment arises from a residual disquiet which exists among the professional civil servants who are affected by this Bill. We know that the negotiations have been concluded in a way that is satisfactory to both sides, but the negotiations are only recorded in minutes of meetings and are not under-written by legislation. It may be argued that this is unnecessary, but at a comparatively recent date—it was in 1971—when something similar took place, when two elements of the Atomic Energy Authority were transferred to British Nuclear Fuels Limited and Radio-chemicals Centre Limited, it was thought advisable to write into that: particular Act safeguards which I understand would be welcomed by the professional civil servants who are affected by this change.

Section 8(4) of the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1971 reads: For the purposes of the section, in relation to a person who by virtue of subsection (1) of this section becomes an employee of one of the companies. the terms and conditions appropriate to him immediately after the transfer shall be taken to be such terms and conditions as correspond, as nearly as the circumstances permit, to those which immediately before the date of the transfer applied to him under his contract of employment with the Authority. This is a pretty clear statement of the type of safeguard which would be welcomed by the professional civil servants and which I have tried to mirror in my Amendment.


I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, is not being modest when he says that there is an element of residual disquiet among the employees of the Authority about the arrangements being made for their transfer, as set out in this clause, which he is trying to spell out in greater detail in his Amendment which I wholeheartedly support. I think there is no doubt at all that a great many employees who work at Aldermaston would welcome an Amendment of the kind which has been tabled as an additional safeguard over and above the assurances given by the Secretary of State for Defence, both in the discussions that have taken place with the employees of the Authority and on the Floor of this House.

One must always remember that whatever is said by a Secretary of State, or by any other Minister, is not binding and cannot be enforced, whereas something which appears in a Statute can be enforced. I am afraid that in the negotiations which have taken place very little headway has been made in this matter. As the Secretary of State will be aware, when it was initially suggested that something of this kind should be written into the Bill, the Staff Side were informed that it would be unconstitutional to do so. The negotiations continued, and in the process of time the Official Side changed their attitude and then maintained that it would be contrary to all precedent if such an undertaking as is proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, were to be written into the Bill. This is the difference between the situation that arose with The Radiochemicals Centre Limited and British Nuclear Fuels Limited, where the Act was not binding the Crown but was binding a company to be created by Statute. That was the distinction which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his representatives in the negotiations have attempted to make all along. But if we are talking not about something which is prohibited under the Constitution (and as we all know, this country has no Written Constitution) but simply about a matter which is not in accordance with the precedents and customs of this kind of legislation, I cannot see where the difficulty arises, if I may say so, with great respect, to the noble Lord whose integrity in this matter I am not disputing. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, means every word of the undertakings he has given to the Staff Side, and he would save a great deal of disquiet—not residual disquiet, actual disquiet—among the members of the staff were he to write this into the Bill.

The Staff Side have continued to make representations and, as I understand it, the process of consultation has not yet finished. They have been told that if they were not satisfied it would be possible for consultations to be continued even after the Bill had become law. But to have safeguards for the staff which are not justiciable in any way is of little importance, and if this new subsection were written in there would be something on which negotiations could take place after the transfer if it was contended by the representatives of the employees that the terms and conditions, taken as a whole, were not as favourable as those which the employees had been entitled to as employees of the Authority. There would be something in writing in the Act which could be referred to in the negotiations; and if there were a dispute it would be possible to go on to obtain proper advice about how this clause should be interpreted. But a mere statement by the noble Lord across the Floor of the House is not, of course, justiciable—I am using that term in a rather loose sense, because I do not imagine that such a dispute would ever come to the courts. I am thinking of how one would conduct negotiations as a representative of employees if one said that in the case of Mr. X or Miss Y, "You have not given this employee terms and conditions comparable with those which he may have enjoyed as a member of the Authority."

The other point which I think is of great importance in the noble Lord's Amendment, and which modestly he did not underline, is that what he is asking for here is that the terms applying to one individual should be comparable with those he previously enjoyed; whereas it seems to me, looking at the undertaking given by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that we are talking about something far broader. You could take a group of employees who were employed in a section, or you could take a certain class of employees, and say that so long as, broadly speaking, what they had been given in the Civil Service was equivalent to that which they had previously enjoyed as members of the Authority, that was good enough. What the noble Lord is asking for in this Amendment, as I understand it, is that every individual who goes from the Authority and becomes an employee of the Civil Service shall be in a situation not less favourable than that which he enjoyed previously. Of course we should be grateful for additional assurances that the Secretary of State may be able to give this evening on these matters. But I personally believe that he could save himself a lot of trouble in future negotiations with the Staff Side if he were to agree that this should be written into the Bill.


I would ask the noble Lord the Secretary of State to look at this Amendment favourably, because, as he well knows, the work done in any establishment depends very much upon the good will of the workers in the establishment. Where one has a body of people working in a defence establishment, it is most important for the quality of the work done, and for the whole spirit of the place, that they should feel they are being in every way fairly treated. It has been obvious from what the noble Lord said on Second Reading that he has taken a great deal of trouble to see that they are being properly treated, but acceptance of this Amendment would underline it and would show clearly that it is the firm intention of the Government to see that this is done.


I think all noble Lords who have spoken will know that I agree with what they have said. There can be no doubt that one wants to see that this is done. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, I have said on a number of occasions—I have given assurances twice in this House, and I have written to the staff repeating those assurances—that the staff concerned should enjoy as favourable terms and conditions, taken as a whole, after the transfer as before. Perhaps I may clear up one point. By that I do not mean groups of people; I mean it as applying to each individual employee. "Taken as a whole" only means that it might not be done in exactly the same way as it was before. There is no question but that it applies to individual employees.

That brings us really to the age-old argument which has been raging in Committee stages on every Bill of which I can think; that is, whether or not you have to put it in the Bill. All Governments say that you do not, and all Oppositions say that you do. This is what it comes to. My Department do not feel that it is desirable for the reason advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury; namely, that they believe it is inappropriate (that is the word that has been put into my mouth) that the Crown's traditional freedom to negotiate terms and conditions of employment with the staff should be fettered by Statute. In the light of what the three noble Lords have said, I should like to see how far inappropriate "goes; whether it is so inappropriate that I must resist the Amendment on the next occasion when we debate the Bill, or whether it is not so inappropriate that we might do something about it.


Before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that he is moving in our direction, because first of all the official side said that it would be unconstitutional; in the second communication to the staff side the words used were "incompatible" and "departed from the long-established principle" et cetera; and now the noble Lord has watered that down to "inappropriate". Could he not go a little further and accept the Amendment?


It would be inappropriate at this stage to do that.


I should like to thank the Secretary of State for keeping an open mind on this subject. I am certain that his liberal attitude will enable the negotiations, which I understand are still continuing, to go forward in an atmosphere of hopeful expectation from the staff side of the Council. We look forward to hearing what the noble Lord has to say when we come to the Report stage of the Bill. In view of that undertaking, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Powers of Authority in relation to atomic weapons development, etc.]

7.45 p.m.

LORD KENNET moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 6, line 8, at end insert— ("() Nothing in subsection (1) above shall prohibit the Authority from engaging in any work, as specified in that subsection, for other than war-like applications in respect of explosive nuclear devices of up to 100 Kilogram TNT equivalent.")

The noble Lord said: The Amendment that I am about to propose is not wholly simple, so I hope the Committee will bear with me for about five minutes while expound what it is all about. The clause, as drafted, says: The Authority shall not … have power to engage in any work, whether by way of research, experiment, development, production or otherwise, on any explosive nuclear device, whether for war-like applications or otherwise, except in accordance with arrangements made with the Secretary of State.

At first blush, nothing could seem more reasonable than that. The whole point is to move bomb production into the Ministry of Defence, which we accept as entirely rational. The Amendment that I have put down would say: yes; let all that happen, but let there be one small exception, and that is with regard to research, experiment, development, production and so on, for civil purposes, on explosions below 100 Kilograms T.N.T. equivalent.

First of all: why that limit? One hundred kilograms, I would remind the Committee, is about one ten thousandth part of a standard A-bomb and one ten millionth part of what one might call a standard H-bomb. So it is really small explosions about which we are talking. I put down the Amendment because I do not think that the future of research and development in civil fusion ought to be subject to the permission of the Secretary of State for Defence.

I expect the Committee will know that it is in civil fusion that the future hope of mankind largely resides. When all the other sources of energy have become impossible to exploit any more, for one reason or another, we shall be left with fusion, which we believe will be developed in the next 25 years or so. Fusion is good, because it does not pollute. It does not produce these desperately poisonous residues which are produced, and will increasingly be produced, by fission power stations. It is good because the raw material is sea water, and nothing but sea water, which is to all intents and purposes inexhaustible. Until recently we believed that there was a difficulty in that a civil fusion power station utilising a bottle, or electromagnetic field, known as a Tokamak, could not theoretically be less than gigantic—you could only build it at a colossal size; God knows how many thousand megawatts! You would only need two or three stations for an economy the size of Britain. How could you close down the service to repair a station?

But there has recently been hope of a breakthrough towards producing small fusion power stations, so small that you might put one under every fortieth block of a city—there could be capillary fusion energy generation—which is presently the hope for mankind facing the energy crisis that we are going to face. Such stations, it appears likely at the moment, would most plausibly be operated by a series of very small fusion explosions. The technology would apparently be that you launch a series of super-dense pellets of tritium or deuterium, or a mixture, and you implode them (the opposite of explode them) with a laser or some other energy source. You then get a series of little explosions like a motor car, which goes phut, phut, phut. Nobody knows if it is going to work, but if it does, it is the answer to a maiden's prayer with a vengeance. I believe I am right in saying that work on this is only now starting up in this country, at Culham, which belongs to the Atomic Energy Authority.

The purpose of the Amendment is to question whether this research and development ought to be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Defence, not because I doubt that he would approve—of course he would—but why should it be in any case? I would make it clear that if my Amendment were accepted it would leave anything that could conceivably be used as a bomb, or indeed anything of a "ploughshare" type, your mountain-moving, harbour-digging, canal-digging type of nuclear explosion, under the veto of the Secretary of State for Defence, which is right. It would exempt only these mini-explosions, and I await with interest the reason—which I hope he cannot find—why the Secretary of State opposes this Amendment.

7.50 p.m.


Hopefully, I think I can satisfy the noble Lord. I must say at the outset that if I accepted his Amendment it would in point of fact negate the purposes of Clause 6 in which, for reasons of security and the economic use of resources, it is intended to bring under the control of my Department all activities concerning explosive nuclear devices. I understand the noble Lord's fears which are, I think, that the work at Culham on controlled thermo-nuclear reaction might be subject to control by the Ministry of Defence. That is not the intention; nor is it the correct interpretation of Clause 6. The Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Authority are all agreed about the field of work which falls within the prohibition of Clause 6 and are agreed that this clause does not prohibit the Authority from continuing with their programme of research and development into controlled thermo-nuclear reactions aimed at releasing nuclear energy to provide useful power.

The term "Explosive nuclear device" is difficult to define precisely because technology is changing and precise definitions become outmoded; but there is no conceptual difficulty. No development is currently envisaged where it would be hard to draw a distinction between what is research and development of controlled thermo-nuclear reaction and what is an explosive nuclear device. The former, I am told, is concerned with dense plasma in confinement systems designed for the release of nuclear energy from the light elements in a controlled fashion to provide nuclear power. That being so, there is complete agreement among the Departments concerned that Clause 6 does not inhibit them from doing precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, wishes them to do.


My Lords, if the noble Lord is correct in saying that this particular clause does not inhibit the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority from doing work on nuclear fusion then one really wonders what words mean: because the expression "explosive nuclear device" must surely cover any form of explosion which is the consequence of nuclear changes. Otherwise, what does it mean?

I have been puzzled by this Bill. One of my objections is that it is so vague that it does not explain what it is trying to do: one is left to guess that. First of all, there is suddenly introduced into this Bill the term "explosive nuclear device". I looked in the 1954 Act and could find no mention of an "explosive nuclear device". The Act referred either to a weapon—which is what I thought originally this Bill was meant to do—or it referred to "an explosive nuclear assembly". Where does the term "nuclear device" suddenly come in? And why does that term exclude the nuclear fusion reaction? I find it very difficult to understand the meanings of these words. They are not defined in this Bill: nor, so far as I can see, are they defined in the earlier Act. They seem to be words that have been introduced in order to leave a sort of haze over the whole situation so that the Secretary of State for Defence can decide what he wants to have in and what he does not want to have in. I feel that if we are passing an enormously important Bill concerned with nuclear energy and turning it into an Act which will govern us, we ought to know what the words mean.


I really thought I had explained fairly carefully what was intended here. The parties concerned are in no way under a delusion or living in a haze as to what the words mean. I have given an undertaking to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, which I repeat, that the interpretation of Clause 6 by the lawyers—and also the interpretation which my Department put upon it—is to allow the Authority to do exactly what they want to do.


Of course I accept the Secretary of State's assurance that he will do this, but we are dealing here with an Act of Parliament which we hope will stand for many years. I must confess that I do not quite like it. The Secretary of State has told us we need not worry, because the phrase "explosive nuclear device" does not cover this civil fusion research into super-dense pellets and super-dense plasma. If it does not cover those, it must mean that one of those three words does not apply, and I feel I must ask the Secretary of State which word it is. Is the thing in question not explosive? I think that would be hard to sustain: it is a series of very small explosions. Is it not nuclear?—certainly it is nuclear. Thirdly, is it not a device? I do not see how anyone could rule in a court of law that it was not a device, if it came to the point. Of course I do not wish to divide the House on a question of language, but I do feel dissatisfied so far, not with the Secretary of State's assurance but with his explanation. Could the noble Lord go further?


I appreciate the problems and I am not trying to pretend that there are not difficulties here, because this is really a difficulty of definition. However, as I understand it, what is meant by an "explosive nuclear device" is a device which is deliberately designed to explode and which, once the explosive process has begun, cannot be controlled or limited in any way. That is the difference.


May I take the plain English of it? Clause 6 reads: The Authority shall not … have power to engage in any work, whether by way of research, experiment, development, production or otherwise, on any explosive nuclear device, whether for war-like applications or otherwise,"— and here is the operative part- except in accordance with arrangements made with the Secretary of State. In other words, the Secretary of State can nullify the clause if he so desires. That is what it means. Now I am asking the noble Lord whether he is prepared to nullify that to the extent of inserting the phrase that my noble friend has put in his Amendment.


The difficulty is that if I accept the noble Lord's Amendment it completely negates the whole purpose of Clause 6, because the whole object of that clause is turned round the other way—


Yes, that is so.


—and that is not the object of Clause 6. What we are talking about is a rather small part, and a rather technical aspect, of what the Authority wish to go on doing, and which I say the Bill allows them to do, and which worries the noble Lord. Let us by all means look at the words and see if there is something we can do to clear the situation up at the next stage.


I should like to ask the noble Lord why he is not prepared to accept the words that were used in the Act of 1954, where, instead of talking about an "explosive nuclear device", specific reference is made to "explosive nuclear assembly for atomic weapons"?—because it is surely the explosive nuclear assembly for atomic weapons with which he is concerned and which he wants to have within his Department, whereas the explosive nuclear device which is used in fusion is not meant for an atomic weapon. It is meant for the production of atomic energy.


I am not prepared to accept those words because they are not the words on the Marshalled List, but I am quite prepared to have a look at them.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. I think it would be worth while to look at this again at the next stage because he has advanced a definition of an explosion as something which, once it has started, cannot be stopped. This, to my mind, perfectly fits the kind of mini-explosion up to 100 Kilograms of T.N.T. which we are talking about in my Amendment. However, I will rest on the Secretary of State's assurance, and perhaps we may even have a word about it together later. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.0 p.m.

LORD WYNNE-JONES moved Amendment No. 6: Page 6, line 9, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: This Amendment refers to Clause 6(2) in which, pursuant to subsection (1), it says: (2) In section 2(2) of the said Act of 1954 in paragraph (i) of the proviso (which precludes the Authority from developing or producing weapons otherwise than in accordance with such arangements, but makes an exception for certain work on explosive nuclear assemblies"— which I have just quoted— the words from except that' to the end of the paragraph are hereby repealed".

I am moving by this Amendment that that subsection be left out of the Bill. I do so because as the Bill now stands the Atomic Energy Authority is going to be denied the right, which it clearly has had from the start, of investigating the field of explosions.

If one looks at the Act of 1954, one finds quite clearly that it was the business of the Atomic Energy Authority to do a number of things and, at the end, having given it very wide powers, it was stated:

"Provided that— (i) the Authority shall not, save in accordance with arrangements made with the Minister of Supply, develop or produce any weapon or part of a weapon, except that nothing in this proviso shall limit the power of the Authority to conduct experimental work which may lead to improved types of explosive nuclear assemblies for atomic weapons.

In other words, even at the very moment by the very words in which the Atomic Energy Authority was told that it was not to work on weapons, it was told that it was permitted to do work on the reactions which lead up to weapons. This is something which is perfectly clear and logical. It is done with all other forms of explosives. There is no limitation on anyone doing research work or investigation into explosives; it does not have to be dealt with in any establishment run by the Ministry of Defence; no armament factory necessarily has the right to control all explosives. Research on explosives has been carried out elsewhere and, as the Secretary of State must know perfectly well, the best work that has been done in the past has not been carried out in Government establishments. Some of the excellent early work was done in Sweden by the famous Nobel, after whom the Nobel Prizes are named. It was done by I.C.I. in this country, and by a large number of different organisations and universities. In other words, there should be nothing to prevent the investigation of all these things. This was clearly stated in the Act of 1954. It is a reactionary move now to take away from the Authority the right to do this, more particularly as there is a considerable field of work for civil applications of these explosive reactions; and these come, in my opinion, very clearly under the terms of referenece of the Atomic Energy Authority.


I am sorry that I have been a little negative to the noble Lord to-night, but I cannot accept this Amendment. The effect of the Amendment would be to allow the Authority to undertake work which could be done only with an extensive duplication of manpower and facilities. It would frustrate the whole purpose of this Bill, which is to bring all activities on explosive nuclear devices (assuming that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I know what we are talking about when we say "explosive nuclear devices") under the direct management control of the Ministry of Defence, in order that the resources can be used most economically. If this Amendment were accepted it would also be undesirable from the point of view of security and our international obligations to protect this very sensitive field of technology, and it would make it very difficult if we had two separate areas where exactly the same work was being undertaken. Having explained that, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment.


Is the noble Lord saying that there has been a problem about security in the past?


All the work has been carried out at Aldermaston.


Work has also been carried out by the Atomic Energy Authority wherever they wished to do it. It so happens that the weapons work was carried out at Aldermaston, but they have done work elsewhere. According to the terms of this Bill, everything, including preliminary research, is excluded. This is a very serious inhibition.


Does the noble Lord wish to withdraw or press his Amendment?


I wish to press my Amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

8.6 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?


I hesitate to intervene, and I will try to do so briefly, largely because the Secretary of State has already been so good as to say that he is going to do what I was going to ask him to do. I, as a layman, have listened entranced to the exchanges that have just passed, but it was suggested that I might raise with the Secretary of State what I submit still seems to be a somewhat uncertainty in the language used. The language has already been traversed a good deal, and I will try to economise in my repetitions of it.

Clause 6(1) in effect says that the Atomic Energy Authority is not to have the power—and the words have been read out over and over again—to: engage in any work, whether by way of research, experiment, development, production or otherwise, on any explosive nuclear device, … The Secretary of State has pointed out the difficulty of defining with any precision precisely what one means by "explosive nuclear device". My noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones has pointed out that no definition is contained either in the 1954 Act or in this Bill. But something—in spite of those words—is still left within the competence and province of the Atomic Energy Authority. What I am asking the Secretary of State to do is to say this: that he will again look at the language in order to try to define with more precision what is still left within the competence of the Authority. What is left, I suppose, is this: one goes back to the proviso of Section 2 of the 1954 Act and finds there, as my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones pointed out, The Authority shall not … develop or produce any weapon or part of a weapon"— So far, so good; that has now been changed— except that nothing in this proviso shall limit the power of the Authority to conduct experimental work which may lead to improved types of explosive nuclear assemblies for atomic weapons; Here again (this has already been pointed out), there is no definition to be found of the expression "explosive nuclear assemblies". If one sets that language side by side with the language which I have quoted from Clause 6(1) of the Bill, I submit to the Secretary of State—and I am asking him to clarify this—it is rather difficult to determine precisely what is transferred, and precisely what is left of that power which was preserved in the proviso that I have quoted. It seemed to me, reading it as a layman, that what is still left is the power, again subject to arrangements, to conduct experiments, as it were, in the rather more initial stages into the substance of the material itself which will ultimately be incorporated into a device; and that what is taken away is the power to experiment—and I choose that one word out of the others—in the explosive nuclear device itself. That seems to be a more complete machine which comes into being at a later stage.

I would ask this question. When one looks at the language of Clause 6(1) and sees the expression "any explosive nuclear device", is that intended to mean some existing device? Is the concept that a device has already been brought into being and the power to experiment on that existing device is removed; or is the concept rather wider in scope? Is the power to experiment with a view to the production of an explosive nuclear device, as the result of the experiment, also removed? I should have thought that probably the answer is that that is the intended meaning. All I would ask the Secretary of State to do (I am afraid I am being rather repetitive, because he has been so kind as to say he will do it) is to re-examine that language in order that the parties concerned may know with some more precision—it is difficult, perhaps, to achieve it, but with as much precision as can be achieved—exactly what is transferred and exactly what is left. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State could say that he would do that.


Yes; of course I will do that. I think the difficulty is that we all know what we want to do. What we want to do is to transfer that part of the A.E.A.'s business which is related to weapon development and goes on at Aldermaston. Equally, I think that all the people concerned—that is, the A.E.A. itself, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence—know how it is all to be divided up. Where I think we are in some difficulty—and it has been pointed out already by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and now by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill—is that we have not at the moment perhaps defined it as precisely as possible. I do not know whether it can be defined precisely—I make no promise about it—but certainly there are areas which have been opened up this evening and which I think we ought to look at again.


Before we leave it finally, may I offer something to the Secretary of State. There are two ambiguous words: "on" and "explosive". My noble friend has discoursed on the ambiguity of "on". Now a brief discourse on the word "explosive": an explosive device may be either a device which itself explodes or a device which brings about and contains explosions. I am all for letting the Secretary of State have power over the former, but I want to exempt the latter.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.

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