I must call the attention of the House to the subject of this debate, although I am sure that hon. Members wish to consider the communiqué which has been issued from Paris. I hope, however, that it will be recognised that the matter I wish to raise is one of very real concern to us all.
On 6th May this year I put a Question to the Paymaster-General on the siting of atomic power stations. I asked what action was being taken to avoid the destruction of the natural beauty and coastline of Britain in the planning, siting and construction of new atomic power stations. The right hon. Gentleman said that, in addition to consultations with local and central planning authorities, various amenity bodies were consulted about the proposed site and that the Minister might order a public inquiry to be held. Several hon. Members took up the matter at that time and expressed their concern about what might be happening, almost behind our backs, to the coastline and natural beauty of the country.
I again raised the matter of amenities on 11th November, when I put a Question to the Parliamentary Secretary on the problem of the sites proposed in the Snowdonia National Park. The hon. Member said that an inquiry was to be held in due course, and I again mentioned the desirability of looking into the whole problem of atomic power stations and the effect on the natural beauty and amenities of this country.
It is to that wider matter that I wish briefly to refer tonight. I am concerned not only with specific cases which I shall hope to mention, such as, for example, Trawsfynydd and Edern, but with the very real danger that unless satisfactory planning procedures are carried out we may find that before many years a great deal of the remaining beauty of our coastline and countryside has been snatched away. Whatever the economic advantages which may flow from this exciting development of atomic power, we should continue to have real concern for the lasting values of natural beauty.
The Minister of Power, in a speech which he made in another place earlier this year, said:
…on many occasions I have remarked upon the scars of the first Industrial Revolution which thought nothing about the amenities and paid no attention to the comfort and wellbeing of the people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 13th March, 1957; Vol. 202, c. 554.]
That is a pertinent and proper remark to make. All of us who have lived in industrial areas which have been destroyed in this way in the past—quite unnecessarily as many of us may consider—are anxious to see that this new exciting
industrial revolution which is about to take place shall not impose further damage upon what little is left of our unspoilt countryside. In the past private enterprise has done its worst, and we do not want public enterprise, in the form of this great Atomic Energy Authority and the Electricity Authority, further to curtail what is left of natural beauty.
We are concerned not merely with the actual building of the power stations but with the ancillary works which will inevitably be associated with them. There is the whole complex of roads, transport facilities, the constructional developments that must take place, the provision of temporary housing for those who are to build the new works, the transmission lines which may cover very large areas of the countryside which are not, in these days, already covered by transmission lines, and also the problem of other industries which may be attracted into the areas once these new stations have been erected, because new industrial districts may be developed isolated from the rest of the community. These are problems which we must keep in mind. We are not thinking solely about the new power stations themselves, but also of what may very well, and perhaps automatically, come with them.
We are assured that before any of these projects go forward there is very careful Ministerial consultation, and I accept that straight away as being correct. We have been assured, and indeed the noble Lord the Minister of Power, in the speech to which I have already referred, dealt at some length with this matter of Ministerial consultations that take place before sites are chosen. One also appreciates that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which is responsible, on behalf of the National Parks Commission and other bodies, is the Department to which representations must be made on matters of this kind, and whose approval has to be obtained. Everybody accepts the very real need to allay the serious anxieties that there are today. Nor is it satisfactory merely to rely upon public inquiries into specific cases as they come along.
What I think is the very real difficulty that many of us face is that we urgently want to see the picture as a whole, showing what is to be left to us after the major programme has been completed, and we cannot usually tell that and do not know it by examining one specific proposal, such as the one at Trawsfynydd in North Wales or the other schemes that have already gone forward in parts of England and the schemes projected in Scotland as well.
Therefore, it seems to many of us that what we want is some opportunity for considering the long-term programme which the Authority should have in order to see to what extent that whole programme affects the amenities of the country. It seems to many of us that it should be possible to establish some form of central consultative committee that could be called upon to give advice about that long-term programme and should be able to discuss the relative advantages and disadvantages of particular proposals in that programme, looking some distance ahead.
One hope that we have is that we shall not think for ever in terms of atomic power stations being sited in the most isolated and, almost automatically, the most beautiful areas of the countryside. We hope the time will come when it will be possible to consider erecting atomic power stations in areas somewhat nearer to the consumers needing the power, and indeed, possibly in areas of declining industry. There are, as we well know, areas in some of our industrial centres, or former industrial centres, where new development is urgently needed and where certainly no damage would be done to beauty or to amenity.
I want to make it quite clear that we realise that this great, important and vital new development is one that can possibly relieve or lift some of the horror of our industrial areas. It is, no doubt, the hope in the future that this new source of power may be the means of bringing greater amenity to many areas that have been blighted in the past, but what we want to be sure about is that, in the process of doing that most admirable thing, we do not destroy other amenities in the meantime.
I particularly ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he will consider quite seriously the point I am making about the possibility of consulting some of the bodies, for example, attached to the Standing Joint Committee on National Parks, which include representatives of most of the major amenity bodies, such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and a body in which I have a special interest, the Ramblers' Association, and others of that kind, which have done most valuable work in this direction. I very much hope that it will be possible to establish some committee of this consultative character, or at least to call in representatives of those bodies to hear what are the long-term programmes of the Authority.
Would the hon. Gentleman clear up one point? Is he suggesting that this central consultative committee, on which representatives of amenity bodies would serve, would be set up to advise the Minister of Power in relation to nuclear power stations only, in relation to all matters which come under his responsibility or to advise on all development matters of that kind?
I am merely raising this specific problem of atomic power stations because of the very wide character of the ways in which they will affect our development in future, I am suggesting that at least this could be tried as an experiment, and we should see how we get on. If we find that we can clear up some of our difficulties in this way, it might be possible to extend their useful advice to wider fields and other forms of power station development, and so on.
This problem is all the more acute because of the number of attacks on our natural amenities by other bodies. We know that it may very well be that the Prime Minister, when he comes back tomorrow, will have other proposals to make which will endanger our country even more. All the more are we anxious about this proposal, but I wish to confine myself to the subject now under discussion.
May I mention one or two matters, by way of illustration, relating to some of the cases now before us? If it is true, as I believe it is, that the siting of atomic power stations is a matter of very real concern to everyone, how much more is it of concern when there are proposals that these stations shall be erected within the areas of National Parks which, by definition, have, in effect, been set aside by the House as areas in which industrial development shall not take place unless there is some such overriding need of a national character that every other consideration finally has to give way. The tragedy is that in the case of the Trawsfynydd proposal, it comes within the confines of the Snowdonia National Park, and in that of the Edern proposal, it comes within an area of outstanding natural beauty.
I am very glad to have that very proper correction from my hon. Friend and to know that the Edern scheme is actually outside the area designated as being of outstanding natural beauty in the peninsula. It is an area which I personally know very well, and, for the sake of illustration, I want to make a point about these proposals, particularly the Trawsfynydd proposal, concerning the kind of anxiety that has been created. For example, here is an illustration of the way in which we are confronted with plans for the erection of power stations, and one hopes very much that this one will be of greater architectural beauty than some of the power stations that have been erected in the past. No doubt that is within the bounds of possibility. One very much hopes so.
There is the question of the size of the power stations in relation to the surrounding countryside and, of course, there is the very real problem of the pylons and their distribution lines, which are bound to move over very great areas of lovely country. These will be high-power transmission lines, of 275 kV., I understand, and they are likely to be 130 ft. high. They will link up Trawsfynydd with Ffestiniog and no doubt there will be a loop going round to Bangor and Connah's Quay. This is the kind of thing we shall have to meet in all these cases. We are confronted not only with the power stations, but with enormous transmission lines in the National Parks, with new roads and, at any rate temporarily, with the establishments necessary for the constructional work to be carried out.
All this is bound to have a very big effect upon the areas. That is why Lord Strang, Chairman of the National Parks
Commission, has said so vigorously that the Commission could not but regard it as development inconsistent with the maintenance of the areas as a National Parks. The Commission will naturally be presenting evidence at the public inquiry which is to be held, to emphasise his fears and those of the Commission about this development. They hold that the promoters should be called upon:
to demonstrate beyond any doubt that there is no suitable alternative site outside a National Park.
I fully understand the anxieties of my hon. Friends who represent areas with problems of unemployment. I come from an area which suffered very severely from unemployment in the past. Is it not possible, knowing the difficulties about the composition of rock and the need for water, to find a site within Wales which will meet the needs of the local population and will not offend, as I fear this proposal inevitably will, our desire for the maintenance of natural beauty?
I want to give an opportunity to my hon. Friends to say a word on this matter, although it may not be terribly helpful of my plea to the Minister. We are not wishing to prevent development. We are all concerned to see a move made and new sources of power developed. Our problem is to reconcile that development with the equally valid and lasting values which can only be maintained if we insist upon the need to protect certain parts of our countryside. I echo what Lord Dawson said:
Beauty of scenery is not a matter of taste, but a necessity for the mind.
If the country is to face the new industrial development, the need will be the greater for unspoiled areas of country in which people can develop some sense of balance of mind which, unless we are careful, we shall destroy utterly in our attempt to establish a higher standard of living.
I will not ramble that way any further. I would like the House to know the background to this Trawsfynydd project. A deputation representing the Welsh Parliamentary Labour Party waited upon the highest officers of the Central Electricity Authority. We tried to prevail upon them to establish an atomic power station or stations anywhere in Wales, and particularly in North Wales, because of the bad employment position there, particularly in what is known as Gwynedd. We met Sir Henry Self and Sir Josiah Eccles, two gentlemen of the greatest ability and highest integrity.
We were told that North Wales had been considered, but they were reluctant to go there because of their past experience of objections, in the manner in which my hon. Friend has just objected tonight. We assured the officers of the Central Electricity Authority that no objections would be tolerated on this occasion. For certain reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), who led the deputation which consisted also of my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) and myself, we undertook to silence the objectors. I do not think anybody will regard us as presumptuous for giving that undertaking when the employment position in the areas which we represent is appreciated.
My hon. Friend is interested in the preservation of rural beauty. So am I, but I am interested in something else which is of far greater importance, the preservation of the Welsh way of life. How can that be preserved if people are migrating from Wales year by year, compelled to seek work elsewhere. Penygroes, in Caernarvonshire, is a beautiful place, but the most beautiful things there are the natives, their language, their culture and their songs. We are losing them because unemployment has grown so rapidly there during the last few years. I hate to see a tree being uprooted. I love trees. I have been planting them this last 12 months. But I hate to see men and women being uprooted from their native soil, as has been happening in the constituencies which I have mentioned.
Let us turn to Trawsfwydd in North Wales where it is proposed to build the
first atomic power station. It is absolutely Welsh. It is the home of the peasant poet Hedd Wyn who lost his life in the first great war. As a Scotsman and as a Gaelic scholar, you may be interested to know, Mr. Speaker, that I bought recently a statue of Robbie Burns. I wish I could put beside it a statue of our peasant poet Hedd Wyn. If you will allow me, Mr. Speaker, I will quote just four lines of his epitaph which he composed before he was killed in the war:
Ei a berth nid â heibio—a'i wyneb
Annwyl nid a'n ango.
Er i'r Almaen ystaenio
Ei dwrn dur yn ei waed o.
I shall help the Official Reporters with that, Mr. Speaker.
We were told definitely last summer that the Trawsfwydd Military Camp, which had been established for the last 50 years and where all the people of Trawsfwydd found employment, was to be closed, and closed for good. Imagine the feelings of the people there as there was no hope of any alternative employment when that announcement was made. Last August another announcement was made that it was intended to build this atomic power station there. Hon. Members should have seen the joy of the people when they realised that. They believe that in the very near future work will commence on that atomic power station.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East referred to the fact that this area is in the Snowdonia National Park. It is in the most beautiful county in the whole of Britain and I have the honour to represent it. I assure the House that the Secretary of the Snowdonia National Park Committee, Mr. Dafydd Jones-Williams, clerk of Merioneth County Council, with Mr. Tuck, the town and country planning officer, have worked hard to have this power station established at Trawsfwydd. I can assure the Minister that there is no objection in Merioneth to this atomic power station being established. On the contrary, it will be welcomed by all classes. I am hoping that this debate will not have the slightest adverse effect on the inquiry—a formal one I hope—to be held in the near future at Trawsfwydd. A local farmer who will lose his farm was asked how he felt about it and he replied, "How can I feel about it when I appreciate that if this does not come to Trawsfwydd all my neighbours will be unemployed and without hope of any other employment?"
The hon. Members for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) referred to the project of an atomic power station in Merioneth. I hope they will forgive me not answering what they have said about that project because my noble Friend has decided to have an inquiry—at which, incidentally, no objectors will be silenced. As the matter is sub judice it would be improper for me to comment on it now. I was glad, however, to hear the hon. Member for Merioneth tell us how we could preserve the Welsh way of life by nuclear methods. I cannot reply to all his comments as they were not all in English.
I have very much sympathy for the views expressed by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East. He expressed fear that all the developments now taking place and likely to take place in future will lead in some years—no one can say how long—to the most terrible desecration of our heritage of natural beauty. He pointed out that under our present procedures a case can be made for each individual project, but nevertheless in the process the cumulative effect of each of those projects would lead to the result he mentioned and we should find further means than we have to avoid that.
I do not think it is widely understood how very thorough, careful and, in the circumstances, effective are the various means Parliament has established for preserving our amenities. I am afraid I shall require some little time to remind the House of them in detail and to say how, so far as my Ministry is concerned, that machinery is working. I hope to persuade the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East that his fears are unjustified and that the present machinery provides, not only for a careful and thorough scrutiny of each project, but also for the conservation of amenity on a national scale.
But—and it is a big but—in considering this subject, we should be deluding ourselves if we did not face the serious conflict and dilemma which arise. We all want to preserve the beauties of the countryside and hate to see them spoiled. I hope also that we all join with the hon. Member for Merioneth in wanting to see the whole of Great Britain progress and have a higher standard of living with an increasing population—it is likely to be an increasing population—and in not wanting to see our country stagnate socially or industrially.
For that reason we must have more power stations, oil refineries, factories, transmission lines, housing estates, hospitals, schools and everything that we mean by civilisation. All that involves development. The extent to which, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East suggested, we can use land already developed or gone to waste is very limited. Believe me, the possibilities of such use are not overlooked when searches for sites for various projects are made, but there is a very limited use that can be made of them. Therefore, if we want the progress I have mentioned we cannot avoid going into the countryside. There is the conflict and the dilemma and, as I say, we cannot escape it. Surely we can agree that the great thing is to minimise the desecration of the country-side and to see that when it has to take place it takes place sensibly and considerately.
The hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that we can envisage in some latent future the possibility of some of these developments taking place at least nearer to existing industrial centres?
I am going to deal with the point about proximity and remoteness. With those thoughts I have put before the House in mind, may we consider exactly how sites are chosen for atomic power stations? Incidentally, they are not the only power stations but are in the minority of power stations likely to be built over the next few years. There will be altogether about a dozen nuclear power stations started in Great Britain, sites for four of which have already been approved. We must have a sense of proportion in this matter. When the hon. Member asks where the remainder are to be he is merely asking us to say now, before any public inquiry, where eight power stations are to be established.
Let us see how the sites of the four already established were chosen and how the remaining eight will be chosen. That, incidentally, brings us to the end of 1966 on present plans. The choosing of a site for an atomic power station is a lengthy, elaborate and thorough process, and it is divided into three parts. First, there is the preliminary, general study by the Central Electricity Authority; secondly, the search for a particular site by the Authority; and thirdly, the application to my noble Friend, usually followed by a public inquiry before my noble Friend gives his decision.
Throughout that process, divided into three stages, there are certain limiting factors. The first is a purely economic one—that is to say, the greatest economic benefit to be secured from nuclear stations if they are sited where, owing to transport, the cost of coal is greatest. That means siting the stations away from the coalfields.
The second consideration is safety. That brings us to the question of proximity to or remoteness from built-up areas. When the Government first announced the nuclear programme in 1955, it was decided that the stations should be sited away from centres of population. That was because they contained highly toxic materials. They represented a new development which had not then been tested on a large scale. Calder Hall has since been erected and is working safely and satisfactorily. Although the Windscale accident could not possibly have occurred at Calder Hall or in the type of reactor following Calder Hall on which the new nuclear stations are to be modelled, nevertheless, in spite of that, we are still adhering to the policy of not going near to built-up areas on the broad ground that in matters of this kind it is obviously better to be safe than sorry.
I should say this, because I think it is most material to what has been said by the hon. Members for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East and Merioneth. Even if on safety grounds we felt free to depart from the policy of not going into built-up areas or near to them, there are very few sites available inside or near to built-up areas, and therefore we are thrown back on to the same proposition that we have to go into the countryside. That is because of the further limiting factors which have to be considered.
The first factor to be considered is this. Nuclear power stations need large quantities of cooling water. I believe they need about 35 million gallons an hour for the type of stations which are now proposed to be erected. Therefore, these stations must be on the coast or on a river estuary. Secondly, the buildings and plant are extremely heavy and the machinery is vibrant. Therefore, they must have solid foundations. Thirdly, the buildings are extensive, and therefore a sufficient acreage is needed, which generally means about 300 acres with the ancillary buildings.
With those limiting factors in mind the Central Electricity Authority—which will become the Central Electricity Generating Board from 1st January next—carry out preliminary general studies in each area in which a station appears to be needed. Those studies involve a thorough consideration of the development plans of the local planning authorities, of the maps of the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, both of which must be avoided if possible. That is accepted. Thirdly, the general study involves a geographic study of basic physical features, such as water supplies.
With those general studies in mind, the area research of the part of the country where it is proposed to put a nuclear power station is necessarily narrowed down. The Central Electricity Authority's team of technical experts then proceed to what they call site selection. That is often a lengthy process which takes between three and twelve months. Every possible site in the area of search is considered, and several are sometimes even surveyed before a provisional selection is made. A vast number of people and authorities are consulted. Included among the authorities consulted are the local planning authority, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Home Office, the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, if necessary the Admiralty and the War Office, the National Parks Commission, the Nature Conservancy, and finally, after a site has been provisionally selected, the Royal Fine Art Commission. That is the answer to the point which the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East made about the architecture of power stations and the question of whether they will look right or wrong on the site on which eventually it is decided they must be put.
The story does not end there, because under Section 37 of the Electricity Act of this year,
In formulating or considering any proposals relating to the functions of the Generating Board or of any of the Area Boards",
including their general programmes of development, the Board itself, the Electricity Council, and my noble Friend, have to have regard
to the desirability of preserving natural beauty, of conserving flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features of special interest, and of protecting buildings and other objects of architectural or historical interest.
Each of them has to take into account any effect which its proposals would have on the natural beauty of the countryside or on any such flora, fauna, features, buildings or objects.
There is a further statutory obligation which they have to bear in mind. It is not until those studies and consultations which I have mentioned are completed that a formal application is made to my noble Friend for his consent under Section 2 of the Electric Lighting Act, 1909. During the consultations, however, and before or after formal application, objections to a particular site are generally raised. If so another site, if available, is considered and, if possible, chosen. But it is very rare indeed to find the site to which nobody has raised one important objection or another. That is one of the difficulties.
When, therefore, a conflict of different public interests arises, it can be resolved only by a Minister or Ministers. That is what in fact happens. When my noble Friend, or the Secretary of State for Scotland, receives an application for his consent, as he has done in four instances so far regarding nuclear power stations, he is obliged under Section 34 of the Electricity Act, or will be from 1st January at any rate, to hold a public inquiry whenever a local planning authority objects and may do so when there is any other objection. In fact, in the four cases so far there were public inquiries into three of them. One of them, Hunterston, came under the Secretary of State for Scotland.
May I mention the part of the local authority in this matter, because it is very important? They have specific statutory duties under the planning Acts to preserve amenities and to adhere in general to their development plans. They, of course, consider power stations with the same thoroughness as they consider other proposals, but the difference is that instead of making the decision themselves they submit their views to my noble Friend. When a public inquiry is held my noble Friend receives full and expert advice from his Ministry's inspector, who sometimes sits with an inspector of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. At Trawsfynydd there will be inspectors from both Departments.
The general problem raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East has been examined by expert independent committees in the past, such as the Scott Committee and the Hobhouse Committee, and their recommendations are in the main embodied in legislation under which these various procedures, which I am trying to describe in detail, are carried out.
The aim is to provide a flexible system of planning. It is not as easy as the hon. Member suggests to give the picture as a whole for the future; certainly that is not possible for the rest of time and it is difficult even for a limited number of years. The best answer I can give him is that there is the duty placed on each planning authority to formulate a county development plan. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has certain statutory duties in respect of development plans, and of necessity those development plans have to be modified from time to time.
Before my noble Friend gives his decision on each application he consults my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and such other of his colleagues as are concerned. My noble Friend can be questioned in Parliament about his decisions and his representative in the House of Commons can be questioned here, and, on the doctrine of collective responsibility, the decision is the decision of the Government. In the Cabinet is that member of the Government, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who has the overall responsibility for preserving amenities under the Planning Acts. It would be wrong for me to trespass too far on the domain of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but I can say that his Ministry provides information, maps and detailed plans which is all part of the machinery for ensuring that the beauties of our countryside are not desecrated to any avoidable extent.
I regret that I have spoken for a long time, but it is a very big and important subject. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East suggested that there should be a central consultative committee of amenity associations.
I am not sure that even now I fully understand the hon. Member. We have ad hoc inquiries for each project, and when these are held publicly they give the public a feeling that they are able to make their representations of all kinds. Almost anyone can get up at these inquiries and make representations. I thought the hon. Member said there should be a committee to advise my noble Friend on amenities in connection with the nuclear power station programme. As I say, my noble Friend has to rely upon the Minister of Housing and Local Government to a great extent for advice about the amenities. He and the various other authorities which I have mentioned are consulted and anyone who makes representations to us has those representations considered. Candidly, I think we should get the wires a little crossed if we introduced yet another procedure into the somewhat complex procedure which I have described.
The inter-Departmental consultation and check which the hon. and learned Member has fully and clearly outlined, and which meets with my complete approval, works reasonably well. Would it not be helpful if from the very start or the inception of any scheme, when the Ministry of Power begin to think about a provisional site, the National Parks Commission, which I suggest is the consultative body within the meaning of what my hon. Friend said, should be called in to consultation and should be continuously kept in consultation throughout? I know that the Central Electricity Authority is anxious to do that and in fact is impressively trying to co-operate in that way. Would not that support and supplement the inter-Departmental consultation which the hon. and learned Member has mentioned?
If the hon. Member leaves out the word "continuous" and inserts the word "frequent", then that already happens. As I explained, at the very earliest stage, the preliminary stage of general study in an area, the maps and information of the National Parks Commission are considered. When it reaches the point of provisional site selection, the officials of the Commission are specifically consulted if a site is in or near a national park or in an area of outstanding natural beauty. The National Parks Commission, as I understand it has done in the case of Trawsfynydd, has the right to make a formal objection, and when it does so a public inquiry is held. The Commission will no doubt deploy its objections at the Trawsfynydd inquiry, for example. That is a further opportunity of consultation. It is no less consultation because the views are expressed and challenged at a public inquiry.
There is a further channel between my noble Friend and the National Parks Commission, and that is through the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is the Minister responsible for sponsoring the National Parks Commission. I think the point made by the hon. Member is fully met.
I am glad that this matter has been raised, and if I can be of any help in elucidating these procedures for the benefit of the hon. Member or anyone else, I shall be only too glad to do so, because I think it is most important that there should be the fullest public understanding of what is a very careful and thorough attempt within the statutory procedures to see that we preserve the amenities of the countryside while ensuring the progressive development of our country.