Labour rift over plea for Thorp

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THE SHADOW Foreign Secretary, John Cunningham, has opened up a Labour rift by lobbying the Prime Minister to give the go-ahead to the Thorp reprocessing plant in his Copeland constitutency in Cumbria.

Dr Cunningham had a meeting with John Major about five weeks ago. According to one account, he won a pledge that the Prime Minister is not hostile to the British Nuclear Fuel project.

Some Labour MPs are furious at his intervention, described by one senior source as 'not helpful'. Dr Cunningham has made no secret of his support for nuclear power which occasionally proved an embarrassment when he was opposition environment spokesman. Downing Street confirmed that a meeting with Dr Cunningham had taken place but declined to comment on what was said.

Most Labour MPs, including the shadow environment team, are privately hostile to the reprocessing plant, although official party policy does not extend to outright opposition. Chris Smith, Opposition Environment spokesman, yesterday declined to say whether Dr Cunningham had informed him about the meeting. He added: 'I entirely accept that he has a legitimate constituency interest in the matter'.

Mr Smith called for the Public Accounts Committee to be given access to a confidential report on the economic case for the project, prepared by Touche Ross. He added: 'I would want to be much more clearly satisfied on a number of issues before going ahead'.

The Thorp issue is one of the most difficult immediate decisions confronting the new Secretary of State for the Envrionment, John Gummer, who will have to take a recommendation to a Cabinet committee shortly.

Ministers will have to choose whether to give the project an immediate go-ahead or allow further consulations or public hearings. Reports that a decision is likely this week were denied by Government sources and discussion may have been held up by further consideration of the legal aspects of the issue.

Labour believes that the Cabinet reshuffle has made it more likely that Thorp will be given the go-ahead because Mr Gummer - whose consitutency includes Sizewell - is broadly sympathetic to nuclear power. The removal of Norman Lamont, who was thought to be sceptical of the economic case for Thorp, also removes the most prominent Cabinet opponent of the project.

(Photograph omitted)