HL Deb 13 July 1978 vol 394 cc1757-72

6.9 p.m.


I beg to move that the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No. 5) (Joint European Torus) Order 1978 be approved; and in dealing with it I will also speak to the draft European Communities (Privileges of the Joint European Torus) Order 1978. Both were laid before this House on 3rd July 1978.

The Schedule to the (No. 5) Order specifies the Exchange of Letters dated 3rd May 1978, constituting an agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the European Atomic Energy Community regarding privileges to be granted to the Joint European Torus, which I shall hereafter refer to as JET. The Schedule to the European Communities (Privileges of the Joint European Torus) Order 1978 specifies the privileges which are to be granted to JET.

If the House approves the orders, the (No. 5) Order will formally define the Exchange of Letters between the Government and the Commission as a Community Treaty under Section 1 of the European Communities Act. In the Exchange of Letters, the Government undertook to grant certain privileges to JET. In addition, the Council Decision of 30th May established an obligation to confer privileges on JET. The European Communities (Privileges for the Joint European Torus) Order 1978, if approved by the House, would implement the Government's undertaking and give effect to the obligation incurred by the Council Decision.

Implementing Orders—in this case the European Communities (Privileges of the Joint European Torus) Order 1978—are usually subjected to the Negative Resolution procedure. However, the Government have elected to subject the Privileges Order to the Affirmative procedure. In the present case, it seemed to the Government that it would be for the better convenience of the House to take these two orders together and to subject them to the Affirmative procedure. This will ensure that both orders can be made with the least possible delay because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and the House know, JET was formally established on 1st June this year, and the Government should be in a position to fulfil what is now an obligation, and to do so at the earliest possible moment.

The House will know that JET is the first European Community body to be located in the United Kingdom. Your Lordships may recall the debate on 18th May 1976 when this House gave support to the Government in their efforts to secure JET on British soil. It was most gratifying that the Council of Ministers decided on 25th October 1977 that JET should be located at Culham in Oxfordshire. I should like to pay tribute not only to the excellence of the case as presented by the United Kingdom for the location of this important joint undertaking in the United Kingdom, but also to the objectivity of our partners, more than one of whom had very strong claims to locate this important undertaking in their own countries but who nevertheless saw the force of the British claim and loyally joined us and the other Members of the Community in deciding that it should, in fact, come to Britain, to Culham in Oxfordshire.

The Community's thermo-nuclear fusion programme is an exciting and long-tern effort of which JET is the most important single project. JET will be a large experimental fusion machine aimed at the production of energy through the magnetic confinement of high-temperature plasma. If the noble Baroness invites me to explain that, I must respectfully decline.

Scientists are generally agreed that this type of experiment offers the best route to potential fusion power. If JET is successful, scientists think that it is likely to make a significant contribution to the generation of electricity in the next century. The construction and experimental stages of JET will last 15 years and it is estimated that eventually about 320 staff, some half of whom will be foreign, will be employed on it. Another way to put it is that quite half of them, although this is a nine-country project, will be British. During the five-year construction phase, some £120 million (at 1977 prices) will be spent by the Community—I repeat, by the Community—on the project. The Community has been joined in this project by two non-Community countries—Sweden and Switzerland—which are associated with JET.

I should perhaps explain here that JET is a special kind of Community body. It is a joint undertaking established by the Council of Ministers under Chapter V of the Euratom Treaty. Legally it is distinct from the Community: it has a separate legal personality of its own. As with many other international bodies, it needs certain privileges in order to operate effectively. Chapter V of the Euratom Treaty provides that certain privileges set out in Annex III may be conferred on joint undertakings: the Council of Ministers' decision of 30th May 1978 applies certain of those privileges to JET. In addition, the special circumstances of JET called for some additional privileges; these are set out in the Exchange of Letters of 3rd May 1978 between the European Atomic Energy Community and the United Kingdom Government. The draft Privileges Order now before your Lordships gives effect, so far as necessary, to the privileges for JET which come from these two sources.

I mentioned that JET has a separate legal personality. This is normally expressed in Orders in Council conferring privileges and immunities on international organisations. It is not dealt with in the Privileges Order because we take the view that the second sentence of Article 49 of the Euratom Treaty is directly applicable. We may be asked, why we do not regard the Annex III privileges as directly applicable. It is because they are provided! under Article 48, which says that each Member State: shall for its part ensure that these advantages are conferred". In view of this express requirement for Member State action, it would not be safe to treat the Annex III privileges as directly applicable.

The privileges accorded to JET have been strictly tailored to the requirements of the joint undertaking and are similar to those granted to joint undertakings set up in other Community countries. The privileges agreed are also similar to those granted to international organisations in the United Kingdom by orders made under the international Organisations Act 1968. JET will not, however, enjoy the immunities accorded to international organisations, such as inviolability of premises or immunity from legal proceedings.

The privileges to be conferred upon JET include exemptions from customs duties and taxes on the importation of goods; relief from the non-beneficial element of municipal rates; relief from value added tax, car tax and other taxes payable on motor cars of British manufacture purchased for official use of the joint undertaking in the United Kingdom; and relief from duty and taxes on the purchase of hydrocarbon oils used in the exercise of the official activities of the joint undertaking in this country. The present Draft Orders are necessary to enable Her Majesty's Government to give effect to those privileges. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (No 5) (Joint European Torus) Order 1978, laid before the House on 3rd July, be approved; and

That the draft European Communities (Privileges of the Joint European Torus) Order 1978, laid before the House on 3rd July, he approved.—(Lord Goronwy Roberts.)

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, first, may I say that I am sure that we on this side of the House welcome the Government's decision to proceed with the Affirmative procedure. This is a subject which, after the Welsh oratory that we have had this afternoon, gives me the opportunity to tell a new story about the English, the Welsh, the Irish and the Scots. It is said that the English like salvation because they can debate it; the Welsh like salvation because they can sing about it; the Irish like salvation because they can fight about it and the Scots like salvation because it is free.

The location of a Joint-European Torus at Culham might look at first sight like a free gift, but of course it is nothing of the sort. One would be churlish not to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on their strenuous struggle to persuade our European partners that this very important laboratory should be sited in the United Kingdom. The case always was—and it was expressed by the Scrutiny Committee on European Affairs two years ago—that the best place to site this laboratory was where there was, and would continue to be, a body of expertise in plasma physics.

It will be within the recollection of those Members of your Lordships' House who took an interest in this matter during the crucial struggles 18 months ago that there were alternative sites canvassed for this important laboratory. They included Ispra in Italy, Ganching in Germany, and Cabarache in France. What is quite certain is that the Government pressed hard and persistently to win for Britain what is the first major Community establishment in this country, and it is a great credit to the Government that they were able to pull it off.

It is also only fair to say that in the Government's endeavours they were mightily supported and assisted by the adept, tireless, resourceful and always good humoured diplomacy of Commissioner Guido Brunner. My noble friend Lord Bessborough was unable to remain for this debate, but he asked me to mention what he would have mentioned himself, that he, as a member of the European Assembly who has been closely in touch with Dr. Brunner over the last four years, would like to couple his name with those of any other noble Lords who take this opportunity in the House of Lords of expressing our thanks to the tireless and most resourceful diplomacy of Dr. Brunner in working to get an arrangement that would bring the laboratory to Britain, and particularly to Culham.

It is also greatly to the credit of our partners and, in a sense, of our competitors in the Community, French, Italian, and Germany in particular, and Dutch and Belgian likewise, that they have, now that the dust has settled, readily recognised the strong British claim, on grounds of expertise in plasma physics, for having the laboratory over here. It is also important to put in laymen's language the phraseology that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, gave us just now. I am notorious in Sub-Committee F of the European Scrutiny Committee for always using layman's language and never bringing more than a layman's comprehension to the erudite debates of the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, opposite, and the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, and other noble Lords who sit on our Committee and exchange ideas and information on scientific subjects way above my head.

But, as a lay chairman, I am accustomed to trying to pick up what they say and turn it into ordinary, plain, vulgar journalese. If I were asked to say what was this thing at Culham all about, I would say that it is an endeavour to reproduce the physics of a sunspot on this planet. Since a sunspot is a very hot thing indeed, and one would be unwise to try to touch it, the problem is how to enclose it when any metals, or even rocks, that might be brought near to it would rapidly melt. The device that the scientists have discovered is what I would choose to call a coil; a coiled and circular magnetic field which provides the walls within which the experiments are conducted at very great heats. I think it is something like 100 million degrees, and these heats have been attained for as long as one-hundredth of a second hitherto. One of the hopes of this laboratory is to be able to attain them and maintain them for as long as a second. Should all this prove successful, this is but one stage in a long journey on the road to developing power by fusion.

If the present position in atomic energy is compared with the position in, I think, 1940 when the first fission pile went critical in Chicago, that is about the distance that we are now from fusion, if it ever works. It is a distance of about 45 or 50 years. However, whether or not it will ever work—and nobody knows this yet—one thing is already of great significance: the fact that the European Community has decided to set up this laboratory has put the Community within the top league where energy research is concerned.

We heard over in Brussels only the other day that, through the medium of the International Energy Agency in Vienna, the Russians have made known to Japan, the Community and the United States that they will be very happy to collaborate in the next stage. They have recognised that the Community, as such, is in the big league, comparable to Japan, the United States and the Soviet Union. This, as a piece of achievement for the standing of the European Community, is something which is difficult to exaggerate.

Having said those things, it would be a pity to miss this opportunity to say one or two further words about the conduct of our policies in the Community in the energy field, Of course, all sorts of questions arise, and in what I am going to say I am not—repeat not—attempting at this moment to criticise or attack the Government's energy policy in the Community but to draw attention to one or two things which one has come across and which are germane to the whole story of the way we got the JET site to Culham.

Quite recently, the United Kingdom delegation in the Atomic Questions Group of the Council has created something not far from a blockage in discussion of Commission proposals on the fast reactor option, on reprocessing policy and on the handling of nuclear waste. Likewise, there has been from the British side a severe blockage on proposals to limit and cut back refinery capacity, when there is over-capacity in the world at large. Although the reasons for the British stance are quite easy to understand—Britain would like to export white products from North Sea crude, and to get North Sea crude refined in this country—nonetheless, whether that policy is wise or not, there has been some raising of eyebrows in Brussels about it.

I am not at this moment attempting to make any kind of capital out of the policy that Her Majesty's Government are pursuing, but I believe that it is proper, in an area so critical to the future of Western Europe as a whole, and to the Community in particular, and certainly to ourselves in the area of energy policy, that there is a great need to follow the principle of Lord Chesterfield in his letters to his son, "Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re", or, if you prefer, if there is to be an iron fist, let it be within a velvet glove.

I believe that we have in our handling of matters in. Brussels caused needless annoyance. If one is differing from one's partners—if one is differing from the Commission and doing so consistently and frequently—all the more reason to handle them with the utmost diplomacy and care. Here, of course, there is not the vestige of a complaint about the work of our permanent representation in Brussels, headed by my kinsman, Sir Donald Maitland, who I am glad to say supports the Clan Maitland tartan and has in his front hall the emblem of our clan. There is not the smallest adverse comment about his distinguished work. Indeed, everything one hears in Brussels is full of praise for him as the head of our representation and for his staff, who have won great respect for hard and assiduous work and for their great tact in handling matters that may not always he easy to handle.

However, there have been complaints in certain quarters about the personal stance that one or two of our Ministers have taken. I wonder whether the word could be gently passed on to the Secretary of State for Energy, whose ability and agility any politician must admire, and even envy, that if he were perhaps one day to pay a personal courtesy call on the Commission, with whose proposals he has tangled so often, he might dissolve anxieties and apprehensions that have no reason whatever to be there.

Having said that—and it is the most I want to say—I return to give a sincere word of congratulation to the Government for achieving this very important result for enabling the United Kingdom to play a part in an important and critical scientific work which enhances the status of the Community in the world and puts the Community in the top league. For that we cannot thank the Government enough, and in thanking them I suggest that we metaphorically raise our glasses to Commissioner Brunner and all his skill, attention and friendship for this country. With those comments, I wish these orders godspeed.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, I had the privilege of being in Brussels with the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and had the delight of being entertained by his kinsman. As a Welshman, I do not expect to find a Scot sitting in every Embassy in the world; he probably will be there, but a Welshman will almost certainly not be sitting there. Nevertheless, it was a most enjoyable occasion.

I wish to make a few observations about the proposal which is before the House. Perhaps it would be simpler if we had used more popular language and instead of talking about the Joint European Torus we talked about the doughnut. It is a magnetic doughnut, literally something like a doughnut; that is what is happening at Culham. We are delighted it is being done there, but it is important to remember certain things about it. First, it is a joint European effort and if it were not such an effort it would not be carried on at all. For this country it would be too expensive; it would absorb far too much of our national resources, and therefore it is important to realise that it is being done not simply for the aggrandisement of this country but to produce energy throughout Europe.

Secondly, the method being employed was developed essentially in the Soviet Union. Let us remember that in these scientific matters, worldwide co-operation is important. If we had not had—and I assure the House we did have—the closest association with the scientists of the Soviet Union, we should not be where we are today. So do not let us put this either in national or ideological terms; let us remember that this is an attempt to do something worldwide.

To take the matter further—I wish to question my noble friend about this—a similar project is going on in the United States. The one here at Culham is, I think, on a slightly bigger scale, but because the American resources are much greater than the resources of Europe as a whole, they not only have this Torus or doughnut magnetic containment project; they also have a project for laser implosion. It is a fascinating idea. They have an intense laser beam and to produce that beam they need the energy of a complete generating station as big as any we have. The beam is concentrated into a very narrow line and is focussed on certain particles which drop down. They are minute glass pellets containing hydrogen and they implode in the beam. The Americans believe—at least those working on the project believe; being a scientist myself, I appreciate we are always optimistic—that within a short time (they think within 10 years) they will reach the point of being able to produce in that way energy by fusion which will rival the method we are trying to use.

My question is this: how close is the association now between the Joint European Torus project, the Russian project—and for Heaven's sake do not let us ignore the Russians; they are extremely competent scientists, as I know—and the American project? Unless we have the closest co-operation between those three bodies I do not believe the world will get proper advantage from all the work that is being done. And remember, too, that this work is not being done simply for we in this country, for the European Community or indeed for the whole of the Western World. It is work which must be done for the world as a whole.

If one thinks about it, the future for energy in the world will depend, first, on the possibility of this fusion work: but there is other work. We think it will work, but we do not yet know how successful it will be. Secondly, we have the utilisation of solar energy, and despite all that people say, we are not yet certain how far we can go in the full utilisation of solar energy. Thirdly, we have the utilisation of such things as wave energy. There we have the forms of energy for the future, and this order which has been presented to us today is something of immense importance and significance. It is one of the three legs on which the future of energy is going to depend and if only we get that right it will be absolutely invaluable.

Therefore, I do say that this matter we have had put before us tonight is not a trivial one; it is something absolutely essential to our future. What has been done so far is good, but what I should like to be assured of by my noble friend is that the association with the Soviet Union and with America shall be on the proper basis, so that we are guaranteed that we reach what all of us know must be done to protect the future of mankind.

6.41 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, it has been a most useful short debate. We have had not only the benefit of hearing the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, introducing the orders to your Lordships' House and explaining the technical matters involved, but also two most interesting and valuable contributions from my noble friend Lord Lauderdale and a very distinguished scientist, the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones. Both emphasised the fact that this is a joint European effort. That is what has come out of the speeches and has been a most valuable contribution to the acceptance of these orders tonight.

I shall say just one rather churlish word, I must confess, in that we regret the two years' delay that it took to get JET on to these shores. I have no doubt at all that it was a question of persuasion by the British Government, mitigated somewhat by distrust of the true European intentions of some individual Members of the present Government, and that is to be regretted. We can only say thankfully that in the end the Member States acted in concert to enable the first European institution in our country to be the major contribution to science that it is obviously going to be.

It is an immensely important scientific project, as the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, in particular, has pointed out, not only to the future well-being of the United Kingdom but even of world benefit. I understand that similar projects have already been started and have been going on in the Soviet Union, in particular, and in the United States and we can only hope that the delay in setting up JET at Culham will not have put us behind in the development of this great, high technological experiment.

I understand also from the Council decision of 30th May—and perhaps the noble Lord the Minister would confirm this—that not only has a decision on the idea of Culham being set up as a centre for JET been passed and accepted, but already a financial contribution has been made from the Community of the sum of something like £68 million in order to get on with the first stage of the project That is to be welcomed. This is not something which has been held back by bureaucratic red tape hut is something that all the Members of the Community believe in and want to see started and set on its way.

It is also appropriate to mention in this short debate (if I may call it that) the very valuable contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, in enabling this project to be sited here. The technological analysis made by the Commission at the time showed certain deficiencies in the United Kingdom compared with other possible centres based on social grounds, I understand, rather than economic or technical grounds or on the scientific ability of our scientists at Culham. I understand also that it was the persuasion and the technological analysis made by the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, that contributed very largely to persuading the Commission that Culham was capable of undertaking this very major scientific work, not only on behalf of Britain but also on behalf of the other Member States of the Community. So, we are delighted and we congratulate the Government that this JET is now here.

But there is one slight shadow cast on this sun which worries us, and that is the question of the European school. I apologise that I have not given notice to the noble Lord the Minister on this particular matter, but hopefully he will be able to answer one or two queries which have arisen because of something that appeared in the Press over the weekend. It may be mis-information, I do not know, and I have not been able to verify it, but perhaps the noble Lord would be good enough, if he is able to do so, to verify this matter tonight. As noble Lords know, where there is a European institution—and, as the noble Lord has said, there will be about 160 nationals from other Member States working at Culham—provision has to be made for the schooling of the children of the members working in the European institution. So, a European school is to be set up, attached to Culham, to which the children of the people working at Culham will be able to go, and, presumably, children from neighbouring centres round about, in order to fill up the places available.

The difficulty arises over the question of the salaries of the teachers. Normally in the other European schools there is a national salary, which is usually agreed, and income tax is paid at the national rate on the national element of the salary. But, because of its very special nature, there is what is called a "European topping up" of the salary, on which at the other European schools no tax is paid. It is free of tax. The Press report indicated that the United Kingdom Government was pressing for United Kingdom income tax to be paid on the total salary of teachers—whether it is only on teachers who have English nationality I do not know. Perhaps that is something else the Minister can tell us about, if this report is in fact correct.

Clearly, there should be no discrimination whatsoever for teachers who are working in an institution. If teachers are being employed by the European school in order to serve the European Community and the families who live in the European Community, many of whom come over to Culham from other States to work in Britain, those teachers should not be discriminated against. They should have precisely the same treatment as teachers in other European schools throughout the Community. It would be very undesirable if, because of one's nationality, one should be discriminated against and that because one happens to he British one should have to pay tax on a European element whereas a teacher in the classroom next door who happens to he Belgian, Dutch, or whatever nationality it might be, would not be paying it. It would probably be against the Race Relations Act, although I am not certain about that. Nevertheless, it would not be a principle to be followed advisedly by any Government. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to reply on that minor point, although I completely accept that he may not be able to do so tonight as, regrettably, I did not give him notice of this particular question.

In conclusion, my Lords, we on this side of the House warmly support this order, and hope that the trust that the other Member States have placed in Britain and in its capacity to work on a joint European effort—not only for the benefit of Europeans but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wynne Jones, has said, for the benefit of mankind—will not fail.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a short, but very, constructive debate, and I welcome very much the positive spirit in which your Lordships have approached the establishment of this, the first Community body to be sited in this country. Before turning to the questions raised during the debate. I wish to express my appreciation of the graceful tribute which the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, paid to the efforts of Ministers to secure this important laboratory for the United Kingdom. I was myself personally grateful for the powerful support of this House when we were making our moves in this direction. I am very glad to join him once more in appreciation of the attitudes of the Commission and of the Commissioner, Commissioner Brunner, and indeed, of Member States, who were themselves keen candidates for this joint venture. I also wish to join the noble Baroness in paying special praise to the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, for his contribution, especially on the technological level, in the attempt to secure this important centre for Britain.

We heard from my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones a fascinating speech, based on expertise and on the capacity to make scientific and technological matters clear to laymen. After all, he is not only a distinguished scientist; he is also a very eminent professor and teacher, and his experience in that field came to his aid today, as it often does. He reminded us that this is no nationalistic, nor indeed exclusively regional, matter. It is of world-wide importance, and he stressed the need for world-wide co-operation in these questions. He asked how close is the association between the Community and the Russian and the American scientific worlds, and I am very glad to assure him that there is frequent contact between United States, Soviet and Community scientists. As the noble Lord noted, the JET machine is in fact derived from a Soviet machine, named TOKAMAK. There has been frequent contact. I have no doubt that it will continue in the future, and that it will not unduly be disturbed by certain legalistic and other preoccupations which now concern us. Whatever happens in various countries, it is important that contact—individual and professional—should continue. It is when contact is broken off that the attempt to link human rights with scientific progress becomes increasingly difficult. So I join with my noble friend in welcoming this co-operation among the three groups of scientists, and I accept very much the phrase he used, that this matter, like everything in science and technology, is "for the world as a whole".

The noble Baroness complained in a mild and graceful way about what she called a delay of two years in obtaining this project for the United Kingdom. I do not think that she should be too impatient with our friends and allies in the Community. After all, they, too, were candidates for this important centre, and the fact that they went on fighting for two years to have the centre—in France, Italy or Germany—should not lead us in this House to complain. They were quite right to go on fighting for it, and it took quite two years to persuade them, through arguments of technology and otherwise, that Culham in Oxfordshire, in the United Kingdom, was overall the best site for the project. I do not consider that two years was too long to obtain this result.

As the noble Baroness said, the first stage is in hand. She quoted the financial aspect of the matter, and I think that that is substantially true. She raised the question of a European school and the arrangements for the payment of teachers there. I do not think that I should go into details about this. There are proposals only, and I am advised that Ministers have not yet reached decisions. However, I note very carefully what the noble Baroness said on this matter, and I think that that should be part of the consideration of Ministers as they approach a decision on the question. The school is of great importance. It would be a separate institution from JET itself, but it is essential to Culham, to the new giant undertaking, and certainly to the families who will be working in connection with Culham and who will be sending their children to school.

In thanking the House once more for the all-Party welcome which has been given to the order, and in assuring the noble Baroness that the points she has made will be borne in mind, I commend both orders to your Lordships' House.