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Mr. Hardy : I shall not make a long speech, although this is a serious matter. It is a pity that only two Conservative Back Benchers are here to listen to the essential contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams). I shall repeat a little more briefly the arguments that I advanced in Committee. Conservative Members do not seem to understand that change is accelerating. For example, in the last decade we have seen an intensification of terror in many parts of the world. In the past 15 years, the arrangements and procedures of this building have changed dramatically in response to terror and violence. In 1979, violent crime reached its then highest recorded level. In the decade since then, although the Government have made combating crime their priority, that level has at least doubled.

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With this acceleration, with all the other problems that we face, with the sheer encouragement of greed and the infliction of hopelessness on young people--in this country and in others-- how a sensible Government can embark on a 100-year policy with an overwhelming commitment to greed and private ownership, a diminution of state responsibility and disregard of the realities of change, I do not know. In due course, our generation will be accused of having taken leave of its senses. I am pleased that some Conservative Members are here for the debate, but it is of such an enormous and historic dimension that this matter should be debated more fully and freely rather than being witnessed by a few silent Members. My hon. Friend has done us a great service. He has pointed to the economic realities, but the Government should consider the social realities as well. They should ask whether the growing levels of inflation and the increasing gravity of our economic condition make it possible for us to enter into a 100-year agreement. We may find ourselves unable to afford that agreement in less than half that time.

9.30 pm

Dr. Kim Howells : There are many unknowns about decommissioning, such as those of technology. Another unknown is insurance. I understand that £20 million is talked about for that, but that is infinitesimal in terms of the effect on a community which experiences any signs of nuclear activity. Near my constituency a pressurised water reactor is to be built at Hinkley Point. If something happens at Hinkley Point, we shall be in big trouble economically and domestically. Besides the fact that we shall all have to run for it, such an incident will have a dreadful effect upon the local economy. Who will pay for that?

One of the most critical moments in the life of any reactor--this is the result of any analysis--is when it becomes decommissioned. That is the moment when we start moving radioactive material from a controlled point, from a nuclear reactor. We have all seen the glossy publications that have been produced by the CEGB, which set out the three stages of nuclear decommissioning. The drawings of the first stage show a nuclear station. In the second set of drawings there are fewer buildings around the nuclear station. In the third stage, pictures are drawn of cows grazing on the site of the former nuclear reactor. That is nonsense.

As I understand it, we are talking of a time scale of between 100 and 500 years. I am assuming that cows will still be supplying our milk 500 years on. There is no talk, however, of economics. What happens if there is even a minor accident at a nuclear station during the decommissioning process? My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) has drawn attention to the article which appeared in the colour magazine of The Observer on Sunday. It informed us that the decommissioning or rescue process for Three Mile Island has already cost four times the amount that it cost to construct. Who will pay when it comes to an accident? Will it be the Government or the private owner of the nuclear power station? I will tell the House who will pay. The Government will pay in the end, which means that the customer will pay. The Government are ghettoising the nuclear sector. They are trying to pretend that it will become part of a great new privatised industry. In fact, they are ringfencing it. If anything goes wrong, the public

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will have to pick up the tab, and it will be a considerable tab. The damage to the economy will be irreversible in any area where something goes wrong.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : Does the hon. Member agree that under the present system, in which everything is nationalised, all decommissioning costs will automatically be picked up by the public? Within the system are stations that were ordered by the Labour Government.

Dr. Howells : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. It allows me to say that if there is a benefit to be derived from the nuclear generation of electricity, as the Government say there is, we pick up the profit. However, if something goes wrong in future, we shall not pick up a profit. In addition, we shall have to pay for the damage. Where is the sense in that? I hope that the Minister will be comprehensive in his reply.

Mr. Michael Spicer : It seems that the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) does not like the 100-year idea. He thinks that it is a long time.

Mr. Hardy : I do not like it within a privatised context.

Mr. Spicer : In any event, the hon. Gentleman does not like the 100- year idea.

Were the third stage of decommissioning to be changed by regulation in such a way that meant that it could not be anticipated, that would be cause for public expenditures to be incurred. We had a long debate in Committee on this issue, during which we made clear our policy. We do not think it necessary to put into the Bill the provision that has been suggested by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams). That would be unnecessary. It would provide a tremendous bonanza for lawyers. Everyone would come forward to argue that a particular proposal did not fit within the legislation. We are clear about the policy. The industry, and therefore the consumer, will pay for decommissioning unless something happens that was not capable of being foreseen--such as the regulations concerning the environment being changed--and proper provision could not therefore have been made in the accounts.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) had some fun at the end of his speech about who pays. Either the taxpayer or the consumer pays. We make no bones about the fact that the consumer will pay for decommissioning and it is correct that he should. He will pay in the way that is appropriate, through proper provisions in the accounts and with the appropriate charging being made against those provisions.

In answer to the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans), the hon. Member for Pontypridd was less than fair in saying that the shareholder would benefit from the industry's profits but the taxpayer would pick up the costs. Because we do not want that to persist, we are making it clear that the schedule will be activated only if there is a change in environmental policies that the industry could not have foreseen. To overcome the reservations that the hon. Gentleman put to the House, I give the assurance that we shall use these powers for England and Wales where the environmental conditions and regulations are changed.

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I hope that the hon. Member for Carmarthen will not feel it necessary to press the amendment. I give him the assurance that that is the Government's policy and we intend to stick to it.

Mr. Alan W. Williams : Where is it said in the schedule that the measure will be activated only in unforeseen circumstances? I understand from my reading of the Bill that the schedule can be activated at any stage by any Secretary of State whenever the industry asks for the money, and in that way it could be used to pay for the whole thing.

Mr. Spicer : I am setting out the Government's policy. The Government would not activate the schedule unless there were unforeseen changes. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's amendment is not necessary.

Mr. Morgan : The Under-Secretary of State asked my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) not to press the amendment to the vote. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will press it. We are reaching the closing stages of the Report stage and we are still wondering about its purpose. It is not to keep hon. Members from their dinners. It is certainly not to keep the Secretary of State from his--nothing keeps him from his dinner, either here or in Moscow. All of us who have had to work through the Committee and Report stages are interested in what the Government mean when they give an undertaking in Committee. Do they meet it on Report? We have tabled amendment No. 162 in precise words to meet the exact requirements set out in Committee by the Under-Secretary of State. We originally tabled an amendment which included the word "foreseeable", but the hon. Gentleman said that he was not happy with it and that it was a little unfair, but he thought that the word "foreseen" was fair. We took out the word "foreseeable" and inserted "foreseen". The Under-Secretary of State had another objection in Committee. He said that the amendment was not precise in terms of who would be covered by it. We made it precise and inserted "by the person concerned", which is legal language for National Power, the successor company to the nuclear part of the CEGB.

If a Report stage means anything, and if the word of a Minister in Committee means anything, I hope that the Minister will say that amendment No. 162 is satisfactory. However, from his remarks, I understand that he will not take that view. I do not know what that says about the Minister's attitude to undertakings he has given. What does he think is the purpose of Report, and does he realise that this Chamber is a Parliament of the British people?

If the Minister does not agree to the amendment, it means that, having put on a little show of bravado in Committee, he is now saying that he wants some form of riskless private capitalism because one cannot privatise the industry with the nuclear component intact on any other terms. What other industry would have the cheek to ask for all of its unforeseen risks to be covered by the taxpayer? What other industry would say that, although it has capital and reserves, they must not be touched if one of its major waste processors should suddenly increase its charges? Can the Minister name any other industry that exists in the private sector on the terms that if it has any problems with waste disposal the Government will ensure that the share capital owners and the people who have

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gone in for great risk taking in equity investment or the excitement of buying shares will have no problems because the taxpayer will pick up the tab?

There is another peculiar aspect, similar to the peculiarity of the nuclear levy. The Government have said that it is wise to have insurance against the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries or another miners' strike. The Government say that the insurance of a second source of fuel is needed as cover against any sudden eventualities and that that makes sense. But what other industry can the Minister name which has instructions to spend more than £6 billion on a second source of fuel to cover it against an eventuality such as the possibility of another OPEC monopoly trebling the price of oil or another miners' industrial dispute? Other industries believe that if one owns shares, those shares and reserves are at risk to cover eventualities such as that. The merchant bankers have told the Government that they must realise that they cannot sell nuclear power on such terms. They have also told them that, knowing the problems of waste disposal with nuclear power, there is no possibility of selling the industry with its nuclear power component intact because the risks are far too great.

For the past 30 years, the nuclear power industry has existed as a big lie. We were told in 1957 that it knew how to solve the problem of its nuclear waste disposal or that, if it did not know this year, it would know next year. Thirty years later, the industry still does not know how to dispose of its nuclear waste. At the Hinkley Point public inquiry the CEGB was asked how it would dispose of the spent fuel rods from Hinkley Point, but it could not give an answer--32 years after the beginning of civil nuclear power in this country. The Government have the cheek to tell us that the nuclear power industry is clean relative to coal because it does not cause the problems of the greenhouse effect. The coal industry has serious environmental problems, but they are soluble. For the nuclear power industry, we have been waiting 32 years to find out what they are. The difference can be summarised as follows. When one installs an admittedly very expensive but known technology, which has been in use in Japan for more than 15 years, in which limestone scrubbers are put in the chimneys of coal-fired power stations, one produces a useful building product--plaster- -for which there is an immediate sale. I cannot think of any comparable product in the nuclear industry. Nuclear waste has to be buried under the ground and the sites of old power stations have to be covered with hundreds of feet of concrete for more than 100 years. I shall summarise it briefly. The back end of the nuclear power fuel cycle gives us Nirex ; the coal cycle gives us artex.

The real problem that is causing the Government to insist that the nuclear power station component remains alive is that the Prime Minister has a talismanic faith in the nuclear power industry. She wears her talisman around her neck. After General Galtieri there came Arthur Scargill and she believes that she conquered him. I am told that following a couple of Johnnie Walkers in the evening she sometimes believes that she won back the Falklands by dropping a nuclear power station on Buenos Aires.

The right hon. Lady's simple belief must be brought to an end. The economics of nuclear power have run their generational cycle and the time has come for us to return to a sensible policy to meet our energy and electricity requirements. The private sector has plainly told the

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Department of Energy that it will not undertake the risks of nuclear power, so poor old muggins, the taxpayer, will have to do the job again.

Question put , That the amendment be made :--

The House divided : Ayes 191, Noes 249.

Division No. 150] [9.45 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Allen (Paisley N)

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald

Archer, Rt Hon Peter

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Ashley, Rt Hon Jack

Ashton, Joe

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Beckett, Margaret

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)

Bermingham, Gerald

Bidwell, Sydney

Blair, Tony

Boateng, Paul

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Buchan, Norman

Buckley, George J.

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)

Cartwright, John

Clark, Dr David (S Shields)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clay, Bob

Clelland, David

Cohen, Harry

Coleman, Donald

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Cousins, Jim

Cox, Tom

Crowther, Stan

Cryer, Bob

Cummings, John

Cunliffe, Lawrence

Dalyell, Tam

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)

Dewar, Donald

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Doran, Frank

Douglas, Dick

Duffy, A. E. P.

Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth

Eadie, Alexander

Eastham, Ken

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)

Fatchett, Derek

Faulds, Andrew

Fearn, Ronald

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)

Fisher, Mark

Flannery, Martin

Flynn, Paul

Foot, Rt Hon Michael

Foster, Derek

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

George, Bruce

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Gould, Bryan

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Hardy, Peter

Harman, Ms Harriet

Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy

Haynes, Frank

Healey, Rt Hon Denis

Heffer, Eric S.

Henderson, Doug

Hinchliffe, David

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Howarth, George (Knowsley N)

Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)

Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)

Hughes, John (Coventry NE)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)

Illsley, Eric

Janner, Greville

Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)

Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Mo n)

Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)

Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald

Kennedy, Charles

Kirkwood, Archy

Lambie, David

Lamond, James

Leighton, Ron

Lestor, Joan (Eccles)

Lewis, Terry

Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

Lofthouse, Geoffrey

Loyden, Eddie

McAllion, John

McAvoy, Thomas

Macdonald, Calum A.

McFall, John

McKelvey, William

McLeish, Henry

Maclennan, Robert

McWilliam, John

Madden, Max

Mahon, Mrs Alice

Marek, Dr John

Marshall, David (Shettleston)

Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)

Martlew, Eric

Maxton, John

Meale, Alan

Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)

Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)

Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)

Moonie, Dr Lewis

Morgan, Rhodri

Morley, Elliott

Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)

Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)

Mowlam, Marjorie

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