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Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, in an answer in an earlier debate, drew attention to my long-term concerns about the community in which Dounreay is situated. The arguments which have been eloquently deployed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for Cumbria, may be thought to apply a fortiori to Caithness in the north of Scotland.
The concerns which he has described as being considerable in West Cumbria have, to some extent, been answered in principle by gestures, and even by important decisions, of the Government. To locate the headquarters of the new agency there, for example, might well be thought to have been against the sense of those who were simply concerned about economics. But it was no doubt a welcome decision. So far as Caithness and the Dounreay community are concerned, I think it is important, although the issue is not pressing in the sense that a downturn in employment is not anticipated in the short term. To address these issues now is important, because we are setting up a statutory framework within which these issues will have to be addressed at some point. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the significance of the employment offered, directly and indirectly, in the far north of mainland Britain because of the experimental reactor and establishment at Dounreay. More than 3,000 people are directly employed on the site at present, but the ripple effect is enormous; it involves the service industries, in other related manufacturing and supply industries.
It is also very important to recognise that the infrastructure needs of a community of that kind have to be sustained and will require continuing expenditure by local government and other public agencies. If there is nothing but a prospect of decline, it becomes much more difficult for those bodies to justify expenditure. Therefore, it is necessary to recognise that there is no natural alternative employment in such areas, notwithstanding all the considerable efforts made to diversify the local economy, which have been to some extent remarkably successful, against a background of pressure on the fishing and agricultural industry flowing from structural support and a greater extensification of agricultural enterprises. Employment needs to be encouraged through the recognition of what can be done in conjunction with the developments for which the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will have responsibility.
The Government will no doubt point again, as they already have, to the empowering clause of the Bill, which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, quoted in full. I refer simply to Clause 7(1)(e). Empowerment is not enough, because it is quite clear that the reason for the establishment of this authority is to accelerate
The body will have a far larger budget than the regional development agency in the area and than the total budget of the Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which must be deployed throughout the whole half of Scotland in which it is operative. While it is clear that the budget of the NDA will not be directed principally to the schemes of social and economic development, if the budget is spent in a manner consistent with agreed schemes to develop local skills, for example, and to assist in the development of spin-off technology from research work being done on the site, that could be highly beneficial.
There is a particular problem about the position of the Scottish sites in the compass of the Bill. Much of the responsibility for economic regeneration is devolved, and I am not entirely certain that the drafting of the proposed new clause to which I have put my name adequately addresses those points. However, I have little doubt that it would be the wish of the Scottish executive to ensure that the Scottish sites under the NDA's authority will be no less advantageously treated than those south of the Border. Will the Minister who replies to the debate engage in discussion with the Scottish Executive between now and Third Reading to ensure that the wishes and support of the Scottish Executive for what is being done in the Bill is made explicit? I do not think that it would appropriate to second-guess the approach that they might wish to take but I believe that the primary duty will remain with the Secretary of State. The NDA will be accountable to him for schemes that will have to be worked in conjunction with bodies that are otherwise accountable to the Scottish Executive. That does not seem to me to be an insuperable problem to manage. I hope that in their answer to this debate the Government will show their readiness to engage in that dialogue. I have no doubt that they are as aware as anyone of the seriousness of the problems that will be faced in the future by these communities.
Lord Woolmer of Leeds: My Lords, I should briefly explain why I have an interest in this matter. Many years ago I worked for a number of years as a consultant with BNFL and got to know West Cumbria very well as a result. With another hat on, many years of my political life have been spent in Yorkshire where we saw the run-down of the mining industry and the problems that had to be tackled there.
When I look ahead to the next few years and the possible major changes in West Cumbria, in which I have a long-standing interest, it causes me concern. For people from outside West Cumbria or Dounreay, it is often impossible to understand how far away
The local authority in the area has had to cope with one of the largest and most complex nuclear installations in the United Kingdom, if not in the world. It has coped with that on its own. It is a tiny local authority. It has put not only local interests at the forefront, but national interests too. The nuclear industry has not always been popular but the local authority has stood by it. It has stood by the industry and I hope that now that the Government will look after the area and help with the consequences of a run-down in part of that industry.
As my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said, last December, following representations by Dr Cunningham, Member of Parliament for Copeland, and the trade unions, the Government announced a cross-cutting departmental taskforce to look at future prospects for industry and employment in West Cumbria. It would be helpful to the House and to people in West Cumbria to know what is happening with that task force. Is any progress being made? What progress can we look forward to?
In my experience, BNFL has taken its wider responsibilities in West Cumbria very seriously for many years. We are asking that the new decommissioning agency follows in that tradition. BNFL provided the original funding for the West Lakes Science and Technology Park and funding for the West Cumbria Development Agency. So this is not a new matter and I hope that that example can be followed by the new agency. With the taskforce, the Government appear to recognise that West Cumbria is a very special case. BNFL has shown that one can invest in the wider community and the Bill gives the NDA power to provide economic support.
People in West Cumbria feel very exposed to the changes that face them. Naturally, as changes hit them, they seek maximum reassurance that actions will be taken to secure economic stability in their area. I understand that the Government may have an alternative approach in minda memorandum of agreement or similar arrangement. I should be extremely interested if my noble friend could tell us more about what the Government have in mind. I should also be interested to hear more about the terms of reference and the action time scales of the cross-departmental review.
Above all, I believe that communities like West Cumbria and Dounreay will seek a clear statement today that the Government recognise the size of the possible problems ahead and the very special circumstances of the communities involved. They seek reassurance that a memorandum of agreement and task forces really will produce firm, committed and timely action to meet the employment needs of communities that have been critical to the energy needs of this country. Speaking as a nuclear industry
Baroness Byford: My Lords, as an outsider coming from the Midlands and not being directly connected with any nuclear plant, I should like to add a few words. Two years ago the foot-and-mouth outbreak had dire consequences for many communities of which Cumbria was one. Following the outbreak I went up to Cumbria and stayed in West Cumbria, although I did not have a chance to make a site visit to Sellafield.
However, one of the points that was made very clear to me then was the dependence of that community on Sellafield for employment, not only directly at the site, but also in other industries and businesses which support it directly and indirectly. On my tour around the area staying at bed-and-breakfasts and places that put people up who came to the site, I found that they were very dependent on that industry. There is not a tremendous amount of alternative work up there.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolmer of Leeds, is quite right to say that there is a feeling that "Nobody cares for us. We're a long way away". I got the feeling from the communities themselves that they try to support and encourage each other. While the industry is thriving, that is all right. But my noble friend was quite right in his opening remarks to refer to the degree of uncertainty existing within the industry.
Therefore, although I have no direct interest or expertise in this field, I can only reflect that my three days up there underline the expressions of concern that have been expressed by noble friends from every side of the House. Accommodation, small shops, and other businesses will suffer. Many people who are skilled in various fields will suffer. I suspect there are not many other fields that they can diversify into. It is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.
I will not go through the individual questions that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, raised as the Minister will respond to them. However, as a Midlander, I was quite struck by the degree of reliance of the area. I am sure that the same is true of other areas. The only other experience I have is of Sizewell B. At the moment, that is very much ongoing and, one hopes, will be so for some time. But for those areas that are very remote, I just wanted to add an outsider's point of view in support of the communities affected. I know how concerned they were even when I was in West Cumbria two years ago.
As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, mentioned, the farming community at that time was experiencing difficulties in trying to get re-established. My point is that if the farming side is experiencing problems and there is uncertainty about Sellafield, what else is left?
It was drawn to my attention that it is all very well to talk about tourismthe centre of Cumbria tends to be a honey-pot areabut not many people venture up the west side of Cumbria. That area is more remote than central Cumbria. I hope that the Government will
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