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Joint European Torus Project

Volume 929: debated on Monday 4 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement about the Council of Ministers' meeting, in view of the consequences of the failure to agree a site for the JET project.

JET was discussed by the Research Council on 29th March. I regret that the Council was again unable to agree on a site. It was agreed that the choice now lay between Culham and Garching, but the view was held that the choice of site could not be made until the basis of the organisational structure had been decided. The organisational proposals put forward by the Commission and Council Secretariat, which we supported, proved to be unacceptable to some member States.

The Council agreed that this matter would have to be further prepared by officials and that the Council should then meet again as soon as possible to try to reach agreement on both site and organisation. In order to give time for this, the Commission will extend the contracts of the JET design team at Culham, which would otherwise expire on 30th June.

Will the Minister explain why the Government were not prepared to make a statement on a research project which is crucially important to the whole of Europe and why it needed a Question to be tabled to receive an answer at all from the Government? Does he understand that the Opposition are concerned about the failure to reach agreement and the bitterness that arose out of the chairmanship of the meeting by the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman)? Will he say what reassurance has been given to the members of the research team at Culham, as there is evidence that it is breaking up? Will he also say whether a date has been agreed for the next meeting, as it is vital that the matter should be resolved at the earliest possible date?

The hon. Gentleman asked why the Government did not make a statement. One of the reasons is that we do not take the cynical view shown by the implication of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. As I said in answer to the hon. Gentleman's Question, the Government regard the question of fusion as an issue that Europe will require to decide.

I want to refute the hon. Gentleman's allegation about the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry. The Government cannot accept responsibility for reports that appeared in the Press. The hon. Gentleman may take some comfort from the fact that at that meeting members of the Council complimented my hon. Friend on the manner and the method with which he chaired the meeting, which they admitted was a very difficult one. It is from the Council that the compliments come. The Government cannot accept any responsibility for the Press.

The research work at Culham is complementary to the JET programme and is not dependent on JET being sited there. Culham's work would continue with some modifications even if JET were abandoned.

Is it not regrettable that the decision which was about to be taken to site the JET project at Culham was nullified because of the pique of some of the smaller members of the Community because the British Government refused to accept the agricultural price review proposals? Does not my hon. Friend think that it is highly regrettable that that kind of situation should occur?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is regrettable that no decision was taken. As I said in answer to the original Question, an issue that everyone thought had been decided was the question of the structure. On the second issue, the Government were assured that the agricultural policy had no bearing on the difficulty arising in reaching a decision.

Notwithstanding the last part of the hon. Gentleman's answer, is this not a lamentable example once again of the Government's failure to be positive in their European policy? No doubt this link exists between the agricultural meeting and the energy meeting. Will the Minister confirm that when he next goes back to Brussels on this matter he will try to secure a positive outcome before it is too late?

I am surprised at the way the hon. Gentleman has posed his question—talking about a lamentable failure by the Government. It was a surprise to everyone that the question of the structure and the organisation should be mentioned. One member State, much to the surprise of everybody, said "We have to get this organisation and structure correct. If we do not, the question of legality will be involved and the whole of the JET fusion programme will be in danger." The hon. Gentleman may reflect that we have had a number of debates in the House, and the Government have given a very firm commitment to fusion. If the position went awry on 29th March, of course the Council would require to meet again and come to some decision on it.

We did not manage to speak with one voice at the meeting, although I think that there was a general appreciation at the meeting that the EEC has to deal with the question of fusion and has to have a fusion technology.

As the dispute has been dragging on for around two years, will the Minister answer the important question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) as to whether a date has now been fixed for the next meeting and whether the dispute is likely to be settled at that meeting? Will he further comment on the Press report that one reason why the talks broke down was that the chair was taken by the Minister of State, Department of Industry, the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), so that the Secretary of State for Energy could present his case?

I thought that I had answered the last question first, and I believed that the hon. Gentleman would accept what I said—that members of the Council complimented my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry on the way in which he chaired the meeting, with the usual expertise that one would associate with him. [Interruption.] It is on the record that the members of the Council complimented my hon. Friend. I am concerned about the manner in which this information is being received. I am giving the House facts about what other member States did and said.

The beginning of May was a suggested date. As for the dispute going on for two years, the hon. Gentleman should check back. A dispute like this has not gone on for two years. The question of where the site should be had been an issue, but I think that most member States thought that the question of organisation and structure had already been decided.