HL Deb 13 December 1979 vol 403 cc1408-30

5.3 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of DURHAM rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have fully appreciated the multidimensional character of energy policy as set out in the Council for Science and Society report Deciding about energy policy, and if so what steps do they propose to take to ensure full public participation when making such policy decisions. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, the Question which stands in my name is about decision-making, not about energy policy as such. Your Lordships' House has already had a number of excellent debates on various aspects of energy policy and I have no wish to waste the time of the House in traversing familiar ground. There are, however, questions to be asked about how policy is made in a field as complex as this, one which has so many ramifications into so many aspects of civilised life and which demands a time-scale far longer than the time-scale of normal political processes.

The report to which my Question refers makes the point that the way policy is made is part of the policy itself. Decision procedures reflect assumptions about what has to be decided, and in particular decisions which are heavily dependent on forecasts may easily fail to escape from the assumptions built into those forecasts, which are themselves simply a reflection of what is already being done. It is thus possible to become trapped in a vicious circle of unexamined assumptions and the only way of escape is to ensure that genuine alternative policies are explored by those who genuinely believe in them and who are given the information and facilities to enable the exploration to be serious and thorough. This is to my mind the strongest argument for public debate and I am glad to recall the point made in the present Government's election manifesto that there will be— the fullest possible participation in major new decisions ". In this connection, I shall be interested to note in the reply to my Question whether the Government's intention, so we are told by this week's Press, to build 15 new nuclear power stations counts as a major new decision, and if so when we are to expect the fullest possible participation in making it. My main point, though, is that energy policy requires the fullest possible participation, not in order to placate the public, not because there are pressure groups which might otherwise create trouble, but because the only way of making sensible decisions which do not simply reflect the assumptions of those who ask the questions is to expose them to critical public discussion.

The Council for Science and Society, which produced the report, is not a pressure group; it is a body of distinguished scientists and others who try to look ahead at the ways in which scientific and technological issues interact with questions of social policy. One of its main concerns is to ensure that policy questions with a large scientific and technological component are not simply left to the experts. The dangers of this happening in energy policy are directly related to the complexity of some of the technical issues and the fact that some of the technical information on which sound decisions ought to be based is not easily available.

But these are not only technical issues. There are appallingly complex economic issues too, and social ones; issues of national and international growth and security; issues concerning personal and public risks; and very long-term issues which invite searching questions about what the report calls "our horizon of obligations ". No body and no Government department is expert in all these fields, yet they are all highly important, and what our report tries to do is to bring the many strands together and to show their interrelationship.

I must apologise for the jargon word "multi-dimensional ", but it is really the only one which makes the point. One of the basic insights of the report is that policy must necessarily deal with many factors which cannot all be measured on the same scale. This is one of the ways in which the Roskill Commission went wrong, in seeking to reduce all the factors in its inquiry to one dimension—money. The same thing could happen in energy policy if too much attention is paid to market factors and the sort of short-term differences between financial costs of energy as produced by different means.

Most practical problems are multidimensional, at least in the minimal sense, but multi-dimensional problems of the degree of complexity and importance and on the scale we are considering require rather special means of dealing with them if their multi-dimensional character is to be preserved, and the assumption underlying my Question is that our present means are inadequate.

I have no wish to weary the House by going through the criticisms already made of some of our present procedures for trying to ensure full public participation. The Windscale Inquiry has been subjected to detailed scrutiny and there seems widespread agreement that in some respects that inquiry has been found wanting, not least because its scope was limited. The phrase "salami politics "has been coined to describe this kind of decisionmaking—a slice here and a slice there, until the really controversial slice in the middle stands revealed as inevitable. So a decision about nuclear reprocessing, followed by a decision about a major expansion of fission reactors, could make the eventual case for the breeder reactor incontrovertible. The Belvoir inquiry seems likely to suffer from the same fault of having a limited scope.

I fully accept the conventional wisdom of trying to decide policy not in some grand, general way, but by concentrating on a particular project, in a particular place. But the trouble with that method is that, by the time a particular project is ready to trigger off an inquiry, and a particular place has been selected for the procedures to apply to, some of the major decisions have already been made. The commitment to the project, whatever it is, is already too great for a genuine alternative to be presented with any conviction. There is often a further problem, too: that in these highly technical spheres most of the available expertise and resources are to be found among those who are already committed to the project. So limited local inquiries have their shortcomings. But, if we go to the other end of the scale and try to make policy through some standing commission, or other high-level body of experts, the whole thing can easily become too remote from the actualities of decision-making.

If I may, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to another report, produced jointly by the Council for Science and Society, Justice and the Outer Circle Policy Unit. This proposes—and I quote the sub-title— A new procedure for the impartial investigation of projects with major national implications ". The report is entitled The Big Public Inquiry, and has already been the subject of a Question in another place. It uses as its major illustration the kind of procedures which might be appropriate in deciding whether or not to build a demonstration commercial fast reactor. Very briefly, it proposes a two-stage procedure for making general decisions about a specific project. This procedure would be preliminary to a normal local planning inquiry, which would then simply have to decide the particular issues concerning the actual place where the project might be sited. The first of the two preliminary stages would be investigative—a thorough exploration of the issues, with agreement between differing parties on the relevant questions, and a full sharing of information. The key to the idea is that when that investigative procedure had been completed no more information would be allowed in to upset the applecart at a later stage, unless genuinely new information became available; but there would be an equal sharing of the information on which decisions had to be based.

Then there would be a second, briefer phase—the adversarial phase, leading to a full exposure of the issues for eventual decision by Parliament. The method is set out in detail in the report, but I shall not expound it any further because it is not my purpose to commend this particular method. I simply want to make the point that other methods besides the ones at present used are perfectly feasible and might have great advantages over the present ones. In fact, in preparing for the debate I was interested to discover that the Town and Country Planning Association put forward very similar proposals, again with reference to the commercial fast reactor, very shortly after the end of the Windscale inquiry. They summed up in rather a nice sentence, which I wish to quote to your Lordships. They said: The whole wedge should be examined, not just the thin end ". My Lords, this is a subject on which it is possible to say a great deal, but I am aware of the pressures under which we are working. I am also aware that there are many here who know much more about the subject than I do. However, I hope that I have said enough to indicate that many different groups of people, people who are by no means all of one point of view, are looking anxiously to Her Majesty's Government for some indication of how these immensely difficult problems are going to be tackled.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, we are very much indebted to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for introducing this debate. He has done something which I should have thought was almost impossible; namely, started in your Lordships' House a debate on energy on an entirely new level, doing it in a way which I think your Lordships will appreciate because many of the debates we have had have necessarily been technical. They have dealt with the details of what sort of reactor we might consider suitable, with questions of whether solar energy or wave energy is the right source to use, or whether we should have coal, oil or whatever it may be. But the right reverend Prelate has rightly and wisely placed the emphasis upon the decision-making process, on how we look at these problems, and anyone who has been at all concerned with energy over the last few years—and in one way or another we all have—has, I am sure, been struck by the fact that we have as many different views as we have advocates of the different forms of energy. We can have all kinds of different ways of dealing with the matter, but when one listens to the arguments that are put forward one finds that almost invariably they are put forward on a technical plane which is very difficult for the ordinary person to follow and understand. Consequently, all of us tend to take a point of view and say, "Ah! nuclear energy is bad"; or, "The fast-breeder is the only conceivable solution"; or, "Let us rely upon solar energy".

But of course the fact is that it is impossible at any given time to state that there is only one form of energy to be used. It is quite impossible to say that any one of us can give an absolutely firm and definite answer. I have noticed frequently on TV that when experts have been asked to give their opinion—and they are very good experts; we have had people from places such as Windscale giving excellent evidence—they are obsessed with their own point of view, and that they are therefore inevitably judging matters from a standpoint which has already been decided by their background. I understand that the report to which the right reverend Prelate is drawing our attention is attempting to say that we ought to have proper discussion—discussion by everyone—but the experts ought to be expected to produce their evidence, not just as advocates of a particular cause but in order to present what they know so that the rest of us can consider and make our decisions. If this could be done, I believe there would be a very great advantage.

The right reverend Prelate has referred to the Windscale Report. I think it is perfectly clear that that type of inquiry is extremely expensive, is time-consuming, and does not really do the job that we want done. You still have to have the decisions made outside such an inquiry. That type of inquiry is not the best way to get at all the facts. But, my Lords, if we look at other countries we do not find that the position is any better. The American position is not at all good, and the recent Kemeny Report has revealed the complete inadequacy of the controls in that country. I have no doubt, knowing the Americans, that they will take all steps to remedy that, and to get a very much better procedure. But the fact is that they have gone ahead with a vast programme based on inadequate discussion, on very little knowledge of the details of what can take place, and with a tendency on the part of the experts to dismiss all criticism before they know whether or not that criticism is valid. This is something which we cannot afford to have happen in regard to an energy policy.

We are embarking now, apparently, on a large energy policy. I have no doubt that the noble Earl will be able to enlighten us later on as to whether this policy is as indicated in the Press. If so, then it seems to me that, as the right reverend Prelate suggested, there is a very good case for a proper participation and inquiry into the matter, because the programme which is talked about is one involving the use of the pressurised water reactor. The pressurised water reactor has a record of poor success, to put it mildly, almost all over the world. It is true that it has been extremely powerfully sold, but it has not been a high success. In fact, I am told that a great deal of effort has had to be used in the United States of America by their nuclear industry in order to patch up the defects of the pressurised water reactors.

France is banking on the pressurised water reactor. I was over there at the beginning of September, and spent two days looking at their nuclear energy programme. Frankly, I was rather appalled. It seemed to me that they had gone ahead in a way which was extremely risky. They were planning to build 45-gigawatt reactors by 1985, commissioning five a year. No country has ever done such a thing. The Kemeny Report in America reveals that one of the biggest troubles that they had at Three Mile Island was an inadequately trained staff to operate the reactors, apart from the fact that there were faults in the reactors. I find it difficult to believe that the French will succeed in training enough people to commission five reactors a year. It is a mighty task; no other country has ever done it.

My Lords, these are technical details, and I do not wish to go into the technical side because I think that the importance of the Question which has been asked by the right reverend Prelate is that he asks for policy consideration. My Lords, policy consideration is something which naturally involves finding the right sort of machinery, and the right reverend Prelate has referred to one type of machinery. I wonder whether we could think of another possible type. I throw out the suggestion. I cannot pretend that I have thought it out in detail, but your Lordships' House has decided that it will set up a Select Committee on Science and Technology. Such a committee would in effect be a sort of Standing Royal Commission, and there is no reason why such a committee should not undertake as part of its work the steady and continuous examination of the problems of energy.

My Lords, if this were done, it would have the advantage that it would use a number of Members of your Lordships' House well qualified to help in the investigation; it would have the right to call evidence from civil servants and industry; and I believe it would be using the time of your Lordships' House in a very profitable way to do a very serious job, a job of great importance. Of course, if this were done it would not be the whole story. I would regard this as just a beginning because I believe that to follow out further what has been proposed in this booklet we must also have continuous relations with people throughout the whole country. It is not just enough for a group of people to sit here in Whitehall and reach decisions, however excellent they are, unless they can go out, or can send people out, to discuss with people all round the country, where-ever proposals with regard to energy are being considered, and to have informed discussion. I am told that in Canada they are doing something of this sort, and I would suggest that we might give consideration to this matter.

I do not want to detain your Lordships any further; I merely want once more to thank the right reverend Prelate for what he has said and for introducing this debate. I hope very much that the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, will be able to give us some sort of reassurance that the Government will look at new methods of consultation and participation.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for asking what is a very timely Question concerning public debate. I believe that the report, Deciding about energy policy, produced by the CSS, is a very helpful one. It will be a handbook for all energy spokesmen, and a useful tool for public debate. I was particularly impressed by its objectivity and by the way the evidence was given. The authority of the distinguished contributors to it makes this a worthwhile book to be used at seminars and at public discussions similar to those that the Bishop of Brecon and Swansea, as my noble friend Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran has just informed me, carried out successfully a year ago at Cardiff, where he was rapporteur.

We on these Benches are in some difficulty regarding the general tenor of this debate, because I had hoped to pursue the line of questioning started in the last debate on this subject on 20th November, and it is with some regret that I have not received a reply to the rather fundamental questions which were then put forward from these Benches regarding the Government's position on energy policy and the particular areas which I specified. I therefore think it is appropriate that I do not continue with this line of questioning until I hear from the noble Earl in more detail about the Government's position, but should perhaps concentrate on some of the moral issues which energy policy raises which, to my knowledge, have not been discussed before.

My Lords, the subject matter of this debate is that there should be full public participation in making policy decisions regarding energy. The Liberal Party supports this now, as it has always done; but one has to ask: if a Member of your Lordships' House has difficulty in obtaining what amounts to fairly basic information, what chance has an ordinary member of the public got to obtain similar information in order to take an intelligent part in public discussions on energy matters of the kind referred to by the right reverend Prelate? Proper information must be made available if the term "public debate or inquiry" is to have any meaning at all, and the withholding of it, or the apparent inaccessibility of it, often leaves doubts and creates fears in areas where none should exist at all. It is because of this that my honourable friend in another place and others have put before Parliament the Freedom of Information Bill. If this is successful in passing through Parliament, then there will be an opportunity and a greater chance for members of the public to have a right of access to this information, which apparently is so difficult to get—and I shall come on to this point a little later.

The noble Earl is on record as saying that the nuclear question may become the burning issue of the 1980s; and I am inclined to agree with him. But at present there is so much mystery surrounding the nuclear business, or its presentation is of such a complex nature, that many misunderstandings and unnecessary fears have arisen around it. This does not mean to say that there is not very real concern about the hazards and the methods of safety in nuclear power generation. We believe that full public debate and discussion will resolve a lot of these issues that are worrying people today, provided that it takes place quickly. The nuclear industry has yet to prove conclusively, through a public inquiry, that it is capable of raising the temperature of water above boiling point without endangering the health and safety of present or future generations. I have every confidence that if a public inquiry is instigated the nuclear industry can provide this proof, not only on its past record but on its future intentions.

This debate initiated today by the right reverend Prelate does give us an opportunity to resolve what, for me, is more a moral problem than any other. Those individuals and organisations generally opposed to nuclear power have indicated on occasions that there may be something different about suffering injury, death or bereavement as a result of a nuclear accident as opposed to that arising in any other industry. I personally cannot distinguish between those 10,000 families in Gujurat or the 2,000 in Northern Italy who suffered loss, injury or bereavement through the bursting of a hydro-electric dam and those very few families who have suffered similar tragedies from accidents arising through the nuclear power industry. This is a straight moral issue as I see it; and it would be most helpful if perhaps on some later occasion the right reverend Prelate could state whether he makes, or can make, a distinction on any grounds whatsoever between the effects of accidents that could occur in the nuclear industry and those that have occurred outside it.

My Lords, there is one particular part of the report to which I should like to draw attention. It is that part which mentions (in Part III Section 17) the carbon dioxide problem and its potential effects on the global weather system. I am delighted from these Benches that this has been recognised as something that should be considered in all energy policies at an international level, where it belongs. There is further reference in the same section to the environmental damage due to sulphur and dirt from the conversion of fossil fuels. We entirely agree with the report that similar monitoring of these sources at atmospheric pollution should he maintained at the same level as that of the monitoring of the nuclear processes.

My noble friend Lord Thurso made mention of this on the last occasion that we discussed the matter in this House. This aspect of fossil fuel pollution was highlighted in a recent article entitled "Acid Rain" in the October edition of Scientific American. The article goes into some depth about the problem created by tall chimney stacks pumping sulphur and other noxious chemicals into the upper atmosphere. It is disturbing to learn that the sulphur emissions from one copper/nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, amounted to 1 per cent. of the total annual emissions throughout the world. These emissions equal the amount emitted by all the volcanoes in the world in any one year.

Industrial units of this type can avoid local anti-pollution Acts by dumping their pollutants into the upper air stream, when they are then carried thousands of miles across the ocean on to the land mass of Europe. It may be of interest to the right reverend Prelate that perhaps the defacement of the figures on the western facade of Wells Cathedral could, in some part, be due to the acid rain carried across the Atlantic from emissions arising on the other side. It occurs to me that perhaps the right reverend Prelate may conduct an interesting study, through the good offices of the Church of England, to discover whether, if similar acid attacks occur on the stonework of the churches, they occur more on those buildings which face the Atlantic airstream than on those which are subject to winds from other points of the compass. I have a feeling that micro-analysis of the raindrops, if proved to have originated from the other side of the Atlantic, could have interesting implications under international law.

This raises another moral question. Is there any difference between the skipper of a marine vessel which dumps oil outside territorial waters and through wind and tide pollutes the shores of another country, and a fossil-based industry or power station which dumps its polluting chemicals into the upper atmosphere so that they fall outside the national boundaries and legislation of the country of origin?

The same article to which I have referred goes on to show that industry and power generation in the United Kingdom may also be responsible for acid rain and other environmental problems in countries as far away as Finland, Sweden and Norway.

I have attempted to obtain confirmation of this from the CEGB. However, I have not been successful; but there were indications of classified internal reports, instigated by the CEGB, which contain evidence of atmospheric emissions and potential health hazards created by fossil-fuel-burning electricity stations. Perhaps the noble Earl can confirm the existence of such reports and advise me whether they will be available for public access; or, if not, whether they will be released and the information contained in them be given to the general public for the inquiries envisaged by the right reverend Prelate. I ask this simply because there is a possibility that the CEGB may not wish to increase its generation costs by being forced to install more scrubbers or cleaners on its chimneys than are absolutely necessary. If the nuclear debate is to have any meaning and comparative costs are to be made between, say, the PWR and fossil-fuel generation at the turn of the century, then both sources of power generation must maintain the same high health and safety standards and all the costs that go with it.

Finally, my Lords, I come to the question of conservation and the need for public awareness. As I have said before, it is impossible to implement a successful conservation policy unless the general public is made conscious of a need for it. For instance, from a recent survey in the United States, it would appear that 120 million people (that is, more than half the population) were not aware that the United States imported more than 50 per cent. of its oil requirements. Therefore, and understandably, they see no need for conservation or to accept increases in the retail cost of refined petroleum products. Closer to home, I wonder, if a similar survey were taken in this country, what percentage of the population would know that from the evidence available so far the United Kingdom will become again a net importer of oil by the 1990s. We believe that the Government have an urgent task ahead to inform the public of as many of these facts as possible if they are to obtain the co-operation required for the implementation of a successful conservation policy.

As has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, discussions with scientists who are knowledgeable on the subject must form part of this information process. The difficulty is that in the past scientists, in the same way as experts, have been more fallible than articulate. Their difficulty has been to communicate with non-scientists. This is a challenge to the science section, so to speak, of the energy industry. They somehow have got to overcome the restrictions that they have put upon themselves before now, and manage to communicate to the general public, without losing their integrity, some of their fears and some of their assertions, in order that the public debate is not to be based on the wrong foundations.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, my speech is going to be disjointed because there are several matters which I wish to mention briefly, but I should be able to do this in well within 10 minutes. First, I should like to support the view that the public at large should be brought into the energy debate. This does not mean more public inquiries: they are expensive and I think a waste of time, partly because they are usually dominated by extremists who decide emotionally what they feel and then look round for one-sided arguments to support their view. What is wanted is a continuous dialogue so that when the Government have to make a decision it will be seen against an informed background.

I do not want to discuss nuclear power today but I should like to repeat three things that I have said previously. The energy picture must be looked at worldwide. Whatever economies we make here or in the West, the demand for energy by developing countries will increase; consequently, so will that of the world as a whole. The use of oil does not require high technology. It is therefore better if, as far as possible, the West makes economies on oil and uses nuclear power, thus leaving more of the oil to the developing nations. This philosophy has the added advantage that nuclear power would be safer in the hands of the developed countries.

I have some sympathy with the Governments who are being prodded to adopt alternative energy sources. At present it is too early to decide which horse to back. However, this is no excuse for doing nothing, particularly in the energy con- servation field. I was amazed to find out from the Answer to a recent Starred Question that the Government have no immediate plans for improving the standards of insulation in new houses. They are still considering and consulting. The reasons for this are, I imagine, threefold. In the first place, the number of new houses which are being built is a very small percentage of all our existing stock, and therefore for a long time the possible energy saving is correspondingly small. But this applies to almost all possible economies.

Secondly, any increase in housing prices, however small, is unwelcome politically, particularly at this time. Thirdly, the building trade as a whole is not yet geared up to build better insulated houses. There is one champion, fat red-herring about increased condensation. This is just not a problem for any degree of improved insulation which might be considered by the Government; in fact, the reverse is true. The reason, presumably, why this is mentioned is that condensation can increase if ventilation is reduced beyond a certain point. I should like to say much more on this point, but I hope I have said enough to convince you that, at the very least, the Government ought to announce their intention of bringing in improved standards of insulation for houses.

Lastly, I should like to deal with district heating from power stations. I had an Unstarred Question down on this subject but was persuaded to withdraw it because of the lateness of the hour. The Government have seen what I was intending to say and I have read the Minister's proposed reply. However, I should like to mention the subject briefly today. It is a potential winner in energy saving, but its implementation is difficult. In rather simple terms, the argument for it is as follows. The efficiency of an electric power generating station is only about 35 per cent. Apart from a comparatively small amount of heating loss to the boiler chimney, the rest goes out with the condenser cooling water. This waste heat could be used for district heating. If it is taken at a high enough temperature to be directly useful for district heating, the efficiency of electrical generation declines. Nevertheless, the overall saving in energy is likely to he of the order of 30 per cent.; in other words, we should need only one ton of coal instead of 1.40 tons to provide the same useful energy output compared with separate electricity generation and separate district heating.

District heating is relatively common in other countries: for example, it provides around one quarter of domestic heating in Denmark and Sweden; and in the latter country 60 per cent. of this comes from electricity generating plant. We have had at least two high-level reports on the subject, both favourable. A major difficulty is that at present it is very costly to dig up the streets in an existing urban area to provide heat distribution mains, and to be worth while a large urban population is needed.

I say again to the Minister that further ink and brain power should not be spent on in vacuo studies. What is needed is action to see where such a scheme could reasonably be introduced, now or in the future. The siting of new power stations and district heating for new conurbations should be considered in this context. Perhaps the loss of efficiency in a smaller power station might be acceptable. I am not saying that economic studies are not needed for each case, but I maintain that they should be made only in the context of finding a solution. Bearing in mind that several Ministries are involved in this matter, might it not be a good subject for the new House of Lords Committee on Science and Technology? My Lords, I am sorry that I have rather rushed through that speech; but I have managed to make it in seven minutes.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I shall try to emulate the noble Viscount. I should like to thank the right reverend Prelate for giving us this debate and in particular for drawing the attention of the House—and I hope giving it much wider publicity—to this excellent study by the Council for Science and Society. They have done something I have been anxious should be done for a great many years. I mean that it is excellent. It is informative and one can turn to it like a handbook to get information on the present status of various alternative sources as well as nuclear energy, oil and coal. By and large, I accept the evaluations of the existing status. I would add that that status might be changed if Government policy is to direct a great deal more rigours towards energy projects. The study has been badly needed in a situation in which decision about energy policy has been singularly inept.

The credentials of the study group are impeccable. It is an interdisciplinary group, so it encompasses not only the knowledge and insight of scientists in the energy field, but those of social scientists, environmentalists and others. It spells out scientific facts and covers alternative sources. So one can turn to it as a very responsible handbook on what we are talking about.

I am not going to deal with the technicalities, like the noble Viscount. I would be highly tempted to deal with some of them to advertise my particular interest. But I am not going to deal with the technicalities, I am going to address myself—as we should be doing in this debate—to the purpose of the study itself, the decision-making process. I say this with great confidence in your Lordships' House, which I regard—whatever people outside may think about it as the House of the past—as the House of the future. I keep on repeating that it is the House of the future and we are responsible trustees for posterity. The other House has too many preoccupations and the Government are too much preoccupied with the urgencies and the exigencies of the day. We here can at least take up the longer term.

This is what the report says: Let the policy-makers make their decisions with all the authority with which they are invested—but only in the limelight of the widest possible debate on all relevant aspects of the subject based on the best information available ". It points out: Energy is one of the most difficult problems facing modern industrial democracies: how to reach decisions on matters which are technically sophisticated and complex and which yet deeply affect entire populations over whole generations. In this respect, our political processes have failed to keep pace with the rapid advances of technology itself ". I want to say very strongly myself that Homo faber, Man the Maker, has out- stripped his alter ego, Homo Sapiens, Thinking Man, and that the divergence is now becoming alarming. Societal man and his social managerial institutions are completely ineffective; so we are diverging from what man is capable of doing in material terms and potentially destructive terms, and at the same time the institutions by which we should be judging and managing are falling behind.

That is why there is this widespread concern among the public. They are aware of this. They think they are not being brought in sufficiently, not just for consultation but they believe that somehow technology is running away with them and with us. That is why we have the increasing care, which I am delighted to see, about the quality of life. This is one of the choices in decision making; what is the quality of the life we are putting at risk and how shall we enhance or protect it? Why do we have these protest movements? Why do we demand, and properly demand, environmental impact inquiries? We shall go on having demonstrations like those at Torness about building the gigantic nuclear power station. I assure the right reverend Prelate that if we are going to have 14 nuclear power stations we are going to have a lot more demonstrations before people are reassured.

What is happening—and it has been happening, I should say, since the end of the war—is that the public at large do not trust the experts. At one time a scientist was vested with great authority. He was objective, he was a realist and what he told you was presumably the best of his knowledge. But that is no longer true; I assure your Lordships that it is no longer true. That is why we have to rehabilitate, through processes we are discussing here, the scientists. Today, the public, by and large, in all these debates and in any part of the world—and I have taken part in debates in many parts of the world—regards the scientists as interested parties and as hired spokesmen who, if they do not positively pervert the facts, prevaricate. The public do not feel—this was demonstrated by the nature of the inquiry—that they are getting from the experts, from the authorities and from the expert witnesses the insight on which they should be basing their judgments.

This is in fact a very serious problem, because I have talked in this House before about the nature of nuclear superstitions and how the whole thing happened. We have these natural—I say "natural "—misgivings, amounting to superstition. about the unseen, the untasted, the unsmelt, the unfelt, the all-pervading. The only answer to any superstitition is the rational facts. If the repositories of the rational facts are not trusted and if the scientists are not believed, how on earth can you blame anyone for being "superstious ", and indeed putting obstacles in the way of what the programme should be?

The other point is—I can demonstrate this factually at great length—that so much of what we have been receiving in the way of technological justification not only in the nuclear fields but in many other fields as well, has been ignorance masquerading as knowledge: that is to say, the experts have not admitted that they do not know. They have proceeded on assumptions from the base on which they started, and we have finished up either with disasters or with incidents such as the fall-out from the H-bomb, so that we have ended up with a complete discrediting of the experts. Claude Bernard said, over a century ago: True science teaches us to doubt and in ignorance to refrain ". He was not saying that science should be discouraged but that wisdom would demand that advancing from one new discovery to beyond another was like venturing into an uncharted minefield with a mine detector and making sure of every foothold. That is all we ask—that we make sure of every foothold. We want public assurance and we do not want bed-time stories.

We have heard very much about overkill in the military field, but we are also now seeing possible overkill in peaceful uses. That sort of thing we want in the judgment and policymaking: we want to be quite sure that we really do need more and more nuclear reactors. I am not now discussing the merits of reactors, but I am discussing this quantitatively, as to whether they are necessary. We get the word from the interested parties—oh yes, we get the word. What is discussed in this report is the need for all the options to be deployed; not just to encourage or determine the cost, and so on, but also to build in these guarantees of quality as against quantity.

This is a very important subject. I want to support the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones, that here at least we have a handbook that we should put on the table as an example to the new Select Committee, when we get it. We will not be in that great public debate, but at least we will be the people who will be able to judge and determine what in fact is required and what is to be fed into the hopper of public discussion.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I too, am indebted to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for drawing our attention to this admirable report by the Council for Science and Society. Perhaps I should say, as no one else has mentioned it and he himself was too modest to do so, that the right reverend Prelate was a member of the distinguished body which composed the report. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, that it is a good study, thought-provoking, objective and full of fresh insights into what has become in recent years a very live subject.

The Government are keenly aware, to use the jargon, of the "multi-dimensional nature of energy policy ", and the issues raised in this report are very much the continuing concern of the Department of Energy. We find ourselves in agreement with the CSS in a number of important areas, although there are some areas where we might differ. Nevertheless, it is an important study and I commend the group for their impartial and objective analysis of the energy problem and the energy policy-making process.

Of course, we believe that wider discussion about energy issues is important. It is also important that discussions are well informed and constructive. The Department encourages the dissemination of information relevant to important energy issues, and our record in this area is good. There is today a wide range of Energy Papers and Fact Sheets on which the public may draw. For example, if I may say this in response to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, about 40 Energy Papers have been published to date, covering such areas as energy research and development, conservation, combined heat and power—which I know is of special interest to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth—and energy policy generally. They are all available, and I have a list of them here which I shall be very happy to make available to any noble Lord. As another example, the Department has recently published Energy Projections 1979. These projections examine energy supply and demand prospects to the year 2000. They do not represent the results of Government policy decisions—these will depend on decisions to be taken progressively as we see how the projections turn out between now and the end of the century—but they do, at least, represent a suitable backdrop against which individual decisions can be made.

The only thing that I was perhaps a little surprised about in the debate was the feeling that the debate is not taking place. I am very sure that it is, as I said under the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy a few weeks ago, and I am of course equally sure that it will continue. I am glad to be able to back up my feelings on that point by noting that the Council for Science and Society itself, acknowledges that the energy debate in the United Kingdom is as open and as well informed as in any country in the world This is partly a reflection on our democratic institutions, but I suggest that it may also be due in part to the importance that we in the Government place on encouraging wider debate about energy issues generally. And whatever you may feel about the Government's views, I do not think that television, the newspapers, the mass media generally or Parliament itself would ever let this debate lie down or go away.

The right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, asked about the Government's plans for nuclear power and referred to reports that we were intending to build 15 nuclear power stations. To some degree, this debate, like the debate of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, has fallen—useful as we have found it—at a slightly unfortunate time, because, as I undertook to say to the House under the Motion of my noble friend two or three weeks ago, the Government were very much nearing their decisions on their nuclear policy.

They have now reached those decisions—I have, in fact, seen them, which puts me in an awkward position tonight—but I am sure the House understands that it will be very difficult for me from this Box to be as informative as I should like, before my right honourable friend the Secretary of State makes his announcement in another place. I can say that if your Lordships wish it I will, of course, repeat in this House my right honourable friend's Statement when it is made, and your Lordships will all have the pleasure of grilling me on this difficult subject at that time.


My Lords, will the noble Earl forgive me for intervening? Does that mean that he is likely to be able to do it before the Recess?


My Lords, I think on balance that that is the likelihood. Of course, our policy of nuclear power will have to be announced through Parliament and not through the Press by methods of leaking. We are going to make the Statement shortly. I know, however, that all through the consultations which have built up to this Statement, the Secretary of State attached the greatest importance to full public and continuing discussion of the issues, and the need to ensure that the appropriate information is publicly available.

But I would say to everybody—I do not want to cast any ambiguity or doubt here—that decisions of some kind or other have to be made, and decisions in this field will always be controversial. In our society, these decisions are based on the principle of the buck stopping on the desk of the Government of the day, but that does not, of course, preclude what was expressed in a useful phrase by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, that what is wanted is continuous dialogue, so that when the Government do make an informed decision it can be seen against that continuous background.

A remark was made about the Three Mile Island incident. The Secretary of State has asked the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the Central Electricity Generating Board for their assessments of the implications of the Kemeny Report on the Three Mile Island accident for the United Kingdom, and those reports will be published. Clearly, the lessons to be learned from the accident will need to be taken into account in any safety assessment of a pressure water reactor for the United Kingdom. As I say, there will be full public debate about that and that will be published shortly.

I am also grateful to the right reverend Prelate for drawing the attention of the House to a second report by the CSS, The Big Public Inquiry. The House will be aware that the Government have already made it clear—I made it clear in the debate of my noble friend Lord Campbell—that any decision to build a commercial demonstration fast reactor in the United Kingdom would be subject to a full public inquiry. The timing and nature of such an inquiry is one of the important issues which the Government will now need to consider.

The safety record of our civil nuclear industry has, I think, been outstanding. During 22 years of operation, no accidents have occurred at commercial nuclear power stations that have given rise to significant public hazard, and there is no evidence that any injury has been caused by radiation from a nuclear power station in the United Kingdom.


My Lords, I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I would say that there was concern over Windscale. I should not like to develop it because of the time, but I would include Windscale.

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, I am aware that that is the case. I was dealing with the question of nuclear power generation, which does not cover Windscale. But I take the noble Lord's point. The noble Viscount, Lord Han-worth, raised the issue of home insulation. I rather agree with him about this, but of course there is a strong incentive to insulate one's home through the pricing mechanism. That still seems to us to be the best, and it is of course perfectly possible to insulate homes in existing stock.

I have recently taken charge within my department of issues concerned with the new technologies. I can say to the noble Viscount that it seems to me that this is a very fruitful area for monitoring devices based on the chip, to tell us how well our homes are being insulated and, above all, what their lack of insulation is costing us day by day. So I think that pricing is an important factor there.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, returning to a very favourite theme of mine on these occasions, mentioned, in his good phrase, the nature of nuclear superstition. I think we all recognise, though, that adequate and secure energy supplies are essential in a modern society; so essential that we have to overcome any superstition. Our self-sufficiency in energy is not expected to last beyond the next decade. On present prospects, North Sea oil and gas will be declining in the 1990s and we shall face a rapidly changing energy outlook. The department's projections suggest a substantial gap between demand and indigenous supply by the end of the century. Even after making allowance for a major expansion of nuclear power, they indicate an energy import requirement in the year 2000 that could be between 20 million and 70 million tonnes of oil, at a time when oil supplies in international markets are expected to become increasingly scarce and expensive. The cost to the balance of payments of such imports could be between £2½ billion and £8½ billion at today's prices. Without nuclear power, the figures could be much higher; I did say on the last occasion that we have to run a mixed economy in respect of energy, and that of course covers coal as well as oil, nuclear power and gas.

We cannot, in my view, afford to take the risks to our society involved in not having nuclear power and—what may be insufficiently widely known and I welcome this opportunity to publicise it—we have, of course, been operating a nuclear power policy in energy generation for nearly a quarter of a century, as things stand at the moment. Our commitment to increased nuclear capacity is total and so, I understand, is that of the Opposition. But that does not preclude the need for continuing public debate and reassurance which, as I said, in any case is going to happen, but which we have had a fruitful example of this evening.