Select Committee on Public Administration Memoranda


Submitted by British Energy

  British Energy welcomes the opportunity to submit views to the inquiry being undertaken by the Select Committee on Public Administration into the government's draft Bill on Freedom of Information.

  British Energy was formed on 13 December 1995 as part of the restructuring of the UK nuclear power generating industry and was privatised by the Government on 15 July 1996 through flotation on the London Stock Exchange. The Company has two main subsidiaries: British Energy Generation (UK) Limited, which operates two nuclear stations in Scotland; and British Energy Generation Limited which operates six nuclear stations in England. Turnover for the financial year 1998-99 was £2,067 million and 5,129 staff are employed throughout the Group.

  British Energy is a significant and competitive player in the UK generation market being one of the largest electricity companies in Great Britain. All of our production is sold either through the Electricity Pool (in England and Wales) or to the vertically integrated electricity companies (in Scotland). We also have a supply business which currently only sells to large industrial commercial organisations and are currently in the process of purchasing the SWALEC supply business from Hyder which is subject to regulatory approval.

  Public acceptance is a vital pre-requisite to continued nuclear generation and British Energy wishes to be recognised as a safe, responsible and environmentally aware company. We therefore operate an "open door policy" which seeks to ensure that reliable information about our operations is readily available. This policy is designed to enable the public to make an informed judgement about our operations.

  British Energy already makes a wide variety of information available either because it is required to do so by law or as part of its communications programme. In the course of each year it produces an Interim Report together with an Annual Report and Accounts under companies legislation and annual reports on its health, safety and environment performance. All significant company news is communicated promptly to shareholders through the Stock Exchange and to the general public through the media.

  Additionally, regular monthly statements on output and power station performance and operation are published in the same way. Each station sends a fortnightly newsletter to local residents and media, reporting on station operations during the preceding period. A contact name and number also provides the opportunity for interested readers to follow up any item of note, or indeed any matter relating to station operations, with station management. Station Directors also meet several times a year with a local consultative committee comprising members of the public and representatives from local organisations.

  Other statutory provisions such as the Electricity Act 1989 also require the company to publish statements of environmental policy and provide regulated accounts to the Director General of Electricity Supply on its generation activities. In addition, and uniquely among private sector generators, each of its stations is open to the public and schools for guided tours. Station operations are explained and demonstrated in purpose-built visitor centres where trained guides are on hand to answer any questions the public may have.

  British Energy comments on the Consultation Document Cm 4355 as follows:

    —  As regard the power to amend or repeal enactments prohibiting disclosure of information (clause 65) we are concerned to note that the review of existing statutory prohibitions on disclosure is not yet complete (paragraph 10 of the Consultation Document). It is important for there to be a clear understanding of which remains properly protected so that the new system is credible. We are also concerned at the wide discretion given to the Secretary of State by way of this power to amend or repeal. However, we do note that clause 69(2) requires that no order shall be made under clause 65 unless a draft of the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

    —  The test of confidentiality confirmed in clause 32 we feel is unduly high. Information which it is intended be confidential under the terms of a confidentiality agreement should be protected whether or not disclosure by a party would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by the other party or parties.

    —  The Government intended to draw up a list of public authorities and other organisations to be covered by any Act and these are confirmed at Schedule 1 of the draft Bill. The intention was so that there would be no ambiguity about which bodies are included and which are not. The power to designate further public authorities raises uncertainty and it is not clear on what criteria the secondary designation orders are promoted. The public's right to know must be tempered by the right of any group or organisation which in the future falls under the definition of a public authority to conduct their business on a level playing field.

    —  It is to be hoped that the Codes of Practice by the Secretary of State (clause 38) and that by the Lord Chancellor (clause 39) will be available shortly and in good time before any Act comes into force.

June 1999

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