Orders of the Day — Electricity Generation and Transmission (Inquiries)

– in the House of Commons at 1:48 am on 9th March 1988.

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[Relevant document: First Report from the Energy Committee (House of Commons Paper No. 310 of Session 1987–88), on the Electricity Generating Stations and Overhead Lines (Inquiries Procedure) Rules 1987.]

Photo of Mr John Garrett Mr John Garrett , Norwich South 1:57 am, 9th March 1988

I beg to move, That the Electricity Generating Stations and Overhead Lines (Inquiries Procedure) Rules 1987 (S.I. 1987, No. 2182), dated 16th December 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th December, be revoked. Even at this late hour we are pleased to have the opportunity to debate the rules and we are also pleased to see that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy has managed to find time in his busy schedule to join us; at one time we thought that he had gone missing. He will now know that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments drew attention in its 16th report to the defective drafting of this instrument. I shall not rehearse the points that the Committee made. There were two substantial elements in the observations of defective drafting and no doubt the Under-Secretary will wish to answer the Committee's concerns.

The effect of the rules was summarised in paragraph 5 of the first report of the Select Committee on Energy of 3 February: All of these changes tighten procedure in a way which enhances the position of the CEGB and the Area Boards…Although the Government consulted widely, it seems that it has paid particular attention to the arguments from what might be described as the establishment side. In a brief but useful report, the Select Committee drew attention to a number of features of the rules that it saw as causes for concern. We see them as raising a number of issues of public policy, including citizens' rights, secrecy and the democratic right to know what powerful and dangerous bodies are doing. In a short debate, these issues can receive only a brief hearing. British Governments arc notoriously secretive and a citizen's right to challenge the activities of, for example, the nuclear power industry is already loaded in favour of large organisations and against the objector. We consider that the rules are evidence of more loading on the wrong side of the balance.

The debate gives us the opportunity to raise a number of important issues for the Minister to answer. First, we would like the Minister to explain the manner of the introduction of the rules. As the Select Committee on Energy said, the 1986 consultation paper dealt with rules for inquiries under the Town and Country Planning Acts. Yet no comparable rules have been produced by the Department of the Environment or the Department of Transport. It is said that the Department of Energy has been rather more precipitate, and we do not have to look very far for the reason.

In August, 1987, the CEGB applied for consent to build a pressurised water reactor at Hinkley Point in Somerset. On 16 December the new rules were produced, and they were laid on 18 December. On 17 December the Government announced the public inquiry into the Hinkley Point power station. The Select Committee on Energy stated: It can hardly he a coincidence that the rules were made the day before the inquiry was announced. On 22 January, the Under-Secretary of State for Energy announced that an application had been made to divert transmission line entries to Hinkley Point. The local planning authority objected and said that an inquiry must be held under the rules. The remarkably abbreviated timetable did not give the Select Committee time to take oral evidence. Why not? Why the rush? In his commentary on the Select Committee's report of 6 February the energy correspondent of The Guardian observed: The new rules were laid before Parliament two days before the Christmas recess at a time when the House was winding down. There was no press release from the Department of Energy and their existence was first reported in the national press by The Guardian on January 14, the day they came into effect. The headline that appeared in The Times read: Guidance to reactor inquiry inspector is rigged, say MPs. It is clear that the rules were rushed out to limit the objections to the proposed Hinkley Point development. This view is confirmed by an analysis of the changes proposed in the new rules from the existing rules of 1981. The purpose of the changes is to increase the power of the Secretary of State to limit the time taken by pre-inquiry procedures and to increase the inspector's power to require information in advance of the inquiry. They are designed also to confine the evidence that may be presented at the inquiry.

There appear to be nine new provisions in the rules, and no fewer than seven of them have the effect of limiting the effectiveness of objectors. Clause 5(6) constrains the pre-inquiry meeting to within 16 weeks of notification of the local planning authority and potential appellants and objectors. Clause 6(2) allows the inspector to confine evidence to the inquiry to matters set out in the statement of case made by the applicant. It changes the serving of a statement from six weeks before the inquiry to six weeks after the notice of intent. This will disadvantage objectors. Objectors will have only four weeks to serve their statement of case on the Secretary of State.

Clause 10(1) governs the date of the inquiry and introduces yet another new time constraint. Clause 10(3) alters established planning practice by changing 42 days' notice of the inquiry to 28 days when all other inquiries are subject to 42 days' notice. The Select Committee on Energy referred to this provision as "most striking". Clause 13(3) obliges witnesses at an inquiry to set out their case three weeks before the inquiry. Clause 14(4) is a new provision that gives additional powers to the inspector to restrict evidence and cross-examination that he considers irrelevant or repetitious.

We have seven new provisions that are all aimed at limiting the scope of objections to nuclear power stations and similar developments. Perhaps the Minister will explain the justification for all these restrictions. What problem are they intended to overcome? I can answer that question. They are intended to overcome the Sizewell problem, the inquiry that lasted two and a quarter years. But, as I shall show briefly, there were many features of Sizewell which were unique.

A second area of concern for us is secrecy. That again was usefully discussed by the Energy Committee. The Committee was supplied by the Department of Energy with extracts from the Department of the Environment's planning inspectors' handbook which gives guidance to inspectors on the procedure of inquiries, with useful definitions of such terms as "irrelevant", "repetitious", "contrary to the public interest" and "disruptive manner" as applied to the behaviour of people who attend inquiries.

The Committee was asked to treat the procedural guidance as confidential. The Committee observed at paragraph 2: We can see no good reason why this part of the handbook should not be in the public domain. The Energy Committee went further: We recommend at least that these extracts should be made available to any interested party. If this does not happen there will always be the natural suspicion that 'contrary to the public interest,' for example, is equated with 'contrary to the Government's interest'. Why is there to be no public right to know what is contrary to the public interest? Surely there must be considerable public interest in knowing what is contrary to the public interest, and such knowledge would influence the behaviour of those making objections. Why is the definition of conduct in a disruptive manner not a matter of public guidance? What good is served by secrecy on such trivial matters? Such information would be helpful to participants in inquiries. Secrecy about them is petty regulation at its worst. I would like the Minister to undertake to make the inspectors' guidelines available to the Hinkley Point inquiry. Will he also issue the code of practice for the pre-inquiry stage?

Clearly there are justifiable concerns about the length and cost of major public inquiries. The Government's objective, stated in their consultation document, is that inquiries should he as efficient and effective as possible, while not in any way impairing the fairness and impartiality of the proceedings, or the ability of the participants to make representations which are relevant to the decision". The Energy Committee commented: This is an objective of which the Committee broadly approves: we have no wish to see the Sizewell marathon run again. However, the construction of a power station, and especially a nuclear power station, raises local and national environmental, economic and safety concerns. There must be an opportunity for these concerns to be aired and assessed. That is the Opposition's position in agreeing with the views of the Energy Committee.

Sizewell was exceptionally protracted, at 340 days, for a number of reasons which are unlikely to recur at an inquiry into Hinkley Point, for example. The Sizewell inquiry was the first on a nuclear power station in Britain which gave detailed consideration to safety. The applicant, the CEGB, appeared to be inadequately prepared, to put it mildly. The fifth report from the Select Committee on the Environment in July 1986 pointed out at paragraph 152 that the nuclear installations inspectorate promised that a full safety assessment of the pressurised water reactor project at Sizewell would be available before the inquiry began. In the event that did not happen. The nuclear installations inspectorate blamed the CEGB, whose pre-construction safety report was 10 months late. I believe that it arrived after the end of the inquiry.

There were universal complaints about the unsatisfactory quality and presentation of much of the CEGB's data on safety matters. The CEGB took 32 days to read its opening statement. There were 130 days of the inquiry spent on safety, of which only 19 were taken up by the objectors. The Sizewell inquiry ranged over the issue of advanced gas-cooled reactors against PWR comparisons, thanks to the diligence of my distinguished constituent, Mr. Round, formerly deputy chief engineer of the Eastern electricity board.

The Sizewell inquiry examined fuel policy and other national issues. In addition, there were many site-specific issues about access, unemployment, accidents, evacuation and the effects on wildlife habitats of international importance. Sizewell, known as the inquiry to end all inquiries, ventured into unknown territory. It was a learning experience for everyone. Its lessons do not lead automatically to the stifling of objections in the interests of efficiency, as these rules seek to do.

There were many lessons to be learnt from Sizewell, but the Government have drawn only one: the need to shut up objectors. The other lessons included the opaque and confusing adversarial style of the proceedings, the legalisms, the cross-examination, the formality, the ritual, and especially the grossly unbalanced funding arising from the costs of legal representation. Time and again, the weighting in favour of applicants because of the unsustainable costs of representation by objectors is mentioned in connection with Sizewell. Objection, dissent and inquiry are rationed by the purse, on this most crucial issue of the development of nuclear power.

The Select Committee referred to funding at paragraph 8: One other topic which concerns the Committee is the lack of financial assistance for objectors at inquiries. We regret that no such provision is included in these rules. Friends of the Earth spent £120,000 on its Sizewell case from donations and fund-raising. It could afford to attend for five weeks of the two and quarter years for which the inquiry lasted. The Council for the Protection of Rural England had to raise £70,000 through public appeal. The Town and Country Planning Association could not afford to be legally represented, and said that it simply could not monitor the additional evidence presented during the inquiry.

A study by Jennifer Armstrong, published by the Town and Country Planning Association, concluded: Lack of funding for one halt of the argument is one of the chief reasons for the low level of confidence in this part of the decision-making process … An independent fund should be established, administered by trustees, to which voluntary bodies seeking to take part in the inquiry may apply for financial aid. This would exclude aid for legal representation… The size of the fund would depend on the scale, complexity, location etc. of the inquiry. The removal of legal representation would substantially reduce the amount of money needed to promote a far fairer inquiry. The sums of money for which aid might be available are easily verifiable and no organisational or administrative problems are anticipated. This is clearly one of the key recommendations in the establishing of a fairer inquiry system. The fifth report of the Select Committee on the Environment made much the same recommendation, but in their response the Government refused to consider the idea of funding third parties because it would be more likely to make major inquiries run even longer. We return continually to the Government's proposition that an inquiry is effective only if objections are abbreviated and objectors stifled.

At the forthcoming Hinkley Point inquiry, we shall see whether the CEGB shelters behind the "contrary to public interest" rule. The local authorities are already worried that the CEGB has been unwilling to discuss its application openly, and the fear is that the CEGB will use the public interest as a device to avoid proper examination of its reasons for selecting Hinkley Point as the site of another PWR station. We fear that the rules are meant to restrict objection. As the Select Committee on Energy said, Ministers should assure the House and country that all participants at an inquiry may be able to put their views, irrespective of their financial or political muscle. Funding bona fide objectors would enable them to put a briefer, better-researched and better-organised case.

A public inquiry fulfils an important national role in policy-making. We have no Office of Technology Assessment, as they have in the United States. I notice that many Conservative Members have signed an early-day motion asking for such an office. There is no other forum for evaluating nuclear power generation. Weakening the rights of objectors is shortsighted and stifles genuine public interest and concern about a matter of the greatest national importance.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells 2:13 am, 9th March 1988

There are better things to do at this time of the morning than dwell for too long on these inquiries procedures rules. But I shall speak briefly because of the importance of the rules to the proposal by the Central Electricity Generating Board to build a second PWR station at Hinkley Point in Somerset. The site is in the constituency of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who is closely involved in the issues, but the site is visible from my constituency and some of the workers are my constituents.

We want a fair and thorough inquiry into the application. If it is approved, it will be a big construction project and the station will cost about £1·5 billion. It will be the third station to be built on the site, but when Hinkley Point A is decommissioned in a few years there will be two there. The station, if completed, will not only produce a lot of electricity; it will secure supplies in the south-west region. It will bring much money and many jobs into the area. On the other side of the coin, it will create considerable disruption. New roads will be needed and site workers will have to be housed. In passing, I should state that the same kind of disruption would occur if the Severn barrage was to be constructed.

The appearance of the station is also important in the low-lying topography of the estuary. I believe that there is no reason why a large building, even an industrial building, should be ugly and I hope that the CEGB will choose architects who will produce something more sympathetic than Hinkley Point A and B. There would also be effects on the fishing industry in the estuary, on tourism and on wildlife. The inquiry would have to consider whether the geology of the site is appropriate. I am glad that the nuclear installations inspectorate will have reported on the suitability of the site by then.

All those matters and others must be discussed. I am glad that the new rules will be in force by then. It must be in everyone's interests, including those of the objectors, to have an orderly timetabled inquiry with prior disclosure of documents.

I also believe that it is sensible to assume that a planning inspector can read. At the Layfield inquiry into Sizewell, the CEGB's opening statement took 32 days to read out. That benefited only the lawyers employed in that inquiry.

It must be right to try, where possible, to shorten the inquiries. Our constituents tell us that planning inquiries are already too long, too slow and too cumbersome. Shorter inquiries are cheaper. The CEGB may have plenty of money, but objectors to Hinkley Point C and local authorities will welcome a shorter, and therefore cheaper, inquiry.

Photo of Mr James Spicer Mr James Spicer , West Dorset

As a Member representing a Somerset constituency, does my hon. Friend agree that it seems rather strange that a local authority, Somerset county council, should already have £50,000 of ratepayers' money set on one side as well as a contingency of £500,000 to fund opposition to what we would all agree should be a shortened inquiry? Does he agree that, while the Select Committee on Energy has already said that the last thing anyone wants is a re-run of the Sizewell marathon, it appears that Somerset county council is looking not for a proper inquiry, but to drag the matter out because it is basically anti-nuclear in its approach?

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

My hon. Friend has made a reasonable point. That is a lot of money and the ratepayers in Somerset may have something to say about it in due course. The county council has allocated £500,000 of ratepayers' money to fighting the inquiry. However, its objections run much wider than its objections to a nuclear power station on the site. It appears to me to be questioning the very concept of nuclear energy and of the pressurised water reactor; that is precisely why the Sizewell inquiry sat for more than two years and cost many millions of pounds. We do not want a re-run of the Sizewell inquiry in Somerset. I am glad that the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) said that himself. But that is what could happen if the rules are not used to try to restrict and delineate the terms and scope of the inquiry.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North

The hon. Gentleman has already conceded that the greater part of the time of the Sizewell inquiry was taken by the applicant, rather than the appellant. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the restriction should be not on the appellant, but on the applicant? That surely would be a way of shortening the inquiry.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

Nothing in the rules prevents objectors from stating their case. They are required, for instance, to give written notice of the objections that they choose to raise. My own view is that the basic economic and safety case for the PWRs was established at Sizewell; but that is only my opinion, and it is not in any way binding on the inspector.

I feel that the inquiry at Hinkley Point should try to confine itself to issues that are relevant to that site. We all concede that the world has moved on since the Sizewell inquiry. The price of fossil fuels has dropped further and faster than the inspector may have anticipated. But that has not necessarily undermined the economic case, because Hinkley C will be considerably cheaper than Sizewell. About £200 million-worth of design costs will not be incurred again.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown , Yeovil

May I return to the hon. Gentleman's criticisms of Somerset county council? Is he not aware that he also criticises his own party members, quite a few of whom have voted in favour of Somerset's general policy in the matter—as, indeed, have many other local authorities in the Somerset area, including some under Conservative control, which have joined the consortium with Somerset county council to oppose the inquiry in the most effective way possible? In so doing, I suspect that they are closer to the views of the people of Somerset than the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory , Wells

Councillors from a number of different parties to whom I have spoken are of the opinion—which I share—that it is the job of the county council to obtain the best possible deal for the county: to get the roads and bypasses built, and to make the station, if it is approved, as unobtrusive as possible. Where I part company with the Liberal group on the county council is on the issue of spending a great deal of money in trying to undermine the concept of a PWR. I regard that as having been satisfactorily addressed at the Sizewell inquiry. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) that we want a thorough inquiry into all the relevant issues.

I do not fall into the habit the Liberal party has of saying, "National and regional needs are one thing, but please, not here in Somerset." Let us be a little wider in our vision. I repeat, however, that it is not for me to determine the scope of the inquiry, and the rules that we are discussing do not lay down or restrict that scope either. They are modest changes, and should be welcomed by anyone who believes that a planning inquiry should be about planning, rather than an opportunity to trot out preconceived notions aside from the relevance to the site under consideration.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy) 2:24 am, 9th March 1988

Like the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett), the Government also welcome this opportunity to debate the new inquiry rules —[Interruption.] We have been offering dates to the Opposition for the past two or three months and those offers have not been taken up.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

That is perfectly true, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

Photo of John Prescott John Prescott Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Energy

The Minister should be careful about what he says. The date was offered for one day and the Government withdrew. The Opposition were quite prepared to have a debate in the afternoon in proper time because this is an important issue. We would have preferred that rather than a debate at this time of night.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is a matter for the usual channels. However, my understanding is that several offers have been made to the Opposition and that those offers have been turned down. I do not want to make an issue out of this. I mention it only because Opposition Members mocked me when I said that the Government welcome the opportunity to debate this issue.

The debate fulfils one of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Energy's recent report on the rules.

Perhaps I could begin by reminding the House of something that the hon. Member for Norwich, South ignored, no doubt inadvertently. It was a Committee of the House that first expressed concern about the length and cost of some public inquiries. The point was made, as the hon. Member for Norwich, South acknowledged, in the fifth report of the Select Committee on the Environment in Session 1985–86. That Committee was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi). The House will recollect—this point was made by the hon. Member for Norwich, South — that more than six years passed between the application to build Sizewell B and the consent and that the public inquiry cost £4 million. I was intensely and genuinely interested in what the hon. Member for Norwich, South had to say with respect to his view that the length and cost of the Sizewell inquiry is likely to be exceptional. That was an interesting remark.

In their response to the Environment Committee's report, the Government recognised the concern about the cost and length of time taken by public inquiries and made proposals for revising planning procedures. Our aim has been to make the procedures for public inquiries more effective and efficient without impairing the right of all the parties to have their views heard. There is no question, if I may use the words used by the hon. Member for Norwich, South, of shutting up objectors. Indeed, in so far as there will be more written material available before major inquiries, life will be made easier for objectors.

The Government's proposals were included in a consultation document which was widely circulated and which contained a draft of new rules to govern inquiries under the town and country planning legislation. It is against that background that the new rules, which we are debating tonight, were prepared.

The new rules include the setting up of firm timetables for the exchange of statements between the main participants before an inquiry. They will provide a reasonable balance between the need to avoid unnecessary delay, which I am sure is shared by most hon. Members, and the need for parties to have adequate time to prepare their case. Early exchange of information before the inquiry will help to identify the principal points on which the inquiry should properly concentrate.

There are special new requirements for major inquiries, including the submission of outline statements before, and detailed statements after, one or more pre-inquiry meetings. Pre-inquiry meetings have often taken place, as at Sizewell, but there is now to be formal provision for them in the rules, although, as I have said, the principle involved is not new.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown , Yeovil

I am interested to hear that the Minister is seeking to make matters easier for those who are preparing their cases for the inquiry. Does he realise that the Government's complete failure to publish the terms of reference for the Hinkley C inquiry is making it impossible for those who wish to construct a case, particularly Somerset county council and the consortium of local councils which are opposed to it? Will the Government publish the terms of reference to enable them to do what the Minister says he wants them to do?

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

I am not in a position to give the hon. Gentleman an answer to that question. The terms of reference will be published.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

I have just said that I am not in a position to answer that question. The inspector will also have discretionary powers to require that a summary of a statement of evidence shall be prepared, and that only that summary shall be read out at the inquiry, although cross-examination will normally be permitted on the contents of the full statement; and that must be right. There is no good reason why time should be taken up unnecessarily by reading out before the inspector material which can be read by all the parties beforehand.

It is such a change that one—

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

The hon. Member for Norwich, South said that the way in which the CEGB presented its case was a costly waste of time. However, we now have a method of making the inquiry more cost effective without anybody being harmed by it. It seems that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is agreeing with that.

It became evident towards the end of last year—this deals with the point raised by the hon. Member for Norwich, South—that a major public inquiry would be necessary into the Central Electricity Generating Board's application to construct a pressurised water reactor power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset. It was clearly right—there is nothing sinister or untoward about this—that the Government's proposals to make such inquiries more efficient should apply to that major inquiry. We therefore pressed ahead with revising the relevant rules in time for this inquiry. As it was right to make a change in the rules, it was appropriate that they should have been brought forward in time for the inquiry.

As to planning inquiries, I can tell the House that my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, will shortly be making new rules governing inquiries held under the town and country planning legislation.

Photo of Mr John Garrett Mr John Garrett , Norwich South

As to Hinkley Point, will the Minister reply to the question that I asked him: if he is so keen to move matters along and to avoid a protracted inquiry, will he undertake to issue the inspector's handbook, which contains useful definitions of what is or is not in the public interest? If a definition of the public interest were to be published for objectors, clearly many fruitless objections could be obviated.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

The short answer to that question is yes, and I shall deal with it in more detail in a moment.

The first of the two recommendations of the Energy Committee was that certain extracts from the Department of the Environment's planning inspectors' handbook should be made publicly available. My Department supplied those extracts to the Committee in response to its request, at short notice, for written evidence. The advice of the Department of the Environment was that its handbook was written and issued for official use only, but that the Committee should be given in confidence extracts relevant to its inquiry.

I understand that the handbook was in fact placed in the Libraries of both Houses some years ago. It is unfortunate that that was not drawn to the attention of the Energy Select Committee.

Having said that, we do believe that those passages of the handbook referring to how inspectors should deal with disruptive behaviour on the rare occasions that that takes place at inquiries are best not given wide publicity because they could assist anyone wishing to disrupt an inquiry. I hope that the Select Committee and the House will agree with that specific point. Disruptive behaviour at an inquiry threatens people's statutory rights and it must be right that we are tightening the inspectors' powers in that respect.

However, I agree with the Select Committee and the hon. Member for Norwich, South that there is a strong case for giving wider publicity to the passages in the handbook which deal with repetition, irrelevance and evidence contrary to the public interest. In any event, the handbook will be revised to take account of the new rules, including those now under debate, and we shall listen carefully to what is said by hon. Members.

The Select Committee's other main recommendation, which, I accept, is controversial, concerns financial assistance for objectors at public inquiries. That point, too, was raised by the hon. Member for Norwich, South. The Government's position on that is well established and was discussed at length in our response to the Fifth Report of the Select Committee on the Environment. We continue to be against the public funding of objectors for at least three reasons.

First, most objectors appear at inquiries to defend their own interests. That is perfectly proper, but there is no reason why that should be financed from public or other funds.

Secondly, the task of deciding which objectors should receive funding and which should not could be—Labour Members laugh, but I would like to see them doing this—invidous and highly controversial. If the decision were taken before the inquiry, either by the Government or by the inspector, there could be allegations that we had predetermined what evidence was likely to be helpful and relevant.

Finally, it has to be accepted that the local planning authority and other publicly-funded bodies already appear at inquiries to represent the general public.

I had meant to intervene shortly at this stage. If I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and with the agreement of the House, I shall spend a few moments at the end answering the particular points raised.

The new rules reflect the widespread concern, shared by many of those involved in major public inquiries, about the length and cost of such proceedings. The rules are designed to make the inquiry process as efficient and effective as possible, without in any way impairing the fairness and impartiality of the proceedings or the ability of participants to make representations which are relevant to the decision.

Hon. Members may not accept that, and they may have their reasons for doing so, but that is the Government's firm position. I commend the new rules to the House and ask the House to reject the motion.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy) 2:37 am, 9th March 1988

Only this week, on other subjects in the House, the Secretary of State for Energy has been putting the consumer first and emphasising how Government plans will do that. Yet the Minister's attempt to defend the rules go against that objective. The Minister's attempt to say at one and the same time that the rules limit and yet do not limit objectors borders on the ludicrous.

The manner in which the rules have been introduced at all stages shows that the Government have no intention of putting the individual consumer first. The very fact that we are having this debate in the early hours of the morning is a sign of that. When the Select Committee called for a full debate on the regulations, it did not envisage one at 3 am following a heavy work load. The Government have failed to explain at any stage why the rules have been introduced in the way that they have, in what can only be described as an underhand manner.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

Indeed. The Energy Select Committee's first report stated that it is not difficult to surmise why the rules were tabled two days before the House rose for the Christmas recess. That was precisely and directly related to the Hinkley C proposals. The Government do not attempt to deny that. When I tried to obtain a copy of the new rules three days after they were presented to the House, I was informed that they were not even available at the Vote Office. They had not left the Department. In the end, a special car was sent over from the Department of Energy to give me a copy. That gives us an accurate idea of what the Department is about.

It is regrettable that the Government, who preach the accountability of industry to its customers, fail to respond to the massive nationwide concern about the development of civil nuclear power. The report "British Social Attitudes 1987" showed that only 10 per cent. of the public wanted more nuclear power stations. The Minister feels that he cannot accept the views of the British people on this issue, but he must at least respond to the nation's desire to have the matter properly debated and to be given proper assurance on the safety of nuclear power.

Instead, the Minister tries to implement the new rules, which, in the words of the Select Committee, tighten procedure in a way which enhances the position of the CEGB and Area Boards … the Government … has paid particular attention to the arguments from what might be described as the establishment side. If the Government want to win the arguments fair and square, they should give people a fair chance to debate them.

Photo of Mr James Spicer Mr James Spicer , West Dorset

I seek one clarification. Is the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party, saying that he is in favour of open-ended inquiries such as the Sizewell inquiry, or does he believe that some time limit should be set so that we do away with all the objections that are designed purely to waste time, because those making them do not want nuclear power stations anyway?

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

Thank goodness that time limits are not being imposed. We are seeking open-minded inquiries; we do not believe that they are to be found in the Minister's proposals. Much of the debate so far has concerned the efficiency with which inquiries can be conducted—

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North

I am a little concerned that the hon. Gentleman has not rejected what was implied by the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer)—that time was wasted at Sizewell by the appellants rather than the applicants. If time was indeed wasted, was it wasted by those who objected to the proposals, or by those who spun out the time by writing, re-writing, presenting and representing and failing to come up with a safety case in the end?

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

The hon. Gentleman is right. Sir Frank Layfield, in the report on the Sizewell B inquiry, said: There was an expectation that the Inquiry would consider a fully developed safety case from the CEGB. The nature and scope of the Board's case as presented was not clear … The Board's evidence was elaborated and details added, but the safety case remained insufficient complete for a site licence to be issued by March 1985. I suggest that that report does not refer to time-wasting by various lobby organisations. It suggests that the lack of detail produced by the CEGB, which presented its case in outline, was the essential problem. A great deal of time was wasted because the CEGB failed to present its case properly at the beginning of the inquiry, which is the point that the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) made. Given the inquiry's concerns about the lack of detail on safety issues, I am sure the House will agree that to attempt to curtail further debate is an encouragement for planners to cut back more on detail and give less time to matters of safety. If Conservative Members do not believe that these are legitimate concerns for inquiries, they are out of tune with general public feeling.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown , Yeovil

While my hon. Friend is on the subject of the Layfield report, which the Minister carefully prayed in aid, is it not the case that, because of the Government's restrictions, certain specific recommendations by the Layfield report about what should be considered when the next PWR comes under consideration will be excluded from the inquiry? I refer in particular to the requirements laid down in paragraphs 108.4 and 91.28 of the report. Other considerations that should be considered are now to be excluded. The Government are deliberately excluding some of the things that Layfield recommended should be included.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall elaborate the points that he raised.

The proposals seem to allow the applicants to delay their submission until the objectors have spoken, subject to the inspector's discretion. In other words, they need not come in at all until right at the end of the inquiry. Surely that is nonsense. How can objectors possibly be expected to make the best of their case if they have not heard the applicants' argument in advance of that taking place? That is not an acceptable process that the House should be asked to adopt.

The Secretary of State referred to the future of the Hinkley C inquiry. He stated that he did not want a tedious, repetitious inquiry in which people use the procedure to prevent a decision from being made. However tedious and repetitious the Secretary of State may find such an inquiry, the people of Somerset will want broad terms of reference and easy access to the debate to allow them to have their say about future proposals for their community.

Photo of Matthew Taylor Matthew Taylor Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy)

And Dorset, as my hon. Friend said.

It is not just a case of where one happens to choose a site for a power station. That is the least of the issues concerned with the siting of a PWR.

As my hon. Friend asked, will the Government pay attention to the recommendations made during the Sizewell inquiry? In his report, Sir Frank Layfield made it clear that the inquiry was seen as a single inquiry affecting one type of power generation in one area. It is vital that the arguments are looked into again to search for alternatives, if that is deemed to be more suitable.

It is suggested in the report that, if further progress is made in combined heat and power generation, for example, it should be considered. Another point that was made during the inquiry was that if there were a future inquiry The CEGB has made it plain that the possibility of such a sequence"— that is, PWRs— would not remove the need for a proper comparison of alternative means of generation. That is precisely contrary to what Conservative Members have argued.

Like many of my colleagues, I shall watch the proceedings of the Hinkley Point inquiry with interest to see whether the recommendations have been noted or whether Sir Frank Layfield simply wasted his breath in making his suggestions. I hope that it will be possible for objectors to debate alternative forms of generation, and that they will not be ruled out of order for being repetitious or even perhaps disruptive of the general flow of debate on putting in a PWR.

Many people fear that the general tenor and implication of the new rules is a great increase in the level of secrecy. A good illustration of that—even following the Minister's comments—is the Department of the Environment's planning inspectorate's handbook. The new rules still propose that substantial parts of it remain confidential. I welcome in part what the Minister has said on that matter.

Objectors must be able to know why their evidence is deemed to be contrary to the public interest, irrelevant or repetitious. To keep the book confidential would strengthen the argument of those who say that the Government are siding with the establishment, as has been said, or worse, as the Select Committee has said, that contrary to the public interest will come to be equated with contrary to the Government's interests". It is in the interests of all hon. Members and all who believe in democracy that that should not be the case. The Minister said that such aspects should get some kind of publicity, but he does not go far down that line. He suggests some extracts. He does not even make any absolutely definite commitment.

Objectors have not won a single case in the last 20 public inquiries. They hardly need things any more weighted against them than they already are. There is no great evidence that objectors are making such use of the freedoms that are given to them that they are getting far in persuading anybody. I do not know why the Minister is so afraid of them. Frankly, the Minister's comment that what is considered as disruptive should remain secret is absurd. Should the police not reveal what they would describe as grievous bodily harm? People must be able to find out, if they are interested, what they are allowed to do and what are the boundaries beyond which they are not allowed to step. That must be available to the public.

There are other examples of the secrecy surrounding the issue from the CEGB at Hinkley. The objectors to Hinkley C, in an attempt to assess its economic viability, have asked the CEGB to release a statement of the projected costs of the proposed power station. Yet so far the CEGB has refused to release those figures. That can only hinder the objectors in their attempt to draw up their case. Indeed it may well lead them to make cases that, in the Minister's words, are irrelevant or repetitious because they do not have the facts to make their case properly. Such secrecy cannot be in the public interests.

A letter from the CEGB states: On the matter of capital costs for new coal-fired plant, a decision on whether or not these will be included in our inquiry document for Hinkley Point 'C' will be influenced, among other things, by the Rule 5 Statement. In other words the CEGB may or may not give the information.

There can be no doubt that these new rules are aimed at the small objectors and have been created to hinder the small objectors. That is the only respect in which they can save time on the inquiries.

The Secretary of State can call a pre-inquiry meeting within 28 days and a full inquiry within eight weeks of the pre-inquiry meeting giving short notice to any of those wishing to lodge objections.

The Department of Energy believes that it would provide greater flexibility to arrange an inquiry sooner. I do not know what that means. Would it perhaps have provided the Government with less flexibility to debate this issue sooner? Is that why they have delayed?

The new rule 6(4) will state that every objector issuing a document must give a copy to every person concerned. At a large inquiry there may be as many as 100 objectors. If the objection covers 100 pages, that could amount to more than 10,000 pages. How is a small objector expected to bear the costs of that?

The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) said that shorter inquiries are cheaper inquiries. Under these rules the inquiries will be anything but cheap to the smaller objectors who actually want to make their case. It will also mean that the inquiries are less thorough, and that is a greater concern. The hon. Gentleman said that it would help the smaller objector, as a shorter inquiry would be a cheaper inquiry. The appropriate answer would be to ensure that those smaller objectors are helped to produce those documents.

A straightforward, simple answer would be for the Government to take on board the cost of giving copies of the various submissions to all those involved in the inquiries. Objectors will not have very long to make those submissions, so it is unlikely that they will be very long. The Government could take that point on board. It might actually help the hon. Member for Dorset, South to make his point.

I remain deeply suspicious of the Government's motives. I remain suspicious of the underhand methods that they have used in bringing forward these proposals, the secrecy surrounding the CEGB and the rush to implement this new rule when other Departments, such as the Department of the Environment and the Department of Transport, have held back. Why is the Department of Energy in such a hurry? Is the intention simply to rush through the inquiry and commence construction of Hinkley C before privatisation and before we have to meet the question whether private companies will want to build the power station at all?

We should be watching closely for what I can describe only as insidious change by insidious methods. I find it ironic that the Government claim to speak for the individual and for the consumer. I am tempted to ask how they can do that when they will not even give people the adequate opportunity to present their case so that the Government can listen to what they have to say.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North 2:54 pm, 9th March 1988

As time is limited, I shall not cover all the ground that I had intended to cover—and I could speak at considerable length. However, I must allow myself to be tempted by some of the Minister's comments.

The Minister referred to the need to contain and minimise disruptive behaviour in relation to planning inquiries. It is rich for the Minister to be addressing affairs related to the nuclear industry and talking about disruptive behaviour. I advise the Minister to talk to hill farmers in Wales or Cumbria about their lambs and to the Governments of the 15 Third world countries that have received huge consignments of contaminated milk powder from the Common Market as a result of Chernobyl.

The Minister said that he had offered a debate on this issue but that the Opposition had turned it down. I remind him that week after week I have appealed to the Leader of the House during business questions for such a debate.

The Government tried furtively to sneak these rules on to the Order Paper when hon. Members were dashing home to nibble at their Christmas pudding and find a sprig of mistletoe. During the second week of January I tabled an all-party early-day motion that drew attention to the restrictions which have been placed on objectors but which Conservative Members say do not exist. The new rules will affect planning inquiries into the 10 proposed power stations. The majority of the inquiries will affect those people who vote for the Tories. They will be affected by the new power stations and the overhead power lines.

I draw attention to the scientific advisory panel's final report on the New York state power lines project. Its title is "Biological effects of power line fields." I referred to the report in early-day motion 498. I intend to quote selectively from the report, which says: magnetic fields stimulate the rate of cancer cell growth … children with leukemia and brain cancer are more likely to live in homes where there are elevated 60-Hz magnetic field levels than are children who do not have cancer … for the cancer cells, but not the normal cells, magnetic or combined magnetic and electric fields caused increased cell proliferation, increased numbers of surface transferring receptors, increased resistance to natural-killer-cell activities and increased expression of tumor-cell antigens … All studies demonstrated significant alterations of behaviour … Several areas of potential concern for public health have been identified, but more research must be done before final conclusions can be drawn. In the light of that evidence, it is astonishing that the Government can so blindly try to impose such restrictions.

I have received a letter dated 4 March 1988 from a borough council concerning overhead power lines. The chief planning officer wrote: I refer to your recent enquiry concerning Overhead Power lines. I have checked through the main sources of planning information and found very little guidance or advice on this particular subject. Apart from restrictions on the right of objectors to make representations to planning inquiries, very little guidance will be made available by the planning authorities.

The letter continues: There is no guidance on residential development either existing or proposed in relation to Overhead lines … Whilst there has been concern voiced about the effects of electro magnetic fields there is no substantial evidence which the Local Planning Authority could utilise to deal with such proposals any differently or possibly refuse planning permission. In other words, the information which the New York state brought out in its final report is not made available to our planning officers. I find that astonishing, especially in the light of another two pieces of correspondence that I consider relevant to our discussions tonight. One is dated 18 July 1982. We have heard a lot about Sizewell and about Sir Frank Layfield—and I am not surprised. This is even more interesting because the letter is signed by Sir Frank Layfield and is addressed to the then Secretary of State for Energy, who hon. Members today will recognise in his present position of Chancellor of the Exchequer. The letter was before the Sizewell inquiry.

Sir Frank Layfield advised the Secretary of State: the most frequent request made to me was for the provision of public funds to objectors and others who wished to appear at the Inquiry … these requests reflected strongly and widely held views which in many instances were based on thoughtful and well-considered arguments. Many of those present at the meeting asked me to pass on their arguments to you and this I now seek to do. In doing so, I realise that requests of a similar kind have been drawn to the attention of Ministers on a number of previous occasions … because of the extent, character and importance of the representations and to the extent of considerable feeling they reflect, I ask that the provision of financial assistance be reconsidered." The basis of the appeal made to the Secretary of State by Sir Frank Layfield is that the likelihood is the Inquiry will be the sole opportunity which the public will have to take part in a critical examination of the national issues involved. It was argued that, if Sizewell B is permitted, all future Inquiries into P W.R. Stations will be concerned, wholly or mainly, with siting and local environmental aspects only. That was the representation that a responsible man, Sir Frank Layfield, who since then has rightly been held up by the Government as a figure of esteem, made to the then Secretary of State for Energy.

What was the reply? The Secretary of State wrote: I recognise the sincerity and care with which the case for such aid has been put and I am grateful to you for setting out the arguments so fully and so fairly. The Secretary of State is a fair man. His letter continued: I have read your letter and its enclosures very carefully and reconsidered all the arguments … It is argued that this will be the only opportunity to examine these issues directly in relation to the PWR. Then he damned it all by stating: Any future application for a nuclear power station will be judged on its own merits. Like Sizewell, future inquiries under Section 34 of the Electricity Act 1957 must conform both to the provisions of that section and the Electricity Generating Stations and Overhead Lines (Inquiries Procedure) Rules 1981 made last December. These rules require from the Secretary of State a written statement of the points which he thinks relevant to his consideration of a power station application. This is for the guidance of the Inspector but it is not binding on him. However, we now find the Government furtively trying to sneak in amended rules applying to planning inquiries purely for power stations and for overhead power lines. It is all right for the Minister to protest that the Government are going to bring in revised planning rules for other areas. Why could they not do so simultaneously? Why could the Minister not give us a date? If he says that it is the Opposition who are ill prepared for this debate, why does he not have the answers to such questions tonight? He will say that it is because it is so early in the morning, but as we have been waiting for the debate for so long, surely he has had all the more time to prepare the case. It is nonsense.

The Secretary of State went on to say that the nuclear installations inspectorate's report to the Sizewell inquiry would be a valuable independent aid to all parties wishing to probe and discuss the safety aspects of the project. That was before the inquiry. Do I need to remind the Minister and other hon. Members that the NII was unable to present any kind of safety case because the CEGB had been unwilling or unable to submit the basis upon which that safety case would be assessed?

It is important that all the arguments are placed on record. The coalition of local authorities that are opposed to Hinkley Point have made eight arguments. The first is: The CEGB possesses considerable resources and expertise and thus easily out-resources all other objectors. The CEGB should accordingly be full and frank both in their dialogue with objectors and in readily making information available. So far the CEGB has been unwilling to engage in a full exchange of information. I hope that the Minister will address the CEGB about that later today.

The second is: The new Rules require non-local authority objectors to serve copies of their statements of case on other parties". The cost of providing such copies should fall on the applicant rather than the appellant. After all, those costs fall on the taxpayer in one way or another.

The third is: The Rules … enable the Secretary of State to give 28 days' notice of the start of an inquiry. (42 days under the existing Rules.) This period is patently insufficient in the case of major inquiries. The Minister should ensure that that period is adjusted.

The fourth is: Responsible non-local authority objectors should receive appropriate funding to ensure their objections are presented with the benefit of professional advice and representation, as recommended by Sir Frank Layfield in relation to the Sizewell B public inquiry. The fifth is: The Inspector's Handbook should be available to all interested parties. That echoes what my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) said, and I am grateful that the Minister has given an undertaking about that.

The sixth is: The CEGB must not be allowed to shelter behind the 'contrary to public interest' rule.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North

I am grateful that the Minister agrees. That argument also echoes what my hon. Friend said.

The seventh is: The forthcoming 'Code of Practice', dealing with major inquiries, which may be relevant in the context of the Hinkley Point inquiry, should be made available as soon as possible." Thus, objectors will then be able to make pre-reference to that code. Finally, the coalition states: The Secretary of State should ensure that a full scrutiny of the issues of site selection, economics, environmental planning and local safety issues takes place at the Hinkley Point Inquiry.". I am challenging the Minister to prove that my early-day motion 497, which was tabled in the second week of January, was an accurate prediction. I would be pleased to hear that.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck 3:07 am, 9th March 1988

The problems of the Hinkley Point site stem from the Sizewell inquiry. At that time the Government would not accept that the inquiry into the PWR and the inquiry into the power station at Sizewell were separate. If PWRs had been the subject of a Royal Commission or a debate in the House distinct from the issue of Sizewell we would not be faced with our present problems.

Public confidence is vital for anything to do with planning proposals or changes to planning proposals. In my area—beyond my constituency—public confidence in planning inquiries has been seriously damaged by the Sizewell inquiry and the Hinkley Point proposals. It may seem strange that the north of England is concerned about those two stations, but two authorities in my areas helped to present cases. The Northumberland county council made a significant investment in a presentation at Sizewell. I was the leader of the council who asked the county to make that investment. Wansbeck district council also contributed towards the cost of making a presentation at Sizewell. It looks as though those authorities will be making similar presentations at the Hinkley Point inquiry.

The people in my area are extremely interested in such matters. Indeed, a local association was formed about five years ago because it was discovered that the CEGB planned to build a nuclear power station close to my constituency. Druridge bay is on the CEGB's hit list of sites for a nuclear power station. The Druridge bay association is very enthusiastic and raises its funds by the normal methods used by charities—including encouraging me to run three miles along the beach last year. I am not capable of doing that again; having spent so much time in this place I am not in condition.

The suggested changes preclude individuals from objecting. Paragraph 11(f) says: in relation to applications under section 2 of the Electric Lighting Act 1909, owners and lessees of land situate within three hundred yards of the land may appear. That is a restriction; why not three miles or 30 miles? I assure the Minister that people who live far more than 30 miles away are interested in the site in my area. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) came far more than 30 miles to support me and my colleagues once.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook , Stockton North

I would do it again.

Photo of Mr Jack Thompson Mr Jack Thompson , Wansbeck

I am most grateful.

The important concept is that the public should have the right to make representations, and the suggested changes give too much power to the Secretary of State to eliminate or restrict representations by individuals and allow the inspector to eliminate, thin out or water down people's representions. That is a diminution of democracy—another little bit that has been taken away.

I am sure that my constituents and those in the area will express their concern in whatever way is possible. We have not yet had from the CEGB a specific proposal to build a power station at Druridge bay. The CEGB, with a great deal of secrecy, has been on site. It has brought machinery to do borings on the site at 7 o'clock in the morning. That is the sort of activity in which the CEGB involves itself. It is now drafting detailed plans for the development of the site but it has said, "We are not going ahead with it yet." My advice to the people of my area is to start saving up. It is clear from the Minister's comments that we shall not get any help. We shall have to raise the funds by holding jumble sales and sponsored runs on the beach and by whatever methods we possibly can.

I assure the Minister that when the time comes to fight for Druridge the money will be there: it will come out of the pockets of those who are interested in that area. We shall find the cash to fight the CEGB—or anybody else—because we must remember that there are likely to be changes in the generating industry by then. The fight will be on. We shall do it by the penny, by the sixpence—by whatever means are necessary, to fight the campaign.

Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West 3:12 am, 9th March 1988

I am grateful for the opportunity to put my views and those of my constituents before the House now that we have finally reached the stage of the debate—3.12 am—at which the spirit of nuclear glasnost has descended upon us and we can have a discussion on the rules, which were originally sneaked in like a thief in the night, the day before we adjourned for Christmas. My constituents and I are very grateful to the usual channels for having arranged this debate at such a convenient time.

I can say without a doubt that my constituents in Cardiff, West — through the usual Bristol channels—have a major interest in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station which will be the testbed for the new rules. It will be the test of their fairness to the kind of objectors who will wish to present a case at a public inquiry about a nuclear power station.

What kind of people want to present their case to such an inquiry? The example of the Sizewell inquiry has been held before us by the Minister and others as a horror show in which objectors made light of proper procedures and disrupted proceedings causing them to be long drawn-out and disorderly. There was far too extensive a lead-in by the CEGB, and far too untidy a safety case was presented. Therefore, there is no reason why the Hinkley Point C inquiry should be similar to the Sizewell inquiry. There is every reason to ensure, however, that objectors have the right to present their case at the Hinkley Point C inquiry, as they did at the Sizewell inquiry.

It is significant that the Sizewell inquiry took place before the Chernobyl disaster. The impact on people's concerns about safety, the long-term effects of radiation and their health is thus all the greater. I do not think that the Minister has taken account of that factor.

Secondly, there are far more objectors to Hinkley Point C than there were to the Sizewell proposal. The number of objectors to the Sizewell proposal was about 8,000, and I understand that there are about 12,000 to the Hinkley Point C proposal. How can there be more restrictive rules when there are 50 per cent. more objectors? The increase is obviously strongly linked to the Chernobyl incident. As some hon. Members have said, that has had a major impact in areas of Wales, apart from my constituency. It has been revealed by the Government's experts that in some areas caesium levels will prevent the grazing of sheep for a generation. That is the position in one part of north Wales because of the Pd nature of the soil.

If that can be expected as a result of an accident that took place about 1,500 miles away, constituents of mine who live no more than 25 miles from the proposed Hinkley Point C will demand to have their objections heard properly. They will demand also that the material that they want to introduce to the inquiry shall not be restricted, bearing in mind that they will be amateurs competing with professionals. They will want their views to be made known to the inquiry, and they should have every right under our system to ensure that their voices are heard. They may not have the skills—they will certainly not have the money—to prepare their case in the same way as the CEGB, but they will wish to ensure that the Government take note of their views. The applicant, the CEGB, will have to take the same approach.

The third difference from the Sizewell inquiry stems from the announcement that was made on Monday during the debate on the proposed privatisation of the electricity supply industry. The Secretary of State stressed that he expected that a more entrepreneurial approach would apply in the electricity industry as a result of the competition that will develop in the generation of electricity. He argued that it will be an entrepreneurial private sector organisation as soon as the necessary legislation passes through the House. He told us that it will cease to be a public utility. This will happen in a minimum of two years. Of course, it could take much longer than that.

If the proposed legislation is enacted, the body that will be operating a power station at Hinkley Point C will be expected to follow a more entrepreneurial line than a public utility. That was not the position at Sizewell. The animal that will be operating a nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C, if it is successful in seeing its way through a public inquiry and an investigation into safety, will be different from the one at Sizewell that was known to be a public utility.

The three factors that I have mentioned require that objectors' rights should not be restricted at the Hinkley Point C inquiry. The amateur objectors—and there will be many—must not find themselves crushed under the feet of the Goliaths, the CEGB and the other large organisations that have enormous resources, a large team of professional staff and all the facts at their finger tips. These large organisations will find it only too easy under the new rules to disqualify evidence and to blind people with science at a time when objectors will take the view that a nuclear power station of the sort that is proposed at Hinkley Point, in that location, with populations in the Cardiff and Bristol areas only about 30 miles from the site, will be an unwise choice and unsafe, even if it is operated by a public utility, let alone a private sector organisation.

The proposed use of the new rules for the first time at Hinkley Point C has to be seen in the context of the unholy triangle of moves that the Government have initiated for the nuclear power programme. They are bringing in new rules for public inquiries which will restrict the rights of objectors to present their case to the inspector. At the same time they are preserving the nuclear industry from the climate of competition that they are introducing in the privatisation of the electricity supply industry. Everybody else will have to compete, but the nuclear industry will not. It will have a reserved share. That is the second part of the unholy triangle.

The third part is the levy which will be imposed on the electricity industry on 1 April. There will be a 9 per cent. increase in prices in England and Wales and a 2 per cent. increase in Scotland. There will be a further 6 per cent. increase next year. In England and Wales that will mean that there will be a 15 per cent. levy on consumers, which the industry did not ask for, to fund the most capital-intensive part of the industry—the nuclear part. It will put money into the pocket of the CEGB which will later go to the successor body, Big G, as it is commonly known in the generating industry. It will go to the 70 per cent. part of the CEGB's generating function which will have a duty laid on it by the Government because the Prime Minister has almost a tryst with the nuclear industry. She is Gretchen to Lord Marshall's Dr. Faust in trying to ensure that, whatever happens to the price of oil or the cost of energy, we will have a major nuclear power programme.

There may be a lot of private generators coming into the industry. It does not matter whether the price is competitive; we will have a nuclear power programme. The Prime Minister has sold her soul to the nuclear power industry. Come what may, the normal rules of free market Conservatism will not apply. I am amazed that some of the free marketeers lined up on the Conservative Benches do not seem to mind that they are throwing away Conservative free market principles when it comes to the nuclear power industry. We have the unholy triangle, of which a key part is to ensure that the rules of public inquiries are rigged in favour of the nuclear power programme, as well as the increase in prices for which the industry did not ask but which will be imposed on it so that it will have funds. As the Americans would say, they will take our money in order to build nuclear power stations that we do not want.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South 3:22 am, 9th March 1988

As some hon. Members know, I chair the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which has reported on the rules. Because some of the 12,000 objectors who have been mentioned might be seeking information. and since the Joint Committee's report is not well known, it should be recorded in Hansard that this is the 16th report of the Joint Committee, House of Commons paper 49-xx.

We reported on the rules on the basis that they are made by the Lord Chancellor's Department, but there is no one from the Lord Chancellor's Department here to answer points. The definition of England and Wales is provided only by the fact that the rules are made by the Lord Chancellor alone, although on the face of the rules there is no indication that they apply purely to England and Wales.

We also made the point in the report, in the third paragraph, that The Rules provide procedures for public inquiries in connection with certain electricity works. Rule 10(3) requires the Secretary of State to give at least 28 days' notice of an inquiry to every person entitled to appear, but empowers him to reduce the notice period by agreement with the promoter of the works and the local authority. Concern was expressed that an acquiescent local authority and the applicant could come to a collusive arrangement whereby the notice would be reduced.

Our report continued: The Committee asked the Department why the Secretary of State was not required to consult other parties entitled to appear at the inquiry before holding it at short notice. The Department replied in their first memorandum that this provision was precedented in Rules for similar or comparable inquiries made in 1974 and 1981, and in their further memorandum that the Department of Energy would 'wherever possible … take account of the views of such parties in exercising this power', but that not all other parties would necessarily be known to the Secretary of State before the inquiry began. The Committee could see no reason why the Secretary of State should not be required to consult such other parties as had notified him of an intention or a wish to appear at the inquiry; but they acknowledge that, since this provision appeared in the 1974 and 1981 Rules, it cannot be regarded as an unusual or unexpected use of the Department's rule-making power, and that the Department have given an assurance which mitigates the concern expressed by the Committee.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Energy)

The fact that I allowed the hon. Gentleman to speak means that I shall not have time to reply to the debate, but on this important point that he is making on behalf of the Joint Committee, the easiest thing would be for me to write to him.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

I am grateful to the Minister.

The memorandum provided by the Lord Chancellor's Department, not by the Secretary of State for Energy, says: The ability to reduce the period within which written notice of an inquiry should be given from 42 days to 28 days provides greater flexibility to arrange an inquiry sooner, particularly in respect of overhead lines proposals where few parties may be involved. For major inquiries, however, it has always been envisaged that much more than 28 days' notice will continue to be given. That assurance has now been read into the record. It was given to the Joint Committee, which expressed its misgivings. I should emphasise that there is a majority of Government Members on that Committee, but it reported unanimously its concern about the reduction in rights, and I hope that the fact that it is recorded in Hansard will enable potential objectors to obtain wider information about the nature and content of the rules.

Photo of Mr John Garrett Mr John Garrett , Norwich South 3:26 am, 9th March 1988

In view of the Minister's failure to answer the serious questions asked about secrecy, citizens' rights to protest about nuclear power development, the definition of the public interest and the serious risk that, at the Hinkley Point inquiry, the CEGB will try to hide behind the definition of the public interest to stifle debate and objection, I invite my hon. Friends to support the prayer.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 24, Noes 84.

Division No. 210][3.27 am
Ashdown, PaddyMorgan, Rhodri
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Nellist, Dave
Battle, JohnPike, Peter L.
Clay, BobPrescott, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Skinner, Dennis
Cryer, BobSteinberg, Gerry
Cummings, JohnStrang, Gavin
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Dixon, DonThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Evans, John (St Helens N)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Henderson, DougTellers for the Ayes:
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Mr. Alun Michael and
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)Mr. Frank Haynes.
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelBrazier, Julian
Amess, DavidBright, Graham
Amos, AlanBrooke, Rt Hon Peter
Arnold. Jacques (Gravesham)Burns, Simon
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Burt, Alistair
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Butler, Chris
Boscawen, Hon RobertCarrington, Matthew
Boswell, TimCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Bottomley, PeterCran, James
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)Currie, Mrs Edwina
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bowis, JohnDay, Stephen
Devlin, TimMaclean, David
Dorrell, StephenMans, Keith
Dover, DenMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Fallon, MichaelMiller, Hal
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Mills, Iain
Forman, NigelMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Moss, Malcolm
French, DouglasMoynihan, Hon Colin
Garel-Jones, TristanNeubert, Michael
Gill, ChristopherNicholls, Patrick
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Paice, James
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Portillo, Michael
Hanley, JeremyRathbone, Tim
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Redwood, John
Harris, DavidRiddick, Graham
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidRyder, Richard
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)Shaw, David (Dover)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Irvine, MichaelShephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Jack, MichaelSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Janman, TimSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreySpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Thurnham, Peter
Knapman, RogerWaddington, Rt Hon David
Knowles, MichaelWiddecombe, Ann
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Tellers for the Noes:
Lord, MichaelMr. David Lightbown and
Lyell, Sir NicholasMr. Kenneth Carlisle.

Question accordinly negatived.