HL Deb 11 May 1977 vol 383 cc240-2

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when and how they intend to respond to the questions raised in the Sixth Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the letter from Justice published in The Times on 31st March 1977, having regard in particular to the new policy about plutonium announced by the President of the United States of America on 7th April 1977.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the Royal Commission's report raises issues of major national importance on which the Government will give their views as quickly as possible, in the form which then seems most appropriate. A number of subjects raised in the report have international dimensions, and the United Kingdom is continuing to participate positively and constructively in the discussion of such subjects, including those stemming from President Carter's announcement.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she has said. Could she say to what extent the Government understand and appreciate the fears, which are widespread in the country, that irreversible decisions may soon be taken about atomic power? Do the Government realise the extent of the concern felt in certain parts of the United Kingdom, such as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, which are not directly represented in another place?

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords; we realise the extent of those fears, and I am quite sure that when the report is published it will be realised that they have been taken into consideration.


My Lords, is it not a fact that, as stated in the letter to The Times, to which reference was made in the Question the police of the Atomic Energy Authority are armed with machine guns, that they have wide powers of search and that they are not responsible to Parliament or to any Government Department? Does that not raise real questions about civil liberties?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the police are special constables who are duly appointed under the Special Constables Act 1923. In the Atomic Energy Authority (Special Constables) Act which was approved by this House in the last Session, there were specific provisions to place special constables in the same position as regular police in relation to the possession and use of firearms, and to allow them to operate more than 15 miles from their station. These police officers are responsible to the Authority, and the Authority answers in Parliament through my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that to say that the Government will respond as quickly as possible to the important recommendations of the Flowers Report is not good enough—bearing in mind that your Lordships' House debated that report before Christmas and there has been plenty of opportunity for the Government to look into these matters? In response to President Carter's initiative, cannot the Government at least request BNFL to withdraw the application which they have made for reprocessing nuclear oxide fuels at Windscale?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, our report will be published. I cannot say that it will be published in advance of the Windscale inquiry, but it will be published and I cannot commit the Government until that report is available.


My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government bear in mind that it is very much safer to have the processing of fuel carried out in one or two places under international control than to have proliferation around the world such as has been started in other countries not adhering to the nonproliferation treaty?

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords; we agree with my noble friend, and the Government share President Carter's concern about the importance of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, while enabling civil nuclear power to play its part in meeting world energy needs. We have played an active and constructive part in international discussion; on these matters. We shall continue to do so, and we are re-examining British nonproliferation policy in a way that will give weight to non-proliferation considerations, as well as to commercial considerations.


My Lords, for those of us who live in the Channel Islands, is there a possibility in the near future of any reassurance on the subject of the large development taking place at Cap de la Hague? We are very much afraid of pollution from both airborne and seaborne sources, and Cap de la Hague is only 15 miles from Alderney.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, that is a more specific question. I do not have the answer with me, but I will obtain some information and will advise the noble Lord in writing.

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