Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Thursday 11 March 1993


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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mrs. Ann Winterton

Boyson, Sir Rhodes (Brent, North)

Eggar, Mr. Tim (Minister for Energy)

Jack, Mr. Michael (Minister of State, Home Office)

Jenkin, Mr. Bernard (Colchester, North)

Knight, Dame Jill (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Lait, Mrs. Jacqui (Hastings and Rye)

Legg, Mr. Barry (Milton Keynes, South-West)

Maclennan, Mr. Robert (Caithness and Sutherland)

Michael, Mr. Alun (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

Mitchell, Mr. Andrew (Gedling)

Moate, Sir Roger (Faversham)

Nicholson, Miss Emma (Torridge and Devon, West)

Prentice, Mrs. Bridget (Lewisham, East)

Roche, Mrs. Barbara (Hornsey and Wood Green)

Simpson, Mr. Alan (Nottingham, South)

Tipping, Mr. Paddy (Sherwood)

Turner, Mr. Dennis (Wolverhampton, South-East)

Vaz, Mr. Keith (Leicester, East)

Mr. R. G. James, Committee Clerk

2 3 Second Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Thursday 11 March 1993

[MRS. ANN WINTERTON in the Chair]

Draft Official Secrets Act 1989 (Prescription) (Amendment) Order 1993

10.30 am

The Minister for Energy (Mr. Tim Eggar): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Official Secrets Act 1989 (Prescription) (Amendment) Order 1993. This is essentially a technical measure. For commercial reasons, British Nuclear Fuels plc will be transferring some of its staff at the Capenhurst enrichment site from its employment to that of a new subsidiary, Urenco (Capenhurst) Ltd. The existing operations are covered by the Official Secrets Act 1989. In recognition of the new commercial arrangement we feel that it is appropriate that the existing employees should also be covered by the 1989 Act. There is no dissent about that and we feel that we have to introduce the order. I stress to the Committee that there is no question of anyone who is not already covered by the 1989 Act being covered as a result of the order.

10.31 am

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): I am sure that we can be brief on this matter. The most important element is the Minister's statement that no individual who is not already covered will be covered by the new arrangement. However, it is fair that we should ask him to give us a little clarification, especially in a period when the Prime Minister has promised that, wherever possible, there will be more openness in government. Will the Minister explain, therefore, the technical nature of and the reasoning for the change of structure? The Minister referred to the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, but in the original schedule, which is being amended by the statutory instrument, reference was made to a company by the name of Urenco Ltd. The company in the schedule to the order is Urenco (Capenhurst) Ltd. Presumably there is a connection. Will the Minister spell out that connection in detail? Can the Minister confirm that he is satisfied that it is necessary for the 1989 Act to apply in such circumstances? I appreciate that Ministers were satisfied that the people who were covered by the original statutory instrument need to be covered at any time. However, it is always sensible for us to ask that question. I am sure not only that the Minister will accept that statement but that he will be able to give us that assurance. As we have not had the information that would have been given to the Committee that dealt with the original statutory instrument, can the Minister explain the 4 type of operations—not in detail but in general terms—that are covered by the statutory instrument?

Mr. Eggar: I am delighted to be able to help the hon. Gentleman. Urenco Ltd. is the head office of the operation and Urenco (Capenhurst) Ltd. is the site operator. That accounts for the difference. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asked. When I saw the proposal to introduce the order, I had a meeting that was designed specifically to convince me that it is necessary to keep the individuals concerned covered by the 1989 Act. At Capenhurst, the operation involves the use of advanced centrifugal technology. We are all aware of the potential use to which that technology can be put in terms of the enrichment of uranium. In the light of recent discoveries in Iraq and rumours about developments and interests in technology in other countries, it is critical that access to such technology should be carefully controlled. I had no difficulty in convincing myself that the order was necessary.

Mr. Michael: That answer covers most of the points that I raised, certainly the crucial ones. I asked about the commercial reasons which led to the structural change. The Minister referred to a change in the relationship between the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and those who work for Urenco (Capenhurst) Ltd. I am not clear about the three-way relationship between the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, Urenco Ltd. and Urenco (Capenhurst) Ltd. I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify whether the company named in the schedule is a wholly-owned subsidiary. What is the nature of the relationship and what is the relationship with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority? I shall speak slowly for a moment, if that will help the Minister to assist the Committee by responding to my questions, which I hope will satisfactorily clarify the issue.

Mr. Eggar: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Of all the subjects that we thought might be raised, the technical issue of ownership was not one of which I had immediate cognisance. First, I did not mention the Atomic Energy Authority; I mentioned British Nuclear Fuels plc. The Capenhurst staff were originally employed by the former Atomic Energy Authority and transferred to BNFL in 1971. Urenco (Capenhurst) Ltd. is a BNFL subsidiary which carries out, and will carry out, the enrichment process. Other European Government—owned entities are involved in Urenco (Capenhurst) Ltd. There is no longer a direct connection between UKAEA and Urenco.

Mr. Michael: I thank the Minister for his responses.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Official Secrets Act 1989 (Prescription) (Amendment) Order 1993.

Committee rose at twenty-two minutes to Eleven o'clock.



Winterton, Mrs. Ann (Chairman)

Boyson, Sir Rhodes

Eggar, Mr.

Jack, Mr.

Jenkin, Mr.

Lait, Mrs.

Legg, Mr.

Michael, Mr.

Mitchell, Mr. Andrew

Moate, Sir Roger

Roche, Mrs.

Simpson, Mr.

Tipping, Mr.

Turner, Mr.