Skip to main content

Clause 1

Volume 928: debated on Monday 21 March 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Government Guarantee Of Companies' Borrowing, Etc

5.58 p.m.

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (2).

With this it will be convenient to discuss Amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 18, at end insert—

'() The specified circumstances mentioned in subsection (2) above shall be those set out by the Secretary of State by order (made by statutory instrument and subject to negative resolution by the House of Commons) within six months of the coming into force of this Act.'

In the view of the Liberal Party, in many ways this provision is the whole guts of and certainly refers to the real controversy in this Bill. We as a party for some time have been gradually increasing our doubts about the wisdom of a number of aspects of nuclear power, and this subsection refers to the issue which disturbs us most at the moment.

As it stands, the clause in effect gives permission to the British nuclear fuel industry to make guarantees to overseas customers to repay them sums of money which they will advance to us for the building of the reprocessing plant at Windscale. Our basic and fundamental objection is that this seems a rather peculiar way of legislating—making guarantees for sums of money for a project which is the subject of a public inquiry at the moment.

It is our view that the decision on reprocessing is a political one, but one that we hope will be based on the facts. Until a public inquiry has taken place, we do not believe that there are sufficient facts available on which to base the decision.

6.0 p.m.

We wish to remove this subsection so that when the House does discuss the matter it will be better informed about the arguments for and against a nuclear reprocessing plant at Windscale. The real worry of the Liberal Party in relation to reprocessing is the increased chances of the proliferation of plutonium throughout the world, particularly in countries without access to that substance.

When this matter was debated in Committee we asked the Minister just how a guarantee could be made that the plutonium could be kept under lock and key, so to speak. We asked for an assurance that tremendous efforts would be made to ensure that the "book-keeping" on plutonium was such that it could not be taken by a third party on an illegal basis.

The scientists believe that the best bookkeeping they can do on this matter would give an error of about 2 per cent. The charge of plutonium required for a single fast breeder reactor is of the order of 1·1 tonnes. Two per cent. of 1·1 tonnes means that for a single charge for a single fast breeder reactor the accuracy of the bookkeeping is plus or minus 22 kilograms. People who are experts suggest that the minimum quantity of plutonium needed for any nuclear weapon is 6 kilograms. Therefore, it would appear that the maximum error which would not be detected would be the disappearance of 20 kilograms of plutonium. No one would know, yet that would be enough to make three weapons.

Far larger quantities of plutonium at this moment are being generated in thermal reactors. The average charge for a thermal reactor is 25 tonnes of uranium 253 and 238. Even when that particular reaction stops, the vast bulk of what is left in the reactor is uranium 235 and 238. Out of the original 25 tonnes I understand that about 24 tonnes are left. The only reason why reprocessing is considered at that particular stage is that it is no longer possible to make the pile go critical. In other words, reaction stops.

That reminds me of a simple physics experiment that many of us performed at school. Two different plates were put in acid and as a result a bulb lit up. When the bulb went out the reason was the oxidisation of the plates. The particular skill involved here is making sure that the chemical reaction does not foul itself up. So it is with thermal reactors. After a period of about two years the reaction stops because the by-product of the reaction is such that in effect it can no longer be started up.

If one reprocessed 25 tonnes of two sorts of uranium and the by-products, one could release the uranium and presumably use it again. It is the by-products that are really crucial. Even on one charge of one nuclear reactor there are 250 to 350 kilograms of plutonium. It is the belief of many people, including the Liberal Party, that reprocessing on the scale envisaged by some will make available to the world very large quantities of plutonium in a relatively short period. It will not just be the plutonium from the fast breeder reactors to which I have referred, but there will be substantial quantities also from the thermal reactors.

The Bill, if implemented, will mean that the overseas contract, about which so much is being said in the Press, will begin the process towards extraction of these materials. The particular guarantee most likely to come to fruition in the near future is the one from Japan. This is a guarantee against a sum of £400 million offered by the Japanese Government as an advance payment to British Nuclear Fuels Limited to build the reprocessing plant. A lot of questions are being asked about the guarantees in these circumstances.

If the plant does not get planning permission, the Japanese will get their money back, and no one would dispute that. If the plant is built and is discovered not to function for numerous reasons, the Japanese will not have their money returned. Some questions have been asked about the right of the Japanese and other overseas countries to information giving the precise technical reasons why the plant had failed and they had lost their £400 million. The assurance was given that they would have no right to any technical information as they would not be involved in any technical decisions in building the project. I can never recollect Governments overseas showing such remarkable generosity with such a large sum of money. The Japanese are desperate to get reprocessing out of their own country, not least because the plant they are trying to build does not seem to work.

The third possibility is of the plant being half built with the Japanese money, and the Americans then using their power to ban the transfer of what was their uranium 235 and 238 to third countries. The vast bulk of uranium came originally from America and in the contracts under which they sold to other countries there was the power to say "No" to that country selling or transferring the uranium to third countries.

I am told that a combination of the various groups on 9th March petitioned the United States Energy Research and Development Administration in what is called a rule-making hearing at which discussions about the re-processing of nuclear fuel originate in the United States. As recently as last year the Ford Administration introduced temporary bans on the transfer of such fuels from Japan and Spain to Windscale. That ban was rescinded, but there is a good possibility—and a few people think a likelihood—that the ban will be reimposed, and therefore the Japanese will not be allowed to send the material to the United Kingdom in any case.

In that event what will happen to the £400 million? The Government must have applied their mind to this question. Will the Americans pay damages if certain decisions are taken? That is hardly a possibility. Will Britain return to Japan the money lent to us, money that we have already spent, or will Japan take the view that that money will be lost?

There is enormous anxiety in the United States over the subject of reprocessing in Western Europe, mainly at Windscale and in France. We all know that very great efforts have been made by the United States and indeed by ourselves to stop the spread of plutonium. If the material to which I have referred is released from what is left in the reactor, enormous quantities of this material will exist and it will be available for people to use almost as they choose.

I have tried to outline in brief the proliferation problem. It is not only a matter of third or fourth countries obtaining this material. I am told that, given a source of plutonium, any country could obtain the services of nuclear advisers and out of that material make a bomb. That is one important side of the proliferation question. Tht other aspect that worries me equally is what will happen if guerrillas in any country manage to obtain a small quantity of this material and use it in guerrilla warfare in a way that the world has not yet experienced.

The main argument advanced in favour of this form of nuclear reprocessing is on the lines "If we do not do it, somebody else will." That has been the defence of the prostitute over the centuries. I do not dismiss that argument out of hand, but experience leads us to think differently. The United States has built two or three reprocessing plants within the last decade, every one of them has been shut down, and the losses have been enormous. The Japanese have been trying to do their own reprocessing and their plant does not work. The plant leaks and cannot be used.

The only people who appear to have a plant working on any scale are the French. They have already entered into commitments extending that equipment to the maximum capacity. There is little likelihood of the French building enough equipment to grab all the contracts, if I may put it that way.

It is nonsense for the House to approve these borrowing powers when the project to which the expenditure refers is in the process of public inquiry about safety and a number of other factors. This House will abdicate its responsibility if it does not take those matters strongly into consideration. The matter of reprocessing is a political decision, and the more we can base that decision on facts, the better. The inquiry has been set up to try to elicit all the factors from arguments for and against, and it is absurd for this House to pass judgment before we have heard the arguments.

6.15 p.m.

The Minister was asked on Second Reading whether we were to sign any more contracts for the reprocessing of nuclear waste from third countries. We already have substantial quantities of such material in the United Kingdom. We require an answer to that question before deciding how to dispose of this material. Many arguments can be put against the continued importation of nuclear waste until we decide what we are to do about the situation. Relatively speaking, there is no great problem in dealing with the material that is already in the United Kingdom, because we have a substantial number of ponds where this material may be watched, cooled and kept under careful conditions. That material can continue to be dealt with in ponds until we have reached a final solution on the disposal of 600 or 700 kilograms of waste.

Are the British Government contemplating further contracts for the storage of other countries' waste? I do not understand why it is regarded as so important for Britain to store other people's waste. It is said that the Japanese do not wish to store their own waste because they are in an area of high geological activity and are worried that escapes of this material could lead to great loss of life. No doubt the Japanese are right to be worried about these factors, but they are building their own power stations in which these materials are used and have also built their own reprocessing plants. I suggest that the Japanese should seek to cope with three units of this material instead of the present figure of two units.

I do not fully understand the pressures on this country to import this material. There is the slightly cynical view held by some that the final solution in getting rid of this waste is a long way off—and that certainly applies to a solution that is acceptable to public opinion. It is said that the Japanese take the view "If there is to be a dump, it is better that it should be in the United Kingdom than in Japan."

I have tried to give an outline of my reasons for wishing to delete subsection (2). We are also discussing Amendment No. 4, which seeks to provide a similar level of protection, because it will make the legislation subject to negative resolution by the House of Commons. That would bring the political decision back to the Floor of the House, so that these matters may be debated and considered against the knowledge that is then at our disposal. It is precisely for that reason that we are asking this. Until the reprocessing inquiry at Windscale has been completed, we do not have the best information to make a logical decision.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) used the word "we". Is the Liberal Party officially opposed to nuclear power stations?

No. The Liberal Party is not officially opposed to power stations. I mean nuclear power stations. To be against all power stations would be a difficult policy to adopt. We are saying that because of our luck in finding other sources of material and because of the potential energy saving that exists through massive schemes of insulation and the improvement of the efficiency of transport equipment, the country does not require a final decision to be made about the use of nuclear power yet. There is a breathing space and it can be used for the House to concentrate its mind on the facts as they are revealed, and not all the facts have yet been revealed. The House can then come to a logical decision.

It is for those reasons that I move the amendment. It is intended to enable the House to make a decision after the public inquiry has been held, and I hope that it will receive widespread support.

We are told that the state of the economy is now such that we must guard and watch over every pound of proposed public expenditure. Yet in such a situation we are presented with a Bill that cheerfully proposes a commitment of £1,00) million of taxpayers' money in an area that is technologically and politically highly controversial. I doubt whether anyone knows exactly what direction the argument will take and what policies will be deployed over the next 10 years. Yet the Bill proposes that the British taxpayer should bear the burden of £1,000 million, £500 million for existing work and another £500 million for work that is dubious in many respects—some of which have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon)—and which carries the greatest possible technical, political and international uncertainties.

I do not wish to go over the technical questions that have been touched upon by the hon. Member for Truro. It is generally known that there are great and considerable technical controversies about reprocessing. There is great political controversey over whether it is necessary and about its political implications. America cannot be regarded as a technologically backward country, yet the American Government appear to have suspended judgment on reprocessing for a period and are using possibly rather strong-arm tactics on some of their allies to persuade them not to spread reprocessing technology around the world too lightheartedly.

Subsection (2) proposes the most extraordinary commercial arrangement that one could envisage. It says that if BNFL persuades a customer to put up money for a reprocessing plant, if something goes wrong, neither BNFL nor the customer but the British taxpayer would have to stump up. There is an open guarantee up to £500 million—and that is not a fleabite—that if anything goes wrong between the overseas customer and BNFL, the British taxpayer will be required to stump up.

I pursued this point in some depth through Parliamentary Questions and I think the Minister will probably agree that if, for technical reasons, the plant fails, the overseas customer will lose his money. I received that information as a result of parliamentary Questions and I pass it on as a point of interest.

It is up to the overseas customer if he is prepared to enter into a contract on that basis. If BNFL goes for such a contract and can persuade the overseas customer to accept it, the customer or BNFL should stand the loss.

I find it extraordinary that no provision appears in Clause 1 that BNFL must use its best possible technical expertise, that it must go into the commercial implications and possibly take special advice on the technology or the commercial viability of the contract. There is an open-ended offer of £500 million of taxpayers' money to enable BNFL to go ahead with a contract that is generally accepted to be technologically and politically of considerable uncertainty.

I certainly do not call into question the technical competence of BNFL scientists and engineers and their wish to do a good job, but this is an extremely hazardous and uncertain area. There was a disastrous accident at Windscale as recently as four years ago that resulted in the closing of part of the plant. Windscale has been struggling to recover from that for some time.

There was recently an unfortunate leak of radioactive liquid of some kind that caused, perhaps unnecessarily, public anxiety about processing and the safety requirements at Windscale. We also know that, as a result of considerable pressure from the public and hon. Members, the Secretary of State for the Environment has called in a planning application for a particularly controversial aspect of work at Windscale. In the light of this I find it extraordinary that the House should be asked to commit the taxpayer to a potential outlay of £500 million—although I agree that the amount would not have to be anything like as large—for a reprocessing plant that has been the subject of so much controversy on technical, planning and international diplomatic grounds.

There is another consideration. The hon. Member for Truro said that the Japanese had not got far with their reprocessing. My impression is that they are not doing too badly. I was in Japan a fortnight ago and, according to the Press, the Japanese seem to be making some technical progress with the plant. This matter raises questions about the diplomatic relationship with regard to nuclear fuel between the United States and Japan. The United States may exert pressures on the Japanese Government not to go ahead with the reprocessing plant, even if the Japanese proved technically competent to build and operate it. But that is a matter for Japan and the United States.

I dare say that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) is aware that in The Guardian of 16th March it was indicated that the Japanese plant that will be ready and coming into operation shortly will be able to deal with 250 tonnes of oxide fuels a year. In that case the plant would not serve Japan's existing power stations and it is essential for the Japanese to try to obtain the English contract.

6.30 p.m.

I am not disputing that. I think that I remember seeing that report. I am not certain what the Windscale capacity for the Japanese contract was supposed to be, but I think that it was about 600 tonnes a year, which is not widely different from the figure quoted by the hon. Gentleman.

I am not quibbling about the exact figures and I accept that, at least in the short term, Japan would find it convenient to have its fuel reprocessed at Windscale. However, we are not talking about the short term; we are talking about a major new project that is the subject of a planning inquiry by the British Government and about a technological process that has been called into question by a country as technologically sophisticated as the United States.

It is strange that we should be expected to give a blank cheque to BNFL and to tell the firm that, whatever it does, it cannot lose, that it can sign any contract with the Japanese, because if something goes wrong, for political, technical, or other reasons, the taxpayer will bail it out. There is no incentive for BNFL to examine carefully the commercial implications of the contract.

My reading of the clause and the Explanatory Memorandum does not indicate that BNFL will be under any constraints if advance payments have to be repaid. That is an odd way of dealing with public money.

We are constantly told that nuclear power is the cheapest form of power available. This calculation turns on whether a particular station is used for base loading and run continuously or brought in to meet peak load demand. One can never work out the cost of such things as research and development over the past two decades, the processing of fuel and the associated research and technology. I sometimes wonder whether we have been given an accurate assessment of the cost per unit of electricity generated from nuclear sources and when I see a Bill that asks for £1,000 million of taxpayers' money to continue the programme, I become more dubious about the real cost of nuclear power to this country.

It would be out of order to have a wide-ranging discussion on fuel and energy policy, though it has some bearing on the Bill. I have some reservations on the provision to give the Secretary of State authority, subject to parliamentary approval, to provide capital for the existing activities of BNFL, which I am not calling into question, but if we underwrite another £500 million for a contract that has attracted within the United Kingdom and internationally so much uncertainly and criticism, that would be a curious act by this House at this time.

The question that I put to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) goes to the root of the matter. We must make up our minds whether we want electricity derived from nuclear fission or not. If we are to get the massive blocks of power for the future to maintain our industry when fossil fuels eventually run out, I can see no way of obtaining them except by nuclear fission and power stations operating that principle. This has been the accepted wisdom in these matters for a considerable time.

The hon. Member for Truro said that the Liberal Party was not against nuclear power stations or against power stations generally—which was reassuring—and that in any economy with nuclear power stations, reprocessing facilities must be provided. That has been done in this country.

The Select Committee on Science and Technology considered reprocessing in considerable detail in 1968–69. We thought then that it would eventually be a fairly important trading and commercial business for this country, which was well ahead of most other nations in nuclear power.

One of our recommendations was that a separate State trading company should be set up to do this work. We looked upon it as legitimate commercial trading business. We needed this reprocessing ability for our own stations and, as sensible people, we thought that Britain, as a commercial and industrial nation, should take on this work. I am glad that the Government of the day implemented that recommendation.

Can the hon. Gentleman explain why a reprocessing facility is needed now or at any time in the next decade when we seem to have got along quite well without it for the past 20 years?

There is a constant movement of nuclear fuel between a power station and a reprocessing plant. The question of how much fuel is kept at a power station and how much is taken for reprocessing at Windscale is a matter for arrangement, but a reprocessing facility is part and parcel of a nuclear power system. We cannot have a nuclear power station and then decide that there should not be any reprocessing.

I often think that many of the opponents of reprocessing are actually against nuclear power generally and it would certainly be more honest to say that we should not have nuclear power stations at all than to say that we can have the stations but we must not have the reprocessing.

My hon. Friend has said that there is no nuclear power which does not have reprocessing as part of the industry, but the Canadian system, CANDU, was specifically designed to exclude the reprocessing of fuel. The Canadians do not reprocess oxide fuel. I visited Windscale with our hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) and was advised by scientists there that it is as possible to vitrify without reprocessing as with reprocessing. The only reason for reprocessing is the added economic benefit which it can bring, although this depends on having a fast breeder reactor to give it commercial viability. Without that, there is no need for commercial reprocessing.

I am aware of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr Cook). I have seen the CANDU power station at Pickering. It is a highly successful plant. It is possible to arrange these matters so as not to have reprocessing, but that is not the nature of our nuclear power programme.

Does my hon. Friend agree that with our power stations reprocessing is required because we cannot allow nuclear waste to build up indefinitely? Does he also agree that one of the advantages—it may not be the main one in the long run—is that it decreases by nine-tenths the volume which ultimately has to be buried somewhere? Does he further agree that, if reprocessing is to be continued, the nuclear power industry is the only fuel-producing industry which is fully self-contained and has to bear all the costs, including reprocessing costs?

My hon. Friend has underlined the point I am trying to make. I wish people would be honest and say that they are against nuclear power stations instead of trying to get at the nuclear power programme by attacking the financial arrangements for reprocessing. We have the reprocessing facilities. It is good, sensible, commercial business, subject to safeguards, to obtain such business internationally.

The hon. Member for Truro said that the United States had doubts about reprocessing. It may be that the United States does not have engineers as good as ours in this area. We must not necessarily assume that they can do everything. We must look at this matter from the point of view of our own stations. We have the reprocessing capacity and we can us it commercially. That was the sensible recommendation of the Select Committee in 1969.

I congratulate the BNFL on the great success that it has made of the task that was given to it. It is a successful State trading company.

With large capital transactions of this kind, there must be a Government guarantee. There must be sufficient financial arrangements. If we leave out the subsection, the Bill will be wrecked. I think that that is the real intention behind the amendment. However, I wish that the hon. Member for Truro would do it in a more straightforward way.

A number of general points have been made with which I should like to deal before turning to other aspects of the debate. I think that the most useful course is for me to deal with the substance of Amendment No. 1.

As I indicated during earlier debates on the Bill, the Government's intention in taking these powers is to enable them to guarantee advance payments made by overseas customers to finance their share of the proposed oxide reprocessing plant at Windscale, which, as the House knows, is to be the subject of a public inquiry. In view of the sums involved—the limits proposed in the Bill relate to the estimated cost of the plant—the Government believe that it is reasonable that customers should be guaranteed a return of these payments should BNFL be unable to repay in the limited circumstances which have already been explained in great detail.

6.45 p.m.

In addition, we cannot rule out the possibility that other aspects of BNFL's business, such as uranium enrichment or hexafluoride conversion, might be financed in a similar way. If the terms were right, we would not wish BNFL to be denied access to financing its investment in this manner because the Government could not guarantee such advance payments. In principle, therefore, the amendment is unacceptable. If the indirect object of the amendment, as the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) has explained, is to discourage and, if possible, prevent BNFL from undertaking overseas reprocessing work, that is a mistaken objective.

There are two important advantages in undertaking this kind of work. Not only is it attractive commercially, but it assists our non-proliferation objectives. By taking on work of this kind for foreign countries, we help to discourage the development of reprocessing plants overseas.

Am I right in thinking that Sir John Hill is on record as saying that there is no commercial viability in reprocessing and that the cost is far greater than the value of the material recovered?

My hon. Friend is wrong in thinking that. We discussed these matters at great length in Committee and to some extent on Second Reading.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane), who is not present, made a long and careful speech outlining why it was not as profitable as the Minister thought. The hon. Gentleman's reply was that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam had his experts and he had his own. That was the end of the Government's reply.

I think that the hon. Gentleman has been very unfair to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane). I think that the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) will recall that his hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam spoke at great length on the non-proliferation argument and that I responded to that argument. The hon. Member for Truro may not agree on how the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam put the argument. It is for both of them to argue that matter. I suggest that it was in the context of the non-proliferation argument, and I complimented the hon. Gentleman on it.

For the sake of the record, perhaps I should point out that the hon. Member to whom reference has been made is my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman), not my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane).

I am sorry. I thought that it was the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam.

Yes, it is the hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman).

The main arguments advanced against undertaking the process are that it might not be safe, that we might find ourselves having to store the resulting nuclear waste, and that there might be heavy losses if advance payments had to be returned because of technological or other difficulties in operating the plant.

As to the first argument, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment said on 22nd December, the relevant safety considerations will be examined at the forthcoming public inquiry. As to the second argument, contracts are to contain clauses giving the option to return waste to the country of origin and to discontinue the reprocessing obligation if this cannot be done. As to the third argument, I repeat the assurances already given that the technological risk in these contracts will be borne by the customer, not by the company, and that advance payments will be repayable only in circumstances which would not represent a loss to the company. I hope that the House will reject Amendment No. 1.

On Amendment No. 4, I think that the hon. Member for Truro to some extent tied his arguments to those in support of Amendment No. 1, so I would advocate the same arguments as I used on Amendment No. 1.

I come now to the point of substance that the hon. Member for Truro raised. He was concerned about undertaking the storage of irradiated fuel and taking in such fuel before knowing how residual waste will be disposed of. I refer him to the remarks made on Second Reading by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I shall not quote my right hon. Friend's words, but the hon. Member for Truro can refer if he wishes to Hansard of 8th February, at col. 1256. when this matter was dealt with at great length.

The hon. Member for Truro also argued about America, but I ask him to recollect that I dealt with the issues of proliferation and safeguards at great length in Committee, as he will see if he looks at columns 75 and 76 of Hansard. On the question of American intervention, the hon. Member asked about the implications for the Japanese contract of any United States restraint or other international restraints on the shipment of irradiated fuel. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy explained the implications in a Written Answer on 23rd December, when he stated:
"It is usual for nuclear fuel to be supplied subject to a requirement that it will not be transferred by the recipient to another country without the suppliers' authorisation. This is the only international restraint on the transfer of spent fuel from Japan to the United Kingdom for reprocessing. This requirement is not new, and authorisation has never been refused for transfer to the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 23rd December 1976; Vol. 923, c. 299.]
The Government of the United States are currently reviewing the conditions under which authorisations for transfers were granted, in the light of the conclusion of the review of nuclear export policy. If the United States stopped BNFL reprocessing, the risk would fall on the customer. Repayments would be due in under the limited circumstances that I have described at length.

I understand that the Minister is referring to existing contracts. The American Government have authorised transfer to the United Kingdom for reprocessing. Will the hon. Gentleman take a step further and explain what will happen to the new contract which is likely to come into operation? Would the United States exercise a veto in that case? If it did, there would be great problems for the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) posed the same question in Committee.

I said in Committee that one reason why I could not give an answer was that I was not privy to the decisions of the American Government. I am still not privy to the decisions of the American Government.

The hon. Gentleman is putting a question to me as if I knew what the decisions of the American Government were. I have replied as best I can to the debate, and I hope that the House will reject the amendment.

It is not the intention of the official Opposition to vote on this amendment, although the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) says that he will vote on it.

To some extent the amendment of the hon. Member for Truro was irrelevant at this stage of the proceedings. Those of us who were on the Committee heard him deal with this subject at great length, and he was given the same answers as he has received today. I think that the hon. Member for Truro has a genuine desire to see more parliamentary scrutiny. That could well be achieved if he interested himself in the next Opposition amendment.

The Liberal Party has to make up its mind about its attitude to the whole nuclear industry. In the part of the United Kingdom that I represent, the North of Scotland, there is a United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority establishment at Dounreay. In the years that I have been in politics I do not recall any Liberal candidate or any representative of the Liberal Party taking exception to that establishment at any time. The former Liberal Member for Caithness and Sutherland, who is now Lord Mackie, would be willing to confirm that the Liberals in that part of the country did not take exception to Dounreay when it was created, and, to my knowledge, they have not taken exception to it since.

Division No. 90.]


[6.59 p.m.

Bottomley, PeterFookes, Miss JanetGrylls, Michael
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Glyn, Dr AlanHenderson, Douglas
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)Hodgson, Robin
Fisher, Sir NigelGrimond, Rt Hon J.Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)

Waste fuel has been moved from that part of the country to Windscale for many years. This has been known, and no objection has been taken to it. It seems rather strange that at this stage a great deal of anxiety should be expressed about it. I do not say that the anxiety is not justified, and I wholly support every conceivable measure which would ensure the safety of transport of any spent fuel, but it seems surprising that such concern should be expressed at this stage.

The reason is fairly obvious. We are about to build a reprocessing plant. If I judge the feeling of the House correctly, the House is about to vote a very large sum of money to build a plant for which the House has also agreed that there should be a public inquiry. The House will be voting the money before that public inquiry has reported. That seems to be lunacy of the first order, even if all the hon. Gentleman's other points are valid.

The whole point—which the hon. Member for Truro had not spotted—is that the House will be voting on an extension of the limits. The fact that a public inquiry is to take place is a complete safeguard and should answer the hon. Gentleman's point.

It is not unusual for a Government to come to the House and ask for limits to be extended. If the Government continue in office for much longer—let us hope that they do not, but it is up to the Liberals what they do about that—it is likely that they will come back to the House with a great many more Bills to ask for limits to be increased because of the inflation to which they have contributed. But it is not my duty tonight or any other night to argue the Government's case.

We do not see that the amendment does anything more than the amendment that the hon. Member for Truro discussed in Committee, and we shall not be supporting him on this occasion.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 28, Noes 171.

Knight, Mrs JillRathbone, TimWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Lawrence, IvanRees-Davies, W. R.Wakeham, John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Stainton, Keith
Mates, MichaelStanbrook, IvorTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Miscampbell, NormanThompson, GeorgeMr. David Penhaligon and
Nelson, AnthonyThorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)Mr. A. J. Beith.
Onslow, CranleyTrotter, Neville


Allaun, FrankGrant, John (Islington C)Parker, John
Armstrong, ErnestGrocott, BruceParry, Robert
Ashley, JackHarper, JosephPhipps, Dr Colin
Ashton, JoeHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Radice, Giles
Atkinson, NormanHattersley, Rt Hon RoyRichardson, Miss Jo
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Huckfield, LesRoderick, Caerwyn
Bates, AlfHughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Hughes, Roy (Newport)Rooker, J. W.
Bishop, E. S.Hunter, AdamRose, Paul B.
Blenkinsop, ArthurIrvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Boardman, H.Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)Ryman, John
Bray, Dr JeremyJackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Sandelson, Neville
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Janner, GrevilleSedgemore, Brian
Buchan, NormanJeger, Mrs LenaSelby, Harry
Buchanan, RichardJohnson, James (Hull West)Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Jones, Alec (Rhondda)Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Silverman, Julius
Canavan, DennisKaufman, GeraldSkinner, Dennis
Carter, RayKerr, RussellSmall, William
Carter-Jones, LewisKinnock, NeilSmith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Clemitson, IvorLambie, DavidSpearing, Nigel
Cocks, Rt Hon MichaelLamborn, HarrySpriggs, Leslie
Cohen, StanleyLamond, JamesStallard, A. W.
Coleman, DonaldLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Cowans, HarryLeadbitter, TedStoddart, David
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Lee, JohnStott, Roger
Crawshaw, RichardLester, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Cryer, BobLipton, MarcusThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Davidson, ArthurLoyden, EddieThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Deakins, EricLyon, Alexander (York)Tierney, Sydney
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)Tinn, James
Dempsey, JamesMcCartney, HughTuck, Raphael
Doig, PeterMcDonald, Dr OonaghVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Dormand, J. D.McElhone, FrankWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Duffy, A. E. P.Maclennan, RobertWalden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Dunnett, JackMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Eadie, AlexMadden, MaxWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Edge, GeoffMagee, BryanWard, Michael
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Mahon, SimonWatkins, David
Ennis, DavidMarks, KennethWatkinson, John
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Weetch, Ken
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)White, Frank R. (Bury)
Faulds, AndrewMaynard, Miss JoanWhitlock, William
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Mendelson, JohnWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Flannery, MartinMolloy, WilliamWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Moonman, EricWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMorris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Forrester, JohnMoyle, RolandWise, Mrs Audrey
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)Oakes, GordonWoodall, Alec
Freeson, ReginaldOgden, EricWoof, Robert
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Orbach, MauriceWrigglesworth, Ian
George, BruceOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Golding, JohnOvenden, JohnTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gould, BryanPalmer, ArthurMr. James Hamilton and
Gourlay, HarryPark, GeorgeMr. Peter Snape.
Graham, Ted

Question accordingly negatived.

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 1, line 20, leave out from "section" to end of line 24 and insert:

"And before any guarantee is given, an order made by statutory instrument showing the extent, character of and amount of the guarantee shall be laid before and approved by the House of Commons".

With this we may take Amendment No. 7, in page 1, line 20, leave out from "section" to end of line 24 and insert:

"and any of the following matters shall be subject to an order made by statutory instrument, a draft of which has been laid before and approved by the House of Commons:
  • (a) guarantees concerning services relating to the location and storage of radioactive materials;
  • (b) guarantees concerning services relating to the importance of waste materials.".
  • It is necessary to outline first the purpose of subsection (3) of Clause 1, which provides that a statement of the expenditure and character of guarantees, which were the source of discussion on the previous amendment, should be laid before the House. It is the purpose of the amendment to provide the House with more accurate and definitive control over the actions taking place, and perhaps putting in more precise form the responsibilities of the House.

    We had the opportunity in Standing Committee to discuss the problems which arise in the form of democratic and parliamentary control in relation to matters of this particularly complicated and difficult nature. We had already recognised that this was a matter which had very strong—and, indeed, on some occasions overriding—environmental considerations. The social considerations, which might affect future generations, place a very special obligation on the House of Commons in particular. It is really that matter of parliamentary control which has caused me to put this amendment before the House.

    Subsection (3) states that:
    "a statement showing the extent and character of the guarantee, and the circumstances in which it came to be given",
    shall be placed before the House. The object of my amendment is to seek approval before that event and not after it. I recognise that that is changing the emphasis and putting the decision-making process outside ministerial action but inside this House of Commons, in the Chamber itself.

    We must look at some of the current evidence of what has happened on reprocessing contracts so far. Our current experience shows that, on work that has taken place up to now, losses have not yet been fully determined. The source of that information lies in the last accounts of British Nuclear Fuels Limited.

    Members of the Standing Committee will be familiar with some of these matters, and I may be forgiven if I reiterate a little about them. On page 17 of the fifth annual report and accounts of British Nuclear Fuels Limited, note 1(b), referring to the trading profits, says that
    "Certain reprocessing contracts entered into in previous years which have now become unprofitable are in course of renegotiation. Pending the outcome of these negotiations it is not possible to determine whether any provision needs to be made for losses which may arise in future years."
    Those are quite ominous words.

    On page 11 those doubts are re-emphasised. The auditors underline their concern and consideration. It is a very reputable firm of auditors, Coopers and Lybrand. The report, which is signed by the auditors, says in note 3:
    "For the reasons given in note 1(b) no provision has been made in these accounts in respect of any future losses which might arise on certain reprocessing contracts which are in the course of renegotiation."
    That seems to me to be a matter which should be drawn to the attention of all of us so that we may see what is happening in this case.

    Indeed, that was my concern when I put questions to the Minister asking what were the underlying facts behind those statements of doubt and inability to decide the amount of losses arising on reprocessing. I was told that these were matters of the day-to-day running of British Nuclear Fuels Limited, and I was asked to write to that authority. I did so.

    7.15 p.m.

    Here we see illustrated the problems of parliamentary control to which my amendment refers, because in his reply, the Chairman of British Nuclear Fuels Limited said:
    "As you will see from the letter, Government decisions do in fact impinge on two of your questions, but I will nevertheless do what I can to answer them."
    Therefore, although we are told in parliamentary terms that this is a matter of day-to-day running of this quasi-nationalised institution, we find that the chairman is saying that this is a matter on which Government decisions impinge. It is for that reason that I am concerned that matters of this nature should come before the House.

    If we go further into the explanation of the reprocessing losses which have been taking place up to now, we find in that very letter that the Chairman of British Nuclear Fuels Limited said that he could not in the present uncertain situation give an estimate of future losses. He added:
    "We had hoped to renegotiate arrangements which would minimise or eliminate loss, but the announced intention to hold a public inquiry into the new plant for reprocessing oxide fuel, coming as it does a year after the Government's approval for further overseas reprocessing business, could make a substantial loss unavoidable."
    We see there a political and public action which is entirely proper, and which starts to bedevil some of the commercial aspects of the company. We have a parliamentary duty to involve ourselves in those detailed matters.

    On page 12 of the annual report and accounts there are references to long-term storage problems. This once again illustrates the difficulties that we have in maintaining the proper sort of control, because note 4 on page 12, dealing with accounting policies, says that
    "An amount is set aside each year for the estimated cost of the long-term storage of the Group's waste products. The total amount retained is reviewed annually based on the latest technical assessment but this is a long-term project and the computation of the estimated costs is necessarily imprecise."
    I agree with that absolutely. It is the imprecision, the uncertainty and the fact that we are looking into the future which make me feel that we have to be very careful in our review and our method of control of this matter.

    We know, for example, from the recent history that there have been some very uncertain problems on the question of pay. In that same annual report and accounts the chairman's review mentions the special pay problems and the difficulties reflected in them. Recently the Secretary of State paid literally a flying visit to try to take some emergency action. In those circumstances, it seems clear to me that political considerations are dominant and that Parliament has a duty to satisfy itself on the policies as to the usage of the funds and not only on the question of appropriation.

    The Under-Secretary of State was very kind to all members of the Standing Committee and wrote to us explaining some of the difficulties which he felt arose in the consideration of an amendment of this nature. With his approval, I shall refer to some of the matters contained in that letter. I felt that the Minister's approach was both helpful and thoughtful, seeking to ascertain whether we could find a method of control over this activity.

    The Under-Secretary of State's first point was that this was probably an unnecessary duplication of some of the financial controls which already exist under the terms of the Bill. That may be so, but I have tried to indicate that there is a special situation here. The Under-Secretary added that
    "it would be illogical to have more stringent controls over the giving of guarantees than over the provision of finance direct."
    I do not wish to dilate at length on the fact that a guarantee is as good as the money. It is an obligation of this House and of Parliament to ensure that guarantees are not freely or thoughtlessly given, or given in an uncontrolled fashion. A guarantee is the word of the Government and its bond, and we have just as much a duty to safeguard the issuing of those guarantees as we have a duty to safeguard the issuing of funds.

    After all, in the very form of the Bill we must recognise the special nature and circumstances. The Bill says that a statement showing the extent and character of the guarantees, and the circumstances in which they came to be given, shall be laid before the House. That is too late a stage, and it is not enough. We need an opportunity for the House to put a point of view before the ministerial decision is taken.

    Is not my hon. Friend's best argument the fact that this is precisely what the Government are doing with the Japanese contract? We know the extent of the guarantee of the contract for a thermal-oxide plant to be built for operation in the early 1980s. We know that the guarantee covers specific commitments to be negotiated with the Japanese utilities. My hon. Friend is asking for prior notification and examination by the House and in doing so he is following precisely what is being done in the Japanese negotiations.

    I am obliged to my hon. Friend. In Committee the Under-Secretary of State referred to the fact that we had an affirmative procedure at an earlier stage in order to provide just such opportunity for debate as I am now seeking. I must make it clear that I am not anti-nuclear energy. I am, however, concerned that we should discharge our obligation to the public in the course of setting up the future of our nuclear industry, and I am seeking to do so in a positive and constructive way.

    I was concerned about a statement in the Minister's letter —which was offered in a helpful and friendly spirit—when he referred to the question of guarantees of advance payments. He said that the difficulty was that a guarantee might not be available "even if the Secretary of State had expressed his support for the venture and his willingness to give a guarantee". I do not think that the Secretary of State should be allowed to give a guarantee until we have had discussions on it. That is the object of this exercise. The amendment would clearly lay down that we should have to have an order made by Statutory Instrument showing the extent and amount of the guarantee. That Statutory Instrument would have to be laid before and approved by the House.

    I understand and accept the line taken by the Minister in his letter, when he said:
    "It would complicate and delay the process of giving a guarantee and (if taken as a precedent and adopted more widely) would be likely to put a severe burden on Parliamentary time."
    But I have exactly that object in view. It is my understanding and belief that Parliament has lost its financial teeth, and it is time it got them back again. It is time that we got a grip on the financial affairs of the nation. I am offering the House the opportunity, through this amendment, of taking that grip in this matter.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) moved the amendment skilfully, as he did a similar one in Committee. This is not an official Opposition Front Bench amendment, but we are sympathetic towards it.

    I was disappointed in the letter which the Under-Secretary of State sent to all hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee. We had considerable discussion of this matter one morning in Committee, and to the Opposition it appeared that the Government Benches were rather thinly populated. In his reply to that debate the Minister began by not being particularly helpful to my hon. Friend, but his attitude changed considerably when his Whip whispered in his ear. By the time he was finishing his reply, the hon. Gentleman was indicating to my hon. Friend that, although he could give no promise, he would look at my hon. Friend's proposal sympathetically.

    Earlier in the debate the Minister said:
    "if individual approvals were to be required, there would seem to be no point in having an overall limit."
    Later, however, he said:
    "I am prepared, because this is a vital principle, to take the matter back and examine it and to come forward with views on it. I say that without any promise, but I give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee—since we are talking about guarantees—that I shall examine his proposition in great detail."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 3rd March 1977; c. 103.]
    I was, therefore, disappointed by the hon. Gentleman's letter to my hon. Friend advising him that, although the Minister and his advisers had considered the matter,
    "The normal practice in controlling guarantee powers is that followed in the Bill as now drafted.… This practice has been followed by successive Governments…".
    That really is not a very good answer. We all know that in this House Ministers rest on the actions of previous Governments, and anything that is a precedent is used over and over again.

    My hon. Friend has tonight made a very good case for further parliamentary scrutiny. When we are talking of reprocessing plants we are talking of a very new activity, and it is difficult to be certain just what the cost involved may be. There is also difficulty in determining exactly what is the ministerial responsibility and what is the day-to-day responsibility of British Nuclear Fuels. All that my hon. Friend is trying to do is ensure that Parliament has complete scrutiny over the sums of money involved. He himself explained that he is not antinuclear. I feel the same way. With the limited knowledge which a layman can have, and from the information given to one, one can only reiterate that British Nuclear Fuels has a very proud record of safety. That, however, is no excuse for not monitoring with the greatest skill the amounts of money voted by this House.

    We shall listen carefully to what the Minister has to say before we decide whether to support my hon. Friend in the Lobby, just as he himself will have to decide whether he wishes to press his amendment to a Division. It would be wrong for us to decide before we hear what the Minister has to say. I hope that he has been more persuaded by our remarks than he was in Committee and that, despite what he said in his letter, he will decide to overrule his previous view. My hon. Friend has given him a case that he can usefully consider.

    I did not have the privilege, or perhaps the burden, of serving on the Standing Committee, so I have heard only this debate on the subject. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) has made a very good case. Guarantees of the magnitude we are talking about ought to be subject to the positive control of the House.

    The amendments also concern the disposal of wastes. The Minister knows of my deep interest, both personal and as a constituency Member, in this matter. I believe that firm control of these guarantees by the House would be a guarantee to the people, who are worried about the disposal of these wastes, that control would rest with this House at the financial as well as at other levels. The public are concerned about these matters and, quite properly, rely on the House to subject them to close scrutiny on their behalf. From what the hon. Member has said, I am in favour of his proposition as being a solution to the problem.

    7.30 p.m.

    I am in great difficulty. I do not quarrel in any way with the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth). Indeed, I have great admiration for his advocacy. He was a powerful advocate in Committee and he is a powerful advocate here today. I should have to do well in order to emulate him. But I cannot win, because I wrote not only to the hon. Gentleman but to all members of the Committee to acquaint them with the facts. It was not a question of my naturally wanting to be hostile, because that is not my make-up. People sometimes have common points of view, and I believe in argument, discussion and debate to try to resolve the issues.

    I told the Committee and the hon. Gentleman, which I think I was entitled to do because of the hon. Gentleman's advocacy for his amendment, that I would give it close consideration. I have done that, and I regret to inform the House that I have concluded that the Government cannot accept the amendment. I owe it to the House to try to explain why. I regret that I shall have to go over some of the grounds and some of the arguments that were used in Committee, but I think that it is appropriate to place my comments on record.

    The amendment is unacceptable in principle. The practice in controlling guarantee powers is that followed in the Bill—to set up an overall limit, to require Treasury consent to individual guarantees and to require returns to Parliament to show how that power has been used. I hope that the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) is listening. I saw him smiling when he was pressing the case concerning the power of Parliament. He is doing his best to get out of this Parliament. I know why he was smiling. I say that as an aside, but I know he is suggesting that he wants accountability to Parliament. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is listening to this. He was entitled to raise the matter, and I am sorry that he could not be with us on the Committee.

    This practice has been followed in the past. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) mentioned it when I said that it had been "followed by successive Governments". He made the point that when the present Opposition were the Government they laid down a similar procedure in the Gas Act 1972. To go further and require parliamentary approval for each exercise of the guarantee would unnecessarily complicate and delay that process.

    The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West understands this probably better than anyone else present in the House. If it were taken as a precedent, it would be likely to put a severe burden on parliamentary time. It would also be illogical in the context of guarantees for loans to BNFL and TRCL. The arrangements under the 1971 Act and the Bill would allow the companies' financial requirements to be met in two ways, either by loans from the private sector, which the Secretary of State might guarantee, or directly from public funds by share purchase or through the National Loans Fund. These two latter methods of financing are not subject to a control of the kind proposed, and it would be illogical to have more stringent control over guarantees than over the provision of finance direct.

    The amendment's application to guarantees for advance payments could prejudice BNFL's commercial interests. If the company wanted to negotiate business in an area where guaranteed advance payments were needed, it would be unable to have any assurance that such a guarantee would be available if negotiations were otherwise successful and it the Secretary of State agreed that a guarantee would be given. This would inevitably lessen the interest of a company and customer in embarking upon the complex negotiations involved.

    Guarantees arise under Clause 1(1) and Clause 1(2) and, as the Minister said, there may be an extremely broad coverage of guarantees under Clause 1(2). My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) is arguing that there should be prior approval by Parliament, and the Minister is saying that the commercial relations of BNFL will be prejudiced, as in the case of the Japanese contract. How has BNFL been prejudiced in any way? Other factors have supervened. It is not a question of guarantees. If this procedure had been followed with prior notification, that would have been satisfactory for the company.

    The hon. Gentleman is trying to assume that he is making a clever point, but there is the question of commercial aspects in negotiations. By drawing in the Japanese contract as an argument in favour of the amendment, the hon. Gentleman is doing his hon. Friend a great disservice. His hon. Friend's advocacy was not related to whether they were Japanese contracts or anything else. The point of his argument was that there should be Parliamentary accountability. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) has done his hon. Friend a great disservice by his intervention.

    The amendment would unnecessarily complicate the giving of guarantees. It would make for an illogical situation with regard to the provision of finance for the two companies, and it might prejudice BNFL's commercial interest. For those reasons the Government cannot accept the amendment, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw it.

    The main objection to Amendment No. 7 is one of principle. The practice in controlling guarantee powers, which has been followed by Administrations from both parties, is that followed in the Bill —that is, to set an overall limit, to require Treasury consent to each exercise of the power, and to require returns to Parliament. To go further and require specific approval for the exercise of the power, whether in every case or for a class of cases, would complicate and delay the process of guarantees. This could prejudice the company's commercial interests. Uncertainty whether a guarantee would be available would, to say the least, discourage both company and customer in the complex negotiations involved in setting up the kind of contract that would involve guarantees.

    The amendment would have unwelcome side effects. Although I think that the hon. Gentleman has reprocessing contracts mainly in mind, the amendment as drafted would restrict guarantees arising in connection with the general financing of BNFL and TRCL under Clause 1(1). That financing would relate to the general external finance requirement arising from the companies' total activities. Such activities could well include some of the items mentioned, in which case an order would be required. That would not only complicate the financing arrangements but would be illogical. Guarantees are an alternative to direct financing by the Government, and the latter method is not subject to any restriction of this kind.

    Finally, because of the deletion of the existing words in the subsection, guarantees which did not involve services of the kind mentioned would not need to be reported to the House at all. I hope that the House will reject the amendment.

    In view of what the Minister has said, I should be happy to withdraw Amendment No. 7. I must, however, express my extreme disappointment over the whole of the rest of the content of his observations on Amendment No. 6. I do not feel that he has in any way answered the purport of the case put forward for Amendment No. 7.

    Order. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that technically it is only Amendment No. 6 which is before the House.

    I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise to you for my inept phrasing. I accept the burden of the Minister's observations on Amendment No. 7. On Amendment No. 6, however, the point of view expressed by the Minister is unacceptable. It is not a fair observation to make on a narrowly-drawn affirmative procedure, which is what this is. It is a sharply-defined procedure—I use the Minister's words. It is the specific nature of the industry that is of consequence. In those circumstances, it does not seem that we have any reason to withdraw the amendment.

    I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. I felt that he had made two important points, and I wanted to attempt to reply to them. Whether I should have satisfied him with my reply is not for me to say, but I regret his remarks, although I understand how he feels.

    The hon. Gentleman talked about existing unprofitable contracts. I have to inform him that the existing contracts contained provision for escalation costs which were not in the event sufficient. That difficulty will not arise in the contracts that we now envisage. The new contracts will be on a full cost-plus, risk-free basis—I mentioned this in Committee—that will ensure that the company maintains a good return.

    The hon. Gentleman then raised the question of the opportunity to discuss BNFL's finances, and he made some play of this. He suggested that there was insufficient opportunity to discuss BNFL's investment and expenditure. I remind him that the whole range of BNFL's activities was discussed in a useful debate, which a number of those who were on the Standing Committee will recall, on 28th

    Division No. 91.]


    [7.45 p.m.

    Bain, Mrs MargaretClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Gardner, Edward (S. Fylde)
    Beith, A. J.Cockcroft, JohnGrimond, Rt Hon J.
    Boscawen, Hon RobertFairgrieve, RussellHampson, Dr Keith
    Bottomley, PeterFisher, Sir NigelHicks, Robert
    Buck, AntonyFookes, Miss JanetHodgson, Robin
    Budgen, NickFox, MarcusHowells, Geraint (Cardigan)

    July 1976. The debate was on an affirmative proposal to increase the limit of payment to BNFL under the Atomic Authority Act 1971. The Bill now before the House provides a further opportunity for debate as and when increases are made in future under the new limit. The company's accounts are available to the House every year and the Opposition can, if they so desire, find time to discuss them. That is their prerogative, and no Opposition should be deprived of that right.

    I hope the House will accept that I have given the best possible explanations on the points that have been raised, and that it will oppose the amendment if the hon. Gentleman does not withdraw it.

    I regret that I do not find the Minister's explanations satisfactory. I do not feel that it is right to talk about the burden of additional parliamentary work and additional legislation when we are dealing with one specific, narrowly-defined matter that is of particularly onerous concern for the future, both environmentally and socially. I do not think that the case has been answered by the Minister.

    It might have been helpful if subsection (3) had reflected the Department's and the Minister's acknowledgement of the seriousness of this issue, but it says that a statement has to be laid before the House after the event. My suggestion is that that should be done before the event.

    Future contracts might well be on a cost-plus basis, but my experience of contracts of this nature is sufficient for me to ask that the terms be defined first. I need to know those and what the cost will be before I can decide whether there will be effective control from the point of view of the House. I hope that my hon. Friends will support me in pressing the amendment to a Division.

    Question put, That the amendment be made:—

    The House divided: Ayes 40, Noes 145.

    Knight, Mrs JillPenhaligon, DavidThompson, George
    Lawrence, IvanRathbone, TimTrotter, Neville
    Macfarlane, NeilRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Viggers, Peter
    Morris, Michael (Northampton S)Sainsbury, TimWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
    Nelson, AnthonyShersby, Michael
    Newton, TonySkeet, T. H. H.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
    Nott, JohnSmith Cyril (Rochdale)Mr Geoffrey Dodsworth and
    Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)Stanbrook, IvorDr Alan Glyn.
    Pardoe, JohnSteel, Rt Hon David


    Allaun, FrankGolding, JohnRichardson, Miss Jo
    Armstrong, ErnestGrocott, BruceRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
    Ashton, JoeHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Roderick, Caerwyn
    Atkinson, NormanHoyle, Doug (Nelson)Rodgers, George (Chorley)
    Bagier, Gordon A. T.Huckfield, LesRodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
    Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Rooker, J. W.
    Bates, AlfHughes, Roy (Newport)Rose, Paul B.
    Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodHunter, AdamRoss, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
    Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)Ryman, John
    Bishop, E. S.Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Sandelson, Neville
    Blenkinsop, ArthurJanner, GrevllieSedgemore, Brian
    Boardman, H.Johnson, James (Hull West)Selby, Harry
    Bray, Dr JeremyJones, Alec (Rhondda)Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
    Buchanan, RichardKerr, RussellSilverman, Julius
    Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Kinnock, NeilSkinner, Dennis
    Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Lamond, JamesSmall, William
    Canavan, DennisLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
    Clemitson, IvorLeadbitter, TedSnape, Peter
    Cocks, Rt Hon MichaelLee, JohnSpearing, Nigel
    Cohen, StanleyLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Spriggs, Leslie
    Coleman, DonaldLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Stallard, A. W.
    Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Lipton, MarcusStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
    Cowans, HarryLoyden, EddieStoddart, David
    Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Lyon, Alexander (York)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
    Crawshaw, RichardLyons, Edward (Bradford W)Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
    Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)McCartney, HughThorne, Stan (Preston South)
    Cryer, BobMcDonald, Dr OonaghTierney, Sydney
    Davidson, ArthurMacFarquhar, RoderickTim, James
    Deakins, EricMaclennan, RobertVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
    Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
    Dempsey, JamesMadden, MaxWalden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
    Doig, PeterMagee, BryanWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
    Dormand, J. D.Mahon, SimonWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
    Duffy, A. E. P.Marks, KennethWatkins, David
    Dunnett, JackMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Watkinson, John
    Eadie, AlexMaynard, Miss JoanWhite, Frank R. (Bury)
    Edge, GeoffMendelson, JohnWhitehead, Phillip
    Ellis, John (Brigg & Stun)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Whitlock, William
    Ennals, DavidMorris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
    Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Moyle, RolandWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
    Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Oakes, GordonWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
    Flannery, MartinOgden, EricWise, Mrs Audrey
    Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWoodall, Alec
    Foot, Rt Hon MichaelOvenden, JohnWoof, Robert
    Ford, BenPark, GeorgeWriggles worth, Ian
    Forrester, JohnParker, John
    Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)Parry, RobertTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
    Freeson, ReginaldPendry, TomMr Joseph Harper and
    Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Phipps, Dr ColinMr Ted Graham.
    George, BruceRadice, Giles

    Question accordingly negatived.

    7.55 p.m.

    I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    The Bill has given rise to a very full discussion of nuclear issues. At this stage the most helpful course would be for me to remind the House of the content and purpose of the Bill. So far as BNFL is concerned, the Bill provides the basis for financing the company's large investment programme, which, I emphasise, relates to providing facilities required for United Kingdom nuclear pro- grammes already approved and does not imply any commitment to a new major nuclear expansion.

    The Bill provides for further capital in two ways. First, it increases the limits on Government capital payments to £300 million, which sum may be increased to £500 million by order. Secondly, it allows the Secretary of State to guarantee loans raised by BNFL, such guarantees counting against the new limits in the same way as does direct Government investment. The Bill also allows the Government to guarantee advance payments made to BNFL under service contracts. The immediate importance of this power is in relation to the contract which BNFL hopes to conclude with overseas utilities for the reprocessing of irradiated fuel.

    In this connection, I might deal with a point raised by the hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) in Committee about safeguards. He proposed that the Euratom Treaty should be amended to allow nuclear suppliers' group safeguards to be implemented. There is no proposal at present to negotiate a new formal agreement between supplier Governments. I gave the hon. Member an assurance in Committee that I would draw this point to the attention of my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before the next Nuclear Supplies Group meeting. I have done this.

    The hon. Member also inquired about the rate of profit under the company's proposed overseas reprocessing contracts. The actual rate of profit under the contracts is commercially confidential. I am afraid, therefore, that I cannot disclose its amount or confirm the figure that the hon. Member mentioned. I can, however, assure the House that the Government regard the proposed return as very good.

    Though the provisions have not so far received great attention, the Bill makes similar provision for the Radiochemical Centre Limited. The present upper limit on Government capital payments is raised from £7 million to £15 million. Private borrowings by the company may be guaranteed, and, again, sums guaranteed count against the limit.

    Finally, the Bill would allow the Secretary of State to incur expenditure on acquiring shares in the National Nuclear Corporation Limited. This power is needed to tidy up an illogical situation which, while not causing difficulty at present, might do so in the future.

    Having emphasised those three points, I hope that the House will see fit to give the Bill a Third Reading.

    7.59 p.m.

    The Bill is being given a Third Reading in a situation of unreality. The Chamber is empty; hon. Members have other things on their minds. The events of next Wednesday undoubtedly have a bearing on the attendance tonight, but that should not deter us from giving the Bill a Third Reading with good grace. Naturally, we were disappointed that some of our proposals to improve the Bill were not accepted by the Government, but we had the opportunity on Second Reading and in Committee of discussing the energy question in more detail than it has been dealt with in the House for some time.

    The Bill is a narrow measure. The restrictions of a Third Reading debate prevent us from elaborating on some points, but I think it only right that I should repeat that, although the Bill is small, it deals with many complicated arrangements. Therefore, we are grateful to the Secretary of State for the helpful brief which he gave us in Committee at the beginning of our deliberations.

    The raising of the financial limits and the permissions which the Government require to give loan guarantees are dealt with in Clause 1. The Government did not include the recommendation of the Flowers Commission in the Bill, and we were rather sorry about that, but the Under-Secretary of State in Committee gave some very good assurances that the Government were considering this matter very carefully. No doubt we can expect legislation on that subject in due course.

    We criticised to a certain extent Clause 2, which deals with the financial limits. We still feel that the limits are excessive; they are greater than is absolutely necessary. In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), in an excellent and well-researched speech, made a very good case for the limits not being at their present level but being more in accordance with the amendment which we tabled.

    Principally, the points which my hon. Friend made were that the purpose for which the £300 million was required was not very clear because the earned profits of the industry would meet the requirement. The same applied to the thermal oxide reprocessing plant in respect of which £330 million was required, but this will be customer-funded. My hon. Friend, with his calculations, had reduced the figure about which we were talking to about £415 million spent over 10 years. However, the Government have taken the precaution of setting fairly high limits, which should be very useful for them in future.

    Clause 3 was not debated in Committee, and that was perhaps regrettable. We had the opportunity of debating it and perhaps we should have spent more time on it. The remainder of the Bill had a fairly good going over in Committee, and it is leaving Parliament in as reasonable a state as we could expect. I am sorry that the Government were not able to accept some of our amendments, but we welcome the Bill and we are happy to give it a Third Reading.

    8.4 p.m.

    I accept that the Bill makes a contribution to the general debate, but there are one or two observations that I should make.

    The commitment to existing domestic nuclear power stations is one of the reasons why we must have a Bill of this nature, and it is against this background that it must be examined, but there is no escaping the fact that the programme outlines essential work which will ultimately result in producing an acceptable rate of return on the investment provided and will considerably extend the scope and flexibility of the company's operations.

    The difference between the Government and many hon. Members on these Benches is not that substantial funds are required for the programme but that provision should be made for extensive borrowing from the National Loans Fund and not from the market. If the latter course were adopted rather than the former, the borrowing limits would not have to be extended to anything like £300 million, extendable to £500 million as stated in the Bill. In fact, at the upper limit the figure represents a sevenfold advance on the existing order.

    The Secretary of State said in the House on 8th February, as reported at column 1258 of the Official Report, that of the £1,500 million required for the 10-year programme only about £230 million would be required from external sources. The Under-Secretary said in Committee:
    "As the Committee is aware from the briefing made available to it, BNFL's exter- nal borrowing requirement over the next two years is covered by borrowing from the private sector subject to the provision of a guarantee under powers to be taken in this Bill".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 3rd March 1977; c. 65.]
    It is rather extraordinary that funds will not be taken from the market, although it must be recollected that if these are subject to the guarantee they will count against the borrowing limit. Enterprises in various parts of the world are undertaking exactly the same work as has been indicated here. They do not have the aid of the guarantee and they are capable of going to the market. I see no reason why a similar approach should not be made in this case. Moreover, it was intended from the start that the company should be a mixed enterprise undertaking and, hence, would operate as closely to commercial principles as possible. It is worth observing that funds derived via Section 8 of the Industry Act 1972, as amended by Schedule 4 to the Industry Act 1975, and voted by Parliament do not count against the limits imposed.

    The argument on the borrowing limits comes to this. The present borrowing limit of £75 million is too small. Even though £50 million in total has yet to be taken up, a maximum of £300 million to £500 million is excessive, bearing in mind the present national economic stringency and the fact that there are many alternative sources of finance available to the company. Governments frequently talk despairingly about the ravages of inflation, which they themselves create, and then proceed to proffer it as a reason for further provision being made.

    Another scapegoat is changing technology. Tens of millions of pounds may be charged to this account, but there is nothing like over-provision for cultivating administrative extravagance. It is solid commercial sense that BNFL should carry the greater part of its financial burdens, and there are many who think that it is in a position to do so. After all, it is a profitable company.

    The House should note these observations. While domestic orders produce 60 per cent. of BNFL's business, on a cost-plus basis, the company has a captive market in that 13 per cent. of the electricity sector is nuclear, and if the new programme goes ahead the percentage will be even higher. The company has secured valuable contracts for reprocessing oxide fuel elements, notably from the Swedes, European utilities and, it is hoped, the Japanese. I confidently believe that the Japanese contract will be secured, despite the inept handling of the situation by the Government. The reprocessing is administered through a third holding in the United Reprocessors GmbH, a multinational company with roots in the European Community market, and is beginning to prove commercially formidable abroad.

    BNFL, through its third interest in URENCO, has achieved a share in enrichment contracts totalling £700 million for delivery in the 1980s. This also is a multinational company associating British, Dutch and Germans and it promises to be strongly competitive with its Community rivals in France. The sale of Uranium 238 has proved profitable, with export business envisaged by the Department of about £45 million up to 1985. Services are rendered in converting uranium into uranium hexafluoride. In 1975 –76 the company secured orders to supply 14,000 tonnes between 1977 and 1986 to customers in the United States, Japan, Italy and the Federal Republic.

    It is worthy of observation that under Clause 1(2) it may be that customer-funded business in the United Kingdom will be extended to the provision of uranium hexafluoride. This was the Minister's suggestion, and it may come to fruition at a later date.

    I pause here to indicate one anxiety that I have. I thought after having put down an amendment that the limitations on customer-funded contracts would be limited to reprocessing of oxide fuels and also to enrichment if the case should arise in future. But apparently, according to the Minister, this is an open-ended facility, and this may be secured in any other thing that BNFL might have in view. That is taking it too far, and, while there is a limit on the extent of the guarantees that may be committed by the Government, what should be covered should be laid down more specifically in the Bill.

    Of course, Clause 1(2) makes provision for the Japanese contract, which, if secured, will provide the company with earnings of £500 million. On this matter the Government have been particularly inept. The possibility of the contract being secured was foreshadowed many months ago, but delays have allowed the French to step in. Now, an unseemly contest is being conducted between the Department of the Environment, based on conservation arguments and planning permission, and the Department of Energy, with little drive from the latter to reach finality.

    The result of all this national bickering is that the programme has been put out of schedule, the Japanese are dissatisfied and the construction of the oxide facilities has had to await the outcome of what could be a substantial public inquiry. Ministers would seem reluctant to talk about the contemporary picture.

    Perhaps the Minister will clarify the following points. Are the Japenese utilities prepared to await the outcome of the Section 282 inquiry without in the meantime seeking or making alternative provision? That is a simple point. I hope the Minister is prepared to say that the Japanese utilities will wait until the inquiry has been completed. Are the French prepared to act as joint partners in the United Reprocessors GmbH and to stick to a half interest in the tonnage available and not take the lot?

    I must repeat the point which I put to the Minister upstairs and to which I have not yet had an answer. Will an immediate grant of planning permission for storage points, which are necessary to meet the Japanese programme—be made so that construction of these ponds may be undertaken, and will this be done ahead of or during the course of the public inquiry on the thermal oxide plant'? If the Minister will give answers to these three points, I for one will be perfectly satisfied that things are going ahead as planned.

    I wish to put some general observations. While I consider this to be a necessary Bill in providing the necessary funds on limits, I am not certain that we have the necessary safeguards. I am making this point in connection with the public and not the people who have looked into the matter carefully. The Secretary of State must bridge the broad credibility gap between the public and the physicist and give the public at least the feeling that the great issues which are now being debated about the plutonium economy and nuclear waste disposal are, and would seem to be, both thoroughly taken care of and completely researched. I have no doubt about this being done, but I hope that the right step is being taken in that direction.

    During the course of the Committee, we put forward certain amendments which would have implemented Sir Brian Flowers' recommendations. Instead, we have had an indication of a further slice of Bennery in the shape of a management and supervisory board associating the State, the trade unions and research and environmental representatives to manage a 1300-MW demonstration fast breeder reactor. I would call this a Heath Robinson contraption which is patently defective as the supervisory board will have limited capacity, limited expertise and limited independence either to control or to persuade the very competent management team.

    I put this to the Secretary of State and I hope that he will follow some of our recommendations. After he has completed his consultations over Flowers, I hope he can bridge the gap between the physicist and the public. I hope he will put himself in the public's position and realise that while nuclear stations possess a risk, and while reprocessing facilities are reasonably sound, the public have doubts which must be dispelled, and it is up to the Government to dispel them. Meanwhile, the Bill is before the House and it should certainly receive a Third Reading.

    8.16 p.m.

    With the leave of the House, I should like briefly to reply. I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) approached the Third Reading. When the hon. Gentleman said that hon. Members are thinking of other things, I was minded that this is the first day of spring, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman meant that.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging the fact that a brief was provided in Committee, because this is a very technical Bill and we provided a brief in order that the Committee could have a good debate. I believe that it was a very good and thoughtful debate. Indeed, many hon. Members would profit greatly from reading that Committee stage.

    The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Flowers Report. I still give the assurance that I gave in Committee. We can hardly meet the assurances that the hon. Gentleman seeks, because we argued this in Committee and in the ordinary traditional way we voted when we disagreed.

    The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) made a thoughtful contribution. He always says that he is in favour of the Bill and of nuclear power, but I get the impression that he is not prepared to will the means in this respect. For some particular reason, the hon. Gentleman has at times been ultra-critical of BNFL, but that is the job and responsibility of the Opposition. I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the inept handling of the Bill by my right hon. Friend. I am sure that many of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends would disagree with him.

    I think that having a public inquiry into this aspect of the Bill will be welcomed by many people in the sense that it will to some extent take away the uncertainty. I do not think the hon. Gentleman will carry the whole House with him in his views. Those are his views, however, and he is entitled to have them.

    What is true is that the Department of Energy gave consent to the contract with the Japanese and that a year later the matter was referred to planning inquiry by another Department, the Department of the Environment.

    We can accept responsibility for the Department of Energy, but the hon. Gentleman cannot expect us to accept responsibility for the Department of the Environment. That is what democracy is all about. I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman is protesting about the processes of democracy. He may protest about some aspects of the nuclear process, but I do not think he can protest about the processes of democracy.

    The hon. Gentleman is being unfair, because between the decision to give the go-ahead and the decision on the planning inquiry we had publication of the enormously important Flowers Report, which gave other reasons for not simply going ahead.

    I am always grateful for comments from my hon. Friends. The hon. Member for Bedford asked about the inquiry, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman raised this again, because we had this out in Committee. I gave a very positive answer to that question. I told the Committee that the Japanese had understood the position entirely. That is on the record.

    With regard to the French attitude, I gave the hon. Gentleman a specific answer to that. With regard to his third question about predicting the outcome of the inquiry, no one, of course, can predict the outcome of the inquiry. That is why the inquiry is of interest in many people's minds, and that is why many people will be paying attention to what the outcome of the inquiry is.

    I think I have answered the main points in the debate. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.

    Division No. 92]


    [8.21 p.m.

    Allaun, FrankGraham, TedPhipps, Dr Colin
    Armstrong, ErnestHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Radice, Giles
    Ashton, JoeHeffer, Eric S.Richardson, Miss. Jo
    Atkinson, NormanHodgson, RobinRoderick, Caerwyn
    Bagier, Gordon A. T.Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)Rodgers, George (Chorley)
    Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Huckfield, LesRodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
    Bates, AlfHughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Rooker, J. W.
    Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodHughes, Roy (Newport)Roper, John
    Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Hunter, AdamRose, Paul B.
    Bishop, E. S.Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
    Blenkinsop, ArthurJackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Rowlands, Ted
    Boardman, H.Janner, GrevilleRyman, John
    Booth, Rt Hon AlbertJohnson, James (Hull West)Sandelson, Neville
    Bray, Dr JeremyJones, Alec (Rhondda)Sedgemore, Brian
    Buchanan, RichardKerr, RussellSelby, Harry
    Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Kinnock, NeilSilverman, Julius
    Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Lamond, JamesSkinner, Dennis
    Canavan, DennisLangford-Holt, Sir JohnSmall, William
    Cocks, Rt Hon MichaelLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
    Cohen, StanleyLeadbitter, TedSpearing, Nigel
    Coleman, DonaldLee, JohnSpriggs, Leslie
    Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Stallard, A. W.
    Cowans, HarryLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Stanbrook, Ivor
    Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Lipton, MarcusStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
    Crawshaw, RichardLoyden, EddieStoddart, David
    Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Lyon, Alexander (York)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
    Cryer, BobLyons, Edward (Bradford W)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
    Davidson, ArthurMcCartney, HughThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
    Deakins, EricMcDonald. Dr OonaghThorne, Stan (Preston South)
    Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)MacFarquhar, RoderickTierney, Sydney
    Dempsey, JamesMaclennan, RobertTinn, James
    Doig, PeterMadden, MaxVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
    Dormand, J. D.Magee, BryanWalden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
    Douglas-Mann, BruceMahon, SimonWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
    Dunnett, JackMarks, KennethWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
    Eadie, AlexMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)White, Frank R. (Bury)
    Edge, GeoffMaynard, Miss JoanWhitehead, Phillip
    Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Whitlock, William
    Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
    Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Moyle, RolandWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
    Flannery, MartinMurray, Rt Hon Ronald KingWise, Mrs Audrey
    Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Oakes, GordonWoodall, Alec
    Foot, Rt Hon MichaelOgden, EricWoof, Robert
    Forrester, JohnOrme, Rt Hon StanleyWrigglesworth, Ian
    Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)Ovenden, John
    Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Park, GeorgeTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
    George, BruceParker, JohnMr. Joseph Harper and
    Golding, JohnParry, RobertMr. Peter Snape.

    The Minister says that he has sat down. Neverthless, I hope he will rise to his feet to answer my last question. Prior to the conclusion of the inquiry, will he permit BNFL to go ahead with the building of the ponds? These are essential for the collection of the spent elements coming from Japan under the prospective contract.

    I dealt with this aspect of the matter in Committee; indeed, it was dealt with on Second Reading. I ask the hon. Member for Bedford to read the reports of the proceedings in Committee and the Second Reading debate. He will find the answer to his question there.

    Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

    The House divided: Ayes 140, Noes 11.


    Bain, Mrs MargaretRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
    Freud, ClementSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
    Grimond, Rt Hon J.Steel, Rt Hon DavidTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
    Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Stewart, Rt Hon DonaldMr. David Penhaligon and
    Pardoe, JohnThompson, GeorgeMr. A. J. Beith.

    Question accordingly agreed to.

    Bill read the Third time and passed.