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14 Jan 2003 : Column 548—continued

Nigel Griffiths: The House will be well aware that we have a tradition of peaceful protest and civil disobedience in this country. That is a tradition that we are loth to change. Security arrangements were able to detect the incursion yesterday within minutes and react to it appropriately to ensure that the critical building and areas were not entered. The picture in The Mirror—I am glad that the newspaper has a new fan in the Conservative party—shows, as the hon. Gentleman will see if he studies it closely, that it was taken outside the control room, not inside the control room, which is strongly defended and protected.

Of course, any lessons that should be put in the public domain will be given to Members of the House and the public, as appropriate, but I know that the House will endorse the long-standing practice that sensitive security matters should not be put in the public domain. The House has Committees that can scrutinise them fully with the proper security and privacy necessary for that.

Of course, the response yesterday was appropriate and non-violent. It was taken to ensure that security staff were not put at risk by having to climb unnecessarily on to a roof from which protesters were willing to come down. Of course, there was no armed response to peaceful protesters. The facilities are designed to take attacks of considerable strength and hits from the air, the House will be pleased to know, and the appropriate response is available quickly on such sites in the event of a non-peaceful demonstration.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is the Minister aware that the treatment of the protesters that he described is in stark contrast to what happened when the Tory Government were in power during the pit strike of 1984–85? I can tell my hon. Friend that if any of those miners had dared to get into a nuclear power station, or even get anywhere near the fence, there would have been thousands of police jumping on them, the miners would have been put in jail, and the Tories would be calling for them to be sacked for life. I applaud the fact that the

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Minister is taking a more reasonable attitude, for I do not take kindly to the Tories whining about the incident—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I said that the subject was very narrow.

Mr. Skinner: And you do not want me attacking the Tories.

Nigel Griffiths: The Government are always grateful for the support that they receive from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He makes a forceful point.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): Clearly, there has been a serious breach of security, which has drawn attention to the potential vulnerability of our large power-generating plants, particularly our nuclear installations. Can the Minister tell us what assessment has been made, following 11 September, of the risks of damage and catastrophe within the plants, and the potential for catastrophic consequences for civil society? Had those protesters been disciples of bin Laden, what assessment has the Minister made of the consequences that might have flowed from that incursion? Does he accept that the incident highlights the vulnerability of our large generating plants and our nuclear industry, and makes the prospect of a new generation of nuclear plants absurd?

Nigel Griffiths: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's last point, but I can tell him that there has been a major review of the security of such facilities in the light of the events that occurred the September before last. Steps have indeed been taken to ensure that the threat from terrorism and violent protest can be countered. As the House knows, the breach was not a violent threat, but a peaceful protest. While I do not endorse it in any way, I think that there are great differences in that respect. I hope that the House will be reassured by the fact that a major review of security at such plants was initiated very shortly after the events of 11 September.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Given that the Government's long-awaited energy review will be published in the next few weeks, may I ask whether it will consider the issue of nuclear terrorists? With regard to the Minister's remarks about the ability of nuclear installations to withstand attacks from the air, is it not the case that British nuclear stations are not built to the same specification as American ones, which are constructed to withstand such attacks?

Nigel Griffiths: I understand from discussions that the Department has had this morning that the plant would withstand an attack or hit from the air. In respect of the other matter, no, I do not believe that it is part of the review, because safety has always been a paramount issue on the Labour Benches and for this Government in terms of nuclear facilities. Although it is an important factor, the energy review is more wide ranging. We do not take security for granted, but it must be built into the heart of any process involving nuclear reactors.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): Just before Christmas, a number of foreign anti-nuclear protestors

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broke into Devonport dockyard and were able to access a nuclear submarine. Although no damage was done, the breach was a massive publicity coup for anti-nuclear protestors. In the review of security, will the Minister and others take into account not only issues of public health or damage in wrongful access to such sensitive facilities, but the sort of propaganda that anti-nuclear protestors in this country can get if security is too low and lax and they can gain such access?

Nigel Griffiths: Yes. I think that lessons should be learned about the message that goes out from incidents such as that of yesterday.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Having visited Sizewell on several occasions, but more relevantly, having attended day 157 of the Sizewell committee inquiry in the Aldborough festival hall, does the matter not justify the thought that the late Sir Richard Layfield, the lawyers involved, Lord Silsoe and the engineers gave precisely to the questions of eventualities in relation to security? Has not the response been a very sensible one? Should not some tribute be paid to those who gave a great deal of thought to precisely these possibilities at the planning stage during that long, extended Sizewell inquiry?

Nigel Griffiths: Indeed, we do owe a debt to people who gave a great deal of time and effort to thoughts of security. The track record has been very good in this country and it is right that we can today discuss the issue, examine the questions and re-evaluate and re-endorse the advice that was given.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Will the Minister tell the House whether the financial chaos in British Energy has led to any reduction in the number of security staff or procedures or any of the security measures needed at Sizewell? Will he investigate that and assure the House on a future date that sufficient resources are available for security at the site?

Nigel Griffiths: The answer to the first question is no. On the second question, the issue may obviously be taken into account by the security review.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Following speculation that the plane that did not reach its target on 11 September was targeted on the Three Mile Island nuclear facility, the French have guarded their nuclear stations with rockets that can shoot down aircraft. We know that in this country since then jets have been scrambled as a result of a false alarm. As it is the opinion of the French think tank W.I.S.E. that the containments would not withstand the sort of attacks that occurred on 11 September, can my hon. Friend the Minister give us an assurance that sufficient protection is given to our nuclear power stations, because W.I.S.E. also said that the result of such an attack would be contamination a hundred times greater than occurred at Chernobyl? Is it right that the cost of this security is put at the door of nuclear energy, a form of power generation that is already the most expensive of all forms of power generation?

Nigel Griffiths: I attended the Cabinet Committee meeting that considered this very issue—that the best possible security, both appropriate and effective for British sites, is being attended to.

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Points of Order

12.45 pm

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

We recently deployed to the Gulf the largest number of troops since the last Gulf war, yet many of us feel that in the answers we are receiving from the Government when we ask questions about one of the most onerous decisions any Member of Parliament will take—going to war—the Government are being evasive. At yesterday's press conference many relevant questions were asked that were not fully answered.

What can you do, Mr. Speaker, to protect democracy in the House and the right of Back Benchers to know whether or not our Government have taken a decision to go to war?

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

In the last debate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that he would bring this issue back to the House before any troops were sent, and that before any war was declared there would be a vote in the House. I remember him saying it, and I wonder whether you, Mr. Speaker, can remember him saying it and will ask him to come and do it.

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