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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not agree with all that the noble Lord says. So far as we are concerned, this idea is wholly unworkable. It is not something that we would promote or agree with, and we do not believe that it would be endorsed by other member states. This issue is a matter for the member states to decide. Of course, it is always useful and interesting to hear ideas promoted by the Commission.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will my noble friend make it quite clear to the Commission that the member states are not yet ready for any further self-initiated proposals from the Commission; and that it is high time that, before making any proposals to anyone, it starts putting its own house in order?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Commission is of course in the process of putting its own house in order. It is right and proper that the Commission should make its recommendations, and that those recommendations should be listened to. Only when member states feel that they are pertinent and cogent should they be given any due weight.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, is the Minister aware that her Answer will bring a great deal of satisfaction to many of us who thought that this was quite the craziest idea we had heard? Does she recollect that we changed our voting system, because we were forced to do so by our European partners, to a list system, indeed to a closed list system--which must be about the most iniquitous method of allowing the electorate to elect representatives? Does she further recollect that that caused a drastic decline in turnout at the European elections, contrary to what the

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Government and our friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches said? Will the Minister give an absolute guarantee that the Government will stick by the Answer that she has just given and will not back down in the face of pressure from our continental friends?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, first, I do not agree with the noble Lord's analysis as to why there was a low turn-out. That is still a matter of some dispute. I have just outlined the Government's stance. That is our position; it will not change. This IGC will concentrate, as it properly should, on the institutional reforms necessary for enlargement, and this proposal is not central to that process.

Nuclear Waste: Consultation Date

3.13 p.m.

Lord Tombs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will publish the consultation paper on nuclear waste which was promised in their response to the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Management of Nuclear Waste (3rd Report, Session 1998-99, HL Paper 41).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, we aim to publish the consultation paper on the management of radioactive waste during the spring of this year. Copies will be placed in the Library, and copies will also be sent to the noble Lord and to members of the Select Committee on Science and Technology.

Lord Tombs: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which is a repetition of his closing speech in the debate last October. I seek an undertaking that the promise made, the undertaking then given, will in fact be met. I should be grateful if the Minister could be more specific about the expected date of publication.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, in this House we always have some difficulty defining the seasons. I am afraid that I cannot be more precise than "spring". Spring comes before summer.

Lord Winston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Select Committee report carries matters of great importance which have frequently been shelved by previous governments and that it is in the country's interest to receive a proper answer to the report as soon as possible?

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords, I agree that there are some profound and long-term issues involved in the treatment of nuclear waste. It is also important, as the Select Committee underlined, that some of the mistakes made in earlier phases as regards not taking the public along with the decisions are also addressed in our approach to deciding these matters. That is why

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the basis for the consultation paper must be carefully thought through and the consultation process itself very thorough.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that at the consensus conference held shortly after publication of the Select Committee report, Mr Meacher said that the Government hoped to have the consultation paper by the end of last year. During the debate mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, it was stated that publication had been put off until the spring. Is the Minister aware that my consultations with the industry have evoked the response that the date is becoming increasingly hazy? Does he agree that the request for more specific information is justified by a growing feeling that the Government will kick the issue into the long grass before the next election?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I entirely refute the noble Lord's last point. It is important that we get the basis of the consultation right. I am indicating today the same timescale as that indicated in the debate mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs. It is true that, at an earlier stage, we thought we might be able to get the consultations started by the end of last year. But now we are talking about the spring, and spring it will be.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the difficulty with the management of nuclear waste is that it is almost impossible to get rid of it? In those circumstances, does he accept that the right solution is to produce as little nuclear waste as possible--and eventually none at all?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble friend tempts me into a discussion of the long-term future use of nuclear power, on which I am sure varying views are held within this House, as they are outside. The future contribution of nuclear power to our energy mix is an emotive as well as a technical issue. However, were we from now not to have any more nuclear power, there is already a significant waste disposal issue. That is what the Select Committee addressed and it will be the subject of the consultation paper, irrespective of any future positive decisions or otherwise on the use of nuclear fuel.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, in view of the recent lamentable events at Sellafield and the implications for employment in Cumbria, will the Minister say that, regardless of a response to the Select Committee report, the Government will take urgent steps, do their best to retrieve the situation and install more competent management at Sellafield?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is true that the recent identification of falsification of records in BNFL has been very unfortunate in relation to the credibility of the operation of Sellafield and BNFL more generally. The reports from the Nuclear Inspectorate have identified very serious problems. BNFL has a couple of months to put those right. Thereafter, it is

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important that BNFL works hard to restore the confidence of its customers and potential customers, and the Government will support it in doing so. As the House will know, a number of changes have already taken place in BNFL's management structure.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, may I tempt the Minister to reveal part of the report's contents? Will the Government's position be that they rule out indefinite surface storage as one way of managing nuclear waste over the longer term?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, "indefinite" is perhaps an inappropriate word here. Clearly, long-term decisions must be taken. It is probable that the high level waste will be surface stored for 50 years. As to what happens to it thereafter, at present it appears that deep level storage is appropriate but other technologies may be developed in that period. The important point is what we do now and, in particular, what we commit ourselves to doing with the high level waste thereafter.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if we are to meet, and in future do better than, the Kyoto emission standards, we must have a nuclear industry? If so, does the Minister agree that we must deal with the question of the management of waste? Does the noble Lord also agree that one of the real problems that faces the present Government, as it did the previous one, is that the pressure groups which oppose nuclear energy will put out all kinds of scare stories that can be countered only by government and industry being open and frank about what they are doing?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord is correct to say that we need additional nuclear capacity in order to meet the target for 2010. In a sense, the question is what happens beyond 2010 and whether nuclear power or alternative non-fossil fuel-based energy sources can be developed. Those are very serious long-term issues both for our own energy mix and that of the world. It is certainly the position of the Government that nuclear technology should remain available for those medium and long-term decisions. It is also the Government's position that one of the problems with nuclear power has been misinformation by both its opponents and, unfortunately, those who have had responsibility for managing it. That distorts the debate, but the Government are determined that BNFL will put the matter right.


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