|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Simon Hughes: Will the Minister clarify for the record that the Bill applies not only prospectively to new trusts that will be established after it is enacted, and to people who become trustees, but to the actions of existing trusts from the day of enactment?
Mr. Lock: Yes, I am certainly prepared to give that assurance. The Bill contains a set of default powers, which can be overridden by specific provisions in the trust instrument. However, existing trusts will be governed by the Bill because, once it receives Royal Assent, it will apply as much to them as to those that will be created. I hope that that is the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil): I am pleased to have this opportunity to debate the report. When my colleagues on the Committee and I started work on this subject in June 1999, we assumed that we would undertake a fairly routine but, given the difficulties that people occasionally have following the arrangements of British Nuclear Fuels, somewhat complex operation. Little did we realise that we would be involved with far more controversial subjects, including safety procedures, the organisation and delivery of data, what might be regarded in some circles as the scandal affecting the organisation--that resulted in the departure of several senior staff and the sacking of a number of people further down the line of command--and the questioning of the organisation's whole character.
When we started, our remit was--and, indeed, it remains--to consider the suitability or otherwise of the proposed public-private partnership as a way forward for BNFL. That required us to examine the activities and liabilities of the company, which has four main areas of activity: nuclear reprocessing, the fabrication of mixed oxide fuel, the generation of electricity in Magnox stations, and substantial business involvement in the United States, involving waste management, nuclear facilities and nuclear fuel services. Moreover, we had to set alongside those revenue-generating aspects of the business a consideration of the scale, character and reporting of its liabilities.
To say that we found issues that concerned us in those areas would be an understatement. BNFL is a big company--it employs some 23,000 people who operate in some 15 countries--and in its ranks can be found some of the best qualified nuclear scientists and engineers in the world.
The report contains an interesting section describing BNFL's background and organisation--a short but interesting history of the British nuclear industry. That may be the first time that such a history has been written in a coherent and easily intelligible form. That section is not recommended bedside reading, although anyone who suffers from insomnia would not necessarily find it to be the best cure--it is quite a good read. However, I intend to discuss not so much the report's contents as some of the areas on which the Government's helpful response did not touch.
Some of BNFL's exceptionally qualified people have been involved in the nuclear industry since the outset. Its traditions come from the military and civil nuclear industries and its origins can be traced back to the 1940s. Understandably, great pride is taken in its achievements, but there is still a culture of secrecy, which is often unnecessary in a modern energy-oriented business. Such is the scientific complexity of its operations that there has been a tendency among some staff to patronise mere mortals, such as my colleagues and myself, and query the need for our work. That led to a stridency among some of those who are critical of its operations, which in turn created a tendency towards megaphone diplomacy on both sides of the debate.
We found among all levels of staff at BNFL a willingness and an anxiety to be helpful. They sought to provide us with the information that we wanted. However, the manner in which the accounts were drawn up suggested a degree of opacity that could be explained only by the cynical suggestion that there was something to hide. My colleagues and I had considerable sympathy for Dr. MacKerron, of Sussex university, who sought to get behind the facts and figures, but has been thwarted in all too many ways. I hope that BNFL's new chairman, Hugh Collum, who is a distinguished figure in the world of accountancy and finance, will be able to secure far greater transparency in the recording of the company's affairs.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): First, I apologise to my hon. Friend for having missed the first two minutes of his speech, and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I assure you that when I saw my hon. Friend's name appear on the monitor, I broke the world record for running from Norman Shaw North to the Chamber.
My hon. Friend touches on the key point that if we want BNFL to develop, and nuclear technology to become acceptable again, absolute openness in all that the industry does is essential. I refer not only to commercial considerations, but to scientific and safety aspects.
Frankly, there is now a recognition that last year's events, and the public's reaction, mean that a new approach is required. I hope that as well as Hugh Collum, the new managing director, Norman Askew, who was appointed in the wake of the data falsification scandals, will be successful. I stress that what occurred was not a technical failure in the company, but the falsification of data. The major concern was the threat not to safety, but to the company's business integrity and good name.
The company deals with sensitive contracts throughout the world. It was therefore essential to bring in new management--people with a sense of responsibility--and to break with what might be called the mere civil service tradition in BNFL's business culture. That is why several new senior management figures, including the two whom I mentioned and others, are trying to inculcate in the company a radically different culture. I hope that it will embrace openness and a willingness to share technologies.
Although the industry is nuclear, its engineering is not that complex. None the less, the materials that it uses require care and a safety culture, although those have not always been as strong as they should have been. We should face the fact that the nuclear industry is not alone in being affected by such considerations. The north-west of England contains chemical plants of a complexity that requires the highest safety standards. I do not suggest that such an approach is necessary only in the nuclear industry--it has been achieved across British industry and in the most advanced areas of technology.
We all realise that there will be a decline in the number of jobs in the nuclear industry, especially on the west coast. Does my hon. Friend believe that money should be given to improve the infrastructure? The road from my constituency to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) is a disgrace, and this is a perfect opportunity to put money in and give us a better infrastructure so that we can encourage other industries to come to the west of the county when the number of jobs at BNFL declines.
Mr. O'Neill: On my hon. Friend's last point, it is easier to get from Edinburgh to Carlisle than to get from Carlisle to Cockermouth. The area is not well served by its infrastructure, but I leave the lobbying for roads to others, as we all have our own agendas on where road funding should go.
My hon. Friend asked about compromising safety. We had lengthy discussions with Mr. Lawrence Williams and his colleagues in the Health and Safety Executive, who were very sensitive to the issues that we raised. We know them and have had dealings with them in relation to other parts of the British nuclear industry. We got the feeling that their concerns about safety will not be compromised by any change in the nature of ownership. The standards that the HSE is now imposing on the nuclear industry will not be changed in any way as a consequence of a change in ownership.
In recent years, the British nuclear industry has had traumatic experiences at Dounreay, Sellafield and other parts of its operation, where there has been overdependence on outsourcing. The problem was that in many cases, the existing management did not know what was going on because the work was being done not by them but by a range of contractors, who sometimes were not as safety-conscious as they should have been, and were not part of the big picture. As a consequence, the nuclear industry is now somewhat chastened.
There are also suggestions that in some parts of the British nuclear industry--not at Sellafield--there was a hint of regulatory capture. Perhaps people had got too close to the organisations and the individuals whom they were supposed to be regulating.