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Lochhead seeks to remove MoD's Crown immunity after Dounreay

THERE were the makings of a constitutional crisis between London and Edinburgh last night as a Holyrood minister's pledge to strip the Ministry of Defence of Crown immunity was rubbished as "not mature government."

THERE were the makings of a constitutional crisis between London and Edinburgh last night as a Holyrood minister's pledge to strip the Ministry of Defence of Crown immunity was rubbished as "not mature government."

In a statement to MSPs about the recent Dounreay incident and the reporting failures of the MoD, Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead told MSPs that he was prepared to legislate to remove Crown immunity from the Ministry of Defence over environmental issues.

The MoD bit back, with a source insisting: "The ability to handle sensitive information responsibly is a defining characteristic of a mature government. It is clear Alex Salmond is incapable of doing that."

A Scottish Government spokesman responded: "This is exactly the kind of high-handed attitude from the Ministry of Defence which proves the need for decisions to be taken in Scotland."

The row has erupted after the MoD detected low levels of radioactivity emanating from a breach in a reactor at the Vulcan nuclear submarine test-bed at Dounreay, Caithness, in January 2012.

That breach was contained but there was a subsequent discharge of gases, although still at a level well below permitted levels.

The reactor was deactivated for 10 months but the Scottish Government, and the local community, was only informed as a statement was made to Westminster.

Philip Hammond's department informed the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) later in 2012.

The agency said it was told on a confidential basis and as there was no safety risk decided not to share details with the Scottish government

Mr Lochhead told Holyrood: "We see evidence of the MoD's culture of secrecy and cover-ups when what we need is openness and transparency.

"Sepa's role under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 is to regulate the keeping and use of radioactive material and the accumulation and disposal of radioactive waste.

"For sites with a nuclear licence, the Office for Nuclear Regulation regulates most activities on site, with Sepa regulating emissions to the environment and waste.

"But Sepa's role on military sites such as Vulcan is different.

"The Act does not apply to premises used for defence purposes, so Sepa has no power to regulate. The MoD has a Crown exemption from the legislation that applies to everyone else.

"This Parliament has recently passed the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, which allows us to introduce a new consistent, and transparent environmental regulation regime for Scotland.

"We want to get rid of anomalies like Crown exemption and treat all those subject to regulation even-handedly."

The MoD source said: "This is yet more political posturing.

"Ministers know full well that there was no safety issue at Dounreay and that discharge levels were significantly below safe limits allowed, but they just can't resist playing political games.

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