I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Purpose—
“The purpose of this Act is to provide for a contingent arrangement for nuclear safeguarding arrangements under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the event that the United Kingdom no longer has membership or associate membership of EURATOM, to ensure that qualifying nuclear material, facilities or equipment are only available for use for civil activities (whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere).”
This new clause would be a purpose clause, to establish that the provisions of the Bill are contingency arrangements if it proves impossible to establish an association with EURATOM after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
New clause 3—EURATOM: maintenance of nuclear safeguarding arrangements—
“No power to make regulations under this Act shall be exercised until the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a report on his or her efforts to—
(a) seek associate membership of EURATOM, or
(b) otherwise maintain the implementation of nuclear safeguarding arrangements in the UK through EURATOM
after the UK has left the European Union.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on his or her efforts to maintain the implementation of nuclear safeguarding arrangements through EURATOM after the UK has left the EU.
Amendment 3, in clause 1, page 2, line 14, at end insert—
“(3A) No regulations may be made under this section unless the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement certifying that, in his or her opinion, it is no longer possible to retain membership of EURATOM or establish an association with EURATOM that permits the operation of nuclear safeguarding activity through its administrative arrangements.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to certify, before making any regulations to provide for nuclear safeguarding regulations, that it was not possible to remain a member of EURATOM or have an association with it.
Amendment 2, page 3, line 3, at end insert—
“(11) Regulations may not be made under this section unless the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a report detailing his strategy for seeking associate membership of EURATOM or setting out his reasons for choosing to make nuclear safeguards regulations under this Act rather than seeking associate membership of EURATOM.”
This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from using the powers under Clause 1 to set out a nuclear safeguards regime through regulations until a report has been laid before each House setting out a strategy for seeking associate membership of EURATOM or explaining why the UK cannot seek associate membership of EURATOM.
Amendment 7, in clause 4, page 5, line 6, at end insert—
“(5) No regulations may be made under this section until—
(a) the Government has laid before Parliament a strategy for maintaining those protections, safeguards, programmes for participation in nuclear research and development, and trading or other arrangements which will lapse as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from membership of and participation in EURATOM, and
(b) the strategy has been considered by both Houses of Parliament.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament on the protection and trading arrangements that arise from membership of EURATOM, and his strategy for maintaining them prior to making regulations concerning nuclear safeguarding.
The proposed new clauses and amendments appear in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), who is the shadow Secretary of State, and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and others.
First and foremost, I want to set down a marker on new clause 2, because it represents the dividing line between us and the Government on membership, associate or otherwise, of Euratom. This purpose clause makes explicit that this is a contingency Bill. In other words, it is being enacted to deal with circumstances that may never arise—namely, that we as a country have no future association or membership with Euratom that would enable us to continue to reap the benefits of association or membership in a way that I think is almost universally agreed.
I think that it is agreed—the Minister has stated as much during the passage of this Bill—that Euratom has served well our purposes as a nuclear nation over the past 40 years, and nuclear safeguarding has worked very well in inspecting and representing our obligations to international agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Authority.
It is clear that our interests as a country would be best served by continuing our membership of Euratom, which was founded by a different treaty from that which brought about the EU. Indeed, during evidence to the Public Bill Committee, we heard strong arguments along those lines from eminent lawyers who had been called as witnesses. However, we appear to be in the position of assuming that our future membership of Euratom is not possible, because essentially the Prime Minister, as a matter of choice, included exit from Euratom in her letter to the Commission informing it that we were invoking article 50.
The treaty on Euratom membership is part of the set of treaties described in the treaty of Lisbon. Therefore, as we leave the European Union, we will, de facto, leave our membership of Euratom. It is as simple as that.
I am afraid that it is not as simple as that. A considerable body of legal opinion states that, because Euratom was founded by a treaty other than the treaty of Rome—it was, in fact, founded before the EU came together—it can and should be dealt with separately. Although arrangements relating to association with and membership of various EU bodies have changed over time as a result of changes in EU regulations, that has not been the case with Euratom. The articles relating to associate membership and arrangements are identical to those that were in place when Euratom was founded. There is no case to answer as far as separate arrangements for Euratom are concerned.
My hon. Friend is making a strong case for associate membership. He will recall a Westminster Hall debate that I held only last year, during which there was broad consensus on the issue, including among Conservative Members. I think that the Minister was the only Member who did not agree. The only reasons the Government have given relate to the legal position and the European Court of Justice. If Conservative Members were not whipped, they would understand the logic of the very sensible new clause.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that strong point. I recall that even the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) suggested during that debate that associate membership of Euratom could be effective in continuing those arrangements, which have served us so well over many years.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the International Atomic Energy Authority. The Government have made it clear that we will be seeking new arrangements with it and that they will follow exactly the same principles as the current arrangements—that is, the right to inspect civil nuclear facilities and to continue to receive all the safeguards and reports. We should be confident that this Government are going about the issue in a serious, sensible and meticulous way.
The hon. Lady makes the case for our new clause. If the Government are going about their business in a sensible and coherent way—I note the Secretary of State’s statement on 11 January on how the Government intend to go about conducting relationships with Euratom—it would be a good idea to place that procedure into the Bill, so that we can be clear about what we are about, what we want to achieve and how we will do so.
After all, it has been stated that this is a contingency Bill. We want to know what it is a contingency against and therefore how it should be framed in terms of what we should be doing in contemplating whether to bring it into operation. If we had either membership of Euratom or an associate form of membership, which might be fairly similar to that enjoyed currently by Ukraine but with a number of additional factors, this Bill would not be needed. The arrangements with Euratom would continue to be in place, rendering the Bill superfluous. We need to be clear about what we are debating.
The shadow Minister knows that he and I often agree on stuff, but I wonder whether today he might concede this point. At worst, his new clauses would merely render the Bill superfluous if we manage to achieve associate membership of Euratom, but at best we are providing the contingency plan that gives industry the certainty that it says that it so much wants. The Bill is therefore relevant and necessary in that sense, even if it may ultimately prove to be superfluous because we achieve Euratom membership.
Yes, indeed. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I are going to agree substantially on this. We regard the Bill as necessary in the context of the possibility that, after Brexit, no arrangements can be brought about with Euratom, either associate membership or full membership. The Bill will then ensure that the nuclear industry is clear about its future and that the arrangements for our international obligations can be properly carried out in the absence of those arrangements. We have indeed been constructive and helpful during the Bill’s whole passage through Parliament. However, that does not detract from our thinking that a number of its procedural elements should be strengthened in relation to what we do while it is gestating and coming to potential fruition after the point at which the things that we are doing may not have had any success.
The hon. Gentleman will see that in some of our amendments we are also trying to make sure that Parliament is fully informed of what processes are under way while we get to the position that the Bill could, or could not, come into operation. That is important for Parliament’s sake. After all, we are in new territory with regard to this Bill, and we therefore have to do a number of new things in legislation that fit the bill for our future arrangements. That is essentially the beginning and end of what we are trying to do through this group of amendments.
I am puzzled why new clause 1 is necessary. All its ingredients are issues that form part of the transition negotiations that our country is going through with the European Commission. It therefore seems bizarre to try to legislate that
“conditions under which the UK is a member of EURATOM before exit day shall continue to apply”
during the transition. On that basis, we would be legislating for all sorts of things that form part of the negotiations to continue during the transition. What would the hon. Gentleman say to that?
The hon. Gentleman has slightly got ahead of me, because I started by talking about new clause 2, and I am about to start talking about new clause 1. He thinks that new clause 1 may be superfluous. I would suggest that because this Bill is about procedure as much as fact, the new clause sets out a procedure that we need to undertake in the event of certain things not happening, and it is important that a number of those possible events are covered in the Bill. Should it not prove possible to remain a member of Euratom, for various reasons, it is important to consider the idea of a transition period after which we would then be in a position to fully carry out our obligations to the IAEA and other agencies separate from Euratom. That, indeed, is what the Bill is essentially trying to bring about. The Bill is predicated on the notion that membership or association with Euratom will not be possible, and it is therefore necessary to recreate the arrangements for nuclear safeguarding that have served us so well in a solely domestic form and thereby enabled us to negotiate separate voluntary arrangements with the IAEA and, indeed, separate bilateral agreements with a number of other countries, including the United States, Australia, Japan, and Canada.
I accept that there was a vast amount of legal argument on our membership, or not, of Euratom. Indeed, it is not a simple point. However, we have now triggered our leaving Euratom. The treaties are uniquely joined, so it is a fact that we have left Euratom and will no longer be members. As we go forward with negotiations, putting the word “contingent” into the Bill would create uncertainty for our partners in the EU, given that the negotiations are two-sided. Those negotiations have yet to progress, so we need this Bill to be a clear signal or statement to our EU partners to achieve what we want. I fear that having the word “contingent” in the Bill will muddy the waters in our negotiations with our partners. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
I would have thought that the Bill, in whatever form it eventually emerges, demonstrates the opposite. Yes, there are a number of negotiations to be undertaken. We do not yet know the results of those negotiations. We have not left Euratom, which, it is generally agreed, has served our purposes very well. The new clause would enable us to signal, in the event of all those negotiations not working, that we are nevertheless still able to fulfil our obligations to the IAEA and to show it that we have a regime in place that does the business with regard to nuclear safeguarding from the point of view of the IAEA’s concerns. Putting forward this Bill as a contingency measure, as the Secretary of State said was the case, is important in the uncertain position we are in at the moment. Nevertheless, we will need certainty, over a relatively short period, with the bodies that are responsible for policing and organising the nuclear non-proliferation treaties and the whole arrangements relating to nuclear safeguarding. I think, if I may say so, that that is the right way to do it as far as putting a Bill before the House is concerned. The Opposition do not dispute that: we think it is right to have the Bill as a contingency. Our concern, however, is whether there are sufficient elements to the process part of the Bill to ensure that it works as well as it could. That is really the point of difference on the Bill at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman knows that this is incredibly important to him and several of his colleagues, and it is incredibly important to me, with EDF Energy’s operational headquarters for nuclear in my constituency and Horizon just down the road, so we are all coming from the same point. His specific proposal—I am talking about new clause 1 again—is very specific. It even mentions a period of two years, although the transition period that is being negotiated may well come to an end at the end of 2020. In effect, he is asking the Government to legislate on something over which they do not have control. Surely the better approach is to plan for the contingency, as he has already agreed, and recognise that the other elements—Euratom and other agencies—are all subject to a negotiation that this House cannot, by its nature, control.
That is a little strange in that the Prime Minister referred to transition periods for the overall EU negotiations in her Florence speech, and the Secretary of State did so strongly in his written statement on 11 January. If the hon. Gentleman wants to be assured, as far as the nuclear industry is concerned, that there will be a seamless transition at the point at which we are no longer a member of Euratom, I would have thought he ought to be strongly in favour of aspiring to a transition period. As he knows and we know, the process of recreating in the UK all the things that have been done by Euratom for 40 years—we will discuss that later—will be extremely difficult, lengthy and problematic. It will certainly, in the opinion of many people, be extremely difficult to achieve in the period ahead if we corral those negotiations and are to complete them by March 2019. If he thought about it for a moment, he would recognise that the last thing we could conceivably want is a period of, in effect, nuclear shutdown, or of defaulting on our international obligations because we are not ready to carry them out on Brexit. That is why a transition period may be so important.
Yes, of course we all want a transition period, which is precisely a part of the negotiations. What I struggle to understand is that the scenario the hon. Gentleman describes is in effect not within our control. The transition we are seeking is being negotiated—in fact, the Minister and other Front Benchers have made it absolutely clear several times that we want to continue the relationship with Euratom as deeply as possible—but I cannot see the need, in a legislative context, for his proposed new clause 1. In fact, I do not believe it would be possible for any Government conceivably to agree to it.
I repeat my suggestion that, because the Bill is about process as much as content, it is important that it is guided by the sort of considerations we want to take place in order to achieve, as we are all agreed, the best outcome—[Interruption.] Indeed, yes, the best outcome. We must make sure that the negotiations not only proceed with the best outcome in mind, but cover the fact that it may be the case—again, this is out of our control—that if we stick to a position, as far as the provisions of the Bill are concerned, in which everything essentially stops in March 2019, that would be just catastrophic for our nuclear industry and our international nuclear safeguarding obligations. We must get this right, and we must have continuity of arrangements inside or outside Euratom. It is in those circumstances that a transition period is suggested.
The arrangements for the founding of Euratom and its articles suggest that a period of transition for negotiating our way out of Euratom may not be identical to the period for the arrangements for negotiating our way out of the EU as a whole. It is quite possible to conceive the circumstances in which we do not have a transition period beyond March 2019 for negotiating our general withdrawal from the EU, but we do have a transition period for negotiating our way out of Euratom. It is at the least strongly arguable that that may be the case in the future, and it is another reason why such a provision should be in the Bill.
I feel I must pull up the hon. Gentleman because he has twice referred to Euratom having been around for 40 years, but it began in 1957. It was born out of the civil nuclear industry that began in my constituency of Copeland when Calder Hall was first constructed. I thought that I should made it clear that this was from Britain and by Britain back in 1957. We have actually had it for 70 years, although there was the merger in 1967.
I was referring to the length of time that we have been a member of Euratom, not the length of time that Euratom has been around. Indeed, the hon. Lady will know that when Euratom was founded, the UK was not a member of it. I am sure she will also know that the founders of Euratom, particularly one of them—Mr Spaak—wrote a substantial report at the time of the founding of Euratom that strongly envisaged, setting out in chapter and verse, how an associate relationship of Euratom with the UK could come about. The arrangements that Mr Spaak considered in the report for associate membership are identical to those that exist today. I thank the hon. Lady for reminding us that Euratom has been around a lot longer than the period during which the UK’s relationship with Euratom has existed, but I am sure she will agree that even at the outset of Euratom, an association with the UK was envisaged before the UK joined to facilitate nuclear exchange, nuclear development and—although the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was not around at the time—joint endeavours in civil and defence nuclear work.
I fear, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I have tested the patience of the House, particularly, given the number of interventions I have taken, because of the necessity of ensuring that I responded to them fully. I will end by telling the House that we need to remember that this Bill covers just one aspect of our relationship with Euratom over the period during which we have been a member of it. Our relationship with Euratom also includes participation in nuclear research, the transportation of nuclear materials, the development of nuclear arrangements, the trading of nuclear materials and a number of other arrangements, all of which will lapse on our exit from participation in Euratom and all of which will need to be secured for the future. They are not the subject of the Bill, but they will have to be dealt with at some stage if we are not to have a close association with Euratom after Brexit. Amendment 7 would provide for at least an understanding that we will move forward to secure working arrangements for a future outside Euratom, not just making provision for our treaty obligations concerning nuclear safeguarding.
The Opposition think that the suite of connected amendments to the Bill will strengthen it enormously so that it is a fully fit-for-purpose contingency arrangement. I therefore commend these new clauses and amendments to the House.
New clause 1 concerns me, because it seems to me to be a delaying tactic. As I have mentioned, Euratom and the IAEA were really formed in 1957, when Calder Hall was built in my constituency. There are now 70-something businesses operating in the nuclear industry in my constituency alone. I have spoken to each and every one of them, as well as to Sellafield, the Low Level Waste Repository and the National Nuclear Laboratory. They all say that it is absolutely critical that we get on with the job swiftly and provide certainty so that when we leave the European Union on 29 March 2019, we know exactly where we are.
I come back to the point that Euratom was formed in 1957, and I find it somewhat disappointing that Opposition Members are not crediting our country with the ability to do what is necessary. I have been reassured by the Minister on several occasions about the timescales, and about the process that is already in place for recruiting new safeguards inspectors to the Office for Nuclear Regulation. There are clear synergies inherent in having the ONR, which is the overarching umbrella organisation, working on safeguarding, security and safety.
When it comes to the transition, the Prime Minister has already said that there will be a transition arrangement after we leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. Therefore, the most important thing is to get on with the job, and the Bill enables us to do just that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the new clause, great uncertainty is built into the very thing—the contingency—that was intended to give certainty to people such as those in her constituency?
That is exactly my point. This is about certainty and getting on with the job. Not having the Bill in place would be absolutely catastrophic for my constituency and the whole county of Cumbria.
I know that the hon. Lady cares hugely about this issue, because it matters a great deal for her constituency. She and I have been in meetings with the Office for Nuclear Regulation, in which it has said very clearly that it will not be able to meet Euratom standards for safety inspections by March 2019. Indeed, even to meet IAEA standards will be very challenging. Does she not agree that new clause 1 would provide certainty, rather than the other way around, because it would ensure that in March 2019 we were in a transition period in which we could still rely on Euratom to perform the inspections that are so crucial in her constituency?
It is not just my constituency, though; this is about the whole country. Today, more than 20% of our electricity is provided by nuclear power stations. The hon. Lady is not quite correct. My memory of the meeting she mentions is that we were told we would have sufficient aspects in place to be able to have the regime, there or thereabouts, to continue with our existing—[Interruption.]
As the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) will know, Dr Golshan said in evidence to the Select Committee:
“My current project plan is that we establish a regime that intends to meet UK international obligations when we leave”.
That is achievable. She said that there were challenges, but not that they were insurmountable. She added that she intended to
“build upon that to achieve a system that is equivalent to Euratom.”
So my hon. Friend is correct.
I thank my hon. Friend. It is important that we hold the Minister and the Department to account, and that we focus on the critical path of recruiting the right number of staff into the ONR and ensuring that the regime is in place when we leave. We need to get on with the job, and the 70-something businesses in my constituency absolutely want us to do that.
The hon. Lady and I were both in the evidence-gathering sitting of the Bill Committee, in which Dr Golshan said that
“we will not be able to replicate Euratom standards on day one.”––[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017; c. 7, Q9.]
Is this perhaps a matter of fact, rather than a question of confidence in Britain? In taking this course of action without the safeguard that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) has proposed, we will leave ourselves without the coverage that we need.
I have already said that I believe the transition period will happen, as the Prime Minister has indicated. New clause 1 is a delaying tactic, and that is absolutely not what the industry needs. We need certainty, and we need it today. I am pleased that the Department is already acting to recruit to the ONR safeguarding inspectors, who will also have responsibility for safety and security. That seems to me to provide vital synergies of shared knowledge and shared experience across the board in the nuclear sector.
I want to speak briefly in support of new clause 1. We have debated whether there will be negotiations during the transition period, but I hope that the Minister will respond to this question when he winds up: does he intend to negotiate associate membership of Euratom? We are asking for associate membership, but we have been given no clear idea of whether he intends to seek such membership. We all want the safeguards to be in place from day one. Negotiating over Euratom standards is not in our gift, but we now have in place the highest standards in the world and co-operation with other world leaders.
Having sat through a number of evidence sessions with me, as a fellow member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, the hon. Gentleman well knows that there is no such thing as associate membership of Euratom. The Minister has repeatedly said that the Government intend to seek some form of close association with Euratom—I do not want to dwell on the semantics, but that is obviously a different thing—and to maintain a continuity of relationship with it. The new clause is therefore totally unnecessary, given the Prime Minister’s commitment to a two-year implementation period.
I often agree with the hon. Gentleman in the Committee, but I think that he is completely wrong on that point. There is such a thing as associate membership—of Euratom, and of the European Union—and there are different levels of membership.
Yes, there is. We need to negotiate from a position of clarity and strength, and I do not see us doing so. Without the proposed commitment in the Bill, I do not see the Government saying that they intend to go for third-party or associate membership of Euratom. We have not even seen the legal opinion that the Government were given about the need to leave Euratom in the first place. I support the need for nuclear safeguarding, and I will support the Bill on Third Reading, but new clause 1 is sensible, because it suggests that the Government should approach Euratom members and ask for associate membership, to give us the continuity and certainty that we want.
The hon. Gentleman says that he wants continuity and certainty, but can he not understand the difficulty involved in writing into the Bill the outcome of negotiations that have not yet happened? How can Parliament effectively write into law that we are going to have a transitional period when the negotiations have not yet happened?
The Government say that we need a transitional period for EU withdrawal, and it is obvious to me that we also need one for Euratom. The Government have said that we need to leave Euratom at the same time as we leave the European Union, but I stress again—I hope that the Minister will clarify the position—that nobody other than the Government has seen the legal advice that tells us that we need to exit Euratom. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) was absolutely right that to say that there is universal support for the idea of our having associate membership. I have not met anyone who works in the industry who says that we should move away from Euratom. If we do, they—the workers; Prospect, the union; many of the experts who gave evidence to us; and the Nuclear Industry Association, which is the umbrella body—feel that we should have associate membership. The new clause therefore speaks on behalf of the industry in the first instance, and we as legislators should listen to what the industry is saying; we should not listen to the Government’s ideological grounds. The only reason why the Government want to leave Euratom is that they do not want to be under the European Court of Justice—that is the crux of it.
The hon. Gentleman, like me, will have received the briefing from the Nuclear Industry Association. Paragraph 5, on legal implications, clearly says that the treaties are entwined—that is the EU’s position and the UK Government’s position—and that it is not possible to remain a member of Euratom while leaving the EU.
Well, let us clear this up now. I invite the Minister to say on behalf of the Government whether it is his intention—or their intention, if he is not in his post at the time—to negotiate associate membership. Yes or no? Otherwise, we are just guessing that the Government will negotiate some form of associate or third-party membership. I need to know these things from the Government, because we do not have anything in front of us. What we have today is a group of new clauses and amendments that would give us the certainty that we need. The industry is crying out for that, so I want to hear from the Minister.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman cannot speak on behalf of the Minister, but I will be interested to hear what he has to say.
It strikes me as bizarre that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are taking their current line. I can only assume that that is either because they want to try to make the political point that the Government and the Conservative party do not want to have a future relationship with Euratom, which is clearly wrong—the Minister will confirm that when he speaks—or because the hon. Gentleman wants to score a political point with an industry that I know is dear to his heart by suggesting that, somehow, he is being more supportive by trying to write into law something that cannot be written into law. What is needed today—we will hear this from the Minister—is absolute confirmation of the Government’s intention to continue to have as close a relationship with Euratom as possible. That is what will be negotiated. It cannot be legislated for, otherwise we would do the same thing for all the many other organisations in Europe with which we might want to have a future relationship. All of that will be covered in the transition talks in Brussels.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He knows me quite well, and I do not think he would accuse me of scoring political points. I have said consistently since before the Bill was introduced that we need clarity, whether we have full membership of Euratom, associate membership, or a third-party agreement.
At this stage, I do not know what will happen, but I am going to find out from the Minister now.
I must apologise for my hesitancy when the hon. Gentleman asked me a question. I was not sure whether I was allowed to intervene on him, so I had intended to reply in my speech. Just to make matters clear, however, it is a statement of fact that the Government have served the article 50 notice to leave Euratom, the argument being that the two treaties were so interleaved that we had to. Secondly, there is no such thing as associate membership. Some countries have agreements on certain matters—associate membership on research and development, for example, in the case of Ukraine—but there is no legal category of associate membership. Thirdly, the Government intend to seek as close an association with Euratom as is possible. If it is acceptable to the hon. Gentleman—I attended his Westminster Hall debate, and I have listened very carefully to what he has said today—I will continue my remarks at the end of this debate.
I am grateful, because that is helpful, but there is associate membership—it is just in different sections, whether that is research and development or various other—[Laughter.] There is. Conservative Members laugh, but when we had a debate in Westminster Hall, both sides were in agreement that we needed to strengthen our relationship through an associate or alternative membership.
Like other hon. Members, my hon. Friend has a close constituency interest in this issue. Ukraine has associate membership for the research and development programme. One thing my hon. Friend and I are particularly interested in is whether we are seeking to have what Ukraine has: associate membership specifically for research and development.
That is an important point. However, let me repeat that it is not Labour Back Benchers who are asking for this; it is the industry itself. We need to listen to the industry. Its members are not stupid. They know the technical and legal differences between associate membership and part-associate membership. What they want is certainty. If someone is in a position of strength, they do not go into negotiations, one against the rest, and say, “What are you going to give us?” We have to go to the negotiations with a firm belief that we want a strong associate membership, but I have not heard the Government say that, even in the Minister’s intervention.
I think that we are all pulling in the same direction, but we need to be careful about the language. There is not an on-the-shelf associate membership that we can just pick up and run with. There are associated countries, and there are countries that have associate arrangements, but those are bespoke, and thus far all of them have required the free movement of people and a contribution to the EU budget. It is therefore likely that whatever our associated membership might be, it will be different from that of countries that already have an associated membership. However, those countries are not “associate members”, in the sense that there is an associate membership class.
I think the hon. Gentleman is agreeing with me, but we do not know our position or what our starting point is.
I would like to hear from the Minister—he will have enough time—that the British Government, on behalf of the nuclear industry, are looking for certainty. To say that they are looking for something as close as associate membership is not good enough. Are we looking for a specific British agreement with the rest of Euratom that gives us the same certainty as we have now? If so, we should support the new clause, because it strengthens the hand of the Government, rather than weakens it.
We should look at the comparison with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and phase 1, at the 11th hour waiting for the Irish to reach some sort of agreement. We cannot do that with Euratom and nuclear, because of its nature. Let us be absolutely firm. We are all pulling in the same direction. We want the best for the British nuclear industry. The nuclear industry wants an associate membership, so let us fight for it.
Although I have not spoken on the Bill to date, I have been following its progress from afar. I rise, unsurprisingly perhaps, in opposition to the proposals that have been tabled by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead). As his county colleague, I have a great deal of time for him, but on this occasion I have to say, with regret, that I believe that the measures would delay the implementation of the vital nuclear safeguarding measures that are facilitated by the Bill and extend lobbying for associate membership of Euratom.
Notwithstanding the uncertainty, instability and safeguarding risks that these new clauses and amendments implicitly condone, the association they appear to grasp at seems to be ideologically driven. Those who still worship membership of the customs union or the single market above all else should see the impossible implications of the measures.
Euratom, which was established by the Euratom treaty, as we have already heard, is uniquely joined to the European Union. It has the same membership. Its budget is part of the general budget of the EU. Importantly, it also makes use of the same institutions and entities: the Commission, the Council and, contrary to everything that we voted leave for—to take back control—the European Court of Justice. That is why this Bill, which will create our own version of things, is so crucial. Providing certainty as we leave is crucial, whatever the deal.
I note that the measures seek some association, but that is no silver bullet. As we have heard already, there is no such thing as associate membership, and hon. Members do not have to trust me on that. If we cannot trust the views of a former president of the Union of European Federalists, who can we trust? I speak, of course, of the former Liberal Democrat MEP, Andrew Duff, and he wrote:
“Euratom is therefore a fundamental building block of the European Union and not an accessory. It cannot be separated out from the rest of the Union. Joining the EU means joining Euratom; leaving the EU means leaving Euratom…There is no such thing as associate membership of Euratom.”
I simply say that that is not the Liberal Democrat party’s position, even though Andrew Duff may indeed at one point have been a Liberal Democrat MEP.
My life is greatly enhanced by that clarification. Let me turn to another source that the hon. Lady might put greater trust in—Professor David Phinnemore of Queen’s University Belfast. He agreed with the former Liberal Democrat MEP:
“Andrew Duff has been quick to point out, correctly, that there is in fact no such thing as ‘associate membership’ of Euratom or, indeed, of the EU for that matter. Non-member states can only be ‘associates’ of the EU.”
That is an academic’s view, as well as an MEP’s view.
The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), in an exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey), considered the notion of associated country status. Switzerland has associated country status. That is different from associate membership; it covers only research and development, and as my hon. Friend made clear, it is contingent on free movement. People in this country have said in a referendum that free movement must be controlled. Given the impossibility of the deal that the new clauses seek time to negotiate—to say nothing of its undesirability—it is pure folly to mandate years of uncertainty in a nuclear safeguarding transition period. I contend, rather, that the safeguards, inspections of nuclear facilities and monitoring that the amendments purport to support would be harmed more by a safeguarding transition period—especially since, once we have left the European Union, our Euratom membership cannot apply—than by moving forward immediately to new safeguards.
Is the hon. Gentleman honestly telling the House that the British public do not want experts from other countries to move freely in the nuclear industry? We are talking about not just nuclear installations but research centres in this country that need international co-operation.
Although I like the hon. Gentleman very much and value his contributions to the House, I think he is missing the point and trying to undermine what the British people have clearly told us politicians. It is uncontrolled immigration that they seek to remedy.
I hate to rise to disagree with my hon. Friend, but the British people did not vote to leave Euratom. It is a separate treaty and it was not on the ballot paper. We are aware that we are leaving Euratom because of a technicality. I am also aware that if the Government Front-Bench team could wave a magic wand, they would remain in Euratom. Can we please not wrap up our departure from Euratom into some kind of Brexit dream of sticking it to the continent? We want free movement of our nuclear workers, not least because we are building a multibillion-pound nuclear power station at Hinkley Point.
In disagreeing with me, my right hon. Friend has made my point: specific deals can be done to make sure that the people that this country needs and wants to see here in Britain can come here.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will make some progress first.
The people we want to see in Britain—those who can contribute to our society, our economy and our communities—should be able to come here and contribute to our national life and national industries. Indeed, that is how we will continue to make sure that our nuclear industry goes from strength to strength.
Would my hon. Friend give way on that point?
I knew he would, because my hon. Friend knows that my constituency is adjacent to the enormous new nuclear power station that is being built. We will get a large knock-on effect on employment, and indeed we have the first nuclear degree at the University Centre Somerset, which is in my constituency and the adjacent constituency. Does he agree that we need to keep these brains coming and ensure that this industry is growing and booming as we go forward? We are encouraging young people to go into it, and they want to know that there is a safe future.
My hon. Friend has guessed what is coming later in my remarks. I will come on to the future, but I want to focus now on the importance of nuclear, which I think everyone agrees is of key strategic importance to the United Kingdom. I am therefore pleased that Her Majesty’s Government have been clear that they aim to seek to maintain close and effective arrangements for civil nuclear co-operation with Europe and the rest of the world.
As we leave the European Union and enter, in my view—I accept that it might not be everyone’s view—an exciting and prosperous new phase in our kingdom’s history, where we are free to do what we need to do to put our people first and seek trade deals with friends around the world, it is through the cultivation of open, willing and free global markets, interested in innovation from Britain and the revenues that that trade will bring, that we will help to stabilise and boost the UK economy. In this new industrial revolution—perhaps the fourth industrial revolution, as has been championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak)—nuclear power will form a vital part of the UK’s long-term energy mix.
In that context, I want to inform the House of how little of our energy comes from nuclear. Some 72.3% of France’s energy comes from nuclear, compared with 54.1% of Slovakia’s, 51.7% of Belgium’s, 51.3% of Hungary’s and 40% of Sweden’s. We are at less than half that percentage. I would be delighted to be told that I am wrong—I would be delighted if it were higher—but I am informed that it is less than 20%. Nuclear power, as a source of electricity to power millions of homes and businesses for decades to come, is not only clean, low-carbon energy, but reliable. It will also secure our energy, environmental and economic futures. It is therefore absolutely critical to get the regulation of it right.
We have heard about the deal to secure our first new nuclear power station for a generation. It will be built without resort to the public purse and will mean the creation of 26,000 new jobs. It is the sort of industry we want to incentivise in this country to create good new jobs for young people now and in the future. It will also mean energy security, as I have said, which is absolutely critical for our kingdom’s future prosperity, so it is critical that the right safeguards are in place.
It is important that the nuclear safeguards provided under the Bill are distinct from both nuclear safety measures and nuclear security measures. Those measures, which are respectively intended to prevent accidents and to put in place physical protection measures at nuclear sites—are not under the purview of the Bill. They are unaffected by our leaving the EU, because they are not responsibilities provided primarily by Euratom. Euratom has no role in setting security standards or in regulating or inspecting security arrangements in our civil nuclear sector.
Nuclear safety and security are regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation—very effectively to date, I might add—and it is the ONR that will assume responsibility for running our effectively equivalent domestic nuclear safeguards regime created under the Bill. That is why, again, I believe that the Bill should stand unamended. Furthermore—international safety and security considerations have been mentioned— the UK will remain a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, of which we were one of the founding members in July 1957 and remain one of the board members. Our leading role in the IAEA, our work developing and complying fully with international standards and obligations on nuclear safety and security, and our commitment to responsible nuclear non-proliferation thus demonstrate that the UK has no intention of retreating from international standards in our new domestic safeguards regime.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of this, but I clarify to the House that IAEA standards are not as high as Euratom’s. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has said that it will not be able to meet Euratom’s standards on day one of our exit from the European Union, so that would mean a dilution of the standards that we have today. Does the hon. Gentleman understand and acknowledge that?
My point about the IEA—I mean the IAEA; what a tongue-twister!—was not about the standards it provides. It was that we will remain part of the IAEA and will continue to comply fully with the international standards set out and our obligations in relation to nuclear safety and security.
My constituency lies on the boundary of the Culham centre. The point the staff there are making to me is that this is about not just funding but being able to access the crucial networks of researchers and get the right talent in the right places. Does the hon. Gentleman concede that this will suffer in the short term, unless we get certainty now?
I will perhaps answer the hon. Lady’s point in a roundabout way. When I visited Switzerland—I should refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—I was impressed to understand that Switzerland, despite having never been part of the EU, was one of the largest recipients of joint funding, because it had the brains to excel at driving technological innovation forward. One of the other biggest recipients of such funding was the UK. A third was Israel, which has never been part of the EU and has very few agreements of the sort that Switzerland has with the EU. Switzerland has some agreements with the EU, and we are leaving the EU. All three nations have great expertise and should continue to strive to ensure access to the networks that this technology and these innovations rely on.
Another such project is the international thermonuclear experimental reactor, a project to build a magnetic fusion device. The agreement was signed multilaterally by China, the EU, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US. It is absolutely right that the UK continues to support such projects. I also understand that the Government have announced an £86 million investment to establish a nuclear fusion technology platform with the aim of supporting UK industry in obtaining contracts for just such projects.
We need to underpin that commitment and funding with some clarity today, however, which is why an additional transition period would be the worst of both worlds. The unique legal status of the EU and Euratom during that period would mean we would not be part of Euratom but would simply be seeking an association with it, or indeed an R&D-only association contingent on free movement and the European Court of Justice—if we are to base our position on Switzerland and refer to it in the wrong terms, as some Opposition Members have done. At the same time, however, we would be unable to enact our own safeguarding measures to underpin all that is good about our nuclear industry—the innovation we have supported and the jobs our young people deserve. I do not believe the new clause stacks up, and I will not be supporting it today.
It is a pleasure to rise to speak in favour of new clause 1. As far as I could follow the argument of the hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena) at the end there, he was saying that it would create instability to have an increased transition period for a treaty that has served the UK well for 40 years and that we want to replicate in as much detail as possible in the future arrangements. That is Alice in Wonderland logic and not the kind of rigour we ought to bring to this incredibly serious debate.
This fellow Andrew Duff, a former Liberal Democrat MEP, has been mentioned several times in the Chamber. It is, to my mind, the first time a former Liberal Democrat MEP has been taken as a great authority on any matter by Conservative Members, and possibly by his own party as well. I want to briefly and gently warn Conservative Members on the wisdom of taking former leaders’ pronouncements as general facts. For obvious reasons, I do not seek to dwell on my own party’s predicament on the matter, or that of the Liberal Democrats, given the recent well-publicised difficulties of their former leader in matters of faith. Are we to agree, however, with every pronouncement from Lord Hague, a former leader of the Conservative party, on issues on which he remains an expert? Are we to agree without question that Brexit will undoubtedly diminish Britain’s influence on the world stage, as he has made clear? No, of course we are not, so can we please put that argument to one side and move on to the substance of the debate.
The hon. Gentleman bored the Chamber senseless for three times as long—by my count—as was necessary.
Of course I will give way, as long as the hon. Gentleman does not go on for quite as long as he did last time.
I am sorry if I bored the hon. Gentleman, but he might not have been listening fully.
I did try.
I would never accuse the Minister of complacency—he is not a complacent man—and I know that as Energy Minister he is giving much time to this matter, but although I do not think there is complacency from Ministers themselves, I am profoundly worried about the capacity in the system to deliver the new arrangements by the time set out. I agree with my neighbour, the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), on so much and we have worked together, but the idea that it is okay to be there or thereabouts in March 2019, at the time of transfer, is, I am afraid, bunkum. A level of certainty has to be written into our nuclear safeguarding regulatory arrangements.
Many Labour Members want our membership of Euratom to continue, howsoever it might be delivered in the future. The alternative at the moment is to rely on a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that is bursting at the seams with all the things it has to deliver on Britain’s exit from the EU. I had a conversation a few months ago with someone whom I knew from my time as an adviser and who remains in the system. What he had to say about the number of staff looking at the Euratom issue in particular was frightening. There is not remotely the level of assurance that the House ought to expect if it is to give its blessing to the Government and not seek to write into the Bill a commitment to a transition period, which is eminently sensible while we try to work out whether we can stay for good.
Some Members have said that there is no certainty because a negotiation is in progress, but the new clause gives a degree of strength to Ministers, enabling them to say, “Parliament has willed that there needs to be a transition arrangement. Our Act—which is, of course, a contingency Act—makes clear that there must be contingency arrangements, and that is what we require from these negotiations.”
Might I suggest that the new clause actually seeks to confuse? It appears to specify what should happen during the transition period, but it is unclear whether it is specifying what the United Kingdom should seek to be negotiating, or whether it is attempting to mandate the terms. It seems to be the opposite of what the Prime Minister set out in her excellent Florence speech. All the Opposition are doing is confusing the issue, which is leading to a lack of clarification for the nuclear industry which wants, needs and deserves it.
The hon. Lady may be confused, but we are not, and the industry is not. The industry is strongly urging the Government—as they will know, if they are listening—and all Members to get behind a transition period while we examine the position, to decide whether we can reverse the wrongheaded decision to leave Euratom that was made—in all probability, unnecessarily—when article 50 was served. The alternative is to face a dire cliff edge that could do deep damage to civil nuclear production throughout the United Kingdom. I understand that the Minister is due to visit Sellafield for the first time later this week—
The Minister looks surprised by that.
It is imminent.
Well, I hope that when the Minister does come up to Sellafield, he will put his voice and the full voice of his Department behind the campaign that the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) and I are shaping to improve our transport infrastructure. It will take him an absolute age to get there, but I hope that when he is there, he will listen closely to what people say. I hope that he will listen to those in my constituency and that of the hon. Lady who will be relying on the new civil nuclear jobs that will come through the NuGen project in Moorside and think again about how our Parliament can strengthen his hand in creating a seamless transition from the existing arrangements to something which we strongly believe needs to look identical. New clause 1 would do that and, even at this late stage, Members in all parts of the House ought to support it.
I rise to speak on this Third Reading debate in the full knowledge that I am not a nuclear expert; nor do I have a considerable nuclear presence in my constituency. However, like millions of other people up and down the country, I rely on nuclear energy to keep my lights on.
Order. I should point out to the hon. Lady that this is not the Third Reading debate. We are dealing with the new clauses and amendments.
Thank you for that clarification, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall turn directly to new clause 1. I do not support the new clause, because it seeks to introduce a transition period to delay the UK’s departure from Euratom. When the proposal was tabled in Committee as new clause 2, we engaged in detailed scrutiny. I applaud the forensic questioning by the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), who probed the Minister in great detail. We heard numerous lengthy arguments about why the new clause was unnecessary.
I am delighted to be here with the Minister, who is a genial and hard-working man. I know that he will try to answer some of my questions, and I hope his answers are clear.
When the Secretary of State launched the Bill, he said it was “straightforward”, but the amendments are required because there is nothing straightforward about leaving Euratom. The Scottish National party is concerned about the whole process. The hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) talked about us being “there or thereabouts”, but that is not good enough when it comes to nuclear safeguards. As it stands, the Bill is a safeguards Bill without any safeguards; there is no contingency for anything going wrong, yet Ministers have failed to convince not just hon. Members in this Chamber, but industry and the people. Leaving Euratom will result in more cost and less value, and the opinion of many in the industry is that it will be impossible to set up an equivalent UK authority within the timescales outlined. That is the view of industry, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the Nuclear Industry Association and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, all of which gave evidence to the BEIS Committee. I was delighted to hear the Chair of that Committee, the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), point out the great concern about the Government’s ability to do as they propose. All the nuclear industry and all those bodies do not want us to leave Euratom; either they see no benefit in our doing so, or they are actively concerned about the consequences.
Ministers have simply ignored the difficulties and the overwhelming evidence before them. They have plodded ahead, and when asked “How?” they use their favourite word: hope. They hope that things will be in place—that agreements, funding and people will be available. Despite the impending loss of influence in developing policy in Europe on future nuclear decisions, the unanswered questions about cost, the difficulties in training or even recruiting replacement inspectors, they plod ahead. As the Minister said in response to questions on these matters in the Select Committee, “They don’t really know and we don’t really know.”
There are a lot of unknowns in the Bill, which is why it is imperative to amend it. The ONR says plainly that it might need more than a two-year transition period after 2019, yet the Government still provide no assurance.
The hon. Gentleman says the Government give no assurance, but the Prime Minister, in her Florence speech, was explicit about the Government’s agenda in respect of a two-year implementation period. I cannot help concluding that the reason the hon. Gentleman advances this line of argument is that he has a destructive attitude toward the whole process, and his ultimate aim is to create a constitutional and ongoing sense of crisis. In fact, the Bill guarantees some continuity, including the two-year period.
The hon. Gentleman, like many of his colleagues in Scotland, likes to try to go to a happy place when faced with harsh realities. The fact is that a two-year transition period is viewed by virtually nobody as a responsible timescale in which to get up and running.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I am going to make some progress.
The UK, as it presses ahead with the folly of Hinckley C, will need thousands of workers, many skilled in the nuclear industries.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I am going to make some progress. I may come back to the hon. Lady, but we will have to see.
Many of those workers will need to be skilled in the nuclear industries, yet current policy does not support the ability to get those workers if there is no concession on the movement of people, but achieving even that is put into a harsh light when it comes to getting highly specialist staff to meet the new safeguarding functions. Those positions are already challenging to fill. Nuclear inspectors do not live on every street—in fact, they are very rare—and they are in global demand. The Minister says that such staff are required only in the tens, but can he tell me today how many are in place? I offer him the opportunity to intervene. He was asked in November about recruitment. I am trying to get his attention, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will he tell us how the first phase has gone? I will offer him another opportunity to intervene and tell us how many recruits are in place. Is it 15? Is it 10? Is it five? Is it one? Is it none? How many nuclear safeguard inspectors have been set up?
Prospect and Unite the union have given evidence, and Ms Ferns from Prospect said:
“A reasonable approximation is several years—it is not a matter of months but years for people to be able to do that job…It is a small talent pool…even in the best of times.”
Many Members today have cited the testimony of Dr Mina Golshan, the deputy chief inspector and the director of the Sellafield decommissioning, fuel and waste division in the Office for Nuclear Regulation. She has said:
“I have been very clear from the outset in previous evidence sessions, and in discussions with industry as well as BEIS, that it would be unrealistic for us to expect to achieve an equivalent regime to what is in place currently by the time we officially leave Euratom, and that is March 2019.”
The BEIS Committee report, “Leaving the EU: implications for the civil nuclear sector”, states:
“To deliver the new domestic regime the ONR will need to double the number of its inspectors by 2019, and triple its numbers by 2021. Skilling-up the new recruits on time will present additional challenges, as even existing specialists will require 12-18 months of training to become an inspector, and generalists may need five years.”
Those are hefty timescales.
Let us look at the cost. So far, the Government have earmarked £10 million for all the operations in Euratom, yet we can already see that there are going to be much more expensive consequences for the UK. That £10 million figure is dwarfed by the £50 million of Euratom funding that the UK receives for the Joint European Torus project—JET—so it will be interesting to hear from the Minister how that funding is going to be replaced. Leaving Euratom and the JET project has been described as “bonkers” by Steven Cowley, a physicist at the University of Oxford and a former director of the Culham centre for fusion energy, which hosts JET. He is absolutely right. Can the Minister tell us how that funding will be maintained?
Can the Minister also tell us about our future in ITER, the project to build the world’s largest tokamak? The ITER agreement was signed in 2006 by China, the EU, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US, and the building of the tokamak has been under way in France since 2010. The official start of ITER’s operation is scheduled for December 2025. Euratom also funds DEMO, a demonstration fusion power reactor planned to follow ITER by 2050. The UK is a key participant in ITER and sends information, results and design studies from its JET programme to the French site. This co-operation will continue throughout the Brexit process, but it is unclear what the impact of Brexit will be on this co-operation and the continuation of these programmes. Perhaps the Minister can advise us on that. We need to know all this information. Without it, we will need safeguards in place.
The hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), who is no longer in its place, mentioned medical isotopes. He said that it was scaremongering to say that they would no longer be available, and that treaties would be in place to allow access to them. However, the critical point is not whether people can get the isotopes; it is that they have a very short half-life. Sometimes they have to be used within hours of being produced in order to maintain their effectiveness. If they are sitting at a border point because there is no customs agreement, they will be completely useless. Will the Minister tell us how we are going to put in place the necessary customs arrangements to prevent that from happening?
The issue is that we are leaving the single market and the customs union. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, even if we have a customs arrangement, the fact that we are leaving the single market is what will cause the delays? As he rightly points out, the half-life of those radioisotopes will mean that fewer people will be able to be treated by them.
Without alternative arrangements to allow the free movement of such goods across borders, there will be considerable complication and delay, which could affect patients.
As it stands, it is a risk too far to leave Euratom without cast-iron guarantees. I respect the Minister and heard his messages of hope about having people in place. I heard him say that he would like to ensure that that will happen, but we have had no guarantees about the set-up or whether it will be in place. There are no figures and no definite timescales, and we have heard nothing from the industry to suggest that it is satisfied. Without cast-iron guarantees to protect such things, we know that the new arrangement will cost us more, deliver less and diminish our influence. Given the evidence, it is hard to see even how it could be delivered.
I am again a bit disappointed to hear wildly misleading statements from those on the Opposition Benches, including the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), about medical isotopes, which are nothing to do with this Bill.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) accused Government Members, and Scottish Conservatives in particular, of seeking to find a happy place. Does my hon. Friend agree that that could never be said of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey? He is more inclined to find a depressing place, which I do not recognise in my native land of Scotland.
I thank my hon. Friend, who will know much more than me about SNP Members and their outlook on life.
Our relationship with Euratom is a subject for negotiation. The Government have been clear that they will seek continuity, and they obviously want standards to remain as high as possible. How that connects directly with Euratom is not for this Bill; it is for negotiation directly with the EU. The exact nature of the relationship will of course be closely connected to trade, customs and countless other arrangements.
In Committee, we saw Labour’s attempts to get either a commitment to Euratom, which cannot be given in this Bill, or associate membership, which does not exist and this Bill cannot create. We need to build our own framework so that we are prepared to incorporate whatever kind of relationship with Euratom results from the negotiation. The Government have been clear that that is the most helpful and connected relationship that we can have, so we cannot lay out in this forum what that will look like. We need certainty and structure and to have our own plans in place—not just on paper, but well developed and physically in place—so that we can have continuity regardless of what happens further down the line, meaning that we need to crack on with things now to be ready in time. We heard evidence in Committee about the time needed to put things in place, so we need to crack on now.
I do not understand where the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) was coming from in his speech. While very eloquent, he did not seem to grasp that we cannot write into the Bill things that have not yet happened or are not yet agreed. We cannot include a transitional period, and the Government cannot accept an amendment that foresees a future negotiation with another party, the result of which we just do not know. We need to be ready on exit day. We need to ensure that we cannot be taken by surprise and that continuity is ensured.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is on message, but the message is wrong. The words that I used in my contribution, which was echoed by SNP Members, were not mine, but those of the industry and the experts within it. For once, will the Government start listening to those who understand the industry, rather than bantering about who on which side of the House might be wrong?
I am sure the Minister will agree that we need to support the industry and that we need to do what the industry asks. My point is nothing other than that. My point is that we cannot make that decision in this Bill. It is for the negotiation to decide at a later date.
New clause 1 neglects to recognise that an implementation period is subject to negotiation and must be agreed directly with the EU—we cannot do it unilaterally. The idea of implementation before withdrawal also does not fit with broader plans and discussions that have been mooted for transition out of the EU after withdrawal in March 2019. It simply does not fit. The Government clearly cannot include in a Bill the outcome of a discussion that has not happened.
We need to decide the basic framework now and act accordingly.
We understand there are certain things the Government cannot say about the negotiations, but ultimately we want to know the outcome of those negotiations before withdrawal so that Parliament can have a view on it, rather that the Government operating a Henry VIII clause.
I do not know the hon. Gentleman’s background, but I guess it probably is not business.
We cannot fix the plan for withdrawal and implementation in stone now. The Labour party wants to build into the Bill a clause saying that the Bill is contingency only. Our relationship with Euratom is subject to negotiation. No one has written anything off. We want a positive relationship, but we might have to develop and rely on our own framework, and the work to put it in place needs to happen now. An amendment to say that the Bill is merely a contingency would achieve the opposite of its intention by reducing impetus and leading to delays in the process of getting our safeguards in place, which is only bad for the industry and for all the things the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) tried to raise.
That is why I oppose new clause 1, and I hope to speak later about my support for the Bill more broadly.
I enjoyed serving on the Public Bill Committee, and I rise to speak in support of new clauses 1 and 2, and amendment 3.
On new clause 1, while I have slightly buried the lead by referencing this earlier, it needs full consideration in this place. Members need to know the judgment of Dr Golshan, who is responsible at the ONR for recreating Euratom in this country:
“Our aim, currently, is to have a system in place that enables the UK to fulfil its international obligations by March 2019, which is when we intend to leave Euratom. I have been very clear in the past—I will repeat it here—that we will not be able to replicate Euratom standards on day one.”––[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017; c. 7, Q9.]
Members should reflect on that, whatever the political knockabout, because it makes a compelling case for a transition period. Otherwise we will be saying that our nuclear safeguards regime should not be as good as it is today, and I have not heard anyone suggesting that—I do not believe that it would be tolerable.
A week is a long time in politics, and three months is a lifetime in the Brexit process—perhaps it just feels like that—but over that period we have seen the Government move on this point. Conservative Members asked how we can talk about this hypothetical idea. Well, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy himself said less than two weeks ago that the Government want Euratom to be involved in the implementation period. Now is the time to make good on that.
In a similar vein, on new clause 2, if I had £1 for every time someone mentioned in Committee that this is a contingency Bill, I would be able to meet the Foreign Secretary’s new financial commitment to the NHS. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), would be a particularly significant donor, having mentioned that many times.
If this is a contingency Bill, we really should say what it is contingent on, and we should say that in the Bill. Otherwise it is not a contingency Bill, but a Bill that will be law until the Minister decides on the 19.52 train home that it is not law any more. That is not a satisfactory way to legislate.
Finally, on amendment 3, one issue that has developed since Second Reading is whether we actually have to do any of this. Ministers clearly said on Second Reading that leaving Euratom is legally necessary as part of leaving the EU. We tested that in Committee. I asked two senior lawyers in this area, Jonathan Leech and Rupert Cowan from Prospect Law, whether triggering article 50 necessitates leaving Euratom and if they would have advised the Government to follow this path. To the first question they answered “No” and “Absolutely not” respectively. Jonathan Leech’s answer to the second question was:
“The advice would be that you do not have to accept this and it may not be in your interests to do so.”––[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017; c. 12, Q23.]
That is significant, and it is a departure from where we were on Second Reading.
I represent a leave constituency, and I am always mindful of that when dealing with anything relating to Brexit. I have spent a lot of time knocking on doors and have heard every conceivable argument for remaining or leaving. Funnily enough, I never heard the argument—I suspect no one in this Chamber did—that our membership of Euratom is undesirable, or that there is a desire for a diminution of our nuclear safeguards regime. There is not much of a case for doing this if we do not have to. If we are doing it only because of an arbitrary red line drawn up in Downing Street that we could cross while still delivering Brexit, we are fools to do so. Either way, as amendment 3 states, Ministers ought to come to this place to justify their approach, because once again this is not a decision for the 19.52 train.
Lots of work has gone into the Bill and I have enjoyed participating in its consideration. I believe that we should all support the Opposition proposals, because they would make the Bill better and then we might not need it at all.
I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate. Those who have heard our consideration of the Bill for the first time today will not realise, given that most of our discussion has been about one or two new clauses, that many other aspects were discussed in Committee. I pay tribute to the Opposition Members who have participated, as well Government Members, and particularly the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), whose cameo Brexit role has been well appreciated. Many points were dealt with by consensus in Committee and in our discussions afterwards. Today’s debate has focused on new clause 1, but I will also speak to the other new clauses and amendments in the group.
The overall strategy for withdrawal from Euratom, and our ambitions for our future relationship with it, were the subject of a comprehensive written ministerial statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 11 January. I think that most Members on both sides of the House would agree that, as I have stated publicly in Committee and privately afterwards, we are seeking the closest and most effective association with Euratom. We are therefore putting in place all the measures necessary to ensure that the UK can operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one.
As Members will be fully aware, the nature of our future relationship with Euratom is part of the next phase of negotiations, which is yet to start. The written ministerial statement set out the principles upon which our strategy is based, many of which have been discussed today: to aim for continuity with current relevant Euratom arrangements; to ensure that the UK maintains its leading role in European nuclear research; and to ensure that the nuclear industry in the UK has the necessary skilled workforce. We will be seeking: a close association with Euratom’s research and training programme, which includes the JET project and the international thermonuclear experimental reactor project; continuity of open trade arrangements to ensure that the nuclear industry can continue to trade across EU borders; and maintenance of close and effective co-operation with Euratom on nuclear safety.
It is a pleasure to give way to the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.
I thank the Minister and particularly the Secretary of State for the written ministerial statement published on 11 January, which gave much more clarity on the Government’s aims and ambitions in this area. On the seventh day of consideration of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by the Committee of the whole House, Ministers gave a commitment to publish a timetable with milestones that the Government will need to achieve to meet the objectives set out in the written ministerial statement. When does the Department plan to publish that timetable, because I really think it is crucial? Can we also have an update on progress towards a voluntary agreement with the IAEA for safeguarding inspections, and on how discussions are going regarding the nuclear co-operation agreements, which are crucial to getting the association we need?
If the hon. Lady will have a bit of patience, I will come to those points, all of which are valid, later in my speech. Progress on many of those points will be included in the quarterly statements, which are the result of discussions in Committee.
I have been through the important points covered in the written ministerial statement, so let me turn to the point about associate membership made by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen)—I learned how to pronounce his constituency in the Westminster Hall debate; I hope he realises that I am showing off now—and others. As I have already stated at the Dispatch Box, we cannot be an associate member of Euratom because there is no such concept in the treaty as it stands. We have had a lot of discussions about whether we could. The hon. Member for Leeds East—
I am sorry; I come from Leeds, so I should have known the difference.
The hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) mentioned Ukraine, which has been mentioned many times. Ukraine has association agreements on specific parts of Euratom’s activities, with research and development being the classic one. We must work within the existing legal framework, which allows for close association but not this theoretical category of associate membership.
I am grateful to the Minister and the Secretary of State for the clarifications they have given today and previously in writing. I understand what the Minister is saying, but my point is that we are in uncharted waters. We need to get on the front foot, and the best way to do that is by acting on behalf of the UK nuclear industry, which is asking for associate membership. Will the Minister therefore please assure us that he will fight for an associate type of membership?
With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, this quite amuses me, because last week I was berated for being a mouthpiece for the nuclear industry—something with which I was pleased to agree, by the way. The important point is that the language of whether we can have associate membership or not is not important; the important thing is what we come up with. People inside and outside the House can call it what they want, but effectively we all want the same thing. It is just not correct to call it associate membership, however, because there is no such thing. I have made that clear absolutely beyond doubt, as has the Secretary of State.
In the light of what the Minister has just said, will he confirm that in his view an associated status in relation to nuclear safeguards would be distinctly possible?
I hope and believe that a very close association to do with nuclear safeguards absolutely will be possible, but I do not think it helps just to bandy language between one side and the other. We all know what we want, and I am delighted that everybody—it seems to me—on the Opposition and Government Benches wants exactly the same thing. We have all made our points about the language, but I think we all want the same thing. That is very unusual in this House and it really is a credit to everybody.
It is essential that projects and investments are not adversely affected by our withdrawal from the EU and can continue to operate in the certainty that nuclear safeguards arrangements will be in place. That is why we are putting in place arrangements for a new domestic nuclear safeguards regime, regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, as well as negotiating new bilateral agreements with the IAEA and nuclear co-operation agreements with priority third countries. Those arrangements are not dependent on the EU negotiations and the UK Government’s work is well advanced.
The Bill and the regulations that will be made under its powers are crucial. They will enable us to establish a domestic nuclear safeguards regime to meet international safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation standards when Euratom safeguards arrangements no longer apply in the UK. As Members have noted, it will take time to develop and implement the new regime, so it is absolutely imperative that we maintain the momentum of the work needed to deliver it in the timescale required. However well meaning the new clauses and amendments are—I accept in good faith the reasons why they were tabled—the reality is that they could delay our domestic preparations and lead to uncertainty in our discussions with international partners. There can be no question of our waiting until we know the outcome of negotiations before we put in place our own arrangements. The implications of not having the right systems operating from when Euratom safeguards arrangements no longer apply are too serious for the industry and for our position in the international safeguards regime.
As far as the implementation period is concerned, we intend to ensure continuity for the nuclear industry and to avoid the possibility of a cliff edge for the industry on the date of exit. Members will be aware—if they were not listening at the time, this has been mentioned several times already today, so they will be aware now—that the Prime Minister set out in her Florence speech her desire for an implementation period after the UK ceases to be a member of the EU. If the European Commission agrees to an implementation period of around two years, the UK will not be a member state of the European Union during that period. None the less, the acquis will continue to apply, which means that, for the duration of that implementation period, the UK will expect to continue to pay into the EU, to be bound by its rules and to benefit from access to its market. The European Commission’s draft guidelines are explicit that, in its view, this acquis would include Euratom matters. The implication of that—I accept that it is an implication because it has to be tested in negotiations—is that the current Euratom regime could continue to apply during any transition period.
I have to reiterate that a transition period prior to our withdrawal, as proposed by new clause 1, is not a situation envisaged in the proposals for the implementation period. Both parties to the discussions agree that it would helpful to have the matter agreed as speedily as possible—again, there is no disagreement over that—so as to provide the certainty that we need. Whatever the outcome of the talks about an implementation period, let me emphasise that the UK’s overarching objective remains to maintain as close and effective an association with Euratom for the long term as possible.
New clause 1, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, proposes not an implementation period after exit, but a transitional period before exit. That would delay the UK’s exit from Euratom, but that situation is not envisaged in the proposals for the implementation period, or in the article 50 notification that has already been passed by Parliament.
Let me briefly raise quarterly reporting, which I mentioned in reply to the question asked by the hon. Member for Leeds West. It is very important to give Parliament clarity about the progress that the Government are making. That was why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a commitment in the written ministerial statement to provide quarterly updates on progress, which will include updates on the negotiations and progress made by the ONR on establishing the UK’s domestic safeguard regime.
I hope that those arguments will persuade Opposition Members not to press the amendments and new clauses to a Division.
We will not be pressing any measure to a vote, except for new clause 1, which has been debated in a very unsatisfactory way this afternoon. We are not convinced by the responses that we have received, so we will be pressing it to a Division.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
I beg to move amendment 1, page 1, line 22, at end insert—
“(c) ensuring that inspections of nuclear facilities and materials for the purpose of nuclear safeguards continue at the level previously established by UK membership of EURATOM.”
This amendment would aim to ensure that nuclear safeguarding inspections continue at the same level subsequent to leaving EURATOM as they were when the UK was a member of EURATOM.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 4, page 2, line 41, leave out from “must” to the end of line 44 and insert—
(i) the ONR,
(ii) the National Audit Office, and
(iii) such other persons (if any) as the Secretary of State considers it appropriate to consult, and
(b) lay before Parliament a statement declaring that he or she is satisfied that the staffing and financial resource available to the ONR is sufficient for the purpose of assuming responsibility for nuclear safeguarding in the United Kingdom.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to declare that the ONR has the resources necessary to take on extra responsibilities for nuclear safeguarding in the UK.
Amendment 5, in clause 2, page 4, line 13, at end insert—
“(1A) The Secretary of State may only exercise powers under this section at the point at which amendment of any of the legislation in subsection (1) becomes necessary in order to complete the process of transposition of responsibility for nuclear safeguarding from EURATOM to the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and for no other purpose.
(1B) Upon exercising the power set out in subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on the operation of the power.”
This amendment would limit circumstances under which the Secretary of State may exercise certain powers in this section and requires a report to be laid before Parliament.
Amendment 6, in clause 4, page 4, line 41, at end insert
“, but not before the Secretary of State has published draft regulations relating to each of the other provisions of this Act under which the Secretary of State may make regulations.”
This amendment would ensure that draft regulations specified in the Bill are published before the provisions of the Act come into force.
In speaking to these amendments, I want to draw attention to further events that have taken place between the end of the Committee stage and today’s Report stage. I say “further events” because they are separate from the very welcome statement that the Secretary of State has made on what we may do about negotiating an association with Euratom, which I think has helped our proceedings considerably. Another matter that might have helped proceedings considerably had it taken place a little earlier was our having the impact assessment on the Bill that we have now received.
As I am sure hon. Members know, impact assessments should, under Cabinet Office rules, ideally be produced before Bills are discussed. To be honest, it is pretty bad that it has taken so long for the impact assessment to arrive, particularly as it arrived after our deliberations in Committee had concluded. I would say that it is particularly bad following an examination of what the impact assessment actually says—it might have helped our proceedings in Committee had we been able to look at it at that time.
Predominantly, the assessment works on the basis of costing various options relating to what a future inspection regime would look like. Indeed, there are or could be choices, as we have heard, about that inspection regime, which is, after all, at the heart of the Bill. How are we going to replicate in the closest possible detail the inspection arrangements that franked our probity as a nuclear nation in international agreements on non-proliferation and nuclear safeguarding? We have been signed up to those arrangements all these years, but we have hitherto engaged with them through the agency of Euratom, rather than independently. As we know, duties in relation to safeguarding ultimately end in agreements made between nuclear states and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The inspection regime we envisage for the future could vary, because the level of inspection—such as the number of inspections and the depth of inspection needed to satisfy the minimum criteria of the IAEA—could be at a lower level than we have been used to under the Euratom regime. We might envisage a bronze standard inspection regime whereby we scrape by in our future relationship with the IAEA, or we could ensure that the inspection regime, overseen by the ONR, will be as good and as thorough as that carried out by Euratom inspectors in the past. As the impact assessment says, that would be marginally more expensive.
I am pleased that the latter option is strongly advocated in the impact assessment, because it seems to me that we should not seek in future to get by on the lowest level we can get away with. Instead, we should assure ourselves of our own integrity on the matter, and assure others likewise—both the IAEA and the countries with which we will be making bilateral agreements—that we are doing it absolutely properly. That will entail seeking to continue with inspections at the high level laid down in Euratom’s arrangements. That is what amendment 1 is about. It is designed to place in the Bill exactly what the impact assessment states we should do—to ensure that we will go forward at that level.
The Minister may well say—I hope he does—that we are committed to maintaining that level of inspection regardless of whether it is written in the Bill. But there is a problem with that: when we go independent, will we have the resources to carry out inspections to that level, or will we need an extended period in which we are allowed to scrape by with the minimum, because that is all we will be able to do?
At the beginning of the Bill Committee we heard from an excellent witness, Dr Golshan, the deputy chief inspector at the ONR. She gave us a fairly stark statement of reality, which members of the Committee have shared this afternoon. Those hon. Members will all recall Dr Golshan indicating clearly that when we leave Euratom,
“we will not be able to replicate Euratom standards on day one.”––[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017; c. 7, Q9.]
In amendment 1, we set out an aim for the Bill: that we cleave to the Euratom standards as soon as possible and assure ourselves that we have the resources to do so.
There is a wider context. What resources will the ONR have to enable it to carry out the substantial new tasks that we set it in this legislation? The ONR is mainly funded through charges to the nuclear industry. That is how it generally recovers the money for its operations, but it also receives some grant funding. Essentially, that funding pays for the nuclear safeguarding work, while the charges on the nuclear industry pay for the ONR’s other functions, which are not the subject of this Bill.
That distinction is important, because the Government intend to halve the grant to the ONR in the period to 2020. At the outset of the negotiations, we face the prospect of the ONR being able to do less work than it does at the moment. If it is to continue to do as much as it does now, it will probably have to levy substantially higher charges on the industry to make up for the loss of the grant up to 2020. At the same time, if the Bill progresses, we are plainly saying that the ONR will have to undertake a whole lot of new work that it has not budgeted for, that has not been in its terms of reference for a long time and that will clearly require a lot more resource. As we heard in oral evidence to the Committee, that is no mean amount of additional work for the ONR to undertake.
To enable it to carry out all its functions, Euratom employs about 160 staff, 25%—or 40—of whom focus on UK installations. One can reasonably assume that the ONR would have to add a similar number of people to its complement of staff if it were to take on the work done by Euratom on nuclear safeguarding. The safeguards unit in the ONR comprises eight professional staff. Between now and March 2019, therefore, the ONR will have to find roughly 32 staff—qualified, highly skilled and trained nuclear inspectors—from somewhere to take over that responsibility. That is in addition to all the other things that the ONR will have to put in place, such as IT systems and administration resources, to allow it to take on that role.
Another excellent witness who contributed to our proceedings in Committee was Sue Ferns, from the union Prospect. She stated that training safeguards inspectors could take up to five years. We are faced with the prospect of needing 32 such people within 18 months. She said, of the role of an inspector:
“This is a warranted role; this is not just working in the industry. It is not just about knowledge, but experience and commanding the confidence of the companies and the organisations that you deal with, so there are very specific aspects to that role.”––[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017; c. 35, Q69.]
She also alluded to the relatively small pool in which we are fishing. Not only do we have to fish in the pool, but we have to do so accurately, and we have to attract a good proportion of those people if we are to fill the gap. Consequently, she put a considerable question mark against whether it is possible for the ONR to be ready, as we would like it to be, for the tasks that we are going to give it.
I accept that a number of people in the nuclear industry have many of the qualities that could make them nuclear inspectors—indeed, as the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) said in Committee, there are many such people in the industry—so it may not be necessary to fully train everybody for five years. Nevertheless, it will be a very steep cliff to climb to get those 32 inspectors, at least, in place for whenever we take over inspections from Euratom. I sincerely hope, as I am sure all Members do, that those matters can be resolved. It may be a question of making sure that the ONR is funded to the extent that it can properly undertake that activity of fishing in a small pool—perhaps, as I mentioned in Committee, with pound notes attached to the end of its fishing line.
I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead). I still consider myself to be a relatively new Member, but I had the privilege to serve on Public Bill Committee. It was a masterclass in how to oppose constructively, so I pay tribute to him and the skillset that he undoubtedly brings to his portfolio and to the added value that he brings to the legislative process. I am glad to say that because it is meant genuinely and sincerely. I understand from his comments that he will not press amendment 6 to a vote. On amendment 1, however, we have heard it repeated ad nauseam that there will be no reduction in or diminution of standards for the inspection criteria on nuclear safeguards. I am disposed to believe these commitments, which have been given in all manner of forums and contexts.
Amendment 4 deals with the allocation of resources to ensure that the ONR can meet its extra responsibilities for nuclear safeguarding in the UK. I believe, having listened to the Minister’s undertakings and to the witnesses from the ONR both in Committee and before the BEIS Select Committee, that there is more than adequate evidence of the Government’s commitment to ensuring that the inspectorate is appropriately resourced and has the required staffing levels and so forth.
Does my hon. Friend know that the ONR has already begun the process of recruiting safeguarding inspectors?
I am grateful for that information.
One of the many highlights of the first three months I have enjoyed as a member of the Select Committee was our visit to the Hinkley Point C project, an immensely impressive project that I would encourage Members on both sides to witness. It is an incredible undertaking—nothing short of a feat of modern engineering—and something we should all take great pride in. I was disappointed to hear the rather flippant comments about it from the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry). It is a vital strategic project that will safeguard our nuclear security, so it was disappointing to hear him dismiss it, although I understand that SNP Members, as committed nationalists, are against all things nuclear, which is much to be regretted, particularly from a Scottish viewpoint.
One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to Bridgwater and Taunton College to see the partnering there on nuclear skills, whether nuclear construction or engineering. It was immensely encouraging to see so many young workers—men and women—preparing through apprenticeships for a career in nuclear. One of the most upsetting things about hearing Members speak negatively about such a vital and strategically important industry is the impact it has on young people. We had an excellent debate in the House just over a week ago on space. We talked about the space programme in the UK being recognised and understood—we learned it was worth about £16 billion and that 6% of the global spend on space was in the UK—and what a spaceport in Scotland, in Ayrshire, would do to excite the imaginations of our young men and women in relation to the possibilities of a career in that area.
The same is true of nuclear. We need young men and women to see nuclear as a viable career, and there, at Bridgwater and Taunton College, we saw the evidence of the investment in skills and capabilities that is essential for the future of the UK’s nuclear industry. There are very exciting career prospects for those who commit themselves to a career in the nuclear industry, and that is to be encouraged; we need those skills. I am confident that the immediate provisions are being made, in the short term but also in the intermediate term, to ensure that those skills and capabilities will exist, and we shall be able to staff the ONR with an inspectorate and all the other skilled specialists we will need over time, although, on the basis of the evidence we received, I admit that that would not be completely in place by the date of departure.
I am delighted to have given the hon. Gentleman so much material today. He seems to be fascinated by my words. He will concede, however, that I was talking in the context of our being foolish and reckless enough to leave both the EU and Euratom.
That is interesting editing. I cannot recall word for word exactly what was said before and immediately after what the hon. Gentleman said, but I think that I clearly heard him say that it was possible, in these new circumstances, to negotiate new arrangements. We must indeed accept that we will need new arrangements, and that they will need to be negotiated. As was said earlier, we cannot take something like associate membership off the shelf—I think Members will have to accept that such an arrangement does not currently exist—but I agree with him that anything is negotiable. I come from a background of sales negotiation, and that was one of the mantras by which we lived: “everything is negotiable”.
I think that when wise adult heads are brought to bear, definite win-win outcomes are possible, as they are in the context of the Bill and its subject matter. I hope very much that the Government will use their powers under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the powers that this Bill will confer on them to bring the appropriate measures to life at the right time, so that we can secure the continuity and the prosperity of the UK’s nuclear energy business.
As we have heard many times, and as the evidence has borne out, the industry is clearly desperate for the standards that we currently enjoy through Euratom to be maintained. We have heard time and again that the industry would prefer us to remain in Euratom or to have associate membership, but if that does not happen, which seems to be the direction in which we are going today, it has said that it would like the new standards to be the same as those of Euratom.
It is vital for us to secure a commitment that the UK agency will be able not only to cope with the new work but to obtain the necessary resources, at the levels that are required through Euratom. However, as I said earlier, I do not believe that that is achievable, given the challenges. Crucially, there are still not enough people with enough experience. No matter how much the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) wants to persuade children that science is a good idea, I do not think we have yet found a way to compress five years into two, and it will not be possible in that period to gain the experience nuclear inspectors require.
Two requirements still need to be met: one is for complete transparency in the process, so that those who have expressed concern and the industry can know what is happening; the other is, through the amendments, to get a guarantee that arrangements will be in place that ensure that nuclear safeguards are operated to the same standards as now. I am anti-nuclear and proud that my party is, too, but we have to protect people’s interests where the nuclear industry is concerned. Too many of us in the highlands remember the mess left at Dounreay. Anyone who wants to know what can go wrong in the nuclear industry should go up there and learn about what was left on the beaches and the radioactive material moved about in welly boots because the equipment had rusted, before the correct standards were put in place through Euratom.
I cannot support the amendments, although I have a great deal of sympathy with the position set out by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead). The amendment I tabled with colleagues from both sides of the House to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill sought to ensure that the Government consulted fully on implementing a Euratom-like regime after we left, so I understand why he has tabled amendments to ensure that the Government are transparent in their dealings. I did not press my amendment to a vote because the Secretary of State and his very able Minister were clear about their responsibilities to keep the House informed about the arrangements being put in place to replicate what we have in Euratom; indeed, they published a written ministerial statement shortly after that debate and before the debate on Report, and they have committed to come to the House quarterly to make clear the progress being made. None the less, as I say, I have a great deal of sympathy for the Opposition’s argument.
I support the Bill because it puts in place some of the structures we will need to replace the arrangements we had as a member of Euratom. I have listened to much of the debate and heard some fine speeches, but however brilliant the speeches, I cannot help thinking that the entire debate takes place in a slightly Alice in Wonderland world. Over many months, I have made no secret of the fact that it is a source of deep and profound frustration for me and many colleagues that we are leaving Euratom. As I said in an intervention, we are leaving Euratom on a technicality. I urge any colleagues who are passionate about Brexit and the apparent freedom and greatness that it will bring back to this country not to try to wrap Euratom up in that thesis.
Euratom is a treaty that works extremely well. The UK is one of the world’s leading civil nuclear powers. Our industry is highly respected and essential to the development not only of current nuclear power, but of nuclear fusion, which is where my interest comes in, owing to the research institute at Culham. Under the Bill, we will engage over the next 18 months in a simple of exercise of replicating almost as exactly as we can the arrangements we now enjoy under Euratom. We are not taking back control. We are not regaining sovereignty. We are not going out into the world as a global power. We are simply going to replicate perfectly serviceable arrangements that already exist, and we are doing so on a technicality. I am not making any particular criticism. This is simply an observation of the collateral damage that Brexit has caused to a particular sector. It will be expensive and time-consuming.
As I have said, I wanted to speak to the amendments to make it clear why I was not supporting them and to take the opportunity to thank Secretary of State and the Minister for all their work. They have been candid and open with me and the Chairman of the BEIS Committee and with other concerned hon. Members on both sides of the House about the work they are doing to try to limit any damage to our nuclear industry. They really have worked tirelessly on this issue. From my perspective—other Members might not agree—I think that they have listened and taken on board our concerns.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if there were an opportunity for us to seek some sort of associate membership of Euratom once we have left, we should attempt to do that? That would minimise the cost to the UK taxpayer, unlike having to completely replicate the regime over here. I also echo his thanks to the Secretary of State and his ministerial team for the way in which they have approached this matter.
I understand what my hon. Friend is seeking, but the point has already been made that there is in effect no real associate membership of Euratom at the moment. Ukraine and Switzerland have what is described as associate membership, but it is certainly nowhere close to the kind of arrangements that we have with Euratom now. The Government intend to have as close a relationship as possible with Euratom, whether we call it associate membership or anything else, and we will have to put in place our agreements with the other nuclear states with which we currently enjoy a relationship under Euratom—notably Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States of America. That work is under way, although the timing of the implementation of those agreements is unfortunately not in our gift. It is in the gift of other legislatures that might not be as efficient as this august legislature, but I know that we want to replicate those agreements.
I am particularly pleased that the Prime Minister did not follow the example of Watford, the football team of my hon. Friend the Minister, and change the manager unnecessarily in the past two weeks. I am extremely pleased that he remains his place scoring goals for the nuclear industry, and I look forward to co-operating with him for many years to come.
Does no one else wish to speak? I call the Minister.
I am as speechless as you are on this occasion, Madam Deputy Speaker. Maybe hon. Members on both sides of the House said all that they wanted to say on the first group of amendments. I was also speechless at the compliments that have been paid to me very justifiably—[Laughter.] The compliments were justifiable in the case of the Secretary of State, although they were rather exaggerated in my case. I do hope that the Hansard reporters can sort out my language on that; otherwise the Watford Observer will be interested not just in the comments on the Watford football team’s change of management but in what could be distortions of what I have just said about the compliments paid to the Secretary of State.
I should like to move on. I seriously thank hon. Members for their amendments in this group. They address a range of practical issues around the Bill and the implementation of the nuclear safeguards regime. I shall turn first to amendment 1, which is a very good place to start, as the famous song says. It is important that we have made a commitment to this effect on several occasions. As I have said, and as the Secretary of State has said in his written ministerial statement, the Government are committed to ensuring that the new regime
“is as comprehensive and robust as that currently provided by Euratom.”
It will not be light version of it.
On inspections, the Nuclear Safeguards Bill is the essential first step in setting up a domestic nuclear safeguards regime. The detail of the regime, including further details in respect of the powers for safeguard inspectors, will be provided in the regulations that underpin the Bill. The pre-consultation draft regulations that were published on Friday provided details of the ONR’s role in respect of nuclear safeguards, and it is important to note that the inspections only form one part of the overall safeguard regime.
I am grateful to the Minister for pointing that out, but can he give us an indication of what proportion of experienced staff, versus trainees, he intends to have within two years?
I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that information, not because I do not want to give it to him, but because I do not want inadvertently to mislead him. If I may, I will drop him a line over the next couple of days with the exact information, as I have just done on the number of people recruited to date, as mentioned in the first group of amendments—I think the figure was 11. I do not want to give a rough estimate on such an important question.
The recruitment campaign has been launched and will continue throughout this year.
I will briefly address the issue of timing, not of this speech, but of the assessment of readiness to implement a domestic safeguards regime on withdrawal, because it has been raised by several hon. Members. I have made it clear on several occasions that the Government are committed to establishing a robust domestic nuclear safeguards regime of a standard broadly equivalent to Euratom standards in order to retain public and trading partner confidence in the nuclear industry, about which we are very proud. We are working closely with the ONR to ensure it will be in a position to regulate this new regime.
Based on current progress, I believe we will be in a position to deliver a domestic regime to international standards by March 2019, if required, and that such a regime will be able to satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency and our international trading partners.
I listened carefully to what the Minister has just said, and he seems to be setting up the UK to follow a minimum of the IAEA standards, and not necessarily the higher Euratom standards. Is that the case?
No. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s version of what I have said. We want a Rolls-Royce standard, the best possible standard we can have.
The negotiations on implementation are due to begin in the spring and, as hon. Members know, we will be reporting to the House regularly on progress.
Let me turn to the Henry VIII power. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) has mentioned his dislike for Henry VIII powers. This is a tiny Henry VIII power—a Henry VIII who has been on a diet for a long time—that is limited to amending references in the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Act 1978, the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000 and the Nuclear Safeguards (Notification) Regulations 2004 in order to accommodate safeguards agreements with the IAEA. Those amended references will enable the IAEA to carry out its activities in the UK, including by providing legal cover for the UK activities of its inspectors. We have to be able to update that legislation so that it contains the correct references for new safeguards arrangements with the IAEA, which have not yet been made but will be in the near future. Without amendment, the existing provisions will become ineffective when the current agreements no longer apply, which would leave us in breach of any new international safeguards regime.
The detailed amendments will not be known until the agreements are in place, so the power that we are asking for is essential if we are to ensure that the UK has a safeguards regime that complies with its future international obligations when Euratom’s safeguards arrangements no longer apply. It is a very narrow power and I do not think that it is relevant to the general discussions that the House has had on Henry VIII powers. I hope that Members on both sides of the House are satisfied and that they will not seek to press their amendments.
I have listened carefully to the Minister this afternoon and would like to thank him for the constructive way he took the Bill through Committee. My personal view is that that is how we should legislate in practice. He has played a substantial part in making the process as good as it could be. However, just as I do not blame him personally for the fact that his football team recently scored a completely illegal goal—it was hand-balled—against my team and deprived it of two points, I do not blame him for the way the Bill has been constructed. He has attempted to justify parts of it that he is unable to amend, but nevertheless their construction, in my view, remains deeply unsatisfactory.
I am happy to withdraw amendment 1 and not to press the amendments that relate to the staffing and funding of the ONS—the Secretary of State has committed himself to reporting quarterly on progress with Euratom, which was the subject of one of our amendments in Committee, for which I am grateful—but I will press amendment 5 to a vote, because it relates to the Henry VIII clauses, which are a fundamental defect in the structure of the Bill. We wish to put it on the record that we would not wish such arrangements to be proceeded with under other circumstances. I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment 1.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Power to amend legislation relating to nuclear safeguards
Amendment proposed: 5, in clause 2, page 4, line 13, at end insert—
‘(1A) The Secretary of State may only exercise powers under this section at the point at which amendment of any of the legislation in subsection (1) becomes necessary in order to complete the process of transposition of responsibility for nuclear safeguarding from EURATOM to the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and for no other purpose.
(1B) Upon exercising the power set out in subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on the operation of the power.”—(Dr Whitehead.)
This amendment would limit circumstances under which the Secretary of State may exercise certain powers in this section and requires a report to be laid before Parliament.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
May I begin by thanking right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for their constructive contributions during the Bill’s parliamentary stages to date? I thank everyone who has worked on it, including those who served on the Bill Committee, the House authorities, the experts who gave oral evidence at Committee, my indefatigable officials, who have worked very hard and effectively on the Bill, and the organisations that took the time to provide expert written evidence.
May I also thank and commend the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), for his skill and application in steering the Bill through the House? There is no need for him to sing his own praises; they should be sung loudly and clearly from this Front Bench, and I think that that sentiment is shared by Members on both sides of the House.
May I also join in the commendation of the efforts of the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), who have been thoughtful and insightful, and who helped to improve the Bill during the Committee stage? As my hon. Friend the Minister said, they have applied the principles of constructive opposition to their scrutiny of this very important Bill, and that has helped to bring it to this stage in our proceedings.
Let me briefly remind the House why the Bill is so necessary and firmly in the national interest. The nuclear sector is not only important to the future of energy in this country, but has important applications in research and industry. My Department has been working very closely with the industry to make sure that our shared interests are reflected in arrangements as we leave Euratom. The Bill helps to provide the required certainty and clarity to support our ambitions.
As I said on Second Reading, the Bill ensures that when the United Kingdom is no longer a member of Euratom, we will have in place a legal framework that enables us to establish a domestic nuclear safeguards regime that meets international nuclear safeguards and non-proliferation standards. Nuclear safeguards, as the House now well knows, are the reporting and verification processes that nuclear states use to demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military or weapons programmes. The Bill ensures that the United Kingdom can put in place the regime to enable the Office for Nuclear Regulation to oversee nuclear safeguards following withdrawal from Euratom.
To ensure continued international verification and oversight of our safeguards, we are, as my hon. Friend the Minister made clear throughout our proceedings, in discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency to agree replacement voluntary safeguards agreements that reflect the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom. The Bill gives us the ability to implement those new safeguards and the domestic regime that underpins them.
Following the Minister’s earlier answer, I was not entirely clear whether the Government are committed to Euratom standards from day one of this new regime, or looking at the de minimis of the International Atomic Energy Agency?
We have been very clear. We see no problem with the standards that have obtained in Euratom, so our aim is to have complete continuity with those standards. I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.
Our intention is that the new regime should reflect the high standards that we expect. We want to establish a robust regime that provides coverage and effectiveness equivalent to that currently provided by Euratom. That is our objective. It is clear that we need continuity and that we must work to avoid any break in our civil nuclear safeguards regime if we want to continue the success and prosperity of our industry.
As has been evidenced in today’s proceedings, we have listened to concerns raised throughout the passage of the Bill in the House. In the context of both this Bill and the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, we responded to a number of questions by publishing on 11 January a written ministerial statement that outlines the Government’s strategy and objectives in relation to Euratom. Our strategy is twofold: first, to seek through our negotiations with the European Commission a close association with Euratom; and, secondly and simultaneously, to put in place all necessary measures to ensure that the UK can operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one.
After hearing the concerns raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test and the hon. Member for Sheffield Central about enhancing parliamentary scrutiny, I have made a commitment to report back to Parliament every three months by way of further written statements about overall progress on Euratom, including in respect of negotiations. As we indicated in Committee, we remain committed to the open and transparent approach that has characterised our discussions on the Bill so far, including when we developed the regulations that set out the detail of the domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime.
In response to various amendments tabled in Committee, we have committed to continuing dialogue with the industry, the devolved Administrations and civil society. A series of stakeholder events and workshops will take place, in addition to the public consultation on the regulations that we intend will take place later in the year. Working closely with the ONR, we are in the process of producing two sets of draft regulations. In response to suggestions in Committee that the House would benefit from early scrutiny of the regulations, a pre-consultation draft of the regulations, with an explanatory covering note, was provided to Parliament, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test said. The draft regulations will go through a full consultation so that they can be exhaustively examined, so we expect them to continue to evolve in response to comment from, and consideration by, stakeholders and, of course, Parliament itself. We make a commitment to work with Members on both sides of the House and people outside Parliament to make sure that the regulations reflect the best possible advice.
The swift progress of the Bill, and the supportive discussions in the House about it, have aided our negotiations with the EU, the IAEA and third countries. We have already held several rounds of discussions on Euratom issues in the first phase of the negotiations with the EU, and there has been good progress. Negotiations with the IAEA on future voluntary agreements for the application of civil nuclear safeguards have also been constructive, and substantial progress has been made. It is expected that these new agreements will be put to the IAEA board of governors for ratification later this year. Negotiations on nuclear co-operation agreements have also proceeded significantly. In particular, constructive progress has already been made in negotiations with key partners, such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan.
In the light of all this, I am grateful to the House for the scrutiny it has given to the Bill and the expert eye it has cast over it. The broad cross-party consensus that we have seen sends an important signal to our international partners that the United Kingdom will absolutely remain a leading and responsible nuclear state. It allows us to reassure the United Kingdom’s very important nuclear industry and the nuclear research community that we absolutely remain committed to supporting them to maintain the United Kingdom’s status as a world leader. Taking early action to have ready a domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime is both responsible and in the national interest, and I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
This is an important and necessary Bill, as the Secretary of State confirmed, to ensure that a contingency is available should the Government’s negotiations with the European Union and Euratom fail. That was why we did not oppose it on Second Reading, and it is why we will not oppose it on Third Reading tonight.
That does not mean, however, that we do not continue to have concerns about the Government’s approach and about whether there was any necessity at all for the Bill. On Second Reading, I made the case that it should be possible—or would have been possible—to retain the UK’s membership, or to secure a close association with Euratom that would allow the continuation of nuclear safeguarding. The Opposition still think that continued membership of Euratom or a close associate status is both achievable and necessary for the most efficient continued working of a whole raft of procedures relating to the nuclear industry, not just to safeguarding.
I am pleased that the Government seem to have acknowledged that negotiating a close association would be the best outcome for our nuclear industry and that Bill does not constitute a replacement for all Euratom’s functions. The Secretary of State’s written statement on 11 January set out that the Government’s strategy was to
“seek a close association with Euratom and to include Euratom in any implementation period negotiated as part of our wider exit discussions”.
It went on to say that the
“exact nature of the period will be subject to forthcoming negotiations”.—[Official Report, 11 January 2018; Vol. 634, c. 9-10WS.]
Given that statement, I wonder why the Government did not accept a number of Labour’s proposals: new clause 1, which would simply have asked the Secretary of State to “seek to secure” a transition period during which the UK could secure an association with Euratom, or indeed build any domestic capability; and new clause 2, which would have established that the provisions of the Bill are contingency arrangements if it proves impossible to establish an association with Euratom.
I point out that we could have been more legally robust in our language, especially in new clause 1. We could, for example, have used the words “best endeavours”, but we appreciate the issues that the Secretary of State faces and would have given him the opportunity simply of saying that he would try to secure a transitional period. We are sad that new clause 1 was not accepted today, but none the less I appreciate that the Secretary of State has listened somewhat to Labour’s concerns and promised to report back every three months about overall progress on Euratom in the EU negotiations. As three months from the first statement will be 11 April, which is in the middle of the Easter recess, I look forward to receiving an update on 29 March.
My Front-Bench colleagues have argued that a transitional agreement is vital if we are to ensure that the UK is physically able to provide a functioning domestic safeguarding regime. The evidence taken by the Public Bill Committee highlighted that particular concern of the industry. Dr Golshan of the ONR said:
“given our membership of Euratom, it has not been necessary for the UK and ONR to build capacity and resilience in this area.”
“a transitional arrangement will be extremely helpful.”
That is not least because the training of inspectors takes several years, as outlined by the representatives of Prospect and Unite the union. Indeed, when she was asked about training, Dr Golshan said:
“We have started that process, but it is a long road and I am not going to sit here and pretend that it is all going to be a smooth run.”––[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017; c. 5-9, Q3, 8 and 16.]
We have ongoing concerns about the timely replacement of inspectors, so we urge Ministers to agree a transitional arrangement to prevent full obligations from being placed on an unready ONR. The Government did not see fit to accept amendment 4, which would have required the Secretary of State to declare that the ONR had the resources necessary to take on extra responsibilities for nuclear safeguarding in the UK, but I hope they will listen to this plea.
I will say a little word on the powers that the Bill will hand to the Government—the very small Henry VIII provisions, as they were referred to previously. The Minister did not see fit to accept our amendments that attempted to curtail the executive powers conferred by the Bill, but he promised to publish regulations ahead of Report. He did indeed publish those regulations, but not until Friday afternoon—beyond the deadline to table any further amendments to the Bill. I would just like to put on record that although I welcome the publication of the regulations, the timing was rather cheeky and not altogether in the spirit of the constructive approach that both sides have taken to the Bill.
I associate myself with the words of the Secretary of State in thanking all who have spoken throughout our consideration of the Bill, as well as all members of the Public Bill Committee. I want to thank the Front-Bench teams, including the Secretary of State and the Minister. I think it is fair to say that they have been in listening mode. I especially thank my Labour colleagues, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), who have worked diligently on the finer details of all things relating to nuclear safeguarding. Finally, I want to thank the Public Bill Office and the Clerks for all their tremendous support, as ever.
I sense that the Bill is accelerating towards the other place, so I will not speak for long. I congratulate Front Benchers on both sides of the House and all who have spoken in our debates. As with so many debates on energy in this place, there has been broad consensus, with disagreement about small details around the edges. It is pleasing to be part of such a constructive approach to an important area of policy without partisan divides getting in the way, as they sometimes do in other areas of policy.
The nuclear industry has cultivated a small but perfectly formed and enthusiastic band of representatives in this place. Colleagues on both sides of the House have enjoyed the industry’s hospitality and benefited from its briefing in order that we might understand the issue, which is important for the industry, and have scrutinised the legislation in the House to ensure that it meets the industry’s aims.
I am glad that the Bill has not been amended today, because I think it does exactly what it should be doing in the first place. It is vital that we maintain the safeguards and reputation of the nuclear industry. It is an industry in which even the smallest mistake is unacceptable, and we in this country have a fine reputation for delivering almost immaculate standards of safety, so it is right that Members on both sides of the House want to be reassured that, when dealing with the important issue of our membership of Euratom, absolutely no compromises are made over safeguarding and the safety of the industry.
The Government have been clear, as has the EU, that the treaties of the EU and Euratom are so intertwined that it is impossible to remain a member of Euratom while leaving the EU. Some Opposition Members, who are no longer in their places, made the point earlier that we should at least seek to remain in Euratom. I do not disagree—I think that would be the best possible outcome—but what I do disagree with is the idea that, in amending the Bill to secure that commitment, we should take a bit of a long shot on what has been unachievable for many other countries that are not within the EU, at the cost of providing the industry with what it has been so clear with us that it wants. I am glad that we have not done that, and I have every confidence that the Secretary of State and his team will seek, if not full membership, the closest possible thing to it that is allowable while meeting the terms of our wider Brexit ambitions. I am also glad that, since I spoke on Second Reading, when there was a great deal of rather unfortunate debate about things such as medical isotopes, such fake news has disappeared from the debate and we are all now much clearer about what the Bill does and does not impact on.
The nuclear industry is of huge importance to this country and my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), in his lengthy remarks earlier, mentioned the importance of nuclear to our energy mix. He is not in the Chamber to hear the answer to his question, but I believe that about 25% of our energy needs today are provided by nuclear, either within the United Kingdom or through our interconnection with France. That is an important contribution, and until we can fully unlock the potential of energy storage, demand response and other flexibility measures, that provision of base-load is absolutely essential to the industrial powerhouse of our nation, so we should support the industry.
We must also ensure—this is the one constituency point I want to cheekily make on Third Reading, Madam Deputy Speaker—that the industrial opportunity of the new nuclear programme genuinely benefits the places in which that nuclear fleet is being built. We must ensure that not just things such as catering companies, accommodation and transport, but meaningful engineering, technology and high skills-based industries, are included in the supply chain for the construction of the new nuclear fleet. Somerset needs more than a fantastic caterer as a legacy of the construction of Hinkley.
The only other point that has come out today that needs to be underlined is that the chairwoman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and other Opposition Members said that there was some debate about whether the ONR would be ready on day one to deliver the standards that Euratom has required of our industry. My response to their concern is not that we should legislate to mitigate the threat, but that we should encourage those on the Front Bench to lean on the ONR and support it in every way possible to ensure that it has the capacity to deliver such safeguarding on the first day of its responsibilities.
That is all that I wish to say, apart from congratulating Ministers on their stewardship of the Bill. The Secretary of State, who I am delighted is still in the Chamber, the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth and the Under-Secretary are enthusiastic fellow travellers on our route to a zero-carbon energy system. I am glad that they have brought this important piece of legislation through the House, and I am glad that it will not be opposed on Third Reading. I look forward to working with Front Benchers and colleagues on both sides of the House on other energy policy Bills in the future.
If power over these issues, as they affect Scotland, were in the purview of the Scottish Parliament, I am certain that Scotland would be staying within Euratom. However, here we are, and this Bill is going through this House. The Minister knows that I respect him on this issue; he has tried to engage with me very positively, and I thank him for doing that.
I would like to say that the Government and the Secretary of State have written in some checks, but I see no evidence of any. However, I do see hopes, promises and assurances. In the fullness of time, the Government will be judged on what happens to nuclear safeguards when their agency is set up and on how well it performs. For the sake of the industry, the safeguards and the people involved in it, I hope that it is a success.
The Bill is absolutely essential to the nuclear industry. Without it, after we leave the European Union, our nuclear industry would collapse. As I said earlier, it would be economically crushing not to have a safeguards regime in place. That would have catastrophic implications for every part of the country, which would be felt across the whole sector.
Following the construction and successful commissioning of the world’s first nuclear power station—Calder Hall, in my constituency, back in 1957—Euratom was formed by the Euratom treaty. It was as important then as it is now to apply civil nuclear safeguards in the UK. The UK has committed, as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to have nuclear safeguards in place—a clear demonstration to the international community that civil nuclear material is used only for civil activities.
The Bill enables the UK to set up a domestic safeguards regime to meet our international commitments on safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation standards. Without the Bill, the movement of materials, fuel—including spent fuel—and components, and even the conversations about materials, fuel and components, could not take place.
Euratom provides the basis for the regulation of civilian nuclear activity in the UK, including fuel supply, waste management and co-operation between nuclear states. It implements a system of safeguards, controls the supply of fissile materials in Euratom member states, guarantees high safety standards and funds international research into nuclear fission and fusion. It is also critical for nuclear co-operation across the world.
In a community such as mine, where the income of 55% of the population depends directly or indirectly on work in the nuclear industry, and in our country, where more than 20% of energy is generated by nuclear power plants, not having measures in place as we leave the EU and Euratom would be unthinkable. An effective safeguards regime is necessary for Sellafield’s operations, for the low level waste repository’s business, for the national nuclear laboratory’s research and for the development of Moorside, the new-build nuclear power plant that is expected to be constructed adjacent to Sellafield. All of that is in Copeland.
I have visited 70-something businesses in my constituency, including large global operations now based in Copeland—some of the biggest names in international industry—and our many small and medium-sized enterprises to listen to their concerns and ambitions for the future. Each and every one is wholly dependent on being able to trade globally. Those businesses are not just critical to that sector, but integral to the socioeconomic fabric of daily life. Of the 1,020 apprenticeships that were started last year, the vast majority were in industry and engineering connected with our nuclear sector. But it goes further: those companies are proud, passionate parts of our society, donating to charities, supporting local organisations and providing enormous socioeconomic benefits. I am proud to say that tomorrow, Sellafield is sponsoring “A Taste of Cumbria” in the Jubilee Room here in Parliament, such is its commitment to its community and county.
I cannot emphasise sufficiently strongly how vital the Bill is for Copeland and Cumbria, and indeed for the whole country. I was delighted that the Government committed further to the Joint European Torus and the international thermonuclear experimental reactor projects. The Bill is equally necessary for research and development and for science and innovation.
Our nuclear industry is an international marketplace, which means that we need in place not only domestic regulations but bilateral agreements with countries such as the US, Japan, Kazakhstan and Canada—the list goes on. We cannot even begin to discuss bilateral agreements without there being a domestic safeguards regime in place. We need one to carry out decommissioning work across the country and to consider exporting the skills and products being developed. It is estimated that overseas reactor decommissioning will total £250 billion over coming decades, according to the Government’s “The UK’s Nuclear Future” document.
The Calder Hall reactor I referred to earlier now requires decommissioning. This is a fantastic opportunity for the sector not just to benefit from the skills and experience gained from decommissioning but to leverage wider UK, European and worldwide decommissioning. The iconic golf ball structure at Sellafield, the Windscale advanced gas-cooled reactor, was the prototype power reactor for the 14 EDF Energy AGRs, which currently supply about one fifth of the UK’s electricity. Its core heat exchangers and associated equipment have all been safely decommissioned and removed, thanks to Government-funded projects, demonstrating that a power reactor can be successfully decommissioned.
I hope that Calder Hall can be decommissioned as a priority and a new breed of small modular reactors installed in its place to ensure that we are at the forefront of nuclear technological developments once again. Small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors offer the chance for UK nuclear expertise and manufacturing to lead the world, but we need the Bill to ensure that we are globally compliant with safeguarding, in addition to security and safety.
On the role of the ONR, it is important to understand the differences between safeguarding, security and safety, all of which are critical to the secure and compliant running of our civil nuclear industry. Currently, the ONR has responsibility for safety and oversees the civil nuclear constabulary with regard to security. Bringing responsibility for safeguarding under this one organisation would seem to bring benefits of shared knowledge and skills and combined experience. The ONR is an independent regulator that was made a statutory public body under the Energy Act 2013, which sets out its role, functions and powers.
International oversight will be a key part of the future regime, so I am pleased that the UK is seeking to conclude new arrangements with the IAEA. It is absolutely vital that the IAEA retain its right to inspect all civil nuclear facilities and continue to receive all current safeguards reporting. That will ensure that international verification of our safeguards activity continues to be robust. We must retain our reputation for excellence to ensure that companies in other countries, such as KEPCO in South Korea, which we anticipate will become the new owner of NuGen, want to do business with us.
Our country is a pioneer and global leader in this area and has an enviable safety record. The Centre of Nuclear Excellence in my constituency and all the businesses and livelihoods that are utterly reliant upon an effective safeguarding regime need this Bill. I hope that the UK will continue to play a leading role in the development of international nuclear security and safety standards, including through the IAEA, and I commend the Government’s work thus far. In particular, I would like to thank the Secretary of State, the Minister and his team for answering questions put to me by my community and businesses, including some that have trained up Euratom safeguards inspectors—such is the level of expertise in Copeland. I commend the Bill and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak.
I find it hard to believe that we have finally got to this point, having attended every sitting on the Bill, apart from the Public Bill Committee. As a former physics teacher, I must say that it has been wonderful to hear so many Members talk about all things physics. That is always a pleasure.
I and the Liberal Democrats will, of course, be supporting the Bill, but I do have some questions that I hope the Minister will answer. I echo what has been said across the House about the constructive way in which the Bill has gone through. I appreciate that. As a relatively new Member, this is how I imagined Bills would pass—with lots of conversations, concessions and so forth—so I thank him for that.
It seems to me that the House has achieved broad consensus on most parts of the Bill, and that the Bill is necessary as a contingency measure. I am all for having a contingency planning mechanism to deal with matters that are out of our control, but I think it worth my saying again that we did not have to be in this position. We did not have to leave Euratom—or, at least, the legal case is still being contested. If the Government have been told otherwise and it is set in stone, I ask them to release the legal advice, which would put that argument to bed.
My constituents, many of whom work in the industry, are still crying out for certainty and clarity, but time is running out. I know that the Minister disagrees with the Liberal Democrats’ position of wishing to stay in Euratom, but I urge him to reconsider. So much about the Brexit process seems to be groupthink at its worst. We can still change our mind, but if we are not going to do that, we should at the very least make the crucial admission that this is about the red line of the European Court of Justice. That is the critical issue: that is the main red line that we are not allowed to cross. It was a choice, not a fact, that that was a consequence of the referendum.
If the Government cannot or will not change their mind, I am reassured by what the Secretary of State said in a written statement earlier this month about seeking the closest possible associate membership, and by his warm words about the Joint European Torus and the international thermonuclear experimental reactor—not least because those contracts will be worth billions to the UK over the next few decades and are vital to the local economy, particularly in the Abingdon area of my constituency. He also seeks
“open trade arrangements for nuclear goods”,
the ability to ensure that materials cross borders “without disruption”, and
“maintaining close…cooperation…on nuclear safety.”
It is true that Euratom does not directly govern the issue of radioisotopes, but the Minister will be well aware that I am still deeply concerned about the issue. The institution of “a” customs union, rather than “the” customs union, will put blocks at the border, and, because of the short half-lives involved, there will be disruption unless we are very clear about how we will mitigate it.
I look forward to the regular updates that the Minister has said he will give, but has he considered increasing their frequency, at least to begin with? One of my main concerns is that while the Brexit negotiations will continue until the start of next year, Austria will take over the presidency of Euratom very soon, and the heavy lifting really ought to be done before it takes the helm, because there will some problems for us. Will the Minister consider giving more frequent, earlier updates to let us know how the negotiations are going before Austria takes over? The issue is causing a huge amount of consternation throughout the industry, and throughout the House.
As the Minister knows, to ensure that the JET has a future we need to guarantee the 2018-19 work programme by the middle of this year. Again, I should like some updates on how we are to achieve that. It is not just about the money; it is also about ensuring that nuclear scientists have full access to the schemes in the future, not just in the next two years but in the next five and 10. We also need some assurances, albeit not from the Minister’s Department, about the movement of nuclear scientists. Those assurances are not yet written in stone, but this matters to the scientists, because they are extremely saleable.
I accept that the Bill is needed, because it is better for us to be safe than sorry, but I wish that we did not have to do this at all.
I congratulate the ministerial team on their successful navigation, which has allowed the Bill to reach this stage. It is a key piece of legislation that will safeguard Britain’s international reputation as a responsible nuclear state once we have left Euratom. I believe that there is potential for significant inward investment in the UK in the post-Brexit era. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) about the impacts that the nuclear industry already has in this country, but I think that we can do more.
The Government have been clear throughout the passage of the Bill that they will work to establish a close and effective working relationship with Euratom once the UK leaves the organisation, including close association on matters such as research, training and trade. Ministers have made no secret of their ambitions for the nuclear sector, and I support those ambitions. We have an opportunity for some of the UK’s leading companies to be at the forefront of world-leading new nuclear technology.
During the Bill’s passage, Ministers have been consistent in reassuring the House that leaving Euratom in no way diminishes the UK’s nuclear ambition. The announcement by the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), in December of a new £86 million fund to establish a national fusion technology platform demonstrates the Government’s continued commitment to nuclear research and development, which will be welcomed by a number of my constituents who work in the nuclear sector.
The launch of the small modular reactor competition in 2016 is another example of the importance the Government attach to the UK’s civil nuclear industry to provide a secure, clean and affordable source of domestic electricity that can also be exported overseas. The UK small modular reactor consortium, led by Rolls-Royce, estimates that the design, development and production of a fleet of small modular reactors would create up to 40,000 skilled nuclear supply chain jobs and add over £100 billion to our economy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) said, our young people need to know that there is a future in the industry; they need that certainty to start on their career pathway. As the centre of Rolls-Royce’s nuclear operation in the UK, Derby has the potential to become a world leader in new nuclear technology, with the potential benefits extending across the wider region, including to my constituency. I will therefore follow closely the progress of the small modular reactor competition in the coming weeks and months.
The Bill will strengthen the UK as an independent global nuclear power, reflecting the Government’s ambitions for the sector.
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) and all other colleagues who have spoken today in what I am sure everyone agrees has been a fascinating cross-party discussion. I want to contribute to debate because the Bill deals with a crucial issue that affects every single one of us and the safety of our nation. Getting the agenda and the legal framework right as we take the historic step of exiting the EU is imperative, because leaving the EU means also leaving Euratom—the European Atomic Energy Community—the body that sets the nuclear safeguards regime.
The Bill gives us the tools to ensure that an effective nuclear safeguards regime is established, enabling us to continue to meet international standards for nuclear safety, while maintaining the UK’s reputation as a responsible nuclear state. I have raised the question how we cope with leaving Euratom since the start of the discussions on EU withdrawal, always stressing that leaving the EU must not result in a weakening of our nuclear safeguards, on which we all rely and which are instantly recognisable on the global stage. I have often referred to the matter in wider speeches on the environment, because it is all related to the environment and is so important to us all.
I am confident that the Government have made it clear that future nuclear safeguards arrangements will continue to provide the quality, safety and robustness provided under Euratom and that we will continue to co-operate on standards. Our domestic regime will meet our international commitments on safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation standards. It is clear that the amendments proposed today—I listened carefully to the speeches made—would add nothing and lead only to delay and even obfuscation, especially the amendments relating to the transition period and an association with Euratom, which, as many colleagues have pointed out, simply is not possible.
The ONR, which already regulates nuclear safety and security, is the obvious route. It is also important to keep legislation relating to nuclear safeguards updated as they change on the international stage. The Bill will give the Secretary of State powers to do just that by updating existing international agreements once new agreements are reached.
Our nuclear industry is second to none on the world stage. It has a fine reputation, which we must maintain. Our standards have been a major draw in attracting investors to the nuclear industry in this country. Obviously, I am going to cite the Hinkley Point example, with its Chinese investment. One of the reasons that the Chinese want to engage with us is that we have very high standards on nuclear. That shows us off well on the wider stage and reflects well on us. Hinkley Point is the largest development site in the whole of Europe. I liken it to a James Bond film set. It is absolutely unbelievable how huge the development is. It needs to be seen to be believed. In energy terms, the power station will deliver 7% of our baseload energy, and it is low carbon, which is exactly the kind of energy that we are promoting, alongside all the other renewables. It is a clean source of energy.
Hinkley Point is not in my constituency but adjacent to it, and it has a massive knock-on effect for the people in Taunton Deane, from managers to engineers and from bus drivers to the caterers mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey). Ultimately, 26,000 people will be employed on the site. The industry is spawning many other jobs and creating a whole generation of nuclear businesses. My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash mentioned that she had a similar situation in her constituency with her micro-nuclear plants.
The first nuclear degree is operating partly from University Centre Somerset, which is in Taunton in my constituency. It is sponsored by EDF and the Ministry of Defence. It is critical that the industry should grow and enable all the young people who are doing this training to have a future. That is why the Bill is so important. We need the right checks and balances, so that we can go forward into a really positive future and be a world-leading industry. In mirroring Euratom, we are going to regulate civilian nuclear activity in the UK, including fuel supply, waste management—mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison)—and co-operation between nuclear states, which will be essential. I am confident that, through the ONR, we will achieve that, as well as new agreements with the IAEA.
I want briefly to touch on the subject of radioisotopes, because it has been raised with me by constituents. I welcome the cross-party work that is going on to ensure that there is no interruption in the continuity of supply of radioisotopes as we exit the EU. The Government are rightly listening on this. There seems to have been a lot of scaremongering, which is frankly not helpful. On nuclear research, the UK is a world leader in promising nuclear fusion technologies and we must maintain that lead. We must have the arrangements that the Government are negotiating, so that we can continue to participate on the world stage and attract the right nuclear brains to this country. I fully support the Bill. Nuclear safety and security are issues that deserve the utmost attention, and I am sure that the Bill will achieve its aims and set the Rolls-Royce standards mentioned by the Minister. I am optimistic that we will get the right system in place to keep us all safe.
I shall make just a few brief comments. I paid my compliments earlier to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), and I also want to pay tribute to the Minister, who has conducted the passage of this Bill with great aplomb, dignity and good humour. That has been much appreciated. Like the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), I have attended all the debates on the Bill in the Chamber and in Committee. As a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, under the very able chairmanship of the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), I have also had the benefit of attending several hearings at which we received evidence on this subject.
Leaving Euratom is actually a matter of some regret for me and probably for many Members on both sides of the House. I am not one of those people who supports the Government’s programme of leaving the European Union without appreciating that some aspects of being part of the EU have been intensely beneficial to the United Kingdom, and nuclear safeguarding is without question one of those areas. I therefore hope that Members will recognise that the Bill is a plan B in case we are unable to remain in some way associated with Euratom.
Euratom is at the heart of our nuclear industry and has not only the skills and expertise but the experience to be of service to our nuclear industry, which is a complex field. Nuclear energy is a vital part of our energy mix, offering baseload capacity for the energy market. As such, the Bill is vital to ensure that we meet our international obligations as we leave the EU. Although such things form a vital part of the reasoning behind safeguarding in this industry, it is not a luxury; nor is it simply a health and safety matter. Our international obligations under non-proliferation treaties make our leadership in this area as a world power a significant issue, and as a leader, the UK must meet its obligations. We secure the moral authority to stand up to rogue states and to nations that have a different view of non-proliferation through our safeguarding regime. We must not forget just how much safety concerns matter in this sector. The consequences of getting something wrong would have ramifications not only for us, but perhaps for generations to come. Having a strong safeguarding regime in place, which is what the Bill provides, is absolutely vital for the health and prosperity of the industry and of our economy. I therefore unreservedly support the Bill on Third Reading.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 10 July 2017 (Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill (Programme)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement at today's sitting.
(2) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
(3) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Jo Churchill.)
Question agreed to.
Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee.
New Clause 1
“(1) The Secretary of State shall, upon laying any statement under subsection (3A) of section 76A of the Energy Act 2013, seek to secure a transition period prior to the implementation of withdrawal from EURATOM of not less than two years.
(2) During a transition period under subsection (1), any—
(a) conditions under which the UK is a member of EURATOM before exit day shall continue to apply;
(b) obligations upon the UK which derive from membership of EURATOM before exit day shall continue to apply;
(c) structures for UK participation in EURATOM that are in place before exit day shall be maintained; and
(d) financial commitment to EURATOM made by the UK during the course of UK membership of EURATOM before exit day shall be honoured.”.—(Dr Whitehead.)
This new clause would aim to put in place a transition period, during which the UK could seek to secure an association to EURATOM
Brought up, and read the First time.
The proposition that the Bill is prepared on a contingency basis is not something that the Opposition have made up. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State stated explicitly that
“the Bill has been prepared on a contingency basis. The discussions around our continued arrangements with Euratom and with the rest of the European Union have not been concluded, but it is right to put in place in good time any commitments that are needed in primary legislation. Euratom has served the United Kingdom and our nuclear industries well, so we want to see maximum continuity of those arrangements.”—[Official Report, 16 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 617.]
However, this central point regarding the Bill is not stated within it. That is why it is so important to have a purpose clause, and that is what new clause 2 does. It provides that the Bill is operational only in the event that other arrangements are impossible to achieve.
I wish to turn to some other concerns. One of the most common misconceptions is that leaving Euratom will affect the supply of medical radioisotopes. That is simply not correct. Medical radioisotopes are not classed as special fissile material and are not therefore subject to nuclear safeguards. Consequently, the UK’s ability to import medical isotopes from Europe and the rest of the world will not be affected. Further, I understand—if I am wrong, I am sure the Minister will correct me—that the Government are fully committed to supporting nuclear collaboration in our scientific and research communities, having already underwritten the UK’s share of one of the biggest EU nuclear projects last year. Such misunderstandings—and perhaps misinformation —highlight exactly why certainty is necessary. We need to enact the new rules as soon as possible so that medical isotope coverage can continue, and so that people know it continues, unaffected.
Research and development is critical, and it is underpinned by the Bill. I welcome the Government’s emphasising that the decision to withdraw from Euratom in no way diminishes their nuclear research and development ambitions. In fact, I understand they have stated that maintaining and building on our world-leading fusion expertise and securing alternative routes into the international fusion R&D projects will remain a priority. One example is the Joint European Torus programme, a fusion project based in Oxfordshire—my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) may want to comment on it later. The contract is due to end in 2018, but I understand that discussions are already under way with the UK’s European partners to extend it to 2020. If the Government are committed to it, it is right that they continue to guarantee that they will provide their fair share of JET funding up to 2020 in order to extend the contract.
While I understand the Opposition’s desire for a completely smooth transition to new arrangements after we leave the EU and hence Euratom, I do not think that the new clause would achieve that purpose. The Government have made it very clear that they are already making progress on the arrangements for the UK’s safeguarding regime after we leave Euratom, and we have heard considerable evidence of the dangers of putting that at risk. The Bill’s purpose is to minimise any risk to our civil nuclear industry, to jobs in constituencies such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), and to our international treaties. It is critical that the safeguarding regimes are maintained, because civil nuclear is an essential part of our national energy strategy. We have 15 operating reactors, generating about 21% of the country’s electricity, and 36 licensed nuclear sites.
As we have heard, membership of Euratom has served us well, and the Secretary of State has made clear that he wants maximum continuity to enable as close an association as possible to continue with Euratom after we leave the EU. This is not the place to get into arguments about whether or not we should have left Euratom; the fact is that we are in the process of leaving it, and I am sure all Members agree that we must look to the future.
The new clause is redundant, but if it were only redundant, I would accept that that was a weak argument and that the Opposition might argue that it would strengthen the Bill. However, I believe that it is not only redundant, but would be counterproductive. The Government have made a clear commitment to a transition period after we leave the EU. In the Prime Minister’s Florence speech, she committed herself to a transition period, which has been extensively debated in the House. It is widely agreed that during that period we would work within existing EU frameworks, such as Euratom, to avoid the creation of damaging cliff edges in business and in our essential nuclear industry.
On 11 January, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy made a written statement in which he said that any transition period agreed as part of the EU negotiations would include Euratom. It is surely wrong to try to implement two transition periods with EU bodies, one that would take place before we leave the EU on 29 March 2019 and one that would take place after then. That would create considerable confusion over what our negotiating stance would be. I am sure that most people would accept that with a process that is as complex as leaving the EU, a transition period is a sensible idea because it gives businesses and organisations time to plan. However, requiring a second type of transition period before we leave a EU-related body would leave us open to much questioning about the terms and about what the UK would be trying to achieve in negotiations.
When the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee heard from Dr Golshan of the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the body that will take on the safeguarding role after we leave Euratom, she told us that the challenges faced by her organisation in implementing a new function were not negligible, but she did not say that they were insuperable. I believe therefore that we must continue with the Bill as it stands to avoid further delay in putting in place a nuclear safeguards regime, which must be ready in good time.
Given the legal arguments, which have been well rehearsed, it is difficult to see how we could continue to be a full member of Euratom after leaving the EU, as triggering article 50 obliged us to leave associated bodies, as set out in the European treaties. If we accepted the new clause, logically we could not leave the EU on exit day, as Parliament has voted to do, because we would be bound into a form of association with Euratom. The two objectives are logically impossible.
Furthermore, placing such an obligation on the Government would create considerable uncertainty in the negotiations and weaken our negotiating stance. It would also create uncertainty for businesses and people working in the sector, when Members on both sides of the House have made it clear that what they need is certainty. By definition, certainty would be hard to come by were the new clause to be accepted. For the reasons I have given, this proposal was defeated in the Public Bill Committee, and I will not support it on Report.
The amendments and new clauses would allow us to look for an opportunity to maintain some kind of associate membership of Euratom. We are talking about doing something with which I completely disagree, but this is a new venture that has never been done before, so we have the opportunity to do new things and to strike new agreements. We could look at an arrangement like the one we had with Ukraine to see whether we could have the same with Euratom. If we are going to make this foolish decision to come out of the EU and Euratom and to leave all these things up to chance, it is incumbent on the UK Government to seek the associations that are required in order to keep things moving. The amendments and new clauses should be taken by the Minister and embraced by those on the Government Benches.
23 January 2018
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
A number of other factors relating to nuclear inspections may also come into play. Euratom may be prepared, as part of an association agreement, to lend the UK safeguarding inspectors. A number of different courses could be pursued. Nevertheless, there is a big question mark against the capacity and ability of the ONR, even with all best endeavours in place, to be properly ready in time, given its present circumstances, its possible future circumstances and how it will address them.
For that reason, it is important, at the appropriate time, to have sign-off from the Secretary of State that we have in place not only a regime but the resources available to carry out work under it in the new circumstances. That appropriate time will be when all the different possibilities have been explored and when the different ways of doing things have been looked at. Amendment 4 would require the Secretary of State to lay a statement before Parliament that, at that point, he or she is satisfied—and does not simply hope—that everything looks all right and that we can safely proceed on the basis that we have not only the powers in place but the people and resources to use those powers.
There are further things we will need to do to be able fully to present to the IAEA our case that we have a regime in place that it can happily endorse as our new voluntary arrangement with it— the treaty with the IAEA that the Minister is engaged in negotiating at the moment. I am sure we will know the outcome of those negotiations in the fullness of time, and I understand that they are going well, but we will need to have all our ducks in a row in satisfying the IAEA about where we are.
One thing we will need to do is make sure that we have aligned all existing legislation with the new regime that we establish, and here things get difficult. The Government have chosen the easy way out in doing that, and they have given rise to enormous disquiet about the procedure they have adopted and its potential consequences. In clause 2, they have given the Secretary of State plenipotentiary powers to amend retrospectively by regulation not one but two Acts of Parliament agreed previously by this House. That can be done on the basis not only of negotiations we do not know about but of treaties we have not had sight of and that are, indeed, not yet concluded.
The powers that are given to the Secretary of State in clause 2— Henry VIII powers, essentially—would have been familiar to Henry VIII himself, because the King was a self-absorbed tyrant who had little time even for the rudimentary Parliament of his day. Mercifully, such powers have not been used quite so frequently subsequently —there are a number of people one might think about in that role, although I would exclude certain people, obviously.
Although such powers have not been used very frequently in this House subsequent to the monarch who gave them their title, they have been used a little more frequently in recent years. The House has fought for many years against the idea that the Executive, by executive action, can overturn, amend or take in a different direction what Parliament has decided through legislation. When such powers have been sought in the past, they have in some instances been successfully challenged, and on many occasions strongly challenged, on both sides of the House.
You might have gathered, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I do not like Henry VIII powers. We think that they overturn the sovereignty of Parliament in dealing with issues such as these and give the Executive powers that are unwarranted on virtually all occasions. Legislation should be written in that form only in a dire emergency, where a calamity will befall the nation if such action is not taken. In all other circumstances, legislation should properly appear before Parliament to be debated. If the legislation replaces or substantially amends primary legislation, the process should also be one of primary legislation.
In this instance, the primary legislation that might be envisaged would not detain the House forever or be particularly complex or difficult. Indeed, on Second Reading we saw how it was possible, with good will on all sides, to take all stages of a Bill through the House on one day. When changes are made with consensus in the House, the procedure is rapid, straightforward and achievable. Why can that procedure not be adopted for this legislation? Is it because of a national emergency, or will the sky fall in? Has it not been possible to find parliamentary time to undertake what would be neat and precise Bills with all-party support to make the amendments that the Government want? Indeed, based on what has previously been achieved, would a brief piece of legislation taken on the Floor of the House not have agreement in all parts of it?
I am not persuaded, nor do I think I would easily be persuaded, that it is impossible to proceed through primary legislation for these aligning pieces of legislation. Clause 2 as drafted does not have to be included in the Bill, but the Government have chosen to do so. When all the proceedings have concluded, legislation will need to be in line with new procedures elsewhere on the statute book. That is not the issue; the issue is whether, in order to bring that legislation in line with whatever we have agreed, we effectively declare a quasi-national emergency and say that we have to adopt Henry VIII clauses. That would be quite wrong not only in this Bill, but in most other pieces of legislation in which I suspect the Government may be tempted to include them to get round the proper procedures in the House in the process of aligning our laws post Brexit.
Ideally, we would like simply to strike clause 2 out and say, “You should not do it in this way at all,” but frankly, that might be seen as wrecking the Bill, because a lot of other material would have to be written into the Bill in order to remove the provision fully. In the interests of making progress, and in the absence of what we think should be the final, proper procedure, we suggest in amendment 5 procedures that would not strike the clause out but would amend it very substantially, so that it would at least to some extent come back for parliamentary consideration.
In my view, that is probably still not good enough. There are still Henry VIII clauses in the Bill, but at least the amendment would go some way towards ameliorating the unacceptable way in which those clauses work at present. To my mind, that is the minimum change in the arrangements that the Minister should accept. If he cannot, we will want to pursue the matter, at least as far as a Division this afternoon.
Finally, I will say a brief word on amendment 6, which has been tabled essentially to remind the Secretary of State that at the time of writing, no draft regulations relating to Bill had appeared. I would have expected that to happen as an essential part of enabling proper scrutiny of a Bill to take place. However, after the amendment was tabled, as if by magic, the draft regulations were published at 4.30 pm last Friday—30 minutes before the close of play for the admissibility of amendments for this stage of the Bill. Happily I can report, having scrutinised them in record time, that they appear to be uncontroversial in their application, so I thank the Minister for finally arranging for them to be produced. It is not his fault that he was under such time constraints to slot the Bill into the legislative process when it was not really ready for examination, but I note, in finishing, that that is really not the way to do good legislation in this place.
The Prime Minister made it clear in her Florence speech that the British position would be to seek a transitional implementation period of up to two years. That period is immensely valuable in the context of the Bill. As was mentioned earlier, we received evidence that it could take 18 to 24 months to train an inspector adequately, and up to five years for someone to reach the level of an in-depth specialist, so we will need that time. However, whatever the outcome of the negotiations on our future relationship with the European Union and its institutions, including Euratom, some interim measures would still be possible.
As the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey pointed out, we are on new territory, and it is possible for us to negotiate all kinds of new arrangements. I agree with him, in the widest context, that it is possible to reach a negotiated agreement that would take care of these matters. We are not an insignificant country, and ours is not an insignificant economy.
The establishment of effective accountancy and control systems and the numerous reporting requirements were outlined in the pre-consultation draft regulations. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), the shadow Minister, noted in his eloquent way that the draft regulations came last Friday, but I feel that they were spiritually, if not physically, with him beforehand, and I believe that he read them comprehensively over the weekend. There are two people on whom I can rely to do that: the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State. I can also rely on myself, but we have dealt with my issues before, following what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey).
The regulations contain key components by which assurance can be gained and the UK can demonstrate broad equivalence with the current regime under Euratom. As such, the draft regulations demonstrate how we intend to create a domestic regime that will be of equivalent effectiveness when compared with the existing European arrangements. The initial drafts have been provided in a spirit of transparency to show how the regulations are developing and to provide an opportunity for early engagement with Parliament, industry and other stakeholders. We expect the draft regulations and the regime to continue to be developed before they are consulted on publicly. We want to ensure that the ONR’s safeguard inspectors are able to do their job. We want to ensure that they have the powers to do so, and we welcome constructive engagement with the draft regulations to ensure that that is the case.
I thank hon. Members for their contributions on amendment 4, which addresses the issue of consultation on and preparedness for the implementation of the new domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime established by the Bill. On consultation, the Government have had regular discussions with the nuclear industry since the referendum. In September, I held a representative industry stakeholder forum, which provided me and my team with an opportunity to hear the views and concerns of industry leaders, as mentioned today, and to provide them with an update on the progress of our preparations to leave Euratom. In December, I attended the Nuclear Industry Association annual event, where my officials provided a progress update on Euratom, including on the current status of international negotiations, the Bill and the capacity-building measures within the ONR. We are also engaging with civil society through our nuclear non-governmental organisation forum, which I attended last week—I was accused of being a tool of the Nuclear Industry Association—along with Members from both sides of the House, excluding the Scottish National party.
We will continue our constructive engagement with the nuclear stakeholder community, as we have done throughout the passage of the Bill and will continue to do throughout the Euratom negotiations. I have planned a series of roundtables for 2018-19, and the next is scheduled for late next month. Officials at BEIS are working hard with the industry and other interested parties and are providing regular updates on progress, and the Government and industry are working together for the good of the country.
The National Audit Office plays an incredibly important role in all this, but mandatory consultation with it on nuclear safeguards regulations is not appropriate because the NAO already has an established process for scrutinising public spending for Parliament. We have worked with a range of governmental organisations as we develop legislative proposals and will continue to engage with interested parties as the new regime is implemented. The public consultation on the draft regulations, which will take place this year, will not be the first opportunity for stakeholders to be made aware of the Government’s intentions nor will it be their only opportunity to provide the Government with their views.
I will now turn to the subject of the ONR’s capability and readiness, as mentioned in many contributions today. I understand and agree that Parliament must be assured of the ONR’s capability and readiness to take on these new responsibilities in relation to nuclear safeguards. I have consistently stated on Second Reading and in Committee that we will allocate the necessary funding for the ONR to set up this new domestic regime for civil nuclear safeguards. I disagree with the Prospect union’s view, expressed to hon. Members in Committee and elsewhere, that that is not the case.
The Department works closely with the ONR on a daily basis to ensure it will be in a position to take on the role and responsibilities required to help the UK’s domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime to meet international safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation standards when the Euratom arrangements no longer apply to the UK. We are monitoring the progress of the ONR’s delivery plans through our governance process to identify delivery risk and to work with the ONR on mitigating those risks.
We have been transparent about the costs and resources required to set up a domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime. In October 2017, we published estimates of what those costs will be in the explanatory notes to the Bill. The relevant section, “Financial implications of the Bill,” explains that the Department will allocate the necessary funding to the ONR—about £10 million to set up the regime, and ongoing costs of about £10 million a year. I assure the House that we are keeping the estimates under review as the details of the regime develop.
The ONR is in the process of developing an expanded safeguards function, which involves the recruitment and training of additional inspectors. The SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), and others mentioned the two-year and five-year time periods. Some people with a lot of experience in this field are being recruited, and they clearly would need two years or less. The five-year period involves a very high level of training. It is not possible to generalise, but I accept that some people, such as apprentices and graduates, will require much longer to train.
23 January 2018
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details