Members will have noticed that there are a large number of people here, and a large number of them have put in to speak. I do not feel inclined to apply a formal time limit yet, but roughly speaking there will be two or three minutes per Back Bencher. It would help if Members kept themselves to that limit; I reserve the option of bringing in a formal time limit later if they do not.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered negotiations on future Euratom membership.
I declare an interest as a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on nuclear energy. I want to make it clear from the outset that this debate is not a rerun of the EU referendum debate or of the article 50 debate. This debate is about getting it right and ensuring that the UK remains a world leader in civil nuclear and in research and development.
We achieved world leader status by co-operating with others across the world under the umbrella of Euratom—or, to give it its full name, the European Atomic Energy Community. Euratom was established in the 1950s as part of the creation of the European Community. It provides the basis for the regulation of civil nuclear safeguards and control and supply of fissile material, and funds international research. The Culham Centre for Fusion Energy is one of the leading research centres in the world. The Government have indicated that Euratom and the EU are legally joined. Some say that we have to give the same notice to exit Euratom as we did to exit the EU through article 50. I disagree.
I was a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which held a comprehensive inquiry into how Brexit will affect energy. We looked at the single internal energy market, Euratom and meeting our climate change commitments. We heard evidence from across the board. Euratom was raised by many experts who work in the civil nuclear field and in research and development, as well as by academics. We received hard evidence that there is contradictory legal advice on the matter. In fact, the advice is diametrically opposed. Many believe that just because we are a member of the same institution, we must have the same jurisdiction. That is in dispute, and I put it to the Government that there are ways forward that would mean there did not have to be a cliff edge when the article 50 negotiations are complete. I sought this debate to ensure that we get the best deal possible, that we get some transitional arrangements, and that the industry is happy.
In the light of the new consensual politics that the Prime Minister has announced, will the Minister—I ask him to make a note of this—set up a working group with industry and academics, and consult Parliament, to ensure that we have the appropriate arrangements in place so that the nuclear industry and those involved in research and development can plan for the future?
I understand that this debate will focus largely on the nuclear industry, but I am concerned about the impact on medicine. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the concern of the Royal College of Radiologists that an inability easily to bring isotopes into the country could affect half a million scans and 10,000 cancer treatments? Isotopes cannot be stored, because they have a short half-life, so we need Euratom.
I absolutely agree. I have had a lot of correspondence from experts across the field, including the Royal Marsden Hospital, where cancer research is vital. As the hon. Lady says, it is absolutely essential that we get that right. This is not about the dogma that we must leave an institution; it is about ensuring that medical research continues, that we maintain high standards, and that we have the framework to move isotopes and do the things that she mentions.
I commend the hon. Gentleman not just on obtaining the debate but on his constructive tone, but why should the case for staying in Euratom not apply to every other agency that we will leave when we leave the European Union? As we leave those other agencies and regulatory bodies, we will set up our own, under international standards. Why can that not also be done with Euratom? Who would want to frustrate that?
No one wants to frustrate anything—quite the contrary. I am trying to set the tone by saying that we need a long-term plan. I am worried that there will be a cliff edge, and that we will have to leave an organisation that has served us and the whole global community well for many years just because we leave the European Union. I repeat that experts have said that we can legally decouple Euratom and the EU. I think that doing so would improve our chances of getting a better agreement. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman that we would have to deal with every other agency. In a sense, Euratom is pretty unique, and the industry and experts—not politicians, but people who understand the industry—are worried about it.
The honest answer is very few. I do not know the exact figure—I am sure that the Minister, whose civil servants are here, has it at his fingertips—but there have been very few. My point, with which I think the right hon. Gentleman agrees, is that it is not legally essential for us to leave Euratom just because we leave the European Union. I am not a lawyer, and others argue that it is, but when I was on the Select Committee I heard contradictory evidence from the experts. I do not want this uncertainty to continue; I want to create certainty for future investment in civil nuclear and in research and development.
Let us be frank: as I think the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) alluded to, our reason for leaving Euratom is that No. 10 has red lines, one of which is ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ. That is one of the reasons—it is a political reason, not a legal reason, and it was made almost as an excuse—that was given for us leaving the EU and Euratom together. That is the argument that the Select Committee heard in evidence.
Politically, we need to move forward, and we must have frameworks in place for doing so. Three options have been put to us: just remaining in Euratom, extending our period of membership and getting a transitional arrangement; having associate membership; or having third-country membership. If people read the detailed Library note, they will see that those options are very doable. I am trying to base this debate on actual facts that the Committee heard in evidence, rather than emotional arguments about whether we should leave or remain a member of Euratom.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I represent the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority’s Culham establishment. He mentions associate membership, which is considered a valid compromise by the management of Euratom, but there are two models: the Swiss model and the Ukrainian model. Does he have a feeling about which way the decision will go? Will he join me in encouraging the Minister to make a decision pretty quickly?
What is important for future investment is not what I think but what the industry thinks and what the experts have told me. I am looking forward to the Minister’s reply, but I will outline in detail those three options: remaining in Euratom, associate membership, and third-country membership. The hon. Gentleman’s description of the Swiss and Ukrainian models is a bit crude, because different countries are involved. The Swiss enjoy associate membership, but other countries, such as Japan, the United States and Canada, have a different relationship. I want the best relationship for the United Kingdom. If it ain’t broke, why start fixing it? That is where I start from.
Those options do exist. Alternative membership under article 206 of the European treaty allows the UK to leave but to continue co-operation, as the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) argued, and establish an association involving reciprocal rights and obligations, common actions and special procedures. However, that will take time, and I do not think that the timeframe set out by triggering article 50 is helpful; it will hinder rather than help, and put at risk many new build projects.
The hon. Gentleman is being generous with his time. Does he agree that exactly because of the exposure that the French Government have to our new nuclear programme, and indeed to EDF’s business in the UK generally, we have an excellent ally in Paris in trying to ensure that whatever our new arrangement with Euratom is, it comes about quickly, because that is in the French interest as much as in ours?
It is in everybody’s interest because this is a global industry, but we must put the UK interest first and argue from a UK perspective, because we are making the decision to leave and we do not expect everyone else to do our bargaining for us. We need to have a strong position, which is why I am arguing today that we need transitional arrangements in place that suit us. We cannot rely on French investment going forward, but we can create and maintain the high levels of skills that we have in this country, and the high level of investment.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing the debate. I think he is about to touch on the heart of the issue. If we leave Euratom—and the uncertainty about that in the meantime—that risks high-paid, high-skilled jobs going overseas, which we cannot afford right now. Our membership of Euratom is key for the future of our civil nuclear defence industry.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for us not to have a cliff edge to preserve the benefits of membership. The associate membership he mentions might be one such way, and France might be a supporter of that. Is he aware that Austria has objected specifically to the support that the Government have given to Hinkley Point on state aid grounds and has generally been hostile to powers in the EU with nuclear programmes? Would an associate arrangement require unanimity among the EU 27, or a qualified majority?
Alternative membership under article 206 is important. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about Austria, which is hostile to nuclear per se and will be taking over the presidency of the European Union. That could put other things in jeopardy as well as these arrangements. That is all the more reason to have a long-term plan, rather than exiting in two years and linking ourselves to article 50. I think he strengthened my case in many ways.
I am talking about the alternative arrangements for membership, enjoyed by Switzerland and others, which importantly would allow access to moneys to fund nuclear research to be maintained. However, I want the whole package: I want research and civil nuclear to have certainty going forward. The other option I talked about was third-country membership under article 101 of the Euratom treaty. That is more limiting in scope, with regard to power and jurisdiction, than the alternative memberships. However, it does allow agreements and contracts with international organisations and states. Those with third-country membership include, as I mentioned, Japan, the United States and Canada—big players in the nuclear world. However, we would need bilateral agreements with them, which again will take time to negotiate. Many people have raised with me concern about the timeframe. Of course, third-country membership would not automatically give us the right for international contracts for research under the international thermonuclear experimental reactor project. That is therefore probably more risky than alternative membership. It is an option, but it brings risks with it.
Those options are better than the cliff edge. It is not politicians who are raising that; it is a broad section of the nuclear industry and a broad section of cancer research and development as well as various other issues, such as those raised by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) and mentioned by me. This is not just about new nuclear, existing nuclear and the movement of nuclear materials; it is far more wide-ranging than that.
The three options are: remaining in Euratom, associate membership, and third-country membership. However, whatever the model and the negotiations of the Minister and his team, we need proper transitional arrangements to be in place. That is the crux of my argument, and I feel that the Members who have intervened share my anxiety that we must have a proper framework.
The Minister is new to his job, and I welcome him to it, but he and his Department have yet to allay the fears of industry or of those in research and development. He has a job of work to do, and I am trying to help him to become firmer in saying that he will work in partnership with industry. A working group is the right way forward, because that would allow for consultation with the experts and for the industry to look seriously at the pitfalls and advantages to allow us to have a world-class leading industry going forward.
I am sure that the Minister will grasp this new consensual politics and listen to me and to hon. Members across the House. We want to help him get it right. We are not here just to criticise; we are here to assist. The industry is waiting to assist as well, so that we get a full and comprehensive consultation and timescales that suit the industry in the UK and UK plc. In the nuclear industry we are about all the research and development that has been talked about, but we are also about producing low-carbon energy and high-quality jobs.
Very few industries have jobs for life like the nuclear industry does. Many people go to the industry and are there for life and get that continuity and those high-skilled jobs. We need to maintain that if we are to meet the criteria that the Department set out in its industrial strategy on nuclear and how those link to a broader industrial strategy. We need to improve and upscale jobs. The nuclear industry is one such area, and if we are not careful we could take a step that takes us backwards, not forwards.
I congratulate my hon. Friend—Mr Energy Island—on securing the debate. Will he comment on how many jobs in the nuclear industry are distributed around the periphery of the country and how important those jobs are to areas such as the north of Scotland, the north-west, north Wales and the south-west? There are concerns from across the United Kingdom on this issue.
I agree that many of the existing and potential new nuclear sites are on the periphery, but we also have in Oxfordshire and many other counties of the United Kingdom huge investment that we need to improve and move forward. I also mentioned the Royal Marsden, which has given me a briefing on nuclear’s importance to the city of London. It is the whole United Kingdom. The industrial strategy talks about spreading wealth across the whole United Kingdom, and here is a good example of where that works, so we should continue that and not take risks.
I mentioned nuclear’s importance to low-carbon and to skills, but we are also at the forefront of research and development. We need to maintain that, but I believe that we could hinder that if we were to have a cliff edge or to exit Euratom just because of a timetable and legal reasons.
The hon. Gentleman has been generous, especially in indulging me twice. He mentions our technical edge. Before he sits down, can I encourage him to mention our position as a world leader in fusion power generation? That is the Elysian fields of future low-carbon generation. I know that he will want to remind the Minister of just how successful we have been in leading that research and how important it is that we remain in the vanguard.
I know that other right hon. and hon. Members want to make their pitch, so I will not repeat my opening remarks, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and has made the point for me, and the Minister has heard it.
I have based my speech on evidence that I heard as a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, and I pay tribute to its previous Chair. I am making a bid for that position today, so I may as well take advantage of being on my feet for 20 minutes in this debate. The Committee did a serious piece of work on the pros and cons of exiting the European Union, whether for internal markets or supply.
Absolutely. The hon. Lady was also a member of the Committee, and she knows the written and oral evidence we received that highlighted that point. It is important for a Select Committee to hold the Government to account, but it is also important to shape the framework and work with the Government. I urge the Minister to work with Parliament, the industry and all relevant sectors, so that we can go forwards, not backwards, and maintain the status of which we are all proud. The UK is a world leader. Let us put politics to one side and get the transitional arrangements right. Let us work together to ensure that the UK stays at the top.
I commend the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on securing this important debate.
The nuclear industry is important to the north Wales region, as it is to the whole country. However, I take issue with the hon. Gentleman because he said that the decision to leave the Euratom treaty was taken on political rather than legal grounds. He will know from the helpful briefing note supplied by the Nuclear Industry Association that that is disputed. The view I take is that the Government had no option but to leave the treaty.
It is worth analysing the way in which the relevant treaties have moved. The Euratom treaty was extensively amended by the treaty of Lisbon, although it continues to have a separate existence from the EU treaties. Most significantly for the purpose of this debate, article 106a of the Euratom treaty, as amended, now provides that article 50 of the treaty on European Union, which of course provides for the departure of a member state from the EU,
“shall apply to this Treaty.”
Article 106a also provides:
“Within the framework of this Treaty, the references to the Union…or to the ‘Treaties’…shall be taken, respectively, as references to the European Atomic Energy Community and to this Treaty”—
that is the Euratom treaty. Thus the Euratom Community and the European Union share a common institutional framework, including the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, a role for the Commission, and decision-making in the Council.
That common framework is acknowledged not only in the treaties but in domestic British legislation. Section 3(2) of the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008 provides that any Act that refers to the European Union
“includes... a reference to the European Atomic Energy Community.”
The position, therefore, is that article 50 notice of withdrawal from the European Union would automatically have operated as a notice of withdrawal from the Euratom treaty. That is acknowledged by the British Government, and, just as importantly, it is the position of the European Community.
I must therefore take issue with the hon. Member for Ynys Môn. I acknowledge the importance of the industry, but we need to look at the legalities, which appear, on balance, to have been accepted by the British Government and the European Union. Although I fully agree about the need to avoid the cliff edge, I think that the Government are fully aware of the matter and will address it. The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion, which has been made repeatedly recently, that the decision was political, was ill founded.
The Government’s position has always been that there should be an implementation period, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will acknowledge that and outline what the Government will do. My purpose in speaking in the debate is simply to point out that the suggestion that the prime considerations are political is essentially unfounded.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on securing the debate.
I shall speak briefly, as you stipulated, Mr Gray, and will focus specifically on the future of Moorside and NuGen. I welcome the Minister to his post. He will no doubt have spent a substantial part of his time so far in the Department trying to save the NuGen deal and find a new investor—almost certainly backed by a foreign Government and foreign capital—to save a development that will create 21,000 jobs in Cumbria and potentially contribute up to 8% of the UK’s energy.
I hope for a frank assessment of how the Minister feels about the cloud of uncertainty over the industry, which has been created by the Government’s until now steadfast refusal to countenance remaining within a treaty that is working well, or to consider something sensible such as associate membership, and a seamless transition to that. What effect does he feel the situation is having on the dash to find a new investor to save the deal? We know the difficulty behind the scenes in trying to get some countries, which I will not name, to consider rescuing the deal. Aside from any damage to UK energy security, the collapse in job prospects would be a calamity for the region. We need the Government to take an approach that gives the best chance of securing the investment at a difficult time. We have a new Minister and the Government apparently want to consider sensible clarifications and improvements to legislation: now is the time to change course.
I commend the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on securing this incredibly important debate, and the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) on his comments about Moorside, which is of course in my constituency, as is Sellafield, the world’s first nuclear reactor. My constituency is home to some 67 NIA members and I must declare an interest as my husband, father and brother work in three of those businesses, along with 14,000 other people in my constituency. It has been said that 76% of the working people in Copeland borough work directly or indirectly for Sellafield.
Our nuclear expertise is internationally renowned and our safety record is exceptional. Ensuring continued membership of Euratom, or swiftly acting to develop an alternative, to be in place upon leaving the European Union or as part of a planned transition period, is vital. Because of the nature of the Sellafield site, Euratom safeguards are of key importance to its functioning. Every day, Euratom officials monitor activity on site and ensure that fissile nuclear material at Sellafield is in the right place and is being used for its intended purpose. Euratom owns cameras and other equipment and of course has the skills to carry out the work. If we leave, the ownership of that material and the skills will need to be replaced.
The Nuclear Safeguards Bill should provide clear answers, but they would answer only one of many problems that withdrawal from Euratom may cause. Sellafield’s reprocessing facility has reprocessed fuel from several countries across the EU and further afield, including the United States and Japan. The ownership of that material needs to be determined during the negotiation, and new nuclear co-operation agreements to move materials overseas post-Brexit will need to be agreed and ratified.
Whatever the decision taken, and whether we are in or out of Euratom in March 2019, safeguarding has to continue under international law. What cannot happen is a scenario in which new safeguarding measures and new co-operation agreements are not in place. Safeguarding is critical for the nuclear industry, and particularly for Sellafield. Without an approved safeguards regime, as well as new bilateral co-operation agreements, nuclear trade to and from the UK would stop, or at least slow down, which would be economically crushing for my constituency—a community that is home to thousands of nuclear workers and, indeed, the centre of nuclear excellence.
I thank you for allowing me the time to speak in this crucial debate, Mr Gray, and I urge the Minister to give this consideration. I also welcome the excellent suggestion of a working group from the hon. Member for Ynys Môn, which I would be very pleased to be a part of.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Gray. I thank the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) for securing this important debate. I, too, have to declare an interest: my husband’s brother works at Trawsfynydd power station in my constituency. I add my voice to those warning the Government about what a Euratom exit means for safeguarding. Please bear in mind that livestock movements in my constituency were held back for 26 years following the Chernobyl disaster; we have experience of the effect of nuclear safeguarding issues, if you like.
Since 1957, Euratom has underpinned our nuclear safety and security, and our nuclear industry has benefited from well-established regulations that enable us to be a trusted partner of our European counterparts. Leaving Euratom would mean creating our own safeguarding regime—something the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation has already confirmed as impossible by the nominal EU withdrawal date in 2019. Furthermore, it would mean renegotiating every bilateral agreement Euratom has managed on behalf of the UK. Those are incredibly complex agreements, called NCAs—nuclear co-operation agreements. Each NCA can take three years to agree, and without them, the UK will be isolated from the legitimate international nuclear community.
That takes me to my second point: the economic consequences of withdrawal on the development of Trawsfynydd and the nuclear industry, and low-carbon energy security as a whole. Euratom ensures the safe and unimpaired cross-border movement of nuclear materials, technology and even expertise. As already noted, withdrawing from Euratom would mean lengthy renegotiations to allow that trade to continue. Without Euratom, ventures such as the development of SMRs—small modular reactors—at Trawsfynydd look less attractive, meaning a worse deal for local communities, the UK and its position in the international nuclear community.
My third point is on the cost of withdrawal on our scientific research communities. On Monday, the Prime Minister blithely stated that the UK would be able to access Euratom research and funding as a third-party state. However, she failed to mention that the relationships between Euratom and its third-party states vary widely, and therefore VIP access is not at all guaranteed and would require lengthy negotiations. In the meantime, our existing plans for world-leading projects, such as at Trawsfynydd, would be disrupted.
I therefore join in the cross-party calls for the Government to reconsider withdrawal and the models put forward today, and I welcome the suggestion of a working group that works closely with the industry.
As I mentioned in my intervention, I represent the Culham UKAEA establishment. The urgency to resolve this issue is that Euratom’s work programme runs out in December 2018. The European Commission is pushing hard to negotiate terms for the 2019-20 programme, but the fly in the ointment is Austria’s taking over the EU presidency in June 2019. Of course, as has already been mentioned, Austria is notoriously anti-nuclear, and it is therefore urgent that an agreement should be in place by June 2018.
Ministers have apparently written to the Commission to continue with the JET—Joint European Torus—project, and to commit the UK’s share, which has gone down very well. Everything has been delayed to accommodate Brexit, and willingly so, but there is a need to get a move on with this. Staying a full member of Euratom provides the best continuity to that programme.
I do not believe that the legal issues are as black and white as has been set out. However, associate membership with bespoke terms is a perfectly acceptable compromise. That would mean that there would be a transition period that would leave us as full members of Euratom until 2020. There are two principal models of associate membership: the Swiss model, which includes freedom of movement for nuclear scientists and the use of the European Court of Justice, and the Ukrainian model, in which there is no free movement of nuclear scientists and for which the Ukrainian courts decide disputes. The Government need to make their mind up quickly on that in order to provide the certainty that the industry needs.
There is a lot at stake. UKAEA is targeting £1 billion- worth of work on ITER—the JET project’s replacement in the south of France. That is £1 billion of work against the UK’s £85 million investment. It is important to bear those sort of figures in mind when we come to look at the future of Euratom and the sort of relationship that we have with it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who I thought spoke with a great depth of knowledge about this subject. For those of us who are not so close to the industry, I will talk about the scientific and some of the legal issues, some of which have already been raised, but there is an elephant in the room: to many of us, it seems as though the debate is being driven by what many of us see as the Prime Minister’s longstanding antipathy towards the European Court of Justice. It seems to me almost like a fetish in some ways, because there has to be some way to resolve disputes. I often look to football for inspiration; most things can be related to football in my view. It needs a referee; people may sometimes feel hard done by, but when there are disputes, there has to be an arbitrator. The Government seem intent on bringing their own referee to the table, instead of playing by the rules. We have to have some way of resolving these issues.
One issue we have already heard about is the possibility of associate membership of Euratom, and we all want to hear much more from the Minister about that. However, if we are going to talk about associate membership, we also need to hear something about whether the Government can provide the same assurances for other areas of crucial scientific research, such as our relationship with the European Research Council, the European Research Area and the Horizon 2020 programme.
Just last week, the Government made an extraordinary policy announcement in the pages of the Financial Times, in which two Secretaries of State recognised the need for us to stay close to European Union regulatory systems in the life sciences sector—an announcement that some of us feel might have been more appropriately made in Parliament first. It is true to say, however, that a direction of travel is emerging on all of these issues, even if the proper destination has not yet been arrived at.
Very simply, I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on introducing the debate, because his attitude was extremely constructive. There are a lot of issues associated with matters of this kind, and it is important for us both to be practical and to stick to the legal position. I very much agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr. Jones) about the legal position; in fact, it is endorsed exclusively by the European Commission. After the BEIS Committee report, which was published on 2 May, the Commission published a position paper on 22 June stating:
“On the date of withdrawal, the Treaties, including the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community…cease to apply to the United Kingdom.”
I think that is definitive; the Commission takes that view.
However, the other aspect to this is that we have to find an answer to these questions, and we have to be constructive about it at the same time. The legal position is clear, but the question is where we go from there. We are bound by international conventions to our membership of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and it is my belief that the same applies to the EU. I therefore suspect that there is common ground here, in which all the rules are effectively already converging. If that is the case, as I think it probably is, there is a basis on which we can move forwards to some form of co-operation. I very much take up the view of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn regarding a working group. That is an interesting idea, and I think it would be consistent with working towards something like associate membership.
I would like to say much more, but in a nutshell the question of jurisdiction is cropping up the whole time in respect of citizens’ rights, our trade arrangements and so on. There is a consistent pattern in how we resolve these questions as we move into negotiations. As I have said in the House several times, I believe that there is a means whereby, without prejudicing or rejecting our judicial sovereignty and Westminster sovereignty, we can take a common-sense approach, by adopting a tribunal. The tribunal could have on it, for example, a retired European Court judge, a retired Supreme Court judge and an independent judge. In other words, through such a tribunal we could try to find a constructive answer through some form of international agreement whereby we can all be satisfied, instead of shouting at one another. The law is clear, but we need to look for constructive solutions.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I commend the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) for securing this very important debate.
I have an interest in this subject because of my constituency. In Abingdon, many of the workers at the Joint European Torus facility are very worried about what is going on and feel they have been forgotten in the last few months. I am delighted that today, they get a chance to be heard.
My former profession was physics teaching, so if I may be indulged, I would like to explain why nuclear fusion is so important. While fission is the splitting up of large isotopes to create smaller ones, releasing energy, fusion is the joining up of smaller ones to create large ones, also creating energy—and what is amazing is that the base material is water. When we are done with it, the end products have barely any decay half-lives. It is an extraordinary technology, and—make no mistake—if we get it right, it is as scientifically significant as sending a man to the moon. It could solve climate change completely, because water is essentially an inexhaustible material. I would like to make the case for that, because I think it has been forgotten. Humanity needs that technology—I do not think I am overstating it—and it is vital we get it going.
It is covered under the treaty, not only because of the work programme, to which the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) referred, but also because afterwards we have ITER. If we are going to access that supply chain and not lose the expertise of those scientists, the best thing we can do is give them certainty. I have visited the site several times and been told that there is already movement among the scientists to leave. They need to know now what is going on, because it will soon be the summer holidays, and they are deciding what to do for their families. If their jobs are not secure, they will leave. Compounded with the issues around which EU citizens get to stay here, that means literally hundreds of jobs are on the line.
I would like to ask the Minister, on behalf of my constituents, what he is doing to ensure we do not have any of these cliff edges. Will he assure us that if he cannot negotiate the replacement treaties in time, he will extend our membership of Euratom until such time that we do? Is the plan right now to have associate membership? Surely he can tell us what the Government are looking at. Will he also confirm that the reason we are in this mess is the Prime Minister’s obsession with the European Court of Justice? I applaud the constructive nature of this debate, and the fact is that if we just decided to get over that, we would avoid this mess entirely.
If I may, I would like to explain why the radioisotopes issue is such a big one. The Minister and the Government keep saying that it is not covered by the treaty, but I refer them to page 66 of the Euratom treaty. Line 2 clearly states that the very same radioisotopes, technetium-99m and molybdenum-99, are covered by the treaty. We cannot make those in the UK, so if we are to import them—that is the only way we can get them—they are covered by the treaty. Will the Minister agree with the industry that that is at risk and also reassure cancer patients that diagnostics and treatments will not cease?
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I am very pleased indeed that Euratom is now getting the attention it deserves, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on securing this debate.
It is wonderful to see the support that Euratom is getting outside the Chamber—for example, from former Conservative party leader William Hague, writing in The Telegraph yesterday. It has also been on the front page of the Evening Standard; The Times today came out in favour of Euratom; and no less a luminary than Dominic Cummings, the man who ran the leave campaign so effectively, has used quite strong language—he nevertheless makes his point effectively—to argue that we should not leave Euratom. The reason, of course, he shares that view is that Euratom has nothing to do with our leaving the European Union.
This is a debate not about stopping Brexit but saving our membership of Euratom. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), the former Brexit Minister, pointed out, we served our intention to leave Euratom on a technicality. It was quite clear that the Government had received legal advice that put it into their mind that it might be an ineffective serving of the article 50 notice if we did not serve notice that we were also leaving Euratom. The trouble that those of us who support our membership of Euratom have is that none of us has seen that legal advice. It is obviously unprecedented for the Government to publish legal advice, but it would be very useful at the first meeting of the working group, which no doubt the Minister will announce in his remarks, to have some distilled version of the legal advice that the Government received on the link with Euratom.
Without wishing to go over old scores, the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt remember that the Government were also given legal advice that there was absolutely no need whatsoever to have a parliamentary vote on triggering article 50. Does that make him wonder whether the Government’s legal advice on this should be subject to some scrutiny before it is implemented?
That is a very effective point. It is certainly the case that those of us who wish to remain in Euratom will now seek our own legal advice, but it would be nice to know where the Government stand on this. The other point that has emerged is that no assessment has been made of the impact of leaving Euratom or, rather, of the Government’s current position, which is to leave Euratom and then rejoin it. The Government are being offered a time-saving opportunity.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. One Member asked earlier why we are singling out Euratom from other European institutions that we will leave as part of the process of leaving the European Union. The key point is that our membership of Euratom is under a treaty separate from our membership of the European Union.
I just want to reaffirm something. The Commission’s position paper, dated 27 June, is quite unequivocal about the fact that when notice is given, we cease to be members of Euratom and also the EU under article 50. That is quite clearly set out in the Commission’s position paper.
We remain members of Euratom, as we remain members of the European Union. We served our intention to leave, but there is many a slip between cup and lip. I hate to mention this name in august company, in case it sets off an argument, but it was interesting to see Juncker’s chief of staff today pointing out that he has never made a comment about our membership of Euratom. In terms of his general approach to Brexit and our not having our cake and eating it, he specifically said on Twitter today that that does not include Euratom. There are huge opportunities here, and we all stand ready to help the Minister.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. It is quite clear that the legal position is not clear. That stems from the fact that the Euratom treaty is not the same treaty signed in 1957 as the EU treaty. Leaving Euratom would involve separate negotiation of the arrangements for co-operative or associated status alongside any other negotiations in the EU. That is fairly clear.
In that context, I want to raise a concern that I hope the Government have considered, but I suspect they have not, about leaving Euratom under those circumstances and the status of the Hinkley C nuclear power station programme. In autumn 2016, the Secretary of State signed an investment agreement—charmingly known as a SoSIA— concerning Hinkley C with EDF, the French Government and the Chinese Government that contains a number of issues relating to what a qualifying shutdown occurrence would consist of as far as the progress of Hinkley C power station is concerned. That investment agreement defined that a qualifying shutdown occurrence would consist of a Government intervention in the working of Hinckley Point C power station, or its construction, or if the EU were to do that, or if there were a change in treaty arrangements relating to the construction or operation of the power station. If we left Euratom unilaterally, as is proposed, with no alternative position in place, it is likely that that would mean a qualifying shutdown. The effect would be a possibility of the other contracting parties to the arrangement—EDF and others concerned with the power station—walking away from the deal and claiming up to £20 billion compensation for so doing. That seems to be an important consideration that we might think about. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether the Government have considered the risk of that occurrence.
That concern is not just mine; it was raised by the National Audit Office in its June 2017 report on Hinckley C. It indicated that it thought that the Government had not undertaken any risk assessment relating to the Secretary of State’s investment agreement and that perhaps they should do so. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether that risk assessment has been undertaken and whether the Minister considers that the Secretary of State’s investment agreement on Hinckley C would be at risk as a result of what has been decided so far about leaving Euratom.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on securing this important and valuable debate. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) that Euratom brings great benefits to this country.
We should do all that is legally possible to maintain those benefits by whatever means it takes. We should not allow any thoughts of ideological purity to get in the way of achieving that. My judgment is that if we can legally remain within Euratom, we should do so. I understand the points that were well and eloquently made by my right hon. and hon. Friends who have suggested that legal advice goes against that, but it would not be the first time that Government legal advisers have been shown to be wrong and it would not be the first time that the Commission’s legal advice has been proved wrong.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is my next point.
Unless the Government seek clarity—there is a dispute among lawyers about the matter—the likelihood is that an interested party may itself seek to litigate and it would be much better if the Government seized the initiative and said that politically they wanted to stay in and would do whatever is necessary legally to achieve that objective. That would be altogether better. If they cannot achieve that, certainly an association agreement would be the next best thing and I suggest it should be the Swiss model because the small amount of jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice is a minor price to pay for the benefits. I cannot believe that anyone would object to the very modest movement of skilled nuclear scientists who only benefit this country. Otherwise, we would be cutting off our economic and scientific nose to spite our political face and we should not do such a thing. That would be a good compromise, but we should stay in until such time as that is in place because we cannot have any risks in the interim.
If the Minister is unable today to give the legal certainty of being able to stay in Euratom, which is what my hon. Friend is looking for, does he agree that we need a commitment today from the Minister that the Government will pursue a solution that replicates the benefits of Euratom membership as closely as possible?
We must certainly do that and we must be flexible about the means by which we achieve it. There may be ways forward and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) made a constructive point about a tribunal being one way forward. I take that in the spirit intended. Equally, the jurisprudence of the ECJ on Euratom matters is so discrete and so technical that it should give no offence to anyone, unless they are a complete purist about maintaining that jurisdiction.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about a discrete and specific area. Does he agree that when people voted in the referendum last year, they voted on particular issues? I do not know of one moment on any doorstep when Euratom came up and people said they were voting for Britain to leave. They put their trust in the Government and Parliament to make sure that as we go through the process we do not do anything to jeopardise our interest for the future economy.
I am sure that is the case; it did not come up on the doorstep for me. I spoke to a biochemist in the health service over the weekend who voted to leave, but said he certainly did not think we would go about leaving in such a rigid fashion that we would run into difficulties like this. The Government should change our approach to leaving in this and other matters.
I hope the position is clear. We all want the best possible outcome on this. The Government should seize the political initiative and seek to stay in if possible. If not, it is clear that we must go forward, but there must be no gap. It is more important that the Government deliver on that political objective than worry too much about some of the niceties.
The sentence that I think sums up how we got into this mess came from the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who said that we have to start getting answers to some of these questions. How about getting answers to the questions before we had the referendum, or how about Members asking those questions before they trooped through the Lobby to vote for the shortest and most destructive Act that this Parliament will ever pass, and possibly the only Act of Parliament for which the explanatory notes were half a page longer than the Bill? The fact is that the first full day of debate on the triggering of article 50 lasted almost 11 hours, and Euratom was mentioned once by a Conservative Back Bencher—hats off to the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). His mention of it came nine hours into the debate.
The Government’s entire White Paper on leaving the European Union devoted only eight sentences to Euratom. It is described as an important priority for the Government—so important that it is mentioned on page 44, paragraph 831. Even then, there is no recognition whatsoever of the need for life-saving medical isotopes, which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), who is no longer in her place. She has had an illustrious career saving lives in the NHS using radioisotopes. Without the Euratom treaty, the United Kingdom will have no—I repeat “no”—reliable source of those radioisotopes.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that plenty of countries outside Euratom have easy access to medical isotopes and that there is no reason why, if we leave, we will suddenly become an international pariah and be denied those treatments?
I accept that membership is not essential, but this is not the only item on which we need negotiations finalised and ready to implement within a ridiculously short and entirely self-inflicted timetable. If Euratom were the only thing the Government had to negotiate between now and March 2019, there would be no problem. But there are areas that will have an essential long-term impact that the Government will not have time to negotiate properly in order to get the best possible deal. With a bit more candour from the Government about how difficult that process will be, we might all be better off.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government need to be candid about all the costs of the various options being explored—associate membership, third-country membership and remaining in Euratom—and about the difference in costs? We know that during the referendum campaign a lot of inaccurate information was circulated about the cost of remaining and the associated benefits of leaving. We need some frank information about the costs associated with retaining membership of Euratom or leaving.
I fully agree with the hon. Lady. The figure of £357 million comes to mind for some reason —it must be because I got the bus to work this morning. There has not been the necessary degree of openness and detailed debate on any of this. That is why one of the biggest mistakes was to call the referendum and then have the vote in such short order. We were told repeatedly by the Conservatives that we had been talking about this for years, but we have not been talking about the detail in relation to important agencies such as Euratom, the European Medicines Agency and many others.
It is good to see, albeit belatedly, so many Government Back Benchers now demanding that the Government do what some of us were asking them to do beforehand. All I can say to them is this: “The next time you want to demand that the Government do something different, please do so before voting for the Bill that makes it impossible for the Government now to listen to what you are asking for.” I say that because the Government are now claiming that we are in this situation because their Back Benchers, some of whom are here today, voted obediently for the article 50 Bill, without any queries about the implications for Euratom and other important institutions. Members here who are bemoaning the impact of that Act need to go home, look the mirror and ask themselves what responsibility they have.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on securing this important debate. He made a clear case for the importance of remaining either a full or an associate member of Euratom. Many hon. Members spoke about their own constituency interests, and I will mention a couple of those. One of the most telling comments came from the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), who said, “If you ask people on the doorstep why they voted leave, would it be because of Euratom?” Of course people are unaware of what Euratom does; they are probably unaware even of its existence. However, it is fundamental to our everyday lives.
Is the hon. Lady really saying that we can develop a list of all the organisations that were not mentioned in great detail during the referendum campaign, and that we must remain part of them just because we have not had that full and open debate? Actually, we voted to leave the European Union; that is what the British people voted for. We have to do that, and if it entails leaving Euratom, so be it, but we will do it on the best possible grounds, with a transitional period.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way again; I know that she wants to continue with her comments. It is clear that the British people did vote last year to take back control over our laws and for freedom from the European Court of Justice, the Commission and the Council; and of course the EU and Euratom share an institutional framework through the ECJ, the Commission and the Council. Does she not think that by remaining a member of Euratom we would be going against what the British people voted for?
Absolutely not. In the Scottish National party we do not share the love of nuclear fission that those on the Government Benches seem to have, but it is a fact that we have nuclear facilities in Scotland. Scotland’s future lies in renewables—last year, 59% of our energy needs were met from that source. However, although we are moving towards a target of 100% renewables, we still have nuclear facilities and they still need regulation and materials. Although nuclear safety is a reserved matter, regulation of waste and emissions from nuclear sites is devolved, but it appears that, once again without any consultation with the Scottish Government on the implications for future regulation, we are being dragged out of Euratom as well as the EU.
Absolutely. I do not know about all the European Court judgments, but that certainly is not something that many of us have heard anything about. Euratom has operated very successfully for 60 years, but now we seem to be taking ourselves out of the regulatory framework.
No, I am going to make some progress.
Any future negotiations on whatever membership of Euratom we might have—I hope that it is full membership, but there could be associate membership—must include the Scottish Government, as they are dealing with the regulation of nuclear facilities in Scotland. Some people have talked about putting our own regulatory framework in place. Of course, we could get our own regulations in place, but the problem is that the clock is ticking, we do not have a lot of time and producing these frameworks takes many years, not 20 months. That is a real issue.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned medical isotopes. The Euratom Supply Agency ensures the security of supply of medical isotopes for all members of Euratom. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) gave us some statistics. She said that 500,000 diagnostic scans and 10,000 cancer treatments are carried out annually as a result of those isotopes. However, we cannot produce our own medical isotopes and must therefore import them. Medical isotopes have very short half-lives, which means they need to be transported quickly, and there are only a few facilities in the world that produce them. A number of the reactors that produce medical isotopes are coming to the end of their useful lifespan, which means that in future there could be real problems with their supply worldwide anyway. This is not the time to take ourselves out of the agency that ensures that we have a supply.
As a fellow physics teacher, the hon. Lady will know that something such as technetium-99, which is used in medical diagnostics, has a half-life of six hours, which means that after 24 hours it is pretty much useless, or its activity has dropped to a level that makes it inert. These isotopes must be transported and used very quickly after they are produced.
The hon. Lady has already given us a physics lesson on fusion, so I will not do that, but fusion is a field in which we are world leaders in the UK. The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) talked about JET in his constituency. It is one of the world’s most important facilities and one of Euratom’s main facilities, so we need to ensure that funding continues. JET currently receives about £48 million annually. The contract runs to the end of 2018, so we must ensure that pulling out of Euratom does not affect future funding.
We must ensure that transitional arrangements for nuclear safeguarding, trade and funding are in place until the EU-UK negotiations are complete, and that should be done with the full consultation of the nuclear industry and community. We need to retain our membership of the European observatory on the supply of medical radioisotopes and continue to work with Euratom and global partners to mitigate any shortages of medical isotopes. We need to ensure that Euratom funding for our nuclear research projects continues. Finally, the UK Government must involve the Scottish Government at every stage of the negotiation process, to ensure that the deal reached works for Scotland’s nuclear industry as well.
Thank you, Mr Gray, for your rigorous chairing of this debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on securing the debate and on the knowledge of and commitment to this vital sector that he demonstrated in his opening remarks. Those have been reflected by many of the Members who have spoken, from both sides of the House. They demonstrated the strength of concern that exists about this issue across party lines. The Prime Minister has called for some level of cross-party co-operation on Brexit, and in many ways today’s debate has taken her up on that. Her response will show whether she is serious.
Many Members have spoken knowledgably about Euratom’s importance to the UK, and the worrying implications of a cliff-edge departure. Euratom has enabled the UK to become a world leader in nuclear research and development. The fact that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has decided to continue funding the JET facility in Culham demonstrates that he recognises that too. That point was made very forcefully by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran).
I was not given the chance to speak on this issue, so I want to ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware of the need for certainty about Culham’s status to be provided within the year, given the need to avoid the Austrian presidency. We need answers very quickly on its continuation. Further, is he aware of the enormous expense that will be incurred if the Culham centre has to be decommissioned, rather than allowed to develop the practical technology of which it was, of course, a global pioneer?
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, which demonstrates her commitment to the Culham facility not only in her current role but in her previous job. She is right on both points. The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon made this point forcefully: we need certainty now—not at some stage in the future, but now—because otherwise the facility is at risk.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that actually the biggest threat to fusion research in Europe generally is the stance of the European Union itself? Given that Germany has decided to phase out nuclear power, the hostility of the Austrians and the fact that the anti-science Greens now pepper the European Parliament and parliaments across the EU, the likelihood of Horizon 2020 funding continuing to go into nuclear research at the same level is very low, and likely to reduce.
Those thoughts are contradicted by the enormous investment that the European Union has put into the Culham facility and is committing to.
Moving back to the benefits of Euratom, it oversees the transport of nuclear fuel across the EU and enables vital co-operation on information, infrastructure and the funding of nuclear energy. It provides safeguarding inspections for all civilian nuclear facilities in the UK—a point made well by the hon. Members for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who was right to say that if we get this wrong, it will have an economically crushing impact on the UK. Euratom is the legal owner of all nuclear material, and is the legal purchaser, certifier and guarantor of nuclear materials and technologies that the UK purchases. That includes our nuclear trade with the United States.
As has been highlighted this week and by other Members, including the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), Euratom also plays an important role in our NHS. A Conservative Member questioned that point, but I take the judgment of the Royal College of Radiologists, which has expressed genuine concern that cancer patients will face delays in treatments if supply is threatened. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) highlighted the National Audit Office report on the risks to Hinkley Point. In all areas, our membership of Euratom is vital.
Indeed, the Government stated that they want to replicate the arrangements we have with Euratom. They have talked about probably the exact same benefits, in the way that they have about the trade deal they want in place of single market membership and customs union membership. It is an ambition that they have yet to demonstrate how they will achieve.
Outside Euratom, the Government would have to negotiate individual nuclear co-operation agreements with every single country outside the EU with which we currently co-operate on these matters. Those would be complex, lengthy negotiations within a 20-month framework. I am interested to hear from the Minister how far they have progressed on those. The Nuclear Industry Association has been clear that if we left without them in place, it would be a disaster—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), who is a strong champion of these issues.
All this prompts the question: why add this whole other burden to run alongside the negotiations for our withdrawal from the European Union? The bigger issue at play here was summed up very well—I loved the football analogy—by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner): the Prime Minister’s obsession with the European Court of Justice. In that context, it is deeply unfortunate that Ministers from the Department for Exiting the European Union have dodged today’s debate. It is becoming something of a habit. We have had three debates in this and the main Chamber on exiting the European Union since the election. DExEU Ministers have dodged every one. That is an unfortunate habit, because both sides of this House demand a level of accountability that they are not demonstrating they are up for.
Back in February, I challenged the then Minister of State at DExEU, the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), about allegations that it was the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice that had led the Government to issue a notice to withdraw from Euratom alongside the notice to withdraw from the EU. In response he told the House, along much the same lines that he has repeated this morning, that this was not the case. He said:
“it would not be possible for the UK to leave the EU and continue its current membership of Euratom.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2017; Vol. 621, c. 523.]
The right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) and the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) have expressed the view, which many of us share, that legal opinions are never that straightforward. The hon. Member for Henley made that very explicit.
I think that there are probably enough lawyers in this place to know that legal advice can go in many ways. It may well be that that advice was received by the Department, but other Conservative Members have made it clear that if the political will exists, a solution can be found.
I do not mean to doubt the assertion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) that that was the advice his Department received, but it would of course help the hon. Gentleman to agree with him if the Department published the advice that my right hon. Friend saw when he was a Minister.
This is not just a question of legal opinion; it is actually stated in the treaty itself. Article 106a of the Euratom treaty, as amended by the Lisbon treaty, unequivocally says that article 50 of the treaty on European Union—the article that sets out the procedure for EU withdrawal—
“shall apply to this Treaty.”
It is there in black and white. It is not a matter of legal opinion—it is just there.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. On the issue of cross-party consensus, I have to say that I was interested in his earlier contribution about looking for some sort of associate membership of Euratom, which might well involve the jurisdiction of the ECJ. We are making some progress, aren’t we?
Let me come to those in the Government who have contradicted the comments by the right hon. Member for Clwyd West in February. Comments by James Chapman, the former chief of staff to the Brexit Secretary, contradict that statement, and his comments were confirmed by the former Chancellor. They suggest that the nuclear industry, jobs and cancer treatments are being put at risk by the Prime Minister’s reckless and irresponsible decision to make the future of the ECJ a red line in all matters to do with Brexit.
No, because I am conscious of time.
All this goes well beyond the issue of Euratom. As the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), who is no longer in his place, pointed out, it will affect our future in other agencies that we would also wish to be members of, such as the European Medicines Agency. We should start with the presumption that if these agencies are in our interests as a country, we would want to continue to maintain that membership.
We have already seen the obsession with the ECJ undermining discussions on the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and therefore those of UK citizens in the EU27. That obsession will also affect our ability to secure the objective that the Government have set themselves: the “exact same benefits”—I quote the Brexit Secretary—that we currently enjoy in the single market and the customs union.
I hope the Minister will agree to take back to his Secretary of State the clear consensus in this Chamber, and I hope the Secretary of State takes it to the Prime Minister. As James Chapman said, if the Prime Minister does not shift her position on Euratom,
“parliament will shift it for her.”
My apprehension before this debate was not about the content of it, which has been first class and very constructive, but about having to pronounce in front of you, Mr Gray, the constituency of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who introduced it. I thank him and other right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House for their constructive comments.
The hon. Gentleman said that he wants constructive comments and debate, he wants certainty and he wants world-class arrangements for the future of the nuclear industry in the UK and our relationship with other countries. I absolutely agree. His suggestion for a working group was very interesting. My door is certainly always open to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, either collectively or individually. I have taken that approach in every job I have had and I will be pleased to continue with it—particularly in this case, since you have had to curtail Members’ contributions today because of time, Mr Gray. You did it very well, but I will not have as much time to answer them as I would have liked.
I have never refused a meeting with anybody on any subject that I have ever been involved in, and I certainly have no intention of doing so to the hon. Lady. I really must make progress, but I am happy to arrange that meeting as soon as I possibly can.
The Government are determined that the nuclear industry in this country should continue to flourish in trade, regulation and innovative nuclear research. We are determined to have a constructive, collaborative relationship with Euratom. The UK is a great supporter of it and will continue to be so. There have recently been some alarmist stories in the press about what leaving Euratom might mean for safety and for health, but I must make it clear that we remain committed to the highest standards of nuclear safety and support for the industry. We will continue to apply international standards on nuclear safeguards.
We do not believe that leaving Euratom will have any adverse effect on the supply of medical radioisotopes. Contrary to what has been in the press, they are not classed as special fissile material and are not subject to nuclear safeguards, so they are not part of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is the driver of our nuclear safeguards regime. They are covered by the Euratom treaty, as the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) said, but Euratom places no restriction on the export of medical isotopes outside the EU. After leaving Euratom, our ability to access medical isotopes produced in Europe will not be affected.
Since time is pressing, I will say just a little more about safeguards, a subject that hon. Members are rightly concerned about. It is clear that we need continuity; we must avoid any break in our safeguards regime. We currently meet our safeguards standards through our membership of Euratom. The Government’s aim is clear: we want to maintain our mutually successful civil nuclear co-operation with Euratom. We can do so while establishing our own nuclear safeguards regime, using the body that already regulates nuclear security and safety: the Office for Nuclear Regulation. In order to do so, we need legislation, which is why the Queen’s Speech on 21 June outlined our intention to take powers to set up a domestic nuclear safeguards regime in partnership with the ONR to enable us to meet international standards and nuclear non-proliferation obligations. Regardless of where hon. Members stand on the question of membership, associate membership, transition or departure from Euratom, I hope we can all agree that it is sensible and prudent to take such powers. I do not think anyone could disagree with that.
I really cannot, but only because of time; I normally would. Instead, let me say a little about what my Department has been doing to advance the UK’s interests.
We are pleased that engagement with the EU is about to begin in earnest. EU directives note that a suitable agreement will need to be reached in relation to the ownership of special fissile materials and safeguards equipment in the UK that are currently Euratom’s property—I note the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) on that issue. The outcome of such an agreement, like the rest of the UK’s future relationship with Euratom, will be subject to negotiations with the EU and Euratom, throughout which our primary aim will be to maintain our mutually successful civil nuclear co-operation with Euratom and the rest of the world. I reiterate that we are strong supporters of Euratom, and that is not going to change. The first phase of negotiations will commence next week, on 17 July, following the publication of the European Commission’s position paper on Euratom. Our own position paper will be published imminently.
Imminently means imminently. [Interruption.]
That was quite a good line, actually.
We are ready and confident that we can find common ground as officials enter the first phase of negotiations, because there is a clear mutual interest in maintaining close and effective co-operation.
We are also keen to ensure minimal disruption to civil nuclear trade and co-operation with non-European partners. To that end, we are negotiating with the US, Canada, Australia and Japan so that we have the appropriate co-operation agreements in place. I reinforce that point because hon. Members may have read or heard that everything has to be done in a painfully long sequence that takes years and years. I can tell them not only that it is possible to do these things in parallel, but that we are doing so.
We will avoid the cliff edge feared by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn. We are preparing the domestic Nuclear Safeguards Bill, we are opening negotiations with the EU, we are talking to third countries about bilateral agreements, and we are talking to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Nobody doubts the UK’s credentials as a responsible nuclear state, and everyone in the UK and elsewhere is keen to see that continue. The UK has been in the forefront of nuclear non-proliferation for 60 years. I have no doubt that we can bring these discussions to a satisfactory conclusion.
I am sure hon. Members will be quick to remind me that I have not yet mentioned nuclear research and development. I will have to cover this quickly, but I want them to know that it is another strand of work that we are taking seriously and acting on swiftly. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 27 June that we would underwrite the UK’s share of the EU joint European torus fusion project. We are totally committed to R and D collaboration, in particular to Oxfordshire’s world-leading Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, which my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) mentioned. The Secretary of State described JET in his announcement as a “prized facility”. I assure all hon. Members that this is a top priority for us.
There is no question of lack of support for Euratom. There has been discussion today of whether we need to leave it at all. There was clear advice at the time about the unique nature of the legal relationship between the separate treaties and about their inseparability. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was asked by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee whether it would be possible to leave the EU but remain in Euratom. He said:
“Essentially, the interleaving of various aspects of the treaties in practice could have meant that it was defective. The article 50 notification would have been defective had we not served it for Euratom as well. Therefore, we served it, but at the outset we said that we want to have continuity of co-operation and collaboration, and that is what we intend to achieve.”
Thank you for chairing the debate in such a splendid fashion, Mr Gray. I thank each of the 15 Members who participated.
I set out in this debate to create consensus so that we can get the best deal for Britain. The Minister has been slightly helpful, but only slightly. He would have done better to have said that before the recess we would have a debate on the Floor of the House on how we can move this matter forward. We need to hold the Government to account—not with a statement just before recess, but with a proper and open debate like this one, so that we can be constructive and move forward together as one. That is what I set out to do today, and that is what we have done.
The Government’s rhetoric needs to turn into action. Demanding that has been the responsibility of Back Benchers in this debate, and it will be the responsibility of the Opposition and the Government, working together, to get the best deal for the United Kingdom.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered negotiations on future Euratom membership.