HL Deb 08 February 1984 vol 447 cc1137-9

2.47 p.m.

The Duke of Portland

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what has been the cost of the Sizewell inquiry so far, and what proportion of these costs was legal fees; and whether the Government consider that these costs have been fully justified.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy (The Earl of Avon)

My Lords, costs up to 31st December 1983 falling to my department were some £218,000. Other costs incurred to the same date in running the inquiry and recoverable from CEGB under an agreement with the board totalled some £077,000. This latter figure includes legal fees for the retention of counsel to act on behalf of the inspector, but it is not the Treasury Solicitor's practice to disclose fees paid to individual counsel. Costs incurred by parties to the inquiry including the CEGB are a matter for them and are not included in this total.

The Duke of Portland

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Apart from the question of cost, is my noble friend the Minister satisfied that the setting up of an inquiry of this nature serves a worthwhile purpose? If so, what purpose is envisaged?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the Government accepted the need for a full and wide-ranging inquiry into the important issues raised by this consent application.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Earl can answer one or two questions. First, bearing in mind that there is a spare capacity in electricity supply in England of 30 per cent., and in the south of Scotland of 100 per cent., is it really necessary to build a PWR and to have this inquiry at all? Can he say that the reports that it will cost the CEGB £10 million and more for the inquiry are correct? Thirdly, could he comment on the apparent view of the CEGB that the result of the inquiry is a foregone conclusion since the board has already ordered parts from France and elsewhere to build a PWR?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the question of capacity is being considered by the inquiry at the moment and it is not for me to comment upon that. The costs for the CEGB are a matter for the board, and no doubt at the end of the inquiry we shall be able to find out what they are. As to the expenses of £12 million to which the noble Lord referred, and which was announced by the CEGB over the last weekend, this is at their own risk. The CEGB's commercial judgment is that the cost of delay outweighed the financial risk of consent not being given. In no way does this affect the outcome of the inquiry or the CEGB's judgment.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, will my noble friend not agree that whatever the surplus of capacity available now, unless it is replaced (since it is ageing) by the end of the century, we shall run into blackouts of the 1947 scale by the year 2000?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I do not want to be drawn into this argument as it is part of the inquiry.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, in so important a quasi-judicial proceeding of such magnitude, is it any cause for surprise that legal fees should constitute an appreciable proportion of the total cost? Is there not compensating benefit to the inquiry from the increased clarity and cogency which it is hoped will come from the presentation by trained advocates? Would my noble friend undertake to turn a deaf ear to any siren voices which may in the future urge him to deny or curtail the right of the parties to invoke such presentation?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, indeed, it is the Government's wish that the parties should state their case. I take the noble Lord's point on board.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, are not the individual objectors at a great disadvantage in these inquiries? With all due deference to what has been said, would not the inquiry be shortened, cheapened—and very often the result be much better—if lawyers were forbidden to take part in them?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, one always appreciates in this House both sides of the view.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is it not the case that when planning law was first introduced in this country, nobody in either House of Parliament dreamed that there would ever be lawyers at inquiries?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I was not around at that moment and I do not wish to comment.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Earl whether his attention has been drawn to a recent article in Time magazine which stated that experience in the United States has shown that in many cases the cost of light water reactors has exceeded by a factor of 10 the originally estimated cost, and whether he is satisfied that, if we were to embark on such projects in the United Kingdom, we would not have a similar experience?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, whereas I have not looked at the magazine article to which the noble Lord referred—I never seem to get past the cover—on the other hand, I am sure that the CEGB have taken into account all the problems which were suffered in the United States.

The Duke of Portland

My Lords, on average, how many members of the public attend the Sizewell inquiry each day?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, my understanding is that it is very small, but I have not been there to count.