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Page 48, line 30, at end insert--
("(2A) This subsection applies where--
(a) a warning notice has been given in accordance with section 15(2) referring to the safety of pupils or staff at the school being threatened by a breakdown of discipline at the school,
(b) the governing body have failed to comply, or secure compliance, with the notice to the authority's satisfaction within the compliance period, and
(c) the authority have given reasonable notice in writing to the governing body that they propose to exercise their powers under subsection (1) of this section (whether or not in conjunction with exercising their powers under either or both of sections 16 and 17);
and a notice under paragraph (c) of this subsection may be combined with a notice under section 15(1)(c).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 61, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 185C:

After Clause 61, insert the following new clause--

("School attendance targets
School attendance targets

.--(1) Regulations may make provision for and in connection with--
(a) requiring, or
(b) enabling the Secretary of State to require,
governing bodies of maintained schools to secure that annual targets are set for reducing the level of unauthorised absences on the part of relevant day pupils at their schools.

8 Jun 1998 : Column 720

(2) Regulations under this section may, in particular, make provision--
(a) for the Secretary of State to impose such a requirement on the governing body of a maintained school where--
(i) the specified condition is for the time being satisfied in relation to the school, and
(ii) he considers it appropriate to impose the requirement;
(b) for such a requirement to be imposed by the Secretary of State in such manner, and for such period, as may be specified in or determined in accordance with the regulations;
(c) for the Secretary of State, where he considers it appropriate to do so, to exempt the governing body of a maintained school, in relation to any school year, from a requirement imposed by virtue of subsection (1)(a) or (b).
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2)(a)(i) the specified condition is for the time being satisfied in relation to a maintained school if in the previous school year the level of unauthorised absences on the part of relevant day pupils at the school (as determined in accordance with the regulations) exceeded such level as may for that year be specified in or determined in accordance with the regulations.
(4) In this section--
"relevant day pupil" means a pupil registered at a maintained school who is of compulsory school age and is not a boarder;
"unauthorised absence", in relation to such a pupil, means any occasion on which the pupil is recorded as absent without authority pursuant to regulations under section 434 of the Education Act 1996 (registration of pupils).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Haskell: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resume to hear the Statements.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Dounreay Nuclear Reprocessing Plant

4.47 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Clinton-Davis): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to a Private Notice Question which is being asked in another place on the Dounreay nuclear processing plant.

    "Dounreay has played a significant role in the development of the nuclear industry in the United Kingdom. The experimental fast reactor at Dounreay, built in the 1950s, was followed by the prototype fast reactor. Both aimed to show that fast reactor technology could be harnessed to generate electricity on a commercial scale. Last Friday, I informed the House, in response to a Question from my honourable friend the Member for Kirkcaldy, that the Government had accepted advice from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Board that Dounreay should accept no new contracts for commercial reprocessing work. This decision will allow the UKAEA to refocus on the management of existing liabilities, by far the majority of which have arisen from the UKAEA's own government-funded nuclear reactor development programme on the Dounreay site. I must stress that these liabilities already exist and so must be dealt with.

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    No amount of wishful thinking will make them simply go away. Subject to obtaining the necessary consents from the independent regulators--the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency--I expect the UKAEA to continue to reprocess the existing spent fuel liabilities, the majority of which have come from the reactors which actually operated at Dounreay. It will also reprocess material from existing committed legally binding commercial contracts and the small amount of material from Georgia. I have been advised by UKAEA that it expects to have completed all of this reprocessing work by 2006. After that the work of decommissioning the reprocessor will take place.

    "Perhaps I can remind the House that the Dounreay site was set up to undertake work on the development of fast breeder reactor technology. Although its work on this programme was a technical success, it was decided to stop funding in 1988 when it became clear that there was no prospect of the technology fully living up to its economic potential. The development programme finally stopped in 1994 when the last reactor was switched off. Dounreay produces no electricity. Consequently, the focus of activity at the site has shifted inevitably to decommissioning those reactors and Dounreay's main mission has been to complete decommissioning of the facilities on the site. The concern now is to ensure that we pass on to future generations a safe environment.

    "We are deeply committed to caring for the environment and to taking action to deal safely with the difficult legacy from past operations at Dounreay. We want the focus now to be on decommissioning the plant and securing the site at Dounreay. Subject to satisfying the strict safety and environmental requirements of the independent industry regulators, commercial reprocessing was accepted as a way of offsetting some of the costs of decommissioning and waste management at Dounreay. As the UKAE has itself recently concluded, as a result of surveying the international market, further commercial reprocessing would not be economic. Giving up this sort of work is the next step in achieving its main goal, which is refocusing the site to ensure safe and cost-effective clean-up.

    "I know that the right honourable Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross shares my concern about the impact this decision will have on jobs at Dounreay. I have been assured by Dounreay's operators, the UKAE, that it does not expect to see any significant short-term loss of jobs, as the staff currently working on reprocessing will be redeployed on other nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management work.

    "In March I announced the Government's decision to retrieve the waste from the Dounreay shaft, which will provide work for several decades. Completing the clean-up of the site will take over 100 years. The process of decommissioning will become the business of Dounreay."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

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4.51 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for repeating an important Statement on an issue which has been before this House and the other place and which has featured in the media for a number of weeks.

I wholeheartedly agree with the introductory sentence that Dounreay has played a significant role in the development of the nuclear industry in the United Kingdom. Undoubtedly it has and undoubtedly, if the fast breeder reactor system had proved to be economically viable, the work done at Dounreay would have given this country a leading world role in relation to fast breeder reactors; but it was not to be.

Does the noble Lord agree that the nuclear industry in general has proved to be a very important part of the Scottish economy? In terms of jobs, there are some 4,000 in Scotland in the nuclear industry, and a very large amount of electricity is produced for Scottish consumers. The noble Lord can perhaps remind me; I cannot remember whether it is 40 per cent. or 60 per cent. It is, however, significant. That electricity is produced safely and efficiently at Hunterston and Torness, with a little produced still at Chapelcross.

Those of us who supported the nuclear industry have occasionally had our problems in giving that support. One problem has been a distinct muddle and occasional lack of openness in the industry itself. That has not helped those of us who have been prepared to defend the industry, and perhaps particularly so at Dounreay. A second problem has often been the campaigning, at the taxpayers' expense, of nuclear-free committees in almost every Labour local authority. If the Minister wants me to believe that he is a supporter of nuclear energy I hope he will do something about his own party's ambivalent attitude in that regard.

Is the noble Lord aware that I welcome the assurances in the Statement about the jobs on the site? I fully appreciate that the decommissioning will take some time and that a lot of jobs will be involved over that time. Can he give any assurance that the skills obtained in this decommissioning will be used world-wide, putting us in a position where we can help other countries, commercially, of course, to decommission their plants?

The noble Lord will need no reminding of the exchange that took place between us on 21st May this year. I wonder if he regrets accusing me of going overboard on some of the assertions I made? When the noble Lord answered me that day, did he know that the Atomic Energy Authority had already decided to end commercial reprocessing at Dounreay? If he did not know, why did he not know? Even more recently, when the Prime Minister answered a Question last Wednesday in the other place with a robust defence of Dounreay and a vigorous attack on Mr. Alex Salmond--not normally my favourite person--did the Prime Minister know that the Atomic Energy Authority had decided that Dounreay was not a safe place for any more commercial reprocessing? If he did not know, why did he not know?

May I now have an answer to the questions I asked on 21st May? I see in the Statement that it is hoped that the reprocessing of the material on site will be

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completed by 2006. I therefore presume people will know the answers to my questions. When does the noble Lord think Dounreay will regain its reprocessing permissions for both irradiated and non-irradiated materials? How much will it cost? Will it be months or will it be years? Will it be more or less than £200 million, for example? There must be some idea of the timescale and the costs, if an assurance can be given in the Statement that the job will be completed in 2006. I really do wonder if the noble Lord and his right honourable friend the Prime Minister might like to reconsider the ringing statement they made that Dounreay was the safest place on earth to take the Georgian nuclear material?

4.55 p.m.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for repeating the Statement on this important issue. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, paid tribute to all those who worked at Dounreay on the development of the fast-breeder reactor. I had the opportunity of visiting the site some years ago and was most impressed with the technology.

Although we have given up any further development in that area, can the noble Lord advise us what other countries are doing? I believe that the French and the Japanese are continuing with their fast-breeder programmes. Or is this whole process being given up world-wide? If it is to be continued elsewhere, no doubt the skills that we have obtained could be put to good use.

On the question of reprocessing on the limited basis now anticipated, I pose a similar question to that asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, on the cost of improving the reprocessing plant in order to obtain the necessary approvals. The impression given is that commercial reprocessing has been given up because of the uncertainty of the market and also the cost of bringing the reprocessing plant up to a satisfactory standard. However, would this not have to be done anyway in order to reprocess the remaining material that has to be handled there? If so, would the Government be reconsidering commercial reprocessing?

It is clear from the Government's Statement that there will be a large number involved in continuing employment on the site. The reprocessing will take until the year 2006 and many decades beyond that for decommissioning. Would it not be desirable, however, for the Government also to be contemplating some other high technology operations in the area in order to offer alternative jobs to those who might have to leave or wish to leave so that the great skill accumulated at Dounreay shall not be lost?

4.58 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for the questions they have posed. I want particularly to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, for supporting the first sentence of the Statement, which is most generous of him. Of course he is right in saying that the nuclear industry has played an important part in the Scottish economy. I cannot give him the exact

8 Jun 1998 : Column 724

breakdown in terms of percentages for which he asked. On the question of criticism of the industry, he will know more about that than I because the last government were dealing with that industry for 18 years. He says that there was muddle and lack of openness in the industry. I think there was a lack of openness in the last government's activities vis-a-vis that industry. One of our criticisms, and, I think, a justifiable criticism, is that the idea of transparency was not upheld. That, as he rightly says, has blighted the industry. I believe that the last government were complicit in that.

As to using the skills which may be accumulated in terms of decommissioning on a more general and world-wide scale, a point taken up also by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I agree entirely that that seems a proposition which needs to be investigated carefully. If those skills can be utilised in that way, so much the better. Certainly, decommissioning is not a matter that simply affects this country.

The noble Lord asks whether I regret saying that he had gone overboard. Not a bit of it. It is such an uncharacteristic function of the noble Lord that it has remained embedded in my mind. There is no call for an apology on my part because we were talking about something rather different from that which we are discussing today.

The noble Lord was significantly more emollient in his questions today. He asked when Dounreay will regain the necessary permissions. I dealt with that on the last occasion and I have nothing to add. I cannot put a term on it. The noble Lord was then suggesting that it was years and years away. We have had an opportunity to look more closely into the situation. It may be as long as two years but I do not wish to provide a categoric answer because one does not know what will be the outcome of those investigations.

The noble Lord asks how much it will cost. At this stage, I cannot indicate that. I shall look further into the matter. It is not an issue with which I am as familiar as I should like to be, or as I am with all the other matters which fall within my immediate remit.

The noble Lord asks whether we were aware of the economic decision leading to the action we have taken. That was announced at the end of last week. It was not a matter of which the Prime Minister, my honourable friend John Battle or I were aware. It is an economic decision and not a matter of safety. That was made very clear during the questioning which arose on the last occasion.

I have not been able to give an assessment of the costs involved but I should add that the Government are committed to providing funds to bring Dounreay up to standard in order to allow the discharge of all existing liabilities. Contrary to what was asserted by the noble Lord, the Government stated that the Georgian material would be stored safely at Dounreay. The press said that Dounreay was the safest place in the world for nuclear material. Nothing was said to that effect by the Prime Minister or any other Minister. It is important to recognise the responsibilities that we have for ensuring that non-proliferation, safety and all the other issues which I mentioned on that occasion are adhered to.

8 Jun 1998 : Column 725

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, asked what other countries are doing. In other words, he asked whether they are facing similar problems. I am not sure whether it is an entire parallel but my recollection is that the French Government announced that the installation known as Super Phenix, quite close to the border with Switzerland, was being decommissioned. That was about six or seven months ago. However, I cannot provide any further information in response to that question.

I am sure that the point the noble Lord made about employment will be taken into account by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. As the noble Lord rightly said, there does not appear to be a risk of any significant unemployment arising over the course of the next several years until the year 2006. A great deal of work must be done in that regard. I thank the noble Lord for drawing attention to something which may be worrying for the local community. I hope that what I have said will give some reassurance.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, listening to the quiet tones of this debate, is it not the case that one would hardly realise that an environmental disaster of enormous magnitude has taken place? Effort has been put into this project over the years and the ultimate result of that effort is that it will take 100 years to get rid of its consequences.

That is not only happening here; it is happening also in other parts of the world. I started with the view that while nuclear weapons were wholly undesirable, nuclear energy had possibilities. Is it not the case that voices more authoritative than mine are now saying that this is a dead end and that it is time it was brought to an end? Finally, will the Government spend even half the time and effort that has been spent on nuclear energy on wind and wave projects? They are more likely to be successful in spending money on that rather than encouraging further disasters of this sort.

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