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Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant

Volume 227: debated on Monday 28 June 1993

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4.38 pm

I beg to move,

That this House believes that, as evidenced by the hardening of international opposition, there are increasingly strong economic, environmental and proliferation reasons why it would not be in the interests of the United Kingdom or the rest of the world for Her Majesty's Government to bring the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield (THORP) into operation; notes that the last public inquiry into THORP took place more than fifteen years ago, since when all relevant circumstances have substantially changed; and therefore urges Her Majesty's Government to investigate and make public all relevant aspects of THORP and alternative processes for dealing with spent fuel including dry storage, to ensure full disclosure of the terms of all contracts for the use of THORP and of the calculations supporting its economic justification, and to ensure that all information is available for public comment, independent appraisal and proper cross-examination before any decision is taken.
In The Observer at the weekend, there was a three-line NIB—news in brief—entitled "Small Tremor". It stated:
"An earth tremor measuring 3·0 on the Richter scale hit south Cumbria and north Lancashire."
Perhaps it was the Almighty reacting to the fact that, for the first time in 15 years, there is to be a debate in the House on the future of THORP.

The thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield is a very important project. It was commissioned, and approval for it was sought, by British Nuclear Fuels plc back in the late 1970s. BNFL saw THORP as a means of treating partially used nuclear fuel, from home or abroad, from advanced gas-cooled reactors or light-water reactors and, by that reprocessing operation, separate out uranium and plutonium and separately place the waste.

The inspector who held the inquiry in the late 1970s was the very eminent judge, Mr. Justice Parker. It was very clear to him that he was making a decision based on the evidence at the time. It was clear to him that the evidence and circumstances might change and the matter might have to be reconsidered. From the beginning, it was clear that everyone who participated in the debate regarded the decision as conditional.

There were two debates on the matter, one very shortly after the other. The first debate was on a motion for the Adjournment of the House and it was initiated by the Government. The then Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) commended THORP to the House. During that debate, and in the debate in May 1978, many hon. Members on both sides of the House made the conditionality of the project clear.

The second debate was initiated by the then Leader of the Liberal party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). He initiated the debate by praying against the order that provided planning permission for the Windscale proposal. He said:
"In my view, the arguments on both sides are finely balanced and contain many uncertainties. It is because of that that I believe the burden of proof ought to lie quite firmly on the side of those who are pressing this order and who argue that we should now be taking this firm step into the plutonium economy."
My right hon. Friend ended his speech by saying:
"This House has a straight choice between looking at the longer-term results of a decision that we take tonight against the undoubted economic value of the Japanese and other contracts which we could acquire. I believe that the onus must lie heavily on the Government, who have brought forward the order, to persuade us that we are wrong. If they do not persuade us beyond a reasonable doubt, it will be right to vote in favour of the order being withdrawn."—[Official Report, 15 May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 111–18.]
In the event, the order was approved by the House, though not without many hon. Members, including the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, making it very clear that it might not be, and should not be, the final decision on the matter.

Today's debate has produced great benefits. We have flushed out where other people stand. We have flushed out the Government's position which—there is general agreement on this—had been secret for several months. The Government received advice, as they were bound to under statute, several months ago. BNFL, the operators, and the opponents wanted to hear a decision about that. However, until the end of last week, not a peep was heard.

Not only have we forced the Government's hand today—and therefore I hope that today's debate is welcome, no matter what view people take on the issue—we have also flushed out two other things. We have flushed out an announcement, which has been made in the past hour, about how the Government intend to respond to the two reports that have been given to them. We have also flushed out the advice provided by the body that advises on radioactive material.

In addition, we have flushed out the Labour party's position. We have forced Labour's hand and it has made a decision. Labour is going to abstain, just as it did in respect of Maastricht—

Well, perhaps not all Labour Members. However, the official Labour position is that it is not for THORP and it is not against it. It is not for a public inquiry and it is not against one.

I challenge Labour Members to tell us what words in the motion they disagree with and why. I challenge them to tell us how, after all this time for deliberation, they cannot either endorse the project which they started in the 1970s or oppose it because circumstances have changed. As with Maastricht and income tax rises or public expenditure cuts, the Labour party is neither for them or against them. Yet again, the Labour party is sitting on the fence.

The hon. Gentleman is talking about flushing out the views and opinions of a variety of people, particularly hon. Members. Does he accept that the work force at Sellafield are one of the best-trained work forces in the country? Is he aware that he could have flushed out the view of that work force if he had been on College green at lunchtime when the work force made their views known? They want THORP to continue. They believe that it is safe. It is their work and they want it to be allowed to be commissioned.

Of course they do, and understandably so. My hon Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said last week that the workers at Rosyth wanted their work to continue, and, as the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) will be aware, many miners wanted their work to continue last October and this March. However, at the end of the day, the Government and the Conservative party could not endorse that.

Of course the work force argued their case, and the hon. Member for Rochford has raised very proper concerns about that work force and their future in Cumbria which has significant unemployment, if not the highest in the country. I respect the view of the work force. I have spoken to some of the shop stewards and I hope to meet them again when I visit Sellafield in about 10 days' time. I have undertaken to meet the shop stewards and the work force as well as the management.

The hon. Member for Rochford is well versed in these matters and his point alludes also to the fact that there is a quite reasonable debate about the issue and an understandable and honest entitlement to a difference of view. Complex issues such as the general debate about nuclear power and about nuclear weapons, do not necessarily drive to a unanimous conclusion along party lines. People in the Conservative party hold different views about the desirability of THORP and about a public inquiry, as they do in the Labour party and in my party.

Hon Members such as the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) have proper constituency views and we would expect them to speak on the matter. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who represents Dounreay, has made no secret of his views over the years. There is an honest disagreement of views.

Since my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale spoke in the late 1970s, it has been my party's policy to oppose THORP, because we were not persuaded about it, and to argue that the only basis for supporting reprocessing is when it is necessary on safety grounds. That was the position on which we went into the last general election and to which we are committed as a party.

I do not only take a constituency view: I am a believer in nuclear power.

I may have been unfair to the hon. Gentleman. I tried to make the point that there is a difference in respect of the fundamental issues and that hon. Members are quite properly entitled to take a constituency view. The hon. Member for Workington has argued his views. I hope that he welcomes the debate. as he and I were in a meeting recently when we were asked to try to facilitate such a debate and I have now provided that opportunity.

My colleagues and I do not intend—and it would be improper—for this to be a debate about the future of nuclear energy in Britain. That is a huge and wide subject. We may complain about the fact that we have not had such a debate. We do complain about the fact that the way in which we debate energy policy in this place is nothing short of mad and we complain that the logical sequence of events should not have been what we have seen, are seeing and are about to see: a debate on coal in the late autumn of 1992 and the spring of 1993; a debate about THORP today; a debate about the national Audit Office view on the economics of the nuclear industry before the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday; a possible announcement about the nuclear review originally heralded to be made by the Minister for Energy at a meeting tomorrow night, although he will no doubt tell us that whether that will be the case, but certainly with a timetable envisaged to be announced before we break for the summer recess—

The Minister says no, so it will not. And there will be a debate about renewables some time later.

The only point that I want to make about the energy debate is that it is a mad system which does not look at Britain's strategic energy needs first and then decide what the implication is for each of the component parts—for example, whether we should have a nuclear industry, how much coal we should have, whether we should have opencast coal, and so on. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland says, having previously spoken on the subject while holding this brief for our party, it does not help when we have a Government who do not believe in an energy strategy.

Workers at Sellafield, like us and, indeed, the management at Sellafield, wish that the Government had had a clearer strategy on these matters for a long time. There is consensus that the way the Government are acting is no way to run a country, and, with or without the President of the Board of Trade present—we wish him a speedy recovery—it is certainly no way to decide an energy policy.

There is one obvious linked point. What happens at THORP and the contracts at THORP are relevant to the economic viability of nuclear power and nuclear energy. A very timely article in today's issue of The Guardian made that point very clear. I do no more than allude to part of that article, but it makes it very clear that there is a battle royal going on between BNFL on the one hand and Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear on the other about who underwrites the risk. Unless we make that clear, it could make all the difference to the viability of the nuclear energy industry. Indeed, there is a strong argument from the nuclear energy industry to take the THORP equation—the reprocessing issue—out altogether. Some believe that they would be better served if that were not part of the equation.

Some of us were the guests of Robin Jeffrey and James Hann of Scottish Nuclear. We asked them, and they were quite clear that there was no animosity of any kind whatever along the lines that the hon. Gentleman suggests. [Interruption.]

As my hon. Friends say, they would say that, wouldn't they? The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is eminent in these matters. It is clearly a matter of controversy where the liability lies. One of the things that are apparent from the contracts as they were originally drafted and as they have been in the public domain—one criticism is that they are not generally in the public domain—is that it is not clear exactly where liability lies. The hon. Member for Linlithgow is entitled to challenge that point, and, if he is correct, I hope that the Government will tell us whether that matter has been resolved or whether there is still a dispute. The Minister is in a better position than anybody else to tell us that.

I am sorry to interrupt once again. That was said in the presence of the former Chairman of the Energy Select Committee, the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark). It was only 10 days ago. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman has to accept it.

I was making the point, with which the hon. Gentleman will agree, that the finances of the nuclear industry will be different if we include or exclude the prospective financial benefit to Britain of the THORP process. That is an uncontroversial point and I hope that the hon. Member for Linlithgow will accept it.

I will give way one more time and then I want to make the substantive part of my speech.

At the time of the Parker inquiry, I had the privilege to represent Workington, and I am also a member of the Public Accounts Committee. Leaving to one side the aspect that it could cost 2,000 jobs and the cost of£2 billion, I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman does his economic calculations, he will take into account the compensation that this country might have to pay if we do not go ahead with the THORP process: that has been estimated at£5 billion. [Interruption.]

That would be a very good point if, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) says, we had seen the contracts. If the contracts were in the public domain, as the Government committed themselves to doing at Rio in respect of environmental information, we could see the compensation clause. With respect, as someone whose job used to be commercial contracts before I came to this place, I know that what they do and do not include is highly relevant, and they can make a difference of billions of pounds; but they are not in the public domain and until they are the figures will be speculative. Also, it is not acceptable for Parliament to accept the view only of BNFL, which clearly has a vested interest, as the hon. Gentleman will accept.

I made the point that I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee. The report came forward with the endorsement of the National Audit Office. Is the hon. Gentleman calling into account the National Audit Office's integrity on this matter?

The National Audit Office, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has just produced a report which is to go to the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday. It makes it clear that the costs of decommissioning are uncertain, to put it neutrally, and it certainly does not endorse the figures that have been put forward by BNFL and others. In answer to the point about the Committee's earlier report, what is not clear—the NAO did not say that it was clear—is what the automatic compensation entitlement would be.

I will tell the hon. Gentleman why it is not clear. First, it is not clear in what form the waste might be able to be sent back within the contract. There is a debate about substitution, and I shall refer to the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee report in a minute. Secondly, it is also not clear whether the contract would be fulfilled if BNFL—Britain—held on to the waste and put it into dry storage as opposed to reprocessing it.

There are many ways in which the contract might be able to be honoured without any compensation having to be paid. As the former hon. Member for the relevant seat, the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) might like to persuade the chairman of BNFL to give us a copy of the contract. We could all then take legal advice and we would all be the wiser. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use his good offices—

No, I do not know what is coming. I have given way once. I anticipate that the hon. Gentleman will be called if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I am certainly not frit. We put the subject on the agenda, for heaven's sake.

Because I have even better points to make. and I am about to make them.

In our motion, we make one general point and three specific points, and we call for one specific conclusion. We make the general point that there is growing international opposition to the reprocessing of spent fuel in a way that increases the amount of uranium and plutonium in the world. My hon. and learned Friend for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) will address that matter, too. It is very clear that, over 10 years, the process will add about 60 extra tonnes to the global plutonium surplus of which there is already plenty.

I cite nothing less than the most radical and non-Conservative document, The Economist, and an article written only earlier this month. It is clear that the risk of proliferation, particularly in the former Soviet states, is now considerable and that article argues strongly against it. Not only the Administration in the United States but two senior members of Congress are now putting into Congress Bills a provision to make sure that there is a control that could, at the time of the renewal of the non-proliferation treaty in 1995, actually make the THORP process illegal. I ask the Minister to address that matter. When the Euratom treaty is renegotiated, the process itself may offend against international law.

There is that growing international opposition, but there is growing international opposition much nearer home. Earlier this month, in Berlin, the member states of the Paris commission on prevention of marine pollution from land based sources met to consider what to do about the Sellafield plant. By a majority of nine to two, including four countries that have customers of BNFL within their borders, they voted, including other matters, to request
"information on the need for spent fuel reprocessing …"
a full environmental impact assessment;
"the demonstration that the…discharges are based upon the use of the Best Available Techniques"
and that they be consulted before THORP goes ahead. Only in the past fortnight, a motion was tabled in the European Parliament asking for a public inquiry.

There is increasing evidence in Japan—one of the big customers—that there is growing public discontent. That is not answered by a newspaper advertisement this week, which appeared to answer the protest from the Japanese last week. We discover that the advertisment was placed not only by the Japanese utilities but, apparently, in association with BNFL. That is hardly an impartial response. Finally, it is only one year ago this month that the Prime Minister signed us up to principles in Rio, especially article 10 of the Rio declaration which stated that we were committed to full environmental information.

There is growing international concern, and I break it into three areas—I can only be brief, because the debate obviously must allow hon. Members fully to participate. Those three areas are economic, environmental and proliferation. I have alluded to proliferation and I do not intend to elaborate on that now. It is a fairly obvious point that if a process produces uranium and plutonium, and that plutonium is available to be used, even though there may be legal constraints for nuclear weapons, one has increased the danger of nuclear escalation in the world.

I shall deal with the economic point. The figures are difficult to work out because we have not seen the contracts and the market for the product is not nearly as buoyant as it was in 1978. They are also difficult to work out, because, although there may be contracts for the next 10 years, THORP is meant to have a life of about 25 years, and considerable extra costs of decommissioning are added once one starts to operate the plant.

A lot of money has been spent on building the plant and getting it ready for operation, but there is a history of white elephants in Britain and other countries The argument is not how much we have spent and whether we can afford not to go on, but whether it is the wonderful earner economically for Britain, that BNFL has told us that it will be. Unless the figures are in the public domain and can be examined, and people can cross-examine on them, the economic case cannot be clearly made out.

An important part of the economic case relates to jobs. It is not clear how many jobs at Sellafield might be at risk. I accept that it is in the order of between 1,500 and 2,500. Any job lost is a job that one certainly should try to preserve. I tell the people of Cumbria directly that those of us who advance this argument do not do so with no care whether people should have work—I say that as the Member representing a constituency with double or more the unemployment level of either Workington or Copeland—but we ask whether there is an acceptable alternative.

Well validated figures suggest that, if we take the dry storage option, which is much less environmentally damaging, we could have many more jobs on that site than we would have through the reprocessing option. We could have many more jobs and many less dangerous ones. That is another question which needs to be examined, because some people have been taken on ready for the site to be up and running and will be laid off in any event as they will probably not be able to be kept in construction or operating jobs in the interim period if there is further delay, as the Government announced today that there will be.

More importantly, one must distinguish between the number of people whose jobs will be operating such a plant and the prospective thousands of jobs that there would be over a period of up to 10 years in constructing a dry storage facility to honour our international obligations or national contracts. In all probability, according to much of the evidence, such a facility would give much more work than is currently envisaged for West Cumbria or Sellafield in particular.

The hon. Gentleman has asked for a lot of evidence relating to contracts and other matters. Can he outline his evidence that suggests that a dry store facility would employ more people than the reprocessing plant? On top of that, can he tell us what one does when one has stored the specific materials for some time? Is he suggesting that the materials should be stored for ever?

I shall deal with the first question first. Many people have done studies of the alternative job implications for a dry storage facility. I have taken advice from at least three sources about what the alternatives would be. I shall give the hon. Gentleman the best answer that I can now, and I will be happy to pursue the matter with him later.

In option 1, commissioning THORP—the proposal supported by the Government—BNFL estimates that the number of jobs in the THORP division would be about 850, probably plus a few. Jobs related to the THORP operation but in the Magnox division would probably be in the order of 500. That is a total of 1,350. Abandoning THORP and building a dry storage facility, and management of it, would provide about 520 jobs plus about 500 support jobs and thousands of construction jobs in the foreseeable five years or more.

They are juggling around with my constituents—throwing them in the air.

We are absolutely not throwing the hon. Gentleman's constituents in the air—we are trying to give them much more long-term employment than they might get from a process that may have no takers at all in 10 years' time. [Interruption.] I quoted the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. We believe in long-term economic solutions, not short-term ones, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman's constituents agree.

I will finish my point, then answer the question. The third point is the environmental one. That point is made best by, first, a Minister writing in the last month and, secondly, a report that has come out only today.

The hon. Gentleman can bellow all he likes. I told him that I will answer his question but finish my point first. This is my speech for a change. We get many more chances to make speeches on subjects of our choosing than he does because of the unfairness of the system. However, that is an argument for elsewhere.

On 25 May, Baroness Cumberlege, an Under-Secretary of State for Health, endorsed by letter—I have a copy here—the comments of the committee that gives advice to the Government on the medical aspects of radiation in the environment. That committee considered the draft authorisations for discharges from Sellafield and said that it had not had adequate time to consider the discharges and was not satisfied that they were safe. The Minister explicitly set out the position almost exactly a month ago. She said:
"I attach a copy of the text of COMARE's response to the authorising Departments on this matter. The Department of Health, which was also invited to comment on the proposals, has endorsed COMARE's comments."
Only today, we have flushed out—this is another achievement of my hon. Friends and myself—the advice—[Laughter]—Conservative Members should not laugh. It is true.

I am grateful for that support from the hon. Gentleman. The advice of the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee to the Government was in my tray at 3.15 pm today. It says:

"RWMAC had originally been requested to provide advice to the Secretary of State by July 1992 but was unable to meet this deadline because insufficient information was provided by BNFL…The advice submitted by RWMAC to the Secretary of State is not as comprehensive as RWMAC would have wished because information that was requested from BNFL is still outstanding."
Waste equivalence is an important point to do with substitution and the question whether it can be converted and compacted so that only the high level is sent back and the intermediate or low level is retained, or vice versa.
"The radiological basis chosen by BNFL for calculating waste equivalencies has not yet been agreed by BNFL and its overseas customers."
The RWMAC advised that until there is agreement between BNFL and its overseas customers on the technical basis of substitution, the BNFL substitution exercise should not be approved. That recommendation was made not 20 or 10 years ago, but today, 15 years after the plant was approved.

The RWMAC made two other points:
"The substitution scenario proposed by BNFL depends on the Nirex repository being available to accommodate the foreign intermediate-level waste and low-level waste resulting from the reprocessing by 2005 and is based on a best case return time of the ground water from the repository to the surface environment".
Nirex has said that the repository will not be commissioned before the year 2007 at the earliest and the RWMAC has said that waste is unlikely to be disposed of before 2010, if the repository is sited in Sellafield.

"As the site will not be available in 2005, it will be necessary to evaluate the implications for both the UK site currently used for the disposal of low-level waste"—
next door at Drigg—
"and for various interim ILW stores."
The RWMAC advised the Secretary of State that until the studies are complete, it was not in a position to be able to comment fully on the radiological and environmental impact for the United Kingdom of the introduction of substitution.

There is some final advice to BNFL that is relevant to the Government. The RWMAC also advises that BNFL should
"examine to case for the return of intermediate-level waste to determine whether the return of foreign waste in this form, rather than the return of equivalent quantities of vitrified high-level waste is viable."
The RWMAC suggests that BNFL should
"document its case demonstrating that retention of foreign intermediate-level waste resulting from reprocessing will not cause health or safety concerns to the UK population.…There should be a trial return of high-level waste."
The RWMAC advice sets out a number of issues which the committee believes needs to be addressed by BNFL and the Government before the substitution of high-level waste by intermediate and low-level waste should be approved. The RWMAC
"looks forward to receiving this additional information and at that time would hope to be in a position where it could advise more fully on the BNFL proposals for substitution".
That is not scaremongering from political parties, but information from the Government's official advisers on the medical effects of radiation, endorsed by Health Ministers, and information from the relevant advisory committee which says that it does not have the facts.

Not long ago, the controversial proposal for Torness in Scotland was the subject of a public inquiry. The inspector made it clear in his report that dry storage was not only a possible option and a viable option, but a reasonable alternative option. My friends in Scotland, who have campaigned for many years against the Torness plant, would agree that as it now appears that Government policy—on the advice of inspectors—is not universally and unilaterally in favour of reprocessing, but considers that there is an alternative, the entire logic of THORP is questionable.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware, when he quotes the numbers of jobs that would be available in dry storage, that, at the recent public inquiry into the proposed dry storage at Torness, Scottish Nuclear Ltd. said that the store would require only 10 to 15 staff during loading and that thereafter, staff requirements would reduce to those required for occasional monitoring and maintenance? In that light, how can the hon. Gentleman talk of 1,000 jobs in dry storage?

That would be a fair—[Interruption.] That would be a fair and relevant comparison if the size of the two plants were equivalent.

No. They are not equivalent. We know what the contracts currently placed for THORP are, and we know the contracting party and the amount of work involved. The hon. Gentleman quotes figures, which I quoted, for the far smaller element in the debate—maintenance of the dry storage operation—but has left out the amount of people needed for the construction.

Yes, but many of the jobs that have been created in Sellafield have been sub-contractors' jobs, for building.

We are talking about some long-term jobs. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that such facts need to be the subject of a public debate. That is why the Liberal Democrats are specifically proposing a public inquiry. It is no good the Minister laughing, because, by law, he may be obliged to hold one. He may not have been in the House—he is a contemporary of mine and I was not present either—in 1960, when the Radioactive Substances Act was passed. He may not have followed the amendment process to that Act in the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Under sections 11 and 12 of the 1960 Act, it seems that there is a strong case that, once the reports have been given to his two right hon. Friends who are the determining authority—the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for the Environment, for whom the inspector of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution acts—there is an obligation to consult on that report.

Surprise, surprise, today at last, the Government have responded to that request. In a written answer from the Secretary of State for the Environment to the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson)—it may be a planted question—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is not here."] The hon. Gentleman is not here. The question was tabled a couple of days ago, and only after it was announced that we were having today's debate. The Secretary of State for the Environment said that he had received the report and that he and his colleague had considered it. He makes an earth-shattering proposal:
"My right hon. Friend and I propose that there should be a further round of consultation".
I pause to tell the workers in Cumbria that the Liberal Democrats are not saying that there should be further delay, but that the Government are saying that there should be a further round of consultation. In that consultation, the questions raised by the response to the HM IP draft authorisations should be considered. I might add that 108 local authorities, as respondents, are opposed to the operation of the plant.

The Secretary of State's officials are writing to BNFL seeking further information. The written answer continues:
"I shall make their reply available for public comment, together with other material. My right hon. Friend and I do not propose to take final decisions on the exercise of our functions under the Act until after this further consultation."
There we have it: the stories in the press were true. The Government were not going to make a decision. The arguments put to them, from advice given by leading counsel to Greenpeace among others, about the legal case, have resulted in the Government's agreeing that they have to have further consultation. They propose simply to write to BNFL, to seek information, and to make their reply available for public comment, together with unspecified other material. How on earth can there be an objective assessment of jobs, of the economics issue and the environmental issue, unless the people and their evidence are put in the public domain and cross-examined?

We do not want a long delay. There need not be one. Mr. Justice Parker's inquiry took 100 days. An inquiry could be held and a decision could be made before the end of the year, providing that the Government and the system move quickly. There would then be an up-to-date appraisal of the facts this year, as was suggested might be necessary in 1978.

One does not embark on a process that has hidden additional costs of decommissioning before the cost of doing that is known. One should evaluate the radiological impact and wait for the judgment of the case where families have brought an action against BNFL alleging that leukaemia results from discharges from Sellafield. I am reliably told that the judgment is likely by the autumn. One can get the facts. My hon. Friends and I put a simple proposition to the House. We want the facts, and we propose the most independent way in which to get them.

I shall answer the question that I was asked, and I shall then make the case for the Government to reconsider. I answer now the hon. Member for Linlithgow to whom I can show the figures, and I am happy to go through them with him. The best advice that I was given on the calculations for the job prospects was by Friends of the Earth, which did the first analysis, and by Media Natura, which did the second analysis. I also received advice from the third analysis, which was done on the basis of local research into job prospects in Cumbria. I can go through the documents with the hon. Member for Linlithgow. I have them here and they are available in the House this afternoon.

My hon. Friends and I believe that what the Government have not done by their answer is preclude the option of a public inquiry. The Government have not ruled out a public inquiry. It is a bit like the public expenditure review, in which nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out. There is still a chance for the Government to take that course. If they do not, they risk protracting the commissioning of THORP or the decision not to commission it even longer.

The Government know as well as I do that there is strong legal advice that, on the basis of planning guidance, of our obligations under the Rio convention, and, more explicitly, of the requirement for an environmental impact assessment for this project under the directive passed by the European Community in 1985, which is now law here, and, above all, of the Radioactive Substances Act 1960 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990, they have an obligation to ensure that the facts are put into the public domain. If the Government do not go down that road now, they will prejudice the very jobs that they seek to protect, they will risk the project that they support and, worse, they will allow Britain to go ahead with the development of a project which the rest of the world increasingly regards as undesirable and uneconomic.

We argue for jobs and sanity. We hope that the Government do not press their amendment. If they do, we hope that that is not their final word, because we believe that they are wrong.

5.21 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

'congratulates the management and workforce of British Nuclear Fuels plc on the completion of its high technology thermal oxide reprocessing plant (THORP) for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel at Sellafield; welcomes the 3,000 jobs, mainly in the North West, which the plant supports; recognises that around 90 per cent. of its £1,850 million capital cost was spent with British industry; notes that the plant is needed to fulfil the customers' requirements for reprocessing, represented by contracts already won worth £9 billion; recalls that it is a major example of international inward investment which the chairmen of the ten Japanese nuclear power generators strongly endorsed last week; expresses confidence in the non-proliferation arrangements that underlie the plant's work for all the overseas customers; and, subject to receipt by BNFL of such consents as are required by law, supports the commissioning of the plant at the earliest practicable date.'.
The choice of debate today by the Liberal Democrat party is interesting. It can choose four half-days of debate this Session. Not for the Liberal Democrats a debate on the issues about which they claim to care really passionately. There is no debate about proportional representation. There is no debate about local income tax. There is no debate about the economy, nationally or locally. There is none of that.

What do they choose to debate? They choose to table a motion which, if passed, would lead directly to the loss of 3,000 jobs, net of dry storage considerations. If passed, the motion would lead to the closure of a high-technology plant. If passed, it would lead directly to a loss of confidence by overseas investors and by our major trading partners. That says a lot about the priorities of the Liberal Democrats.

Despite the length of the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), I turn briefly to the general tone of his remarks. What did he do? He took a series of comments out of context. He deliberately misconstrued Government reports and responses. He relied extensively—as, to be fair, he admitted—on the briefing of such eminently objective organisations as Friends of the Earth. It was a pretty shoddy performance even by the standards of his own party.

Does the Minister agree that the most shoddy part of this afternoon's event was his own laughter at the suggestion of a public inquiry? Why does he find the idea of a public inquiry on this most important of issues funny?

It is instructive that the hon. Gentleman is the first to jump to the defence of the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps he should join the Liberal Democrats. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on this point. Is it not typical of the Liberal Democrats that they go at length into the difficulties of the issues? They put forward an analysis, bogus though it may be, and then come back with the magic solution—a public inquiry.

What do they want? Do they want government by public inquiry? That may make sense to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, but he knows perfectly well that it does not make sense to Liberal Democrat Front-Bench Members—and, to the credit of the Labour party, it does not make sense to the Labour party either.

What the Labour party and the Conservative party want are firm decisions in accordance with the legal constraints and the legal framework within which we operate.

I welcome the chance to set the record straight today. In the past few months, a great deal has been said about THORP by unelected pressure groups and by people speaking at the prompting of such groups. My right hon. and hon. Friends may like to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has today answered a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson). In that answer he outlines the steps that he and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are taking on BNFL's request for revised discharge authorisations for the Sellafield site. As the House knows, there are copies of the relevant answer in the Vote Office.

It is important that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey listens to this, because he went some way to misconstrue the answer, which explains that my right hon. Friends intend to undertake further consultation before—I stress the word "before"—taking final decisions on the authorisations. The answer states:
"the inspectorates have concluded that no points of substance have been raised that should cause them to reconsider the terms of the draft authorisations, save for some minor amendments/corrections. In their judgment, the provisions of the draft authorisations would effectively protect human health, the safety of the food chain, and the environment generally."

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will repeat that point. I wish that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey had also referred to it in his remarks.

As the House would expect, in addressing the matter of the Sellafield discharge authorisations and their relevance to THORP, the Government are careful to ensure that their general functions in relation to the nuclear industry are properly distinguished from the specific statutory responsibilities of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

What Conservative Members say today does not constrain the statutory discretion of my right hon. Friends. They have to make their own decisions, although I am sure that they will take note of today's proceedings. It would be wrong to seek to constrain or to prejudge them in the exercise of their functions. Certainly nothing that I say should be construed as seeking to do so.

As this is an important issue, neither of us should quote selectively. I add to the quotation given by the Minister by quoting the third short paragraph. The answer says:

"However, a substantial number of the responses raised questions as to the justification for the operation of the thermal oxide reprocessing plant (THORP), and therefore whether that part of the site's total discharges arising from this plant should be allowed. Other respondents expressed their support for THORP. These questions were not dealt with by the inspectorate because of the wider issues raised."
That is one of the considerations. Logically, because it is also part of the answer which has led to the conclusion, there must be a further round of consultation.

Yes, of course those issues are relevant, and my right hon. Friends have to take into account the legal background against which they operate. They have made clear what the next steps will be. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I do not propose to take final decisions on the exercise of our functions under Radioactive Substances Act 1960 until after this further consultation. There is no disagreement.

I should like to go back to the paragraph which says:

"However, a substantial number of the responses raised questions as to the justification of the operation of the thermal oxide reprocessing plant."
Why were these matters riot dealt with six or nine months ago? During the course of the consultations, such representations were received as early as January. Ministers knew in August or September that arguments about that aspect of the matter were being raised. Has there been a cock-up, preventing these matters from being dealt with? Did Ministers fail to give the right remit? Is that the cause of the delay?

:Bearing in mind the legal position of my right hon. Friends, I have to be careful in this area. Because of the judicial implications, the precise decision of my right hon. Friends is a matter that the hon. Gentleman should refer to them.

As one who is dismayed that there is not to be an announcement that THORP should go ahead straight away, without further consultation—as I believe it should—may I put two questions to the Minister? I am told by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) that the delay is costing £2 million per week. Do the Government's own figures confirm that? Secondly, is i t true that compensation of up to £5,000 million could be claimed? That figure has been given in the debate already. Is it the Government's figure?

The estimate of £2 million per week was provided, I believe, by British Nuclear Fuels plc. I think that I can confirm that that is the company's figure.

There is no point in the hon. Gentleman's yelling, from a sedentary position, "What is the true figure?" The figure was provided by BNFL.

With regard to the £5,000 million to which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred, I understand that in certain scenarios, under the terms of the contract, compensation of that order could be due to BNFL's customers if THORP were cancelled and were never to go into operation. The Liberal party ought to stop and think about the consequences of urging such action.

That remark from the hon. Gentleman is a typical and classical cop-out, as he knows. He knows perfectly well that the summary of those contracts was made available at the inquiry a number of years ago.

One answer would be to let us see the contracts. However, there is another way. The Comptroller and Auditor General is an officer of Parliament. If he were prepared to look at the contracts and to assure us that his interpretation of them is the same as that of BNFL, would the Minister be prepared to accept his word?

Order. Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), are hoping to catch my eye during this debate. If these long interventions continue, the hon. Gentleman may not be successful.

I am rather enjoying being a spectator during my own speech.

There is today, I suspect, a sense of deja vu as we talk about THORP. In 1978 the two major parties in the House of Commons supported the construction of THORP, while the Liberals opposed it. Now, 14 years later, the plant has been built and is ready to operate, advance orders amounting to £9 billion have been placed and staff have been recruited and trained. Despite all this—despite the clear evidence of the success of the project—the Liberal party calls for a public inquiry.

Let me qualify what I have just said about the Liberal party's call for a public inquiry. There is a glaring omission from the list of names of those who have signed this motion. Where is the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan)? He is not even here to listen to the debate. Why is that? The hon. Gentleman understands the motion's implications for his constituents and for the nuclear industry. I believe—though, as he is a very discreet individual, I cannot know for sure—that he would rather absent himself from the debate than be forced to disassociate himself from the case being made by his hon. Friends.

In a short debate last December the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) supported the plant, subject to the views of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution on the disharge authorisations. I am happy to agree with that approach. I agree also with the views of the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry who, when he visited the plant in May, said:
"The case for commissioning is an extremely strong one, and I have been very impressed with what I have seen and heard today."
I agree, too, with the author of a letter to the Financial Times which described BNFL and THORP as a flagship for Britain. The Liberal Democrats might do rather better if they listened rather more to that author—Sir Ian Wrigglesworth. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) raises his eyes to heaven. How typical that is. A former leading and very widely respected member of his party has now stated his view very publicly, but the hon. Gentleman dismisses it with a lift of his eyes to heaven, as though it were of no account whatever.

The hon. Gentleman is a Minister now, and not a member of the Cambridge union, as he was when I first met him. That being the case, he should rise above such an approach. I stated explicitly that on this issue there is proper, honest dissent in all parties. Unlike the hon. Gentleman's party, my party has conferences and debates. We take decisions by majorities. I have enunciated the policy of my party. I do not dismiss Sir Ian Wrigglesworth's views or those of my hon. Friend. I was honest enough to admit that there is a difference of view, and to suggest that politicians may know less than inspectors at independent inquiries.

I would have rather more respect for the hon. Gentleman's views if he had bothered to visit the plant, as the hon. Member for Clackmannan and I have done. The hon. Gentleman subscribed to the manifesto and has drafted this motion. He has been throwing people's jobs in the air as though they mattered not at all, but he has not bothered to go to the plant. He does not have the guts to go and see for himself. What is more, he has been invited.

And accepted. That is typical. The hon. Gentleman will go there after subscribing to the Liberal party's manifesto and mounting this debate. He will sneak up there, and I suppose that he will go round the plant and say that his view has not been changed. I challenge him to give some of his time to the work force. Let him have a talk with the unions. Let him argue his case.

I have on numerous occasions met the BNFL unions, as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) knows perfectly well. I should like to hear the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey argue how other people's jobs are to be redistributed round the economy. Let him explain the advantages to the skilled workers—how they would be employed in dry storage. Let him for once expose himself to the difficulty of making decisions.

The Minister does not listen. I said in my speech that I had accepted the invitation before the motion was tabled and before I knew that there was to be a debate. I also said that I had had some discussions with the work force and the management and that I had agreed to have more. There are more people unemployed in my constituency than in that of the Minister. I do not throw jobs around, but the Minister condemned 30,000 miners to lose their jobs. We did not do that.

I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's report of his meeting with the unions at BNFL and to his seeing the THORP plant, after which I hope that he will reflect carefully on his position.

I am willing to give way, but I am conscious of the time and the fact that other hon. Members wish to speak.

I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to express the view from the other side of the Irish sea. All Northern Ireland Members are concerned about the effects of THORP on the Irish sea. I impress on the Minister the fact that few people in Northern Ireland will be satisfied or will have their concerns allayed until every fact is known and every possible safeguard is put in place.

I am aware of that concern. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, under section 37 of the Euratom treaty arrangements, proper investigation has been carried out into the radiation effects of THORP. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the scientific findings, which should alleviate concern on the other side of the Irish sea.

The plant has been completed and all those who have seen it have been greatly impressed, not only by the plant but by the commitment of the work force and its preoccupation with safety. The hon. Member for Clackmannan spoke about that. There has been much debate about the importance to the area of the 3,000 jobs which flow from and are associated with the plant. Some 2,000 of those jobs are in west Cumbria alone.

The plant was built to meet the needs of its proven United Kingdom and overseas customers. Those needs are not customer aspirations but binding contracts totalling £9 billion, and half the contracts are from overseas. That in itself is a major export achievement by BNFL. In addition, THORP is a major example of inward investment. Some £1.6 billion has been advanced by overseas customers towards the capital cost of the plant, and £1 billion of that came from Japanese customers. The Government greatly value the long-standing nuclear co-operation between this country and Japan which made that investment possible.

May I confirm that there is no reason whatever why the debate cannot continue until 10 o'clock and that only custom and convention limit it to 7 o'clock? That is my information from the Clerk, so we are not short of time. Does the Minister recall the occasion on which he and I spoke from the platform of the Trade Unions for Safe Nuclear Energy, under the chairmanship of Bill Morgan of the Amalgamated Engineering Union? The Minister said at that time that general relations with Japan were affected by the THORP decision. Will he expand on that important matter?

The hon. Gentleman's initial point is a matter for the business managers. I remember the event that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and I look forward to speaking again at the union's annual dinner later this year. On the occasion to which the hon. Gentleman refers, I spoke about the major inward investment by the Japanese and said that the plant was probably the single largest export element of our trade with Japan. I said that, if there were serious problems about the start-up of that plant, it would almost inevitably have implications for Japan's perception of the United Kingdom as a trading partner and as a place in which to invest.

Some hon. Members have argued that somehow those major customers of THORP were misguided to enter into these contracts, which are inappropriate. If there was ever any truth in that allegation, it has been completely disproved by the advertisements in The Times on Wednesday by the 10 Japanese electric power companies—[ Interruption.] The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) seems to dismiss that on the grounds that in some way BNFL was associated with that advertisement.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that the chairmen of the major electricity generating companies in Japan would append their names to an advertisement just because somebody wanted to organise it? Of course not. They must have considered the matter extremely carefully and would have wanted to make a clear statement of their views because people such as the hon. Gentleman and the Liberal party were misconstruing their stance. Those Japanese companies felt that it was time to make their views clear.

As the Government have made clear, it is for the owners of spent nuclear fuel to make the commercial decision about whether to reprocess. In recent months, various pressure groups have been telling the world that those customers are somehow wrong and that they should not want the reprocessing. Some of the pressure groups have gone so far as to suggest that BNFL should take the initiative and tell its customers that their choice is wrong.

What sort of business practice is that? It is rather like telling customers in a car showroom that it is immoral to buy a car and that it would be better to ride out of the showroom on a bicycle. Such a policy may be appropriate for the Liberal Democrats, but it is totally unrealistic in today's commercial world.

The lobby groups have recently started to go down a new track. They are going through the pretence of showing concern for the economic success of the industry. I say "pretence" because, of course, the real agenda of the lobby groups is purely and simply to shut down the nuclear industry. Those groups suggest that the United Kingdom and its overseas customers would all be better off if there were some kind of deal to abandon THORP.

It has always been open to THORP customers to tell BNFL that, on reflection, they do not want the plant to operate and are prepared to make other arrangements. What have they done? In 1989, almost all THORP's overseas customers took up BNFL's offer of additional reprocessing capacity. The chairmen of the two major German customers, RWE and Veba, recently wrote to BNFL to confirm that they would fulfil the contracts into which they had entered. I have already mentioned last week's advertisement by Japanese customers.

Much has been said recently about the dangers of plutonium. It is worth commenting on the nature of plutonium and its creation because there has been much misinformation. Plutonium is created when nuclear fuel is burnt in a reactor. It is not created by reprocessing. which extracts the plutonium from the spent fuel together with the unused uranium. When that has been done, both materials are available for recycling, which can be undertaken in most existing water-moderated nuclear reactors. The operator can load up to about a third of the reactor with a mixed uranium-plutonium fuel known as MOX fuel. When the plutonium is recycled as part of MOX fuel, much of it is used up. The use and planned use of MOX technology is increasing world wide and BNFL already has a number of orders or letters of intent to manufacture MOX fuel.

The spent fuel and plutonium have to be managed irrespective of whether there is reprocessing. The Government believe that reprocessing is a proven and safe option. If the plutonium is not managed centrally at Sellafield until recycled, it will have to be dealt with as part of the stored spent fuel. It is for the owners of the spent fuel, having regard to their contractual commitments and the appropriate regulatory requirements, to make the choice.

Why do Britain and Europe need THORP? What useful product will it provide? In the 1970s, that need was justified on the ground of the plutonium that it would produce, which was needed for the fast breeder reactors. The Government have now abandoned that programme and Europe has turned from it, so the demand for plutonium has gone. THORP provides no useful product.

I know that it is a difficult concept for the hon. Gentleman to take on board, but we need THORP because customers have signed contracts and want it. They want to make use of the process carried out at that plant. The customers can decide whether they wish to take the plutonium and store it for future use in fast breeder reactors of for MOX fuel. They are exercising their right to choose what they do with their spent fuel. That is the simple answer to the hon. Gentleman.

It is typical of the hon. Gentleman and his like to want to decide what commercial customers should do with their product. It is clear from the hon. Gentleman's question that he wants to deprive the United Kingdom of huge export orders and many thousands of people of jobs in west Cumbria and elsewhere. He should be under no illusion about his motives.

Is the Minister so sure that customers want the fuel, or do they want to avoid responsibility for the cost of cancellation of the contracts? Is he so sure that there is a genuine demand for MOX fuel relative to the fuel costs of enriched uranium?

Customers always have the right to go to BNFL and make alternative proposals. If they decided that they did not want to make use of THORP, costs would be associated with that decision. Customers not only signed up to the original contracts, however, but almost all of them signed up to additional contracts as recently as 1989. A number have expressed interest in signing additional contracts, once THORP has an operating record, beyond the 10 years agreed.

BNFL believes that there will be a demand for a Mox plant, but whether that plant proceeds will depend not only on authorisation from Government, but on customers' willingness to enter into contracts to ensure the economic viability of the plant. The answer will depend, critically, on the attitude of customers. I am sure that BNFL would not proceed unless it was confident that there was a market for the plant and its product.

I should like to press on, but I will give way—for the last time—to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark).

Has it ever occurred to my hon. Friend that, if he had come to the House and suggested that spent nuclear fuel should be put in prepared sites in the ground and covered over—and the process had been given the fancy name of dry storage—there would have been an outcry from everyone in the House and probably throughout the country? I am sure that people would have argued for a proper scientific process to be followed whereby the waste fuel was taken to a proper processing plant and the high radioactive material isolated from the low radioactive material. They would have argued that the fuel that could be reused should be made available for that purpose and that the peril should be concentrated rather than left in the ground in dry storage. Has he ever thought that that might have happened if he had suggested dry storage in the first place?

As ever, my hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. Apart from what he has said, at the end of the dry storage process, what then? After 50 years, the chances are that a process would be needed, not unlike the THORP one, to deal with the material.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford has recognised only too well, much of the argument against THORP is not an argument against it as a plant or against BNFL, but one aimed at the destruction of the nuclear industry. The opponents of THORP know perfectly well that if they can stop the plant functioning they will deal an effective blow to the underpinning of the nuclear fuel cycle and the operation of the nuclear electric industry. No one should be under any illusions about the motivation of the opponents of THORP. To be fair, for once, to the Liberal Democrats, they know that they share that motivation.

They are disappearing from the Chamber.

My hon. Friend is right.

Whatever the cost in jobs, and whatever the costs in additional charges to electricity consumers, the Liberal Democrats are opposed to nuclear power—and they admit it. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey would have been rather more honest if he had not finished his speech by saying that he wanted a public inquiry. He should have said that the Liberal Democrats are opposed to the nuclear industry and will do everything that they can to stop its development.

I commend our amendment to the House.

5.56 pm

I welcome the opportunity for a short debate on THORP. Unlike the Minister, I believe that it is entirely right and proper for the Liberal Democrats to select this important and controversial issue for debate.

I suspect that the one achievement—I would not necessarily describe it as such—of the Liberal Democrat motion will have been to precipitate the Government into a firm decision. At least the Government appear to be taking a firm decision to proceed, if their amendment is anything to go by. They have, however, also revealed in a parliamentary answer that was tabled after lunch that they are proposing a further round of consultation.

What sort of consultation can that possibly be, when they have already announced to the entire world in the amendment to the Liberal Democrat motion their view about whether THORP should proceed? The Government are, in effect, saying that they have made up their mind, but that they will consult because, legally, they must be seen to do so. That is not a real, proper, considered process of consultation. It cannot possibly be, because the Government, by what they have said in the amendment, have prejudged it.

It is important for everyone to acknowledge that much has changed since the Parker inquiry. There were five original reasons for embarking on the THORP process: first, plutonium was to be produced for the fast breeder programme; secondly, uranium was to be recovered for re-use; thirdly, it was regarded at the time as the best and, perhaps in some instances, the only means of dealing with spent fuel; fourthly, financial benefit was to be gained from the reprocessing operation; and, fifthly, employment opportunities were to be garnered.

The employment considerations remain as compelling as ever. The impact of any decision taken on the future of Sellafield and the economy of west Cumbria need of course, to be taken carefully into account. Two of the original reasons for proceeding with THORP have, however, lapsed with time.

The fast breeder programme has now been abandoned at national and European levels. We already have a stockpile of some 30 tonnes of plutonium in the United Kingdom from the Magnox reprocessing procedures. THORP would create an additional 30 tonnes a year. There is a world stockpile of some 300 tonnes. What on earth can be the use of extra plutonium now being generated?

Moreover, the recovery of uranium is no longer a competitive exercise. Large quantities of directly mined cheaper uranium are now available and will certainly be so over the 25-year period of THORP's predicted existence.

There is consensus on those two points about plutonium and uranium. Where the debate begins in earnest is over the issue of the right option in waste management in environmental terms for dealing with spent irradiated fuel. That has now become the central nub of the THORP issue.

The Government clearly said in their response to the Environment Select Committee report in 1986 that reprocessing was their favoured option for the disposal of spent fuel. That position now seems to have changed. The Minister for the Environment and Countryside answered a question to me on 24 June. I had asked him:
"what is his policy on the preferred option for the disposal of radioactive spent fuel from advanced gas-cooled reactors, as between reprocessing and dry storage".
The answer, on which the Minister for Energy touched this afternoon, was:
"It is for the owners of spent fuel to decide on safety, technical and economic grounds whether to reprocess spent fuel from advanced gas-cooled reactors or place it in dry storage."—[Official Report, 24 June 1993; Vol. 227, c. 246.]
From that answer and an answer given in June 1989 by the then Under-Secretary of State for Energy, the Government appear to express no preference in principle between the reprocessing and dry storage options.

That attitude of no preference from the Government has again been exemplified in the evidence given to the inquiry at Torness into the construction of dry storage facilities there. Giving evidence before the Scottish Office, Mr. Hetherington told the inquiry that he
"accepted that circumstances had changed since the Government had made its response to the select committee in 1986. The relative economic advantages of obtaining uranium from reprocessing rather than direct mining had changed, and dry storage of spent fuel had emerged as a practicable possibility."
He went on:
"The reprocessing route did not appear to offer any immediate and significant advantages, from a waste management point of view."
So the Government, both in their answers to the House and in the evidence that Government officials have given at Torness, are saying that there are no advantages either way between reprocessing and dry storage. It is interesting to note that the United States, Sweden, Canada, Finland and Spain are all committed solely to the mechanism of direct disposal. They abjure the reprocessing option.

According to the evidence given by Scottish Nuclear Ltd. to the Torness inquiry, BNFL proposes to offer dry storage facilities in conjunction with the Costain Construction Group. Dry storage is clearly on the practical agenda, BNFL's agenda, as well as on the agenda elsewhere.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman understands that dry storage gives the management two options: either to reprocess or to destroy completely—[Interruption.] well, hon. Gentleman know what I mean. Clearly, those options exist if there is a dry storage facility. If for instance, the fast breeder reactor in Monju in Japan is as successful as the Japanese hope, and as we expect, plutonium may suddenly come back into fashion. Therefore, those options are extremely important. It is a choice between disposal—that is the word that I was looking for—and reprocessing. That is what dry storage offers for future generations.

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman corrected himself, because radioactive waste can never be totally destroyed, at least not for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. He fails to recognise that there must be disposal of something at the end of the day, whether reprocessing or dry storage is chosen. Because reprocessing creates a substantial quantity of intermediate-level waste, it cannot simply he dumped in the ground at Drigg, where low-level waste tends to go, but must be properly disposed of in a monitored fashion. Whether we choose reprocessing or dry storage, we have the problem of ultimate disposal.

In case there is any misunderstanding, it should also be put on the record that Scottish Nuclear has a major fixed price contract with THORP, and Robin Jeffrey and James Hann made it clear that they thought that THORP was very important.

My hon. Friend, for whom I have great respect although I do not necessarily agree with everything that he always says on this issue, is right on this point. Scottish Nuclear has a contract for reprocessing at THORP and, as far as I am aware, intends to make use of it if THORP goes ahead. It is also exploring the option of dry storage as an alternative for some of its future spent fuel. It looks very much as if, for the spent fuel beyond the initial contract with THORP, it is likely to opt for the dry storage route.

The Government therefore appear to have no distinct preference between the two options. What, then, is the best waste management option? A number of considerations must be borne in mind. First, reprocessing certainly reduces the amount of high-level waste that is created, but it increases substantially the quantity of low-level waste that is generated. That is confirmed in RWMAC's. 11 th report, which states:
"Reprocessing increases the volume of radioactive waste and the amounts of radioactive material released into the environment".
Secondly, the Select Committee on the Environment noted from paragraph 186 of the report by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. in Manitoba, that
"if anything oxide fuel was more stable and more leach resistant than vitrified waste".
Thirdly—it is the point to which the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) alluded—eventual deep direct disposal must be entertained as an option, whatever intermediate route is chosen, either reprocessing or storage. Fourthly, it is crucial to know the precise arrangements for substitution of the waste generated if THORP goes ahead and what the waste stream actually generated will be. I submit that that crucial matter, even with the publication, after a seven-month delay, of the RWMAC advice to the Minister, remains in doubt. The RWMAC report says that issues are still outstanding in relation to future disposal facilities and that those issues need to be determined properly before a final decision can be taken.

The chairman of RWMAC, Professor John Knill, told

The Independent:
"the full range of evaluations has not yet been done. We have asked for them and have not seen them. It is necessary that this should be done before Thorp goes into operation".
It is clear from RWMAC's agenda for its 1 July meeting that some of its members have remaining doubts and questions beyond what is expressed in the report.

I do not believe that a proper decision can be taken on the crucial question of the best environmental waste management option, whether it be reprocessing or dry storage, until the report published today has been properly considered, its arguments analysed and—this is crucial—any additional comments have been sought from RWMAC.

The other principal environmental issue at stake is that of emissions. HMIP published its draft authorisations last year. Although it is true that it proposed lower overall emission authorisations for Sellafield, it envisaged higher discharges. In fact, the projected discharges will be about 75 per cent. of the proposed authorisation limits. Again, we know from the report published this afternoon that the original authorisations will be substantially agreed, but there are still some questions that I must ask.

First, when will the full HMIP report be made public? The Government have committed themselves to that and we want to know when it will emerge. Secondly, how do the proposed discharge levels compare with those that currently exist at Cap La Hague, where I understand that discharges of both alpha and beta activity are substantially lower than anything envisaged at Sellafield.

Thirdly, in reaching its conclusion, has HMIP taken into account the new recommendation from the National Radiological Protection Board that 0·3 mSv a year of radiation impact on the general public should be used as the yardstick against which to judge emission authorisations? It is clear that H MIP's report will have to be seen in full and considered by the public before a final decision can be taken on the environmental impact of the plant.

The environmental considerations, the best waste management options and their different impact and the full effects of emissions and discharges must take primacy of place in reaching a conclusion on how, when and if THORP should go ahead. Therefore, a full environmental impact assessment is needed, coupled with wide public debate. Indeed, the Paris commission meeting on 16 June made that a virtual necessity.

Some time ago, an all-party committee said that the Irish sea was the most polluted sea in the world. What is the hon. Gentleman's response to the suggestion of a ten fold increase in both atmospheric and maritime discharges of radioactive materials? That pollution of our environment must he ended, especially in respect of the Irish sea.

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify one of the problems of opting for reprocessing, which generates large quantities of intermediate and low-level waste. A great many of the low-level discharges go straight into the sea, which is why a proper environmental impact assessment of the discharge pattern from Sellafield is required.

What reply would my hon. Friend give to our right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who says that THORP already has £9 billion of secure orders? Our right hon. Friend, who is the local constituency Member of Parliament, also says that delay is causing losses of £2 million a week and that that money is needed to help boost investment in west Cumbria. What answer would my hon. Friend give to his shadow Cabinet colleague?

I am aware of the legitimate constituency arguments that our right hon. Friend has always made—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] He is abroad on official duties; nevertheless, he is taking a keen interest in our debate. The figure that my hon. Friend quoted is slightly inaccurate, because BNFL puts the loss at £2·4 million a week. I accept that with every week that passes there is a loss of income to BNFL, but that should not prevent us from ensuring that we get the decision right.

It is important that we make the right decision because the moment that THORP is brought into operation, the entire decommissioning costs will be incurred. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the decision to open THORP is absolutely right. Even on BNFL's figures, the decommissioning costs are, at current prices, about £900 million. A few weeks of delay may be necessary to ensure that we make the right decision.

My hon. Friend's intervention was timely, because there is a continuing question over the financial consequences of a decision either to proceed or not to proceed with the plant. BNFL has told us of the projected earnings of the plant—a profit of £500 million over 10 years, with direct employment for 1,200 people and, perhaps, 3,000 in total. Those are not to be dismissed lightly. However, the decommissioning costs must be borne in mind. We know from the National Audit Office report that some of the estimates of decommissioning costs within the nuclear industry are open to some challenge, to say the least. If the decommissioning costs for THORP are even 60 per cent. greater than currently envisaged, that would entirely wipe out the projected profit from the operation.

In addition to the decommissioning issue, a mystery surrounds the exact content of the contracts for the reprocessing of spent fuel from abroad. We are told that there are severe penalties for cancellation by either side, but we cannot know whether that is right, because none of us has seen the contracts. At the very least, the proposal that the contracts should be shown to the Comptroller and Auditor General should be taken up because it is impossible for the public to make a judgment about the penalties that might be imposed. Surely greater transparency about the contracts would assist the public to make that judgment. Surely also, the Touche Ross report on the overall economic prospects for THORP should be published so that everyone can make his own assessment rather than leaving it to the managers of BNFL to tell us.

We should also know the outcome of the dispute reported in The Guardian this morning between the nuclear generators and BNFL over who should be laible for any unforeseen additional costs that might arise and that are no longer underwritten by the Government. We must establish clearly, in the public doman, some of the important issues about the likely financial future of the plant. As I said, once THORP opens, its entire decommissioning costs will be incurred. We must be as reasonably certain as possible about what that cost will be and what benefit will be derived in return.

I have listened with interest to my hon. Friend's speech, and I agree with much of what he says. I understand that if the uranium processors were opened up at THORP, which would take the first two or three months, the decommissioning costs would be only £250,000 up to a certain point in the development process. The company has offered to pay the bill. If that is the case, my hon. Friend may want to temper his remarks in that light.

I am somewhat puzzled by the figure given by my hon. Friend. The decommissioning cost that he has given sounds rather small for any portion of such a plant of any size. However, I suspect that, if that were to happen, we would have another case of the tail wagging the dog in three, six or 12 months. We would be told that, because things had started, they might as well continue. It is important that we get the decision right at the outset.

A range of unanswered questions have arisen about the emissions and discharges from the plant, the nature of the waste stream and the waste management consequences of alternative options, the future decommissioning costs and the content of the spent fuel contracts, and the employment implications of any decision that is taken. The RWMAC report has been published this afternoon and needs careful analysis. The Touche Ross report should also be published. A proper environmental impact assessment should take place. It would be foolish to leap to a conclusion either way before the issues are properly and openly determined.

The Government keep telling us how committed they are to freedom of environmental information, the precautionary principle and environmental impact assessments. None of those is evidenced in their amendment. They say that they are launching a new—if truncated—consultation process, yet their amendment shows that they have already made up their mind. Our environment deserves better.

6.25 pm

Listening to this afternoon's debate, my mind has gone back to the debates in March and May of 1978 referred to by other hon. Members. The debates followed the Parker inquiry, which itself lasted 100 days.

I remember taking part in the first of those debates. The THORP project was created as a result of the two debates. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) who has been in the Chamber for a good deal of the debate and, of course, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) led for the Government in those debates. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney is no longer in the Chamber, because his speech during the debate was one of the most courageous and compelling that I have heard in the House in 28 years. It is a speech for which he deserved the greatest credit at the time.

As has been said in the debate, things have moved on since those 1978 debates. The plant is complete. The staff are trained and ready. The material for reprocessing is in the ponds of the site waiting for the gate to go up and for the containers to be moved into the reprocessing part of the plant. I was taken through the plant four weeks ago. I went into the chamber where the separation of uranium, plutonium and other materials will take place. It may be only a few weeks or months before that chamber is finally sealed up.

I represent a Cumbria constituency and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) represented Workington in 1978. He also spoke during the two debates. On that occasion, all the Cumbrian Members of Parliament from all parties joined together to vote in favour of the plant going ahead. It is a vital project for Cumbria.

My right hon. Friend has mentioned the importance of employment. Is not it a fact that, if BNFL does not get the go-ahead in the near future, it will have to lay off valuable and trained staff? If the dry storage option is taken, it will mean another public inquiry, a delay of several years and even more people will be laid off. We must go ahead with the project immediately.

I agree with my hon. Friend. Of course the project is important for Cumbria, because it provides 2,000 jobs in that part of the county. My hon. Friend is right and BNFL has told me that if the project does not get the green light soon, some jobs will have to go. Some have gone already because of the delay. The House should be aware of that. The project is important to Cumbria. The investment already amounts to £1·85 billion. It is worth noting that a further £900 million has been invested by BNFL for additional plant and environmental protection infrastructure. It is important to realise how massive the investment has been.

The project is of extreme importance also to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) and to rne. A previous Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale and I were at the original inquiry and have supported the project ever since.

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's support, and I remember that she joined me and others in that debate in May 1978 to support the project.

As has been said, the project has been profitable for the United Kingdom. I am told by BNFL that, in the worst case, the project's profits will amount to £500 million in the first 10 years of operation. The Touche Ross report, I understand, says that the economic benefit to the United Kingdom will be about £900 million. It is also important for Cumbria, as I have said. The delays and the possibility that the project will not start up at all, to which opponents of the project referred, are also important. The massive cost of the delay of £2 million a week is a serious matter. If, by any chance, the project did not start up, there could be compensation of £5 billion. The economic case is overwhelming.

The number of my constituents who work at Sellafield is not enormous, so I am conscious principally of the environmental matters. Those are paramount. I have always said that however powerful the economic case, which I have just stated, it must be set aside if the safety elements of the plant are not entirely satisfactory.

I remind the House that I refused to vote in the March 1978 debate. I said that I could not agree to the opening of the THORP project until the two Secretaries of State had explained the safety provisions. They eventually did so, in the second debate in May 1978. Given the undertakings that they gave, I added my support to THORP going ahead.

It is worth noting that, since 1978, the emissions from Sellafield have been dramatically reduced. If the then Secretary of State had told the House that, by the mid-1990s, the emissions into the sea from Sellafield would be about one hundredth of what they were at their height in the 1970s, no one in the House would have believed him. He would have been laughed at.

But the emissions have been reduced by that amount. I have been given some graphs which demonstrate on a yearly basis the extraordinary reduction of emissions into the sea to one hundredth of what they were. It has been the most remarkable success story. It is a pity that no one has referred to that so far in the debate.

I note the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes about the reduction in emissions and in the pollution of the Irish sea over the years. But he must admit that the early emissions were way above the safety standards which had been set and entirely unacceptable in terms of modern science. We also know that, apart from the revealed pollution, pollution of the Irish sea has taken place which has not yet been revealed. Does not the right hon. Gentleman recall that a quarter of a tonne of pure plutonium was dumped into the Irish sea?

The right hon. Gentleman will be more familiar with the debate in 1978 than I am. I understand that one of the findings of the Parker inquiry was that the necessary cleansing equipment should be installed for the removal of krypton 85. That is not being done, and krypton 85 will be released into the atmosphere, with climatic and other consequences which the right hon. Gentleman has not even mentioned.

Now that the hon. Gentleman has made the speech that he obviously intended to make, I shall proceed with mine. I shall refer to the krypton element in a few moments.

As I drove to London last night, I played again the two-hour debate on THORP which Radio Cumbria broadcast some time ago. The debate was held in Whitehaven. Listening to it, I was struck by the local support for THORP in west Cumbria. I was especially struck by one panellist, a local trade union leader, who made the point that the work force, who had wives and families living in the area, would hardly give their support—it is full hearted support—to THORP if they felt that the plant was in any way unsafe.

I am not surprised that there is such overwhelming support for the project among the work force when I read the statistics. In a statement, BNFL said:
"the individual BNFL worker who received the highest radiation dose in 1992 will receive less than the residents of some 25,000 homes in Devon and Cornwall would receive from natural background."
That is a significant statement which puts the whole debate in its proper perspective. I understand why some of those who are passionately opposed to anything that has a nuclear tag—we heard from the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—use every opportunity they can dredge up to try to stop the project going ahead. They opposed the project in the Parker inquiry. They were unable to convince either the judge or his expert assessors. They have opposed every step which has been taken. Now they are using the final argument, that they want another inquiry.

I think that it was a trade union leader who made the comment that, if a second inquiry was obtained, one could be sure that, once it was over, people would find reasons for a third. We are familiar with those tactics. If people do not like something, they ask for an inquiry and create delays.

The earlier inquiry was held in 1978, when we were preoccupied with world oil supplies and oil prices, and when we were in the middle of a world energy crisis. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, by 1993, 15 years on, environmental arguments are much stronger, the energy situation is different and, most significantly, the demand for plutonium that was envisaged as significant has not materialised?

We have not heard much in the debate about the pollution effect of coal-fired electricity generation. If the hon. Gentleman reads about the possibilities of mixed oxide fuels, or MOX, projects he will realise that there is a possibility of using the material. There is already an order from Switzerland for this type of fuel.

Opponents of THORP keep talking about dry storage. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West asked me a question about it. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey understandably made it his business to refuse to answer the second question that was put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans). My hon. Friend asked whether the hon. Gentleman realised that dry storage was purely a short-term, transitional solution, which leaves the major problem of what to do with the material at the end of the day.

If the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey believes that dry storage is the option to take, will the Liberal party and all his friends who are opposed to THORP agree to it without a public inquiry or any further delays? We know perfectly well that it is simply a plot, and that they will oppose dry storage just as strongly as they have opposed everything else.

No. I must get on, because the debate is due to end shortly.

The problem of krypton was another favourite worry which was spread around. People said, "Ah, but what about the krypton? This is the serious matter." At the beginning, I was anxious about the krypton factor. However, when I inquired into it, I was astonished to be told that the radiation from krypton emissions in the area in a year for the worst affected person was equivalent to eating a quarter-pound bag of brazil nuts, or four seconds of sunbathing in the United Kingdom. That demonstrates the absurdity of some of the arguments which have been put up to try to convince us that the project should not go ahead.

The amendment tabled by the Government is entirely correct. I hope that the plant can open at the earliest practicable date. But, of course, that must be subject, as the amendment says, to receipts by BNFL of such consents as are required by law.

The Government have decided that there will be a delay, and we must use it to make sure that the plant is entirely safe. That decision reflects great credit on the Government, even though it causes much irritation to many people. They should be given credit for making doubly certain that the plant is safe. Once that has been done, I hope that the project will continue, and that it will produce significant wealth and employment for this nation.

6.39 pm

One unfortunate aspect of this debate is that the Liberal Democrats have cast themselves as the villains of the piece, whereas the Government, because they have dithered and delayed, are the real villains.

Before I produce evidence of that, I repeat my earlier remark: that the Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is an independent officer of the House of Commons. Before this debate ends, the Liberal Democrats—and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith)—should be prepared to state that, if Sir John Bourn says that his interpretation of the contracts is the same as that of British Nuclear Fuels, they will accept it.

The preferable option is that we should see both the contracts and reports such as that produced by Touche Ross. If such a conclusion were reached by someone who is an independent officer of the House, that would be a satisfactory outcome, and acceptable but all the documents must be submitted, and that independent officer would have to make a full report.

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman concedes that, because environmental groups have repeatedly used the same line as the Liberal Democrats—which is that, without seeing the contracts, British Nuclear Fuels cannot be trusted. I hope that that argument is settled and if Mr. Lowry is listening, I hope that he will also take note of what is said by the Liberal Democrats in the House tonight.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, when the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office produce a report, it must be agreed by the Department under scrutiny and by the National Audit Office, so that there is no dissension when it comes before the PAC? Therefore, the agreement to which the hon. Gentleman referred is in place.

Yes, I can go that far. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I spent 11 years on the Public Accounts Committee, and we all know what happens in private session. A slight difficulty arises, but it is an agreed report.

In the first two to three months of THORP's life, there will be a process entitled "the commissioning of uranium".

Thereafter, the plant could be decontaminated at a cost of £250,000 to British Nuclear Fuels, which it has offered to pay. I fail to understand why that process cannot begin now. If the plant were to be commissioned at a later stage, a number of months would be saved.

I want to make it clear that I am pro-nuclear and pro-THORP, and have lived in Cumbria most of my life. I was in west Cumbria at the time of the 1957 fire. I am the son of an engineer who worked in the nuclear industry, but regard myself as a constructive critic of the industry.

I supported Greenpeace during the 1973 demonstration over the Sellafield pipeline and subscribed to its legal costs—and was criticised locally for that action. I did so in order that, one day, the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) would be able to say in the House exactly that which he did say. The hundredth multiplier in terms of reductions and discharges of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke arises in part as a result of that incident. I was proud to have been at the forefront of supporting environmental groups.

I have been in a number of public and private scraps with British Nuclear Fuels over the years, primarily in respect of employment, discharges, public relations, waste management and—most recently—krypton emissions. I have argued ad nauseam with the company against its legal actions against environmental groups, which I believe are nonsense. I hold the view that it should never bring such legal actions.

On this occasion, however, the industry has a substantial case and should be supported. Although BNFL is located in Copeland, it is the largest employer of my constituents. It currently has 13,500 people on site, including contract staff. THORP will provide 2,100 permanent jobs in west Cumbria. If it failed to open, that would be an unmitigated disaster for my constituency. The impact would be five times that of the imminent job losses at Rosyth, and the local economy would be devastated.

When a Labour Government proposed and planned the THORP project in the late 1970s, much of the debate centred on employment in the west of the county. Last July, we were told that a timetable had been agreed to allow THORP to begin operations at the beginning of this year. That date was never met. Seven months later, the Department of the Environment is demanding further consultation.

A parliamentary reply from the Secretary of State for the Environment made available today, which clears the air as far as I am concerned, states:
"the Inspectorate have concluded that no points of substance have been raised that should cause them to reconsider the terms of the draft authorisations, save for some amendments/corrections. In their judgment, the provisions of the draft authorisations will effectively protect human health, the safety of the food chain, and the environment generally."
What more could we want? How much more consultation must there be before the project goes on stream?

All the matters raised today were dealt with in the Parker inquiry and in the course of hundreds—perhaps thousands—of' parliamentary questions and repeated interventions during numerous energy debates on all aspects of the industry over the past 13 years.

I have every respect for my hon. Friend's professional background and integrity, but in the Parker inquiry and in the 1978 debates, the main reason given for commissioning THORP was to isolate plutonium for the new generation of fast breeder reactors. That was the energy scenario presented for the 21st century. Now that that no longer holds true, there is no valid energy reason for proceeding with THORP.

I understand that there is a large order book. It is not I who am saying that there is a demand. The utilities of Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Netherlands, Canada and Italy all tell us that there is a market for the product. It seems that the statements made at the Parker inquiry in 1978 are very relevant, and led to the creation of a substantial market.

Does not the tendency on the part of those countries to buy British tell the hon. Gentleman something about the product and about their anxiety to get it out of their countries?

The hon. Gentleman has made a very interesting point. I went to a meeting the other day with my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams). A Japanese lady was at that meeting. The Japanese are not prone to giving us business when they can turn out products themselves.

I am told that the Americans, by treaty, prevented the Japanese from developing certain nuclear technologies and that, if it had not been for the existence of that treaty, we should not have the THORP plant in West Cumbria today. I am grateful to the Americans for that. It adds to the point made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). It may be that the Japanese wanted the business, but the existence of the treaty prevented them from getting it.

The truth is that a strong and articulate lobby of opponents of nuclear power wants to phase out the nuclear industry. It wants THORP stopped at all costs. The Government appear to be conceding some of their arguments, with the result that BNFL is now losing £2.4 million a week in lost profits. The Government's amendment is extremely ambiguous. Although it expresses support for THORP, it fails to reveal the Government's dithering over approval. I believe that there has been dithering and a lack of decision-taking in Government Departments.

I understand that Mr. Guinness is here to observe our proceedings, but he would have done well to come to politicians long before he did so. I understand that there is much criticism in the industry that we were not approached far earlier, so that representations could be made to us about ensuring that the right decisions were taken at the right time, with a final decision being taken earlier than now appears to be likely.

Why should the credibility of British industry be put at stake? We have signed a number of binding contracts. We did so having debated all the issues that are now being questioned. The £9 billion BNFL order book comprises eight overseas companies, many of which are now expressing open concern about what is happening. Why? Because we built the plant with their money. They paid for that plant. Therefore, they want it to be commissioned.

The largest Swiss electricity utility, NOK—a BNFL customer—has recently stated:
NOK has invested in this plant more than £90 million without taking into account the accrued interest on construction. With deep sorrow we noticed articles in the British Press … stating that the start-up of THORP could be further delayed up to one year. Such a development would badly hurt our business interests but (also) our confidence (which, we put up to now into the performance and excellency of British Industry, especially BNFL."
NOK is not alone. Hon. Members will have seen the advertisement in the national press last Wednesday by the 10 Japanese electricity companies, emphasising their support for the plant. German customers, too, have expressed concern. One company, GKN, worriedly stated only recently:
"We have made a big contribution to that facility. We assumed, that after the public inquiry years ago, there will not be basic doubts on THORP's operation."
The reality is that we are letting down our customers with this delay. So why the dithering? Why do we need this further process of consultation? All these issues have surely been dealt with in recent years. Why can we not have the decision now and let BNFL take its chance on judicial review, in the event of Greepeace bringing the case it has talked about?

These overseas customers have provided up-front payments to finance the large majority of the THORP construction costs of £1·85 billion, 90 per cent. of which was spent with British industry. I wonder how many jobs in the constituencies of hon. Members in all parts of the House were created as a result of that up-front payment by foreign contractors?

Was the hon. Gentleman in the House when the Government announced that they were not going to go ahead with the fast breeder reactor programme? Does he know how many Liberal Democrats protested, because of job losses in their constituencies?

I do not want to go into the question whether the Liberal Democrats protested on that occasion, but we can be sure that jobs in every constituency have been affected by the THORP project. I protested about the rundown of the fast breeder reactor programme. To be fair to the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) protested about it at that time, I believe.

I have already said that 90 per cent. of all this money was spent with British industry. All in all, it has brought £1·6 billion-worth of inward investment to west Cumbria. It represents the biggest inward investment in our history. We shall never again experience anything like it.

These contracts, which were negotiated with the customers, are based upon both cost-plus and fixed-price terms, with about 40 per cent. accounting for the latter. On that specific point, can the Minister confirm that, irrespective of arguments over price, reported in The Guardian this morning, the business for core tonnage for reprocessing at THORP from Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear is absolutely secure? Is it legally watertight?

The real issue is not that the nuclear giants are on a collision course but that the Government have withdrawn their pledge to underwrite risks attached to future legislation. It may be that the prospect of future privatisation of parts of the industry features greatly in the minds of Ministers and civil servants when decisions are taken on such matters, particularly when it comes to decommissioning costs.

My hon. Friend mentioned that Japan does not do its own reprocessing because the world did not trust Japan, because of its record, at the time. Does he not think that events have moved on, and that the greatest threat in the world is the proliferation of materials for making nuclear weapons? If THORP goes ahead, there will be two choices: either this country will become the nuclear dustbin of the world or plutonium will proliferate throughout dozens of countries, many of which are unstable. As plutonium lasts for ever, will it not enormously increase the danger of nuclear proliferation?

I shall refer to that point at the end of my speech. We must certainly address the proliferation argument. As for what my hon. Friend says about waste material, he will have heard earlier in the debate the argument about material substitution, which I think dealt with his point.

Questions have been raised about the soundness of the contracts. I am told that several joint opinions of leading counsel have been received by BNFL, confirming that they are
"commercially effective and binding on the parties."
I am equally sure that, if THORP did not go ahead, all the customers, especially those with fixed-price contracts, would seek compensation. That would cost the taxpayer, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, as much as £5 billion. Furthermore, it would cost BNFL £1 billion in lost profits over the next 10 years. So I say again: why the dithering by the Government?

But the buck does not stop there. If THORP does not open, the cost of Magnox reprocessing will increase, as it faces the full cost burden of otherwise shared waste management facilities. Who will be forced to pay for that? Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear. However, at the end of the day, the customer, the householder, will pay for it in higher electricity prices. That has to be avoided at all costs.

I want to say a few words about safety and proliferation. The public should never measure the industry's safety record on the basis of incidents at Sellafield. They are invariably in the old plant. When the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) goes to Sellafield, he should tell the management, if they want to take him round the new plant, that he wants first to go round the old plant. I understand that management do not always take people round the old plant.

It is only when one sees the old plant and compares it with the new one that one appreciates the developments in nuclear technology over the years. That is important when one is evaluating reports on television or radio, or in the media, about incidents at Sellafield.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that an episode as minute as the misplacement of a used glove counts as an incident? One reads in the newspapers that such incidents are increasing, when in reality they are less significant than a glove being lost in a hospital.

The hon. Lady is right. Many small incidents are reportable. However, we must not underestimate the importance of larger incidents, which, equally, are reportable.

The old plant was built in the 1950s. Subsequent plants have a far higher safety record, as their technology is invariably state of the art. Discharges into the sea following the Greenpeace incident in 1983 are now less than one hundred of what they were 10 years ago. If we are to evaluate the effect of radiation doses on the population, we must compare them with naturally occurring background radiation.

Although the report by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment mentions the possibility of an increased risk to the general public under the proposed authorisation in the area of the plant, such levels account for only 10 per cent. of natural background radiation. Put simply, THORP increases exposure by 25 microSieverts per person a year. That must be compared with 4,300 microSieverts in Ireland, 7,500 microSieverts in Cornwall and 2,200 microSieverts in west Cumbria.

I have, however, one reservation about discharges, and it concerns krypton, about which I have had endless correspondence and conversations with the company. I have corresponded with the Japanese authorities to establish whether the krypton removal plant attached to the Tokaimura pilot reprocessing plant should be fitted to THORP.

We are now told that the Japanese do not intend to fit such technology to their new fully fledged reprocessing plant at Rokashamura, which in effect will be the same as THORP when it is opened in 10 years' time. In my view, further work is needed on krypton, particularly as the THORP facility is designed for add-on krypton removal technology.

Proliferation is an issue, and we have to address it. The Minister should tell us today whether the Americans are exerting any pressure on the Government about the potential for proliferation arising from THORP. If the answer is yes, instead of questioning the project, surely the solution is to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency and its enforcement powers.

One must not stop the process or shut the plant, but rather deal with the problem of shipping the product around the world and with its end use. If I recall correctly, in the 1980s. when many Labour Members were unilateralists, we argued for the enforcement of its powers and for it to do its job successfully and properly.

Many of my constituents are worried about this debate and about the future of THORP. We believe that, after 15 years, the talking must stop and the plant should be allowed to open. We cannot go on in an atmosphere of concern such as currently exists in west Cumbria.

7.3 pm

I wish, first, to declare an interest as a non-executive director of Nuclear and General Engineering Ltd. and of Cunnington and Cooper Ltd., which both manufacture for BNFL on a considerable scale. I was previously a director of a company that manufactured for coal-fired power stations and of an oil company, so I have wide experience of energy, not merely a narrow view.

The United Kingdom has no equal in orchestrating delay—it really takes the biscuit. I am talking about Ministers, civil servants. inspectorates and local planning officers. I could go on and on. Who rubs their hands? It is the French across the channel. Why? Because they are our main competitors. They have nuclear power and nuclear processing in a big way. If we do not get cracking on THORP, we will export not only jobs from Cumbria but many jobs throughout the United Kingdom that depend on contracts for THORP going ahead very shortly.

We are affecting thousands of people. We are doing a great disservice to our engineers, scientists and inventors, who have made us leaders in nuclear processing. Labour Front-Bench spokesmen say, "It is a question of storage or reprocessing." It is not; it is a question of disposal and reprocessing, which allows management to decide whether some material is stored in dry storage. Labour's Front-Bench spokesmen have their story wrong and they are not thinking clearly enough. Management wants the choice.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) made a very good speech. However, he blamed John Guinness, who I believe is blameless because he was not chairman when many of these things were put in motion. Since becoming chairman, he has been quick to talk to hon. Members who have taken an interest in nuclear energy and to invite them to Sellafield to see things for themselves.

I referred to the United Kindom's orchestrating of delays, of which the Sizewell inquiry was a good example. We are simply handing contracts to our competitors. We have the designers, scientists and the skills. For goodness sake, let us capitalise on that and win trade for the United Kingdom.

The dangers were mentioned. People who live in Cornwall are subject to 7,500 microSieverts of radiation a year. People who live in Cumbria will be pleased to hear that they are subject to only 2,200 microSieverts a year. People who live close to the plant might be subject to an additional 53 microSieverts, but that equates to only the radiation level experienced on an aircraft trip to Tenerife and back. The radiation level for the whole of Cumbria equates to that experienced on an aircraft trip to Singapore and back.

Why are we talking about safety? If we are worried about safety, why let the French take the lead? They are only 20 miles across the water. If there is a disaster in France, we will suffer. It is absolutely stupid.

I have said all that I want to say in only a few minutes. I wish that other hon. Members would be as brief, because the speeches and stupid interventions that we have heard will serve only to hand contracts to the French. If hon. Members had something to say, why did not they stand up and make a speech? Why did they keep intervening? I reckon that I have said it all in two minutes.

7.8 pm

I thank the Liberal Democrats and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) for initiating the debate.

The key decisions about THORP were taken in 1978, since when there has not been a parliamentary debate on the subject. In those 15 years, circumstances have changed substantially. In the 1970s, oil prices went through the roof and our future oil supplies were uncertain. There was a world energy problem, because we did not know how long our oil and gas resources would last. There was, therefore, a projected energy gap. The answer with which we were presented in the 1970s was nuclear energy—advanced gas-cooled reactors, pressurised water reactors and, in the long term, fast breeder reactors.

The initial justification for THORP was that we would need plutonium to solve the energy problem, and that fast breeder reactors would be the reactors of the 21st century.

Fifteen years later, it is a completely different ball game. There is no energy problem. Oil and gas resources are finite, but we are thinking in terms of 50 years and more. Oil prices are no longer the problem that they were in the 1970s. There is a glut of coal on the world market, and it is British. The market for nuclear energy has collapsed. Orders for reactors have been cancelled, and, because of the transparent economics, we now know that nuclear electricity means a £1 billion a year levy on electricity prices. There is no demand for plutonium, although there is an embarrassment of plutonium in Europe, Russia and the United States.

The Government cancelled the British fast breeder reactor programme two or three years ago. In Europe, all work on fast breeder reactors is coming to a halt, including that on the Super Phenix in France. Only Japan is proceeding with a fast breeder reactor, but, having studied nuclear matters for the past 20 years, I can safely predict that within 10 years, or perhaps even five, Japan will also scrap that work.

What is the justification for THORP? Once we had scrapped the fast breeder reactor, there was no need for it. The only justification is the £9 billion of orders for reprocessing, which were negotiated 10 years ago. We now realise that reprocessing is quite unnecessary because dry storage is a realistic, viable and far cheaper option.

The Minister said that everyone who is anti-THORP is anti-nuclear, which is generally the case. In economic terms, it would be cheaper for Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear if THORP were cancelled and if they switched to dry storage, which is their preferred option. Germany is now considering removing the reprocessing requirement from its electricity utilities so the German orders can be re-negotiated; perhaps Germany would be glad if THORP were cancelled. The £5 billion-worth of Japanese orders is not a consolation prize. I am sure that the cancellation fee would be only a small fraction of that. The Japanese do not need the plutonium because there is an embarrassment of plutonium on the world market.

Why should we proceed with THORP? We do not need the uranium, which is much cheaper on the world market. We do not need the plutonium, because there is no market for it, and the radioactive waste produced is the same as that in the dry store facilities.

The future of THORP should be the subject of a full and open public inquiry so that all aspects can be considered. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said in his excellent speech, a public inquiry need take no more than 100 days; the decision could still be taken by the end of the year. I am sure that the result of a public inquiry would be completely different from that in 1978. The THORP project should be scrapped. It is cheaper to scrap it than to proceed.

7.13 pm

For all the passion and certainty that have accompanied so many of the speeches, perhaps the most revealing was the passage in the Minister's speech when he was at great pains—no doubt with his eye on the Strand and the High Court—to make it perfectly clear that certain statutory responsibilities devolve on the two Secretaries of State and that, however much passion and certainty we may display in the Chamber, to a large extent the decisions may fall to be taken under the discretion that legislation affords to them.

The speech made by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) was one of the most significant contributions to the debate. He expressed with great eloquence his and many other people's reservations. His analysis was faultless, but I found his conclusion difficult to justify against that analysis.

He concluded that an environmental impact assessment was necessary. I have seen a few of those in my time, and the one thing we know about them is that they are all based on assumptions. If one wants to challenge the assumptions, the only way to do so is at a public inquiry. I should declare an interest in public inquiries because some of the best and, I suppose, some of the most lucrative days of my life have been spent at public inquiries.

One important issue has not yet been dealt with: public inquiries are an important vehicle for creating public confidence. They are not merely opportunities for points to be scored by either side of the argument or for cross-examination; they are an opportunity to allay the public's legitimate anxieties. Of course, if a public inquiry were to follow in this case, it would cause delay and costs would also be involved. I agree with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) that jobs could be at risk.

I am not one of those who passionately oppose nuclear power, to use the phrase of the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), but the issues go beyond the boundaries of Cumbria and have attracted the attention of and caused anxiety among sufficient people to justify a public inquiry.

Hon. Members should read with care the answer put on the board at 3.30 pm today. The Secretary of State for the Environment made it clear that the functions incumbent on him under, for example, section 11 of the Radioactive Substances Act 1960 are not to be prejudiced by the terms of his answer. If one reads the Act, one finds that the form of the consultation that the Secretaries of State may yet determine may be that of a public inquiry. The Minister dare not say that there will be no public inquiry; if he did, he would be trenching on the discretion of those Secretaries of State, and I can assure him that it would be relied on in an application for judicial review in the High Court in the Strand. The consequence of the passion and commitment that have been displayed this evening may yet be a public inquiry. If there were to be an inquiry, I do not believe that it would be against the public interest.

I understand those who support nuclear power with great passion and enthusiasm. I also understand hon. Members who are anxious to support those who work in the industry, especially their constituents. However, before we proceed, and in view of the fact that 15 years have elapsed since the Parker inquiry, is it not right to pause and reconsider?

I do not make that suggestion on an insubstantial basis. On the subject of substitution, the document produced by the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee raises an important matter that has not yet been resolved. How is it to be resolved to the public's satisfaction other than through a public inquiry? I wanted to say a little more about the risks of nuclear proliferation, but time prevents me from doing so.

One consequence of THORP would be the production of more plutonium. To convert it to weapons grade material takes great skill and is no mean feat. The existence of additional plutonium and the risk of its potential diversion for illicit purposes should cause us great concern. I do not think that the United Kingdom is at risk of a nuclear attack from countries that were formerly members of the Warsaw pact or the Soviet Union, but the United Kingdom's interests will certainly be prejudiced, or at risk, if there is a proliferation of countries with nuclear weapons. That in itself should make us pause and think before we proceed with the programme.

7.19 pm

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate.

We have had a constructive debate in which a wide variety of issues have been aired. Of course, my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will take careful note of the points that have been made. They must exercise their functions in relation to the Sellafield discharge authorisation as that is a matter for them.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) urged an environmental impact statement on the House. He was answered admirably by the hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). They argued against such a statement very persuasively.

The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) again urged us to have a full public inquiry. He joins Greenpeace in that request. However, unlike Greenpeace, he was not honest about what he wanted. Greenpeace has stated quite specifically that it wants a public inquiry because that would delay the operation of THORP by a year or 18 months. Why did not the hon. and learned Gentleman come clean with the House and say that that was his motivation?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and the hon. Member for Workington spoke well for Cumbria and made clear the widespread support for THORP. As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) spoke clearly, directly and to the point.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) revealed himself once more to be a fully paid up member of the "We know it all, but we are opponents to nuclear power and we will use every mechanism we can" brigade, as that is what, in effect, he said in his short intervention.

I wish finally to consider the motion tabled by the Liberal Democrats. They state in their motion that there is a "hardening of international opposition". There is no evidence of that and customers have supported the plant yet again. The motion states:
"there are … strong economic, environmental and proliferation reasons"
against the plant. However, the conclusions of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, revealed in today's parliamentary answer, give the lie to that.

The Liberal Democrats also state in the motion that
"all relevant circumstances have … changed".
Yes, relevant circumstances have changed: THORP has been constructed; people have been recruited for the plant, contracts have been signed and people are trained and ready to work. The Liberal Democrats should pay attention to that.

The motion states that alternative processes are available. However, customers are not choosing those alternative processes. The motion calls for "full disclosure" of contracts and well it might. As my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth made clear, what would that do? It would help the French and BNFL's international competitors.

The motion also calls for "economic justification" for the plant. That is exactly what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has done in his announcement today. The motion calls for opportunity for "public comment" and that, too, has been provided in the parliamentary answer today.

The points made by the Liberal Democrats have been answered. I call on the House to vote for the Government amendment to the motion.

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 43, Noes 157.

Division No. 308]

[7.22 pm

AYES

Alton, DavidKennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyKilfedder, Sir James
Bayley, HughLlwyd, Elfyn
Benn, Rt Hon TonyLynne, Ms Liz
Bennett, Andrew F.Madden, Max
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Mahon, Alice
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Mullin, Chris
Cann, JamiePrentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)Rendel, David
Cohen, HarryRoche, Mrs. Barbara
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Salmond, Alex
Corbyn, JeremySkinner, Dennis
Cryer, BobSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
Dafis, CynogTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Denham, JohnTyler, Paul
Ewing, Mrs MargaretWareing, Robert N
Flynn, PaulWigley, Dafydd
Galloway, GeorgeWilliams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Harvey, NickWise, Audrey
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Johnston, Sir Russell

Tellers for the Ayes:

Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)

Mr. Archy Kirkwood and Mr. James Wallace.

Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)

NOES

Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)Burns, Simon
Amess, DavidBurt, Alistair
Arbuthnot, JamesButler, Peter
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Ashby, DavidCarrington, Matthew
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Carttiss, Michael
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)Cash, William
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)Clappison, James
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Bates, MichaelClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Blackburn, Dr John G.Congdon, David
Booth, HartleyConway, Derek
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Bowis, JohnCope, Rt Hon Sir John
Brandreth, GylesDalyell, Tarn
Brazier, JulianDay, Stephen
Bright, GrahamDeva, Nirj Joseph
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Devlin, Tim
Browning, Mrs. AngelaDickens, Geoffrey
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, DenKnight, Greg (Derby N)
Duncan, AlanKynoch, George (Kincardine)
Eggar, TimLait, Mrs Jacqui
Emery, Rt Hon Sir PeterLegg, Barry
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)Lidington, David
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)Luff, Peter
Fabricant, MichaelMacKay, Andrew
Fishburn, DudleyMcLoughlin, Patrick
Forman, NigelMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Malone, Gerald
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)Mans, Keith
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)Marlow, Tony
Freeman, Rt Hon RogerMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
French, DouglasMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Garnier, EdwardMerchant, Piers
Gillan, CherylMilligan, Stephen
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMoate, Sir Roger
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Moss, Malcolm
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Nelson, Anthony
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)Neubert, Sir Michael
Hague, WilliamNewton, Rt Hon Tony
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Harris, DavidOttaway, Richard
Hawksley, WarrenPage, Richard
Hayes, JerryPaice, James
Heald, OliverPatnick, Irvine
Hendry, CharlesPorter, David (Waveney)
Hill, James (Southampton Test)Powell, William (Corby)
Horam, JohnRichards, Rod
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)Riddick, Graham
Hunter, AndrewRobinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hutton, JohnRowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jack, MichaelRyder, Rt Hon Richard
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyShaw, David (Dover)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)Skeet, Sir Trevor
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelSpencer, Sir Derek
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineSpicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Key, RobertSpink, Dr Robert
Kirkhope, TimothySproat, Iain
Knapman, RogerStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Stephen, Michael

Stern, MichaelWaterson, Nigel
Stewart, AllanWells, Bowen
Sumberg, DavidWheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Sweeney, WalterWhittingdale, John
Taylor, Ian (Esher)Widdecombe, Ann
Taylor, John M. (Solihull)Wilkinson, John
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)Willerts, David
Thomason, RoyWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)Wood, Timothy
Thurnham, PeterYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Trend, Michael
Twinn, Dr Ian

Tellers for the Noes:

Viggers, Peter

Mr. David Lightbown and Mr. Sydney Chapman.

Waller, Gary
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House congratulates the management and workforce of British Nuclear Fuels plc on the completion of its high technology thermal oxide reprocessing plant (THORP) for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel at Sellafield; welcomes the 3,000 jobs, mainly in the North West, which the plant supports; recognises that around 90 per cent. of its £1,850 million capital cost was spent with British industry; notes that the plant is needed to fulfil the customers' requirements for reprocessing, represented by contracts already won worth £9 billion; recalls that it is a major example of international inward investment which the chairmen of the ten Japanese nuclear power generators strongly endorsed last week; expresses confidence in the non-proliferation arrangements that underlie the plant's work for all the overseas customers; and, subject to receipt by BNFL of such consents as are required by law, supports the commissioning of the plant at the earliest practicable date.