Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Oral Answers to Questions — Atomic Energy Establishment, Windscale (Accident)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1957.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Frank Anderson Mr Frank Anderson , Whitehaven 12:00 am, 28th November 1957

asked the Prime Minister if the local management at Windscale works was wholly and solely responsible for the major decisions made during the time of the accident at Windscale on 10th October, 1957; or if submissions had to be made to the Atomic Energy Authority headquarters or some other authority before being announced to the public.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

The works general manager at Windscale was responsible for decisions taken following the accident on 10th October. The Director of Production at the Authority's Industrial Group Headquarters, with whom the works general manager would normally have kept in touch, happened to be at Windscale at the time and decisions were taken after consultation with him.

Photo of Mr Frank Anderson Mr Frank Anderson , Whitehaven

Is the Prime Minister aware that there has been very strong condemnation in the locality of the lack of information early enough for people to understand what the position was? Will he in the course of the investigations which are taking place now take into consideration the fact that general information was given very late in the day?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I am sure the hon. Gentleman has studied the White Paper carefully, and I think it is clear from paragraph 4 of Annexe I that the Chief Constable of Cumberland was warned of the possibility of an emergency shortly after midnight on 10th October. The men in the factory were warned of an emergency, and given instruction to stay indoors and wear face masks. These warnings were given when it had been decided that water should be used to reduce the fire and before the effects of it could be determined. Water was turned on at 8.55 a.m. on 11th October, and later that morning, when it became apparent that the situation was under control, the Chief Constable was told that no emergency would, in fact, arise.

Photo of Mr Frank Anderson Mr Frank Anderson , Whitehaven

asked the Prime Minister if he has yet decided whether he will publish the Report of Sir Alexander Fleck on the Windscale accident of 10th October; and when the Report is likely to be ready.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

The studies by Sir Alexander Fleck's three Committees are being pursued with all possible speed and the Committees have made good progress. The Organisation Committee hopes to report to me before the Christmas Recess and the Health and Safety Committee at the beginning of January. The Report of the Technical Evaluation Committee will necessarily take a little longer. Until the Reports are ready it would be premature to take any view on publication.

Photo of Mr Frank Anderson Mr Frank Anderson , Whitehaven

Will the Reports from Sir Alexander Fleck take into account the public relations side, which was sadly lacking in the case of the incident of 10th October?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Without accepting the statement in the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. I should think that all that would come under the Organisation and Health and Safety Committees.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Could the Prime Minister explain the scope of the terms of reference and Report of the Organisation Committee?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

After discussion with Sir Alexander, I think he felt that there were three sets of problems in which he could usefully help. With regard to what I might call the whole organisation, that was a matter in which he had great experience, and he could report whether the whole structure of the system needed alteration or tightening up. That was not really a matter which required great technical knowledge of the atomic field. With regard to the Health and Safety Committee and so forth, there he would have the assistance of the Medical Research Council and others. With regard to the Technical Evaluation Committee, he had to rely largely upon the evidence of almost the only experts who are in one way or another employed or giving their services to the Atomic Energy Authority, and there, where he had not the same personal knowledge of the subject, although very good scientific experience, it would necessarily take him a little longer to reach his decisions.