Environment (Royal Commission's Report)

Oral Answers to Questions — Energy – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th October 1976.

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Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight 12:00 am, 25th October 1976

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what action he intends to take over the latest report from the Royal Commission on the Environment.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I am considering the specific recommendations in the report which relate to my responsibilities. The Government will take full account of the report in reaching decisions on nuclear power.

Photo of Mr Stephen Ross Mr Stephen Ross , Isle of Wight

Is the Secretary of State aware of the growing concern about the way we deal with nuclear waste products? Does he take on board the recommendation in the report that we should set up a nuclear waste disposal corporation to do development work for dealing with nuclear waste and report back to the Department of the Environment and the Minister of State for Agriculture?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I am well aware of the growing concern, not only in this country but world-wide, about this problem, the magnitude of which may not have been fully appreciated in the early days. The recommendations made in the Flowers Report are the ones that the Government will consider. At the moment I am not able to say anything in answer to the hon. Gentleman's specific question about the waste disposal corporation.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

As we are using 60 per cent. of the refining capacity, will the Secretary of State refer to the Royal Commission the question of the good sense or otherwise of setting up a green field refining site at Nigg?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his persistence. In view of the fact that he has asked me whether I will do that, I am bound to say that I shall consider it and write to him on the matter.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Sutton Carshalton

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the best Government response on the Flowers Report would be a period of intelligent delay, during which our nuclear industry would be able to satisfy beyond doubt some of the very sensible, stringent, safety and environmental requirements suggested in the report?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

That argument is one that emerges from one reading of the report. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being the only hon. Member who responded to my request to put questions about safety, which I have now put to the Nuclear Inspectorate. A combination of economic factors and uncertainties about safety, not yet entirely resolved, and the fact that the forecasts are not as strong as they were and that energy supplies may be more plentiful than we thought, justify us in taking adequate time to be wholly satisfied about that question.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

May I take it from that answer that, on balance, my right hon. Friend is against the fast breeder reactor rather than for it, and that he takes the view that the dangers exceed the benefits?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

What I have said today—I must stick to it, although I appreciate my hon. Friend's desire to push me further—is that these are matters of very great public interest. There are uncertainties that should be publicly aired, and the Government are determined that sufficient time will be available for information to be made public before a decision is reached.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , Oswestry

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Sir Brian Flowers and his colleagues deserve the warmest congratulations of the House for having initiated a debate with the most profound implications for the future structure of our society? How does he hope that the House will take part in this debate? Does he intend to publish the Government's reactions to the Flowers Report, or is he pressing the Leader of the House for time, so that we may have an early and considered debate on this matter?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I shall certainly convey to Sir Brian Flowers the tribute paid to him by the hon. Member—one that I absolutely share. I have myself seen Sir Brian to thank him very much for the work that has been done. As for the form of parliamentary debate that should take place, there is a Select Committee, there will be opportunities for this to be discussed, and, without speaking for the Leader of the House, who is responsible for Government business, I should think it inconceivable that a decision of this magnitude could be taken without the House having an opportunity to express its view. I shall certainly convey that view to my right hon. Friend, but I must not be taken to be announcing future Government business.