I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is designed to enable the United Kingdom Government to ratify, without reservation, the United Nations convention on the physical protection of nuclear material. The convention recognises the need for co-operation between states to ensure adequate protection of nuclear material used for peaceful purposes during transit between states. It also calls upon states to create a common range of criminal offences for which extradition may be granted.
The convention was opened for signature on 3 March 1980 in Vienna and New York and was signed by the United Kingdom on 30 June 1980. It will come into force when 21 states have ratified it. So far, five states have ratified, but 28 others have signed. The convention follows the pattern of other international conventions dealing with specific problems—for example, The Hague convention for the suppression of unlawful seizure of aircraft, usually known as the hijacking convention; the Montreal convention for the suppression of unlawful acts against the safety of civil aviation; the convention on the prevention and punishment of crimes against internationally protected persons; and, more recently, the convention against the taking of hostages.
The physical protection standards laid down in articles 1 to 6 of the convention correspond to those set out in existing guidance issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The United Kingdom and many other countries have voluntarily adhered to it since it was first produced a number of years ago, and no legislation is required to ensure that those standards are complied with.
Article 7, however, obliges us to create new offences. Furthermore, each state is required to establish jurisdiction in respect of these offences wherever they occur, and, when an offender is within the jurisdiction, a state must either prosecute or extradite. Usually, where the events have occurred abroad, extradition will be the more practicable and appropriate course. But the aim of the convention is to ensure, as far as possible, that, one way or another, the offender does not find a safe haven in another country. The country to which he flees can either extradite or, if not willing to do so—perhaps because the person is one of its nationals—bring the man to trial.
Although there have been hoaxes—and hoaxes easily recognisable as such—we know of no incidents in the United Kingdom which would have involved the commission of these new criminal offences. Furthermore, we have received no reports of such incidents having occurred elsewhere. But the danger is there, and, as more countries make use of nuclear power, it must be appropriate to recognise the threat and legislate accordingly.
The acts which we are required to make punishable may be divided into two groups: first, those which parallel offences that already exist in our domestic law; and, secondly, those for which our law has no direct equivalents. Most of the acts covered by the convention fall into the first group and correspond broadly with existing offences. For example, the convention requires us to make punishable the intentional commission of an act causing death which has been committed without lawful authority and has involved the use or handling of nuclear material. Hon. Members will realise that the existing offences of murder and manslaughter adequately cover such acts and no new offences therefore need to be created.
Similarly, other acts which we are required to penalise correspond to offences under the Offences against the Person Act 1861, the Theft Act 1968 and the Criminal Damage Act 1971, or their Scottish equivalents. All that has been necessary in respect of these offences, therefore, has been to ensure that we have necessary extra-territorial jurisdiction over them when they are committed abroad in relation to, or by means of, nuclear material. This is achieved by clause 1 of the Bill.
Clause 2 deals largely with those acts which the convention requires us to make punishable under our law but which have no precise domestic equivalent. They comprise certain preparatory acts and threats—threats which, because nuclear material is involved, are sufficiently serious to attract criminal sanctions. The first of the new offences, in clause 2(2), is designed to catch a person who receives, holds or deals with nuclear material, either intending that, or being reckless whether, certain serious offences may be committed with or in relation to it. I would be surprised if the House felt that this marked a very dramatic change in our criminal law. Our law already recognises that in certain circumstances it is sometimes necessary to provide more protection than can be afforded by the law of attempt and to make special provision for cases in which a person with evil intentions is in possession of the means to carry them out. The offences of possessing a firearm with intent to injure and carrying a firearm with intent are the most obvious examples.
Then we come to the making of threats. As is recognised in clause 1, certain threats made in connection with nuclear material, specifically threats made to reinforce a demand for money or property, would constitute the offence of blackmail under section 21 of the Theft Act 1968. Subsections (3) and (4) of clause 2, however, penalise, as the convention requires, the making of threats for other purposes that would not be covered by that section of the Theft Act. Subsection (3) would enable us to deal, for example, with terrorists who threaten to use nuclear material to cause death, serious injury or substantial damage to property in an attempt to secure the release of prisoners, while subsection (4) would cover the case of a person who threatens to steal nuclear material for a similar purpose.
The offences created by clause 2 are all to be triable on indictment only and punishable with a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment or the maximum punishment available for the substantive offence contemplated or threatened, whichever was the lesser.
Let me revert for one moment to jurisdiction. The convention requires signatories to ensure that they have jurisdiction over the offences that it covers when they are committed in their territory or on board one of their ships or aircraft, when the alleged offender is one of their nationals, and when the offence has been committed elsewhere but the alleged offender is found in their territory and they do not extradite him.
The law of the United Kingdom is based on the territorial principle. Historically our courts have jurisdiction over any crime committed here or, with certain exceptions, on our ships and aircraft, but in general they do not have jurisdiction over offences committed abroad, even by United Kingdom nationals, and certainly not over foreign nationals. There is, however, a small number of exceptions of long standing, such as murder, over which our courts have always had jurisdiction, even when committed by "a subject of Her Majesty" on land abroad.
In addition, there is a small but growing nu Tiber of offences which have arisen out of international conventions and in respect of which the United Kingdom has agreed with other nations that their seriousness in conjunction with their international character merits special measures. Hijacking and the taking of hostages are obvious examples. It is, however, a common feature of international conventions of this sort that signatories are obliged either to extradite offenders or to prosecute them, and the convention on the physical protection of nuclear materials is no exception. It is our normal practice to extradite offenders who have committed offences abroad, and I cannot envisage our having to exercise the extraterritorial jurisdiction created in the Bill except in the most exceptional circumstances.
Clause 3 provides for the Attorney-General's consent to a prosecution and for the jurisdiction of the courts in Scotland.
Clause 4(1) includes consequential amendments to the Internationally Protected Persons Act and the Suppression of Terrorism Act to preserve the need for consent to prosecute under those Acts, even though the act complained of also constitutes an offence under the Bill.
The convention requires that the offences should be extraditable between contracting states, and clause 5 makes the necessary provisions. I should emphasise that the traditional safeguards governing the return of ugitive offenders will still apply and the Bill does not change in any respect the procedures in our courts and their attendant safeguards. We are not binding ourselves to return a person to a state merely because that state asks for extradition in any circumstances.
Clause 6, read in conjunction with the schedule,. provides the definition of nuclear material to which the legislation applies by reference to article 1(a) and (b) of the convention. The definition covers all forms of uranium except natural ore and any form of uranium with less than the natural proportion of fissile isotopes, and all plutonium except plutonium 238 with isotopic concentration exceeding 806—that is, plutonium that is used to power heart pacemakers. It will be noted that we have followed the convention and limited application only to material used for peaceful purposes. The drafters of the convention recognised that nuclear material used for military purposes is already subject to very stringent physical protection, and this is acknowledged in the preamble to the convention.
Clause 6(2) recognises that there may be difficulties of proof as to whether material is or is not in fact used for peaceful purposes, particularly when an alleged offence has taken place outside the United Kingdom, and the subsection provides that a certificate of the Secretary of State shall be conclusive evidence of the fact that the material was or was not used, as the case may be, for peaceful purposes.
Clause 7 makes provision concerning the application of the Bill's provisions to the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and to overseas territories. Clause 8 gives the short title and provides for entry into force to be set by Order in Council.
If, on clause 6, the Minister certifies that the materials are for peaceful purposes, what would be the position of the person who was alleged to be interfering with material that is used for defence purposes? The Minister said that such materials are subject to physical protection. Would the range of penalties and offences be different if the material was for defence as distinct from peaceful purposes? Would the effect of a certificate from the Minister be to transfer the allegations from one set of offences to another set?
As I have tried to make clear, the convention deals only with nuclear materials for peaceful purposes. Therefore, none of the offences that I have mentioned could bite in the circumstances described by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). One would have to look to other criminal law that has a particular relevance to offences concerning the use of nuclear materials, or be thrown back on the ordinary criminal law which, in almost every conceivable circumstance, would have a relevance to actions concerning nuclear materials. It was the wish of the members of the IAEA, most of which are not states with nuclear weapons, to make this a convention dealing with materials for peaceful purposes.
I do not think that I need to go further in outlining the framework of the Bill. Enactment of this legislation will enable us to show to other countries our continuing commitment to co-operative measures against terrorism by enabling us to ratify the convention. I am sure that, in the circumstances, the Bill will receive a warm reception tonight and will make speedy progress through its various stages in the House.
Under successive Governments it has been the commendable practice of this country, unlike many other countries, not to ratify United Nations conventions until we are able to put into effect and into law the requirements of that convention. This has meant that although we are often slow to ratify, and have been subjected to criticism because we have not ratified, when we do it means something and is a significant step forward. This seems preferable to ratifying just for the sake of keeping up appearances on the international scene, without any practical result.
How many countries up to today have ratified this convention, and when do we expect to be in a position to do so? There are other requirements of the convention, apart from the legislation to which we shall presumably give a Second Reading tonight. Is this the last stage in the measures necessary to ratify the convention, or are there several other measures needed before we can do so?
The Bill deals with extending the scope of specified serious offences concerning nuclear material, and is only one part of the convention. The convention also covers, as the Minister will know, the physical protection of the nuclear material during storage and transport. Have these requirements been met so that the convention can be ratified?
Has the Minister considered whether it should be a separate offence for these requirements of the convention not to be met—that is, the various matters relating to physical protection? It surely follows that the better protected the material is, the less likelihood there is of the offences detailed in the Bill being committed. That is one way to prevent the need to implement the Bill.
Loss, sabotage and theft will all be less likely if these substances are protected carefully. As the Minister has said, acts of terrorism are growing in frequency and severity throughout the world. I am sure that we welcome the fact that there has been none in this country so far. I hope that that situation remains. The increasing use of nuclear material in science, medicine and industry makes the Bill essential if we are to continue to ensure that no offences are created. There will be far more of these materials circulating in future as their use in industry and science increases. Terrorism has increased and the likelihood of terrorists using these dangerous and lethal substances will obviously increase as well.
I welcome the establishment of a standardised range of criminal offences among all countries and international co-operation in respect of them. All these measures will help to reduce the risk to the public of being exposed to radiation. Some members of the public are still suspicious of the use of nuclear power because of the dangers of radiation, especially those who live in areas where the material might be transported, stored or used. Perhaps the convention, with its protective measures, and the Bill will help to allay some public anxiety and restore some confidence.
Article 5 of the convention refers to a
central authority and point of contact having responsibility for physical protection of nuclear material and for co-ordinating recovery and response operations in the event of any unauthorized removal, use or alteration".
I ask the Minister to tell us what will be the "central authority" in Britain for that purpose. Paragraph 3 of article 5 refers to consultations
with … or through international organizations
that must take place. Which are the international organisations that have been consulted?
Under paragraph 2 of article 17 certain countries have entered reservations. France, Poland, Hungary and the German Democratic Republic have all said that they do not consider themselves to be bound by the dispute settlement procedures provided for in the convention. France does not accept the competence of the International Court of Justice.
All these countries are apparently opting out of important parts of the convention relating to the commission of offences. Does the Minister agree that by doing that they are weakening the effectiveness of the convention and the effectiveness of the Bill? The whole point of the Bill is that it has an international aspect. However, the countries that I have mentioned are saying that they do not consider themselves to be bound by the dispute settlement procedures and France does not accept the competence of the International Court of Justice. Surely that will hinder the effectiveness of our legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has drawn attention to the reference in the convention to nuclear material used for military purposes. The convention states
such material is and will continue to be accorded stringent physical protection.
It says no more than that. We are led to believe that we can all rest assured that the material is protected and that if anyone tries to steal it or tamper with it all will be well for some reason that is not really stated. The Minister says that that does not really come within the Bill, but if we are to go to all this trouble to introduce specific legislation covering nuclear materials for peaceful purposes, what is the position on the tampering, theft or interference with
materials that are used for nuclear weapons? Is it not necessary for the House to pass any laws to cover tampering, theft or interference? Is the Minister satisfied? He did not seem to be able to specify exactly what laws would be involved. Is he satisfied that there will be civil protection for those who might interfere or tamper with these materials?
We have had incidents of trespass at Greenham common and perhaps there will be incidents in which nuclear materials for war purposes are stolen or sabotaged. It is essential that as much care should be taken to protect nuclear weapons used for peaceful purposes as is apparently taken to protect nuclear materials for war purposes. We shall agree to the Bill's Second Reading but there will be a good deal of detail that we shall wish to pursue in Committee.
I am sure that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. It deals with the safety of nuclear materials, about which there is much public concern. However, the Bill touches on only a narrow sector of the hazards that are created by the use of nuclear power. I should like briefly to tell the House why, in the eight years for which I was ministerially responsible for civil nuclear power, I was converted, first from support of it to scepticism and anxiety and then to the feeling that it was undesirable for Britain to use it.
However, I fully support this 1980 convention, its objectives and enactments, because all nuclear materials are potentially dangerous and must be safeguarded. When I was Secretary of State for Energy, as some hon. Members may remember, I introduced legislation to allow the arming of Atomic Energy Authority constables to be sure that there was no theft of plutonium or of other nuclear materials from Atomic Energy Authority establishments. The House accepted that legislation because it felt that it contained necessary safeguards.
But the issue goes much further than terrorism. In reading the convention, which has been alluded to by my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), it is clear that it touches on a number of matters involving the use of materials for various purposes. I believe that the time has come for a wider discussion about the risks associated with nuclear materials in both their civil and military context.
First, there are now grounds for believing that in the mining of uranium the workers who are involved can be subjected to health hazards that were not hitherto publicly understood and discussed. We have a small amount of natural uranium in Britain but we have never mined it. We have bought our uranium from abroad. Were there the same health and safety standards in the mines from which Britain draws its uranium that we insist on at home, the cost of uranium would be very much increased. We have never included the true social costs of uranium mining protection in the costs of nuclear power.
My second point relates directly to the convention that has been drawn up by the International Atomic Energy Agency. On many occasions in the House, as Minister of Technology and as Secretary of State for Energy, I have referred to what are loosely called international safeguards in respect of nuclear operations. I must tell the House that there are no safeguards. In the handling of nuclear material there is no guarantee that there will be no leakage from civil to military purposes. I say that with a particular case in mind that will be familiar to those who followed it.
Pakistan developed its own nuclear weapons programme—or was thought to be developing its own nuclear weapons programme. If the Minister is anxious I tell him that I do not think that he will be able to deal with all my points, and I would not expect him to do so. I am trying to open up a broader range of questions.
When it came to the attention of the then British Government and the Cabinet, of which I was a member, that Pakistan was engaged in developing the bomb, the only way we could bring any pressure to bear on Pakistan was politically, economically and through trade. We refused to supply Pakistan with certain materials. That was the way in which the so-called safeguards were to be maintained. But after the invasion of Afghanistan when the Americans wanted Pakistan to be drawn back as part of the American response to what was happening in Afghanistan, all those pressures on Pakistan were immediately lifted. There are no safeguards. There is a crude monitoring system but if the monitoring system throws up an anxiety about the misuse of civil nuclear technology to produce the bomb, one is back in the political arena and the matter can only be dealt with there.
In signing the convention the Community has registered some reservations about arbitration. Under Euratom there is a requirement that all new nuclear materials that come to any country should be available for transfer to any other country in the Community. Since the French are not signatories to the non-proliferation treaty, materials that are brought under safeguard once they get into the area of Euratom can be transferred throughout the whole of the Community. That is another leakage in the international safeguard system.
My third anxiety relates to the need for higher safety standards in nuclear processes. Two factors relating to this are important. First, when nuclear technology was first developed, people knew very little about it and had to learn as they went along. I do not intend in any way to criticise those who learnt as they went along. As they faced new hazards, they tried to stiffen their safeguards. Indeed, many of the safeguards are what one might call gold-plated compared with safeguards in other industries. But that does not alter my point. We are dealing here with extremely dangerous material. I shall cite an example which I have previously mentioned in the House.
In December 1978 the Atomic Energy Authority at Windscale, in carrying out a normal examination o f its site, discovered that there had been a major leakage of what it calls liquor—which is the highly toxic waste, and the most dangerous stuff of all—out of a sump and into the ground. It was analysed three months later in March 1979 and was one of the last things brought to my attention as Secretary of State. When I investigated the matter and discussed it with Sir John Hill, he told me that to recover that highly toxic waste that had sunk under the earth would involve building a new plant at Windscale, so dangerous was the material that had leaked into the ground.
Another important question is the movement of plutonium nitrates by sea from Dounreay to Windscale which, as far as I can remember, was about to be authorised and is probably now taking place. In the United States plutonium nitrates are not allowed to be moved.
Another important question is the movement of uranium and plutonium by air and the possibility that an aircraft containing this material may crash or be involved in an ordinary accident.
There is also the question of the control of emission of nuclear wastes from establishments either civil or military. Yesterday I tabled questions to the Ministry of Defence and to the Welsh Office about a letter dated 13 October 1982 from the Welsh Office to the Royal ordnance factory in Cardiff, implying that there were changed standards to be applied in the emission of waste either by air through high stacks, or into the sewers of Cardiff, or in solid waste disposal. I am not querying the answer that I received but I should like to know how it is that such important changes, which could easily affect health if they were not carefully safeguarded, were made. Why were the changes made? How do the emissions from Royal ordnance factories differ from those from civil establishments and are they monitored?
We know much less about the military control of these processes than we do about civil control. Anyone who has had anything to do with civil nuclear power will know that there is the most meticulous monitoring of milk and of grass growing around the nuclear power stations. They are examined to see whether there is any adverse effect on the environment. Does that happen around military establishments? I do not know because they are handled under a totally different regime, which links up with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax. It is all very well to say that we protect military materials with greater care than any other materials—I do not doubt that—but are the people around the establishment where nuclear materials for military purposes are processed or developed,, treated with the same care?
Another hazard is the final disposal of nuclear waste. For a long time the Atomic Energy Authority at Harwell argued that the so-called "Harvist system", or glassification system, would provide a final solution for the disposal of highly toxic waste—the so-called liquor which is the nice word they use about it. It is now apparent that this system is not proving satisfactory, that the borings that were to have been made with a view to finding long-term solutions to the problem by putting the waste in glass blocks underground have not proved satisfactory. It appears now that these wastes may continue to be stored in the zinc-lined tanks on the surface, from one of which came the leak from Windscale in 1978.
Another important consideration is the cost of decommissioning plant. We have never decommissioned a nuclear power station. We do not know what safeguards would be involved when a power station closed or what the cost would be.
I move on now, to complete the picture—because I will not argue a wider case by referring to the nuclear weapons side—to the risk of nuclear accident. The risk in a military use is very apparent. Another issue is the effects of tests of nuclear weapons. I know that there is a test ban treaty but it does not cover underground tests. This brings me to my next point, which is arousing considerable public interest. Are we satisfied that the compensation for those who, for one reason or another—I do not allocate any blame—have been subjected to a health hazard through an involvement in nuclear work is adequate?
It has recently been reported that the Government are to carry out a rough and ready health check on those who were present at the Pacific tests after the war. We know that soldiers who were exposed in America to the first Nevada tests have revealed a high incidence of cancer. If we really take seriously the long-term hazards to health arising from what at the time seemed a quite safe use of nuclear power or, indeed, the testing of nuclear weapons, we may find that a large compensation bill faces us. As in all compensation cases, the authorities are anxious not to move for fear of creating a precedent.
The next point hinges on all that I have said so far. One consequence of nuclear power is the great secrecy surrounding all nuclear matters. I fully understand that. If one is to have the bomb, one does not tell people where it is or how to make it. Indeed, the post-war Labour Government did not even tell Parliament that they were making the bomb. But behind that framework of legitimate secrecy, very powerful international lobbies are operating. The House would be foolish if it believed that secrecy concealed only matters involving the national interest. It also covers things that it would be greatly in the national interest for the public to know.
There is the close connection between civil and military matters—the role of Westinghouse and GEC and the Central Electricity Generating Board in pressing for the pressure water reactor, of which I saw something. The role of Dr. Marshall was mentioned in a recent Granada programme on the PWR. I shall not go into details. Many letters from Kleinwort Benson were used in the programme and an inquiry is certainly needed into what goes on behind this secrecy that is defended on the ground of preventing nuclear materials falling into undesirable hands.
In this context, the public is kept in more general ignorance. I now refer to the Layfield inquiry into the PWR that may be built at Sizewell, involving £10 billion or £20 billion of potential investment. In the discussions as to whether that is desirable the public are not allowed to hear a fairly balanced argument because there is no funding for the alternative view. Safeguards are necessary.
No one could argue that nuclear material should be pushed around like an ordinary industrial material. But, as with the legislation that I introduced on the arming of the Atomic Energy Authority constabulary, I must tell the House that all the safeguards take their toll in civil liberties. It would be extremely foolish to suppose that we could preserve such a curtain of secrecy and security around such a growing operation without impinging on the rights of the public in various respects. Potentially, indeed, nuclear power is a threat to the rights of Parliament.
Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing that this country's industry should be denied cheap energy when our European competitors obtain far cheaper energy for their industry by using nuclear power?
I had intended to come to that at the end of my speech, but it so important that I shall deal with it now. If the full costings to which I have referred—health protection in uranium mining, full protection for nuclear processes, compensation for those who become ill and all the necessary safeguards throughout the processes—were added to the bill, I do not believe that nuclear power would be cheaper. The hon. Gentleman may not have heard the beginning of my speech, when I said that after eight years of Cabinet responsibility for nuclear power I was persuaded, for the reasons that I have given and others, that the case for nuclear power did not bear examination on grounds either of economy or of safety.
I raise these matters in a debate on an acceptable convention and acceptable legislation because the House and the public should be aware of both sides of the argument. It is not enough to hear one side alone. If the proper safeguards existed—they would be very costly—and if the costs were properly allocated, this would add enormously to the cost of nuclear power. If proper compensation were paid for those who may have suffered as a result, I do not believe that the House would approve the building of any more nuclear power stations. That is the conclusion that I reached. I also believe that we should adopt a non-nuclear defence strategy.
I recall vividly my conversations in Washington with Mr. O'Leary, the then deputy secretary to the then Secretary for Energy, Mr. Schlesinger. Mr. O'Leary, an experienced man from the Federal Power Commission, told me that he believed that within 100 years there would be no more nuclear power in the world. In view of his long experience, I was staggered at that remark. But when I consider the long period that has elapsed since the last ordering of nuclear power stations in the United States, and the fact that Westinghouse is so hungry that it must have an order at Sizewell to keep going, I believe that there is now sufficient evidence to suppose that one day the public will demand just such a policy and the House will adopt it.
Meanwhile, I hope that the debate will continue about these matters, on which differing views are legitimately and honestly held. This Bill has provided at least one of those rare opportunities to range over the whole relationship between nuclear power and public safety.
I support the Bill. In an age of nuclear materials, it is necessary to introduce safeguards to ensure that those materials do not go astray.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) said, the Bill is a demonstration of the dangers of nuclear power, and how necessary it is to extend the criminal law to cope with those dangers to protect society. The same criminal sanction is not necessary when dealing with coal. The only dangers with coal are that someone might throw chunks of it at someone else and hit the person, or that some might be stolen for use on home fires. Those are minimum dangers compared with the massive powers of the Bill. The sentence of 14 years imprisonment is proposed because of the enormous threat that nuclear materials pose. With the growth of a nuclear economy, the dangers increase. That is the reason for the introduction of this legislation.
In May 1981, in reply to a parliamentary question, it was pointed out that exports of plutonium from 1971 to 1981 amounted to 3,210 kg, and imports of plutonium were 560 kg. Exports of highly enriched uranium were 660 kg, with 640 kg being imported. Movements of nuclear materials in and out of the country will be covered by this legislation. The more movements there are, the greater the dangers that may arise from the actions from which this legislation is designed to safeguard the public.
Internal movements of nuclear material increase as a result of an increase in nuclear power capacity. Two derailments have occurred in the Aire valley close to large centres of population. The flasks were fortunately empty at the time and the CEGB claimed that they were devoid of any radioactive content. However, there were derailments of highly specialised cargoes, although I have no doubt that they were handled with special care. A potentially highly hazardous load was put at risk.
The passage of nuclear materials along our roads and railways gives rise to dangers. If material of this nature is spilt, dangers arise. Dangers also arise because of possible interference by organisations such as groups of terrorists. That is what the legislation is designed to safeguard us against. Those actions point to the erosion of our rights and civil liberties because of the dangers posed by the transit of this material. That is why 140 local authorities, largely, but not exclusively, Labour-controlled, decided that they want to exercise some jurisdiction over the passage of such dangerous material and have declared themselves nuclear-free zones. Local authorities have no legislation to back them in their aspirations, but it remains an aim because local authorities recognise the dangers arising from the material. Information to local authorities on how to cope with this material is sparse, to say the least.
From 1962 to 1980 electricity generation by nuclear power increased from 0·7 per cent. to 12·6 per cent. Now the Government are proposing to embark on a ruinously costly programme of PWRs. The first of those reactors is the subject of an inquiry now. The converse of the growth in nuclear power would be that declining nuclear power generation would diminish the potential hazards from the movement of such materials and would help to restore the civil liberties, rights and duties of British citizens. However, the Government are determined to push forward the PWR programme, hence the inquiry at Sizewell. That inquiry is not likely to be fair or frank because the decision has already been made. When the Secretary of State appeared on the BBC programme "Any Questions" he made clear his total commitment, as he has in the House—but naturally we give due deference to the greater importance of television and radio programmes—to nuclear power as part of our economy.
To justify the massive costs of nuclear power generation, the Central Electricity Generating Board is cutting back on coal and oil-fired power stations, although there is already massive over-capacity in generation. It is estimated that, by 1985, over-capacity at peak levels will be 29 per cent.—it is not far from that figure now—and in Scotland it will be a massive 74 per cent. The older generation of coal-fired power stations are sited near urban areas and would be ideal for combined heat and power schemes. However, they are being phased out and closed, so that the opportunity to have combined heat and power stations is also being reduced.
That is an enormous waste of energy, because the nuclear power stations are, by virtue of their dangers, never sited near urban areas because of the consequences of a "China Syndrome" event, when the core of the generating station melts, with a resulting massive explosion. That must always be a possibility, although only a faint one, or there would be little point in siting nuclear power stations away from large concentrations of population.
The cost of the new reactors, according to the.CEGB figure, which is subject to CEGB propaganda and distortion, is £1,147 million. In addition, the CEGB has mounted a massive public relations campaign that puts into the shade the money that the opponents of Sizewell can marshall. It is a continuing indictment of the Secretary of State for Energy that he has failed to meet the costs of the opponents of Sizewell so that a proper and fair inquiry can be held.
I realise that the Minister cannot answer all those points because they are not within his remit as a Home Office Minister, but if any of my points are incorrect—some of them are opinions but some contain information gleaned from parliamentary questions—I should be happy if he would draw the attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to this debate, and his right hon. Friend can answer my points in writing.
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Sir R. Fairgrieve) talked about costs, and it has always been said that nuclear power would provide Britain with massive quantities of cheap power. However, that is an illusion. Professor Rotblat said in The Guardian on 29 May 1980:
Straightforward calculations can show that we have been misled about the potential of nuclear power, and that in reality it can make only a small contribution to the world's energy needs over the next 50 years.
I shall deal with the cost of nuclear power in a moment. I am especially keen that the Minister should respond in greater detail than he did to my intervention on clause 6. I cannot understand why defence materials are not included in the provisions. They apply only to peaceful materials, as does the convention that underlines the legislation, but it is not sufficient simply to say that the nuclear materials used in the defence section are subject to physical safeguards. If materials are subject to theft or nuclear blackmail, the weight of this legislation must come into force. Nuclear materials do not discriminate between the two uses, although I accept that nuclear materials that are used for defence purposes are generally more enriched than those that are used for civilian purposes.
In a book called "The Costs of Nuclear Power", Colin Sweet said:
The first nuclear reactor built in the UK is wrongly described as a 'commercial' reactor. Calder Hall commissioned in 1956, was built to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Electricity was a mere by-product. To do this, it has to be used in a different way from a reactor being used to produce electricity. As a result, Calder Hall's power output has always been comparatively low because the objective has been to maximise the plutonium output for the Ministry of Defence. The same is true of Chappelcross in Scotland. These reactors are owned and operated by British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), which until recently was owned by the AEA but is now owned by the Department of Energy.
While the eight Magnox reactors owned by the CEGB have always been considered to be wholly commercial enterprises, it is by no means certain that this is the case. In 1958, the Government asked the CEGB to modify the design of three reactors to allow military-grade plutonium to be obtained more easily. In the event, this was only done in the case of Hinkley Point 'A'. There is no way of knowing how extensive this practice has been for the Government is hardly likely to admit publicly that it has broken the 'safeguards' imposed by Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Is clause 6 so phrased that in the event of appropriation or theft of nuclear materials the Secretary of State can produce a certificate to say that it is being used for civilian purposes to avoid the Government being embarrassed when in fact it is being used for defence purposes although the ostensible source is a civilian reactor? The
Government would be embarrassed if, in a criminal trial, it was shown that a civilian reactor was producing military-grade plutonium.
It would not be good enough for the Secretary of State, by a sleight of hand, to produce a certificate that was not challengeable in the courts and would put the basis of the court action outside any potential embarrassment for the Government who might have been exposed to the accusation that they were in breach of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. That is why there is absolutely no reason why, if nuclear materials are dangerous—all hon. Members agree that they are—they should not be subject to the safeguards of criminal sanctions.
This legislation should not simply stop at the civilian case; it should be extended to cover military materials. The possibility of the Government being embarrassed by the blurred distinction between the two should not give rise to any of the qualifications in clause 6.
Nuclear power is not the blessing that has been held out to us. In the post-war period, we saw the horror of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, exploded by America as a first step in the cold war and as a demonstration against the Soviet Union rather than particularly against the Japanese, who were suing for peace at the time. The negotiations were deliberately broken off by the American state department in order to allow such a demonstration to be made. At that time, the alternative of using "atoms for peace" was an attractive and enthralling slogan embraced by people who felt that this new power must never again be used against humanity and that we should be able to bring about developments which would benefit mankind. Now, however, as we see the widespread use of nuclear power, and indeed the wider use of it proposed by the Government, we can see its real disadvantages—the problems of storage of the material, potential leakages and potential damage to people.
At the same time, one must acknowledge that, because much, though not all, of the industry is in public hands, the standards of operation are likely to be high. The reservation about the American industry is that it is in private hands and private owners tend to cut corners in the interests of profit. Nevertheless, very strong reservations about all the problems arising from the use and development of nuclear power remain and the Bill is an illustration of this. I regard it as necessary but necessary as a concomitant of the dangers of nuclear power generation. It is a reservation we must all keep in mind.
Although I appreciate the hon. Member's reservations about nuclear power and environmental hazards, would he not agree that nuclear power is an alternative to the continued burning of hydrocarbons in the form of oil and coal, which presents considerable environmental hazards of its own, not only in the form of soot and particulate emissions but also in the form of acid rain, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides which, added together, are perhaps worse than any normal environmental hazard presented by nuclear power.
I would not agree with the hon. Member. Of course the burning of coal presents environmental problems. One of the success stories over environmental pollution is to be found in the heart of the south Yorkshire coalfield, where the pollution of the post-war period from both domestic fires and industrial coal-burning has been almost completely eradicated. Of course we must take account of this sort of problem, but the fact is that we are sitting on a massive quantity of coal. That coal, as a material, is harmless. Combustion gives rise to problems but we have dealt with many of those problems in a satisfactory way. I understand the problem of acid rain, but we have to set against such problems, most of which can be solved, the increasing dangers arising from the storage of irradiated materials, the fact that the vitrification process for the storage of nuclear waste has not yet been satisfactorily developed, the fact that the boring of holes in which to store the nuclear waste has been suspended because of massive local protest, the fact that if any of these nuclear power stations does get out of hand and if any controls do go awry then the resulting accident will cause enormous contamination for hundreds of years.
The Three Mile Island PWR site in America has not been decontaminated simply because sections of it cannot be approached. The difficulties arising from the combustion of coal are very small indeed when compared with the present problems arising from nuclear power generations. Certainly, potential nuclear problems are great in comparison with those of coal burning.
The much-vaunted cost of nuclear power has been very much overstated in the claim of cheapness by the CEGB. Professor Burn gave evidence to the Seclect Committee on Energy. I know that the AGR programme has not been a complete success, but the advanced gas-cooled reactor is regarded as safer than the PWR. The CEGB gave the figure of £2·5 billion, including interest, for construction of the AGR stations. However, Professor Burn estimated that the real cost of the AGR programme would be between £8,700 million and £11,100 million. He said that the increase in the real cost of the AGR programme over its initial cost was between 92 per cent. and 160 per cent.
In his report Professor Burn pointed out:
The only return on this investment—spread so far over 15 years—has been the intermittent output of electricity from the two of the five stations which have worked, whose four reactors have averaged roughly 30 per cent. of their design capacity since 1976.
The enormous capital cost and the considerable delays in operating the power stations are further aspects of nuclear power generation.
Indeed, and that makes my point even stronger, because it demonstrates that Professor Burn was not against but for nuclear power. The figures that I have quoted were not from a critical source. The booklet that I have used tonight and which I mentioned to the Minister earlier is from a nuclear power critic. I wanted to show that it is not just critics who can provide information critical of nuclear power generation. My argument is supported by figures from the Department of Energy and those people who support nuclear power.
The PWR inquiry, which I mentioned earlier, when the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) may not have been present, is not being undertaken fairly. I believe that the Secretary of State is committed to the PWR. I do not believe that the CEGB has established its case. The capital cost of Sizewell will be over £1 billion, which is about one third of the total amount invested annually in manufacturing industry. It is an outlandishly high cost for the benefits claimed by the CEGB. I believe that there are a number of arguments on the debit side.
The legislation is necessary, but it is a consequence of our dependence on nuclear power. I should very much like to see a phasing out of that dependence, when this type of legislation would become increasingly unnecessary.
Unlike my hon. Friends who have spoken, I am an open and somewhat strident advocate of civil nuclear power. I believe in the competence of the Atomic Energy Authority. I visited Torness power station two months ago with colleagues. One needs to see the safeguards that are taken on site. With the arguable exception of Mr. Throughton, I do not think that there has yet been a nuclear power casualty anywhere in the British programme.
I become somewhat emotional on the other side of the argument. Yet again, tonight, I have received news of another tragic fatal pit accident at Bo'ness. The terrible truth is that the price of coal is too often pneumoconiosis or life itself. Those of us who have the privilege to represent miners are appalled that, because of lung diseases, people cannot climb staircases. I have attended too many miners' funerals to be other than a strong advocate of a nuclear alternative where it exists. Although many of my hon. Friends do not like my opinion, I must confess that I am an advocate of a regular, British replicated nuclear power building programme. Onerwise, there will be the great difficulty of continuity within the nuclear industry which is so essential to British industry.
The Bill is important in many ways. I do not propose to go over the arguments of the early 1970s with which I detained the House—rightly, in retrospect—on what happened at Aramco and the theft of nuclear secrets by Dr. Ali Quater Khan. That enabled the making of a Pakistani and Islamic bomb—if one wishes to use those chilling words—much quicker than would otherwise have been the case.
I do not doubt the importance of the subject to the public. I might be forgiven—I shall be succinct—if I ask for a candid explanation of what happened in the South Atlantic. Evidence of nuclear weapons going to the South Atlantic comes from the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) and others who on "Newsnight" said that it would be extraordinary if the fleet, especially that part which included the Fort Austin that went south of Gibraltar, was not carrying nuclear weapons.
I understood that clause 1 extended the scope of certain specified offences of a serious nature to cover things done outside the United Kingdom in relation to, or by means of, nuclear material. I hoped, therefore, that I would be in order to raise the question of our signing—as we did—protocol 1 of the treaty of Tlatelolco and ask—although not this Minister on this occasion—yet again for a full and candid statement on precisely how that treaty has been infringed. The treaty was endorsed by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).
On 16 December, I asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs which countries have
not ratified the treaty of Tlatelolco, relating to the deployment of nuclear weapons to the South Atlantic. I also asked him if he remained satisfied that there had been no infraction of the treaty. He replied:
Of the Latin American states bordering the South Atlantic, only Argentina has not ratified the treaty of Tlatelolco." — [Official Report, 16 December 1982; Vol. 34, c. 233.]
I must say that it is a major criticism of Argentina that it had not done so, but the Minister had nothing to add to previous answers which have not explained why we have apparently broken the treaty that we ourselves sought.
I rest my argument on research into the emission of radio nucleides. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, in reply to a written question, said:
The Natural Environment Research Council and the Medical Research Council are funding a number of projects on ionising radiation and on radioactivity. The Inter Research Council Committee on Pollution Research maintains a register of these projects."—[Official Report, 29 November 1982; Vol. 33, c. 69.] There was further information from Sir Herman Bondi.
There must be some specific knowledge of what happens when weapons are lost, wherever that may be. It could happen in Britain. Unfortunately, a number of helicopters have been lost. I shall not infringe upon the time of the House by listing specific locations, but I refer hon. Members to c. 543 of Hansard of 22 December 1982. Helicopters have been lost. Indeed, we know that helicopter accidents have occured off the Devon and Cornwall coasts. When nuclear weapons are carried, great dangers are created. We must be candid about the subject, because of the pollution that could affect the oceans.
Is my hon Friend especially concerned about clause 6, which provides for the Minister to issue a certificate that nuclear material is used for peaceful, not defence, purposes? Would that not give the Minister an opportunity to cover any use of nuclear materials that was not clear and authorised under international agreements?
That is an important issue. On 15 November 1982, many parliamentary questions were asked about the tomb of HMS Coventry. I refer hon. Members to c. 42 of Hansard. What on earth was the Stena Inspector and the Stena Seaspread—the oil recovery vessels—doing in that area, working hard day and night, if not to recover nuclear weapons? In such circumstances it is important to have some international agreement. We owe it to the international community to come clean about accidents that have happened, for which we must accept responsibility, if for no other reason than the build-up in the food chain. There is a build-up of radio nuclides. I am not speculating; I am certain of the facts. The seriousness of that is a matter for speculation, but certainly the subject is serious. I am arguing for candour. A terrible accident having happened, the British would do the international community a service if they came clean about it.
I do not know whether the Minister has had an opportunity to read the moving letters written by Lieutenant David Tinker, the young man killed shortly before the end of the Falklands conflict, when HMS Glamorgan was hit. Page 189 of the Franks report reveals that his letters showed how he came across dummy nuclear weapons in the Fort Austin. He remarked that if anybody had usd them, sympathy for Britain in the EC and the Third world would evaporate. I interpret that as the remark of a man who believed that real nuclear weapons, not dummies, were taken with the task force.
Perhaps the task force did not have time to unload the nuclear weapons at Gibraltar, and did not wish to do so at Ascension Island. Although some were off-loaded after leaving Portsmouth, to the best of my belief others were left on the ships. As accidents have happened and losses have occurred, should we not, in the context of the Bill, say that we have a duty to the international community to be candid and to ask them for any help that they can give us?
It is no answer in the 20th century, time and again in reply to parliamentary questions, to say that there is a longstanding convention that the subject will not be raised and that it is not in the public interest to do so. It is not only in the public interest, but in the international interest, to be candid about the loss of, accidents to, and the destruction of nuclear weapons and nuclear depth charges.
With the leave of the House, I shall answer some of the points that have been raised in the debate. I shall answer first the questions that were asked by the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). So far, five states have ratified the convention. Nothing more need be done by us to put ourselves in a position to ratify, and we intend to ratify immediately after Royal Assent.
The United Kingdom accepts unreservedly the standards of protection laid down by the IAEA, and played a leading part in drawing up those standards. In the United Kingdom, those standards are enforced administratively, and it is therefore not necessary to make any changes to domestic law so as to be in a position to ratify the convention and to comply with articles 1 to 6. This exercise tonight is the beginning of the exercise whereby we put ourselves in a position to comply with article 7 onwards.
The hon. Lady asked about the central authority mentioned in article 5. The Secretary of State for Energy has policy responsibility for security at nuclear installations. His advisers on that responsibility are the security service, which monitors the security arrangements of the operators of nuclear installations. The operational responsibility for security is on the management of those installations. In the case of the United Kingdom AEA and BNFL, the responsibility is carried by the atomic energy security branch of the United Kingdom AEA. Physical security at those sites is the responsibility of the United Kingdom AEA constabulary, and the constabulary has a close liaison with the county constabularies in areas where there are nuclear installations.
The hon. Lady asked whether the convention was not weakened as a result of certain countries making reservations. She was right up to a point. I say "up to a point", because a number of the provisions in the convention, if not complied with, would not attract any case before any international tribunal. The hon. Lady is right when she says that it would be far better if all states had been prepared to sign and ratify without any reservations. We can take pride in the fact that we are prepared to ratify with no reservations.
I was asked by the hon. Lady and by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) about interference with materials for military purposes. If there were a case of theft of nuclear materials held for military purposes, that theft, if it took place in this country, would attract all the normal penalties that are available under criminal law for the offence of theft. The only difference is that in that case we should not be able to prosecute in this country someone who had committed that offence abroad. So it would not make the immense difference that it might appear to make at first blush.
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) told us that when he was in Government he became converted to the proposition that the peaceful use of nuclear energy was undesirable. I can only say that his conversion seems to have come fairly late in the day because when he was Secretary of State for Energy in 1976 he commissioned a thorough review of thermal reactor systems by the National Nuclear Corporation and, on the basis of that review, as late as January 1978 he announced his decision to authorise the electrical supply industry to order two new advanced gas-cooled reactors.
We are entitled to look at opinion and experience abroad. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that Britain needs nuclear energy for at least three main reasons. First, it supplies electricity more cheaply than any other form of generation, such as oil or coal. The CEGB is convinced, both that the use of nuclear power will increase during the coming decades in the United Kingdom, and of its competitiveness. Only 12 per cent. of Britain's electricity today is nuclear compared with 40 per cent. of electricity in France, which will increase to between 60 per cent. and 65 per cent. by 1990. We cannot afford electricity which is more costly to our industry and consumers than that in other industrialised countries.
It is no good Labour Members saying that all the figures are wrong. They must give some explanation as to why it is that other countries are convinced that the way forward is to concentrate on the manufacture of energy by nuclear means.
I appreciate that it is not entirely fair to press a Home Office Minister on these matters, but he should take account of the fact that there has been a massive cancellation of nuclear power station orders in the United States. It has cut its orders to about one third and no nuclear power station has been ordered in the United States for the past four to six years. There has also been a massive cutback in the Common Market. The views that the Minister purports to suggest are strange coming from Labour Members are becoming widely shared on grounds of economics as well as safety. I only ask the Minister not to venture too far in this area where serious academic opinion is now doubting the figures that have long been accepted as pointing to the economy of nuclear power.
The right hon. Gentleman is thrown back on the suggestion that all the proper costs are not being included. He cannot argue against the fact that electricity generated by nuclear means is cheaper at present. France has found it to be very much cheaper.
Secondly, we need nuclear energy to diversify our electricity supplies. At present over 80 per cent. of our supplies come from coal and coal may become too valuable a commodity to use in power stations in the next century. We must plan ahead and use our resources wisely.
Thirdly, my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. Watson) was right to point out that, while the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East and the hon. Member for Keighley point to the dangers of the use of nuclear energy, it cannot be doubted that there is increasing anxiety about the use of fossil fuels and their long-term effect on the environment. Only recently there has been great publicity about the way in which sulphur dioxide clouds have found their way to Scandinavia. It is becoming of increasing importance internationally to recognise the dangers that can flow from the use of fossil fuels.
The hon. Member for Keighley was inviting us to turn our backs on progress and ignore the benefits of using nuclear fuels when he urges us to accept that the use of nuclear fuel was uniquely dangerous. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for West Lothian, the facts are entirely to the contrary. There has not been a single accident in the history of nuclear power in this country that has caused the death of an employee, let alone a member of the public. One has to compare that with the tragic loss of life in the coal industry every year. Even taking into account the deaths that might have been caused by cancer among employees, ex gratia compensation has been paid in only six cases. One has to compare that with the record in other industries where occupational diseases still take a tragic toll—diseases such as asbestosis, silicosis and pneumoconiosis. The hon. Member for Keighley knows that full well. The safety record of the nuclear industry is excellent. The attitudes of employees within the industry is evidence of that.
There was another strange passage in the speech of the hon. Member for Keighley that should not be passed over without comment. It was a strange re-writing of history when he said that the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to frighten the Russians and not to bring to an end the war with Japan. He seems to have entirely forgotten that the United States offered an international agreement renouncing for all time the use of atomic energy for military purposes shortly after the war. It was rejected entirely by Russia.
The hon. Gentleman said that civil nuclear materials were used for our weapons programme. He has been told before that that is incorrect. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy only recently made it clear that plutonium from nuclear power stations is not, and has never been, used to make bombs. I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that assurance and not to continue to spread that canard when he has a firm statement from my right hon. Friend.
The debate has gone very wide. I have come close to offending in replying to some of the points that were made by the Opposition, but I felt it right that I should do so.
I shall tell my right hon. Friend what the hon. Gentleman has said. I did not mean to be discourteous in not mentioning his comments because I felt that we were close to being out of order. However, I promise to pass on his remarks.
I am glad that the Bill has had a wide welcome. It can do nothing but good. Therefore, I hope that it will have a swift passage through the House.