Consideration of Lords amendments.
Queen’s consent signified.
After Clause 1
Agreements required before withdrawal
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 3.
With this it will be convenient to take the following:
Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 3.
Lords amendments 1, 2 and 4 to 7.
Before I say a few words about the amendments, I want to reflect on the passage of the Bill. It has passed through this House in an orderly manner, with a great many thoughtful points made by Members on both sides of the House who are here today and by many who are not. I particularly pay tribute to the Opposition Front-Bench team, led by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead)—I will never forget his constituency after this Bill. Although we have had our moments of disagreement, I have been encouraged by the strong consensus and have done my best to listen carefully to his amendments. I hope he would accept that I have given a lot of thought to them and that I have tried to accept those that I can. Lord Henley and I have made considerable efforts to listen to concerns in the other place as well, as has been seen in the amendments we have made to the Bill.
Outside the legislation, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State committed to making regular progress updates to Parliament. The first report was published on 27 March and the next will follow next month. We also provided draft regulations to support the House’s deliberations on the Bill, and I confirm today that I am placing in the Library the Department’s analysis on the application of Standing Order No. 83O, in respect of any motion relating to a Lords amendment, for Commons consideration of Lords amendments stage.
The Government opposed amendment 3 on Report in the House of Lords. I have listened carefully to the views of Members, including the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test. The amendment would require that in a situation where particular agreements relating to nuclear safeguards are not in place, the Government would have to request that the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom be suspended until they are.
The Minister may be aware that in the last few hours, I have had a conversation with the head of Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, who says that the Government are moving in the right direction on this, and have already agreed to pay for an association and are moving in the right direction on that. If the Minister is going to oppose the amendment, he has my full support and that of the head of Culham.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment, which I believe reflects the progress that we have made. He works very hard for Culham; it is an extremely impressive place and I am sure that everyone on both sides of the House supports what they do.
May I be the first to congratulate the Minister on the co-operation agreement that we have signed with the United States of America? This is a very good sign. There was some concern in Committee about the progress that we had made, and I believe that the Minister is doing his utmost to make sure that we have a fit-for-purpose regime in future.
I thank my hon. Friend. I would like to say that it was because of the personal influence that I have with President Trump, but no one in this House, and particularly you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would hear that. However, it shows that we have made a lot of progress and things are going according to plan. I am grateful to the United States for that assistance it has given us, as well as that of the other countries we are dealing with and the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose initials some of us repeatedly had difficulty pronouncing—I will come to the IAEA in a moment.
As currently formulated, amendment 3 will not work. Subsection (3)(c) currently contains a broad reference to international agreements made by Euratom to which the UK is a party. First, the UK is not a party to Euratom’s nuclear co-operation agreements; Euratom concludes them on behalf of member states, and Euratom, rather than the member states, is a party to those agreements. Secondly, subsection 3(c) covers a number of international agreements that are not in fact required to ensure the continuity of nuclear trade after withdrawal from Euratom. For these reasons, the other agreements that are covered by Lords amendment 3 should be restricted to the priority nuclear co-operation agreements with Australia, Canada, Japan and the US. Although I cannot agree to Lords amendment 3 in its present form, I am tabling an amendment in lieu, which I believe will address parliamentarians’ concerns. I particularly hope that it will address the issues raised by the shadow Front-Bench team and Members on both sides of the House.
With respect, the Minister is doing what every single Minister will always do when faced with Opposition amendments—that is, nit-pick over the precise wording. If he is going to table his own amendment, will it clearly state that the UK will not withdraw from Euratom until the required agreements are in place so that we have a similar, commensurate level of security?
I have always listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says. He knows a lot about nuclear and deserves attention particularly on this Bill and every other nuclear subject that comes up. He accuses me of nit-picking—politely, as always—and then nit-picks about the language in my amendment, which I do hope he has read and which I will explain more about now. We do nit-pick in Parliament, though, because everyone is trying their best to get it right, and I accept that language can mean everything. I am sure that “nit-picking” is a parliamentary word, Madam Deputy Speaker. If it is not, I still fully accept it from him.
Under the amendment in lieu, if any principal international agreements are not signed, which is everybody’s fear, and no other equivalent arrangements in respect of unsigned agreements have been made, the Secretary of State would have to ask the EU for the corresponding Euratom arrangements to continue to have effect in place of the unsigned agreements. The relevant agreements are: the voluntary offer agreement and additional protocol with the IAEA and the four priority nuclear co-operation agreements—with the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia.
The amendment in lieu provides a sensible compromise that addresses the central concerns of parliamentarians about the possibility of a cliff edge while removing the technical—we could say “nit-picking”, in honour of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock)—issues. It addresses the valid points that he and others have made about a cliff edge. It specifically names only the agreements that the UK needs to avoid disruption to our civil nuclear trade and co-operation, whereas Lords amendment 3 refers to agreements entered into more broadly. We have prioritised putting in place bilateral NCAs with those countries that have a legal or policy requirement for an NCA to be in place for civil nuclear trade to continue. As I have said, those countries are the USA, Canada, Australia, and Japan.
The amendment in lieu creates a two-part test, in respect of international agreements and other arrangements, for existing Euratom arrangements to continue to apply after exit day. Amendment 3 was tabled before the agreement with the EU on the terms of an implementation period, whereas the amendment in lieu is capable of taking account of such a period. That implementation period, by meeting hon. Members’ wish for assurance of continuity in nuclear safeguards arrangements, would satisfy the second part of the test in this amendment in lieu.
The Minister has talked about the implementation period and our ongoing relations with Euratom. What discussions has he had with the European Commission to determine whether our membership of Euratom will continue during the transition period?
My officials have had a lot of discussions with the EU on Euratom, as the hon. Gentleman might imagine, and I am very satisfied with the stage we have reached. If he will excuse me, I will try to cover that in the rest of my contribution.
During the Select Committee hearings on this matter, David Wagstaff, the head of the Euratom exit negotiations at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, indicated that progress in establishing new nuclear co-operation agreements with the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia was well advanced and that these would be completed in time for our departure. Did he mean next March or the end of the implementation period?
I can assure my hon. Friend that he meant March 2019. In answer also to the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), I would like to assure the House that the UK and the EU have reached agreement on the terms of an implementation period that will run from 30 March 2019 until the end of 2020. The existing Euratom treaty arrangements will continue during this period and businesses will be able to continue to trade on the same terms as now. As part of this, the UK and the EU agreed that for the duration of the implementation period the EU’s international agreements will continue to apply to the UK. This will include Euratom’s existing nuclear co-operation agreements with the USA, Canada, Australia and Japan.
I presume that the objective is to sign agreements with all the countries mentioned before March 2019, but there is also a process of ratification. Is it the Government’s objective to get those ratified before the leaving date, or will some of them be ratified during the transition period?
The best example I can give is the ratification of the agreement with the US—and this will also explain the difference between signing and ratification. Now that it has been signed, it needs to be approved in accordance with the relevant constitutional requirements of the UK and the US, just as will be the case with the other bilateral agreements, but we have built into our timetable sufficient time to allow for the necessary processes in both the UK Parliament—it will come before Parliament this year—and the US Congress, which has a slightly different arrangement involving several days of congressional business. I am very confident, however, that the process will be completed. In both cases, it is unprecedented for this to be anything other than a formality. Both countries will then exchange notes to bring the agreement into force when required, which we fully expect to be at the end of the implementation period, but we have built plenty of time into the process.
This all sounds like very good progress. Is it true that the other four agreements the Minister says are necessary will be similarly available and ready by March 2019?
I have every confidence that those agreements will be ready, signed and ratified. I have no reason to believe anything other than that.
If the relevant agreements or arrangements are not in place 28 days before exit day, the amendment in lieu would impose a requirement on the Secretary of State to make a request to the European Council to continue to be covered by the corresponding Euratom agreements—the trilateral agreements between the IAEA, Euratom and the UK and the bilateral agreements between the countries I have mentioned. That request would cover only those areas for which the UK had not signed a relevant agreement or made arrangements for the corresponding Euratom agreement to continue to apply to the UK after exit. I think that answers the questions about process.
I have not mentioned the IAEA itself. We have made very good progress in negotiating with the IAEA, having held several productive rounds of discussions, and it has shared with us the draft voluntary offer agreement and additional protocol. Negotiations on these documents have made good progress, and we expect to conclude a final draft in time for them to be put to the June meeting of the board of governors. The UK has a very strong relationship with the IAEA and continues to support it across a range of nuclear non-proliferation issues—something I was able to reinforce in my meeting last week with the director general, Mr Amano.
Lords amendments 1, 2 and 7 were Government amendments placing the definition of “civil activities” in the Bill. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended that a definition of “civil activities” be placed in the Bill, so far as is possible, supplemented by a power to develop, where necessary, its meaning in regulations. The definition we inserted takes into account the continuing work on the draft regulations that will underpin the Bill, on which we are intending to consult in July. Although the Committee accepted that it might still be necessary to supplement this definition with a power to embellish its meaning in regulations, I have not found that to be necessary, so the amendments remove the existing power to specify in regulations activities that are or are not to be treated as “civil activities” and replace it with a definition in the Bill without creating another power. They therefore reduce the number of powers created by the Bill.
The sunset clause discussed by the Opposition Front-Bench team places a time limit—colloquially known as a “sunset”—on the use of the power in clause 2. Hon. Members may recall that clause 2 contains the power to amend three pieces of legislation in consequence of a relevant safeguards agreement—an agreement relating to nuclear safeguards to which the UK and the agency are parties. That legislation makes detailed references to specific provisions of international safeguards agreements. Those references, including references to specific articles, are likely to change as a result of any amendment of, or change in, the agreements. We therefore believe that the power in the Bill is necessary to make the changes in the relevant legislation to update the references when the new agreements are in place. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended preventing the use of the power after a period of two years had expired. The amendment addresses the principle of the Committee’s recommendation, but provides for a “sunset” period of five years to ensure that the provision can function effectively in all scenarios, including that of an implementation period with the EU.
Lords amendments 5 and 6 deal with statutory reporting. As I have said, I took very seriously the cross-party requests from parliamentarians for regular detailed updates about nuclear safeguards arrangements in this country. The amendments, as amended by the Opposition, would place a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to provide quarterly reports on nuclear safeguards, covering both domestic and international matters, for the first year after the Bill receives Royal Assent.
This is a general point, but I should like the Minister to be mindful of it. I do not pretend to understand the morass of amendments and timings, but the nuclear site at Dounreay, in my constituency, is being decommissioned, and, thanks to the involvement of Euratom and other agencies in the past, we have achieved a standard of excellence that is second to none in the world. I am anxious to ensure that the skills that we have there are developed and exported to other countries, and to ensure that, whatever Her Majesty’s Government puts in place of Euratom—whatever systems are introduced, and whatever clauses are included in the various bits of legislation—the importance of that is remembered and the quality is retained where it should be for the future, because otherwise we will lose an opportunity.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman: Dounreay has one of the finest reputations. I have not yet had the pleasure and honour of visiting it—although if I were able to visit it, I should be pleased to do so—but I have visited Sellafield, and have discussed matters extensively with all the nuclear decommissioning authorities there. Dounreay is thought of very highly, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that nothing will be done to denude it of its reputation or lower the current non-proliferation standard. I was delighted to hear that the skills to which he has referred are being exported all over the world. The last thing that this or, I hope, any Government would want to do is bring about a reduction from the gold standard that is led by his constituency. [Interruption.] I am sorry if I am nit-picking again. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness is very alert to nit-picking, and I shall try not to do so.
I hope Members will agree that the Government have proceeded with the Bill on a consensual basis. As I have said, we have made several important concessions in both Houses. Although we have not been able to agree to Lords amendment 3, I have listened to the arguments advanced today, and I believe that the compromise amendment goes a long way to achieving what the Opposition want. It preserves the key features of their amendment by requiring the Government to write to the EU seeking support if certain agreements or alternative arrangements are not in place. I therefore hope that Members will join me in agreeing to amendments that provide important reassurance for Members of both Houses.
This is, I trust, the last occasion on which we will deal with the Bill in the House of Commons. I thank the Minister for the careful, courteous and inclusive way in which he has handled it, which I have found very helpful. We all want the Bill to be enacted, and I think that our discussions about how it should proceed have benefited from the way in which he has conducted himself and presented his side of the argument.
I support Lords amendment 3, which, as the Minister has said, is the only amendment that the Government oppose. We welcome their acceptance of the sensible additions to the Bill that are contained in the other amendments, some of which, although originally proposed by the Government, make adjustments for which we have pressed throughout its passage. For instance, there are proposals to limit the period during which Henry VIII clauses could be used to amend existing legislation retrospectively, and to give the Minister fewer powers to define civil nuclear activities. Lords amendment 5 would insert a new clause on reporting, for which the Opposition have pressed strongly both in Committee and on the Floor of the House. By introducing a three-monthly reporting regime, it would ensure that issues relating to Euratom’s wider remit, over and above nuclear safeguarding—such as nuclear research and development and the import and export of qualifying nuclear material—were debated regularly in the House.
Those are all sensible additions to the Bill. They strengthen it, and we are pleased that they will become part of its final architecture. As I have said, we have always agreed about the overall need for it as a contingency measure, to deal with the eventuality that we do indeed leave Euratom at the end of March 2019. We will of course continue to raise the issue of leaving it at all, and the question of the role that it might play during the transition period after the end of March. However, we clearly need the best possible alternative arrangements to fully protect nuclear safeguarding, and to ensure that the regime is as good as that which was deployed under the Euratom arrangements that we will be transferring to the Office for Nuclear Regulation.
In the establishment of that regime, a vital role will be played by the adoption of bilateral treaties with civil nuclear countries—particularly Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States—and, of course, by the voluntary agreement that will supersede the agreement made with the IAEA on behalf of European civil nuclear countries by Euratom. That agreement will be tenable only on the basis that we have in place a mechanism that will satisfy the IAEA that we are in earnest about nuclear safeguarding separately from Euratom. That is one of the central purposes of the Bill.
The adoption of those treaties is an essential element of ensuring that there are no cliff edges as we leave Euratom. In Committee, representatives of the nuclear industry, among others, expressed the fear that leaving Euratom without introducing all the measures necessary to ensure a smooth continuation of function could create a gap in provision that would be devastating for the operation of civil nuclear in the UK.
Does the hon. Gentleman welcome the progress that the Government are evidently making towards the conclusion of these agreements? That is good news, is it not?
I think the hon. Gentleman has slightly anticipated what I was about to say. It is indeed good news that progress is being made in that regard, but there is not much time left between now and March 2019, and there are still a number of treaties to go.
Lords amendment 3 addresses what is perhaps the most central point of the whole exercise. If those treaties are not securely in place before the date of withdrawal, we must have mechanisms for extending the period of coverage of Euratom, as it were—which means not just an extension during the implementation period, but an extension in its own right—until they are in place. We were told earlier in the Bill’s passage that all this was unnecessary, because everything would be put in hand before March 2019, and we have discussed the progress that has been made, but we have heard nothing about a plan B to be deployed in the event of its not being concluded. It may be that all the treaties will be in place, and we heard today that one of the bilaterals had been signed with the United States, but there are three more to be signed with major civil nuclear countries, and there is also the voluntary arrangement to be established with the IAEA. The Lords amendment gives us that fall-back protection, and a clear route towards obtaining it.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that while some of the safeguards the Minister mentions might well work, it would be easier to stay in Euratom until such time as everything is concluded so that there is absolutely no way we would fall off any cliff edges? Does he agree that “may” is not good enough in this scenario?
The hon. Lady makes the important point that to have the full protection of staying in Euratom would be the best thing to do, not just on nuclear safeguarding but on a range of other civil nuclear activities, until we are absolutely certain that we have ticked every box and ensured that we have alternatives that are as good as what we have under Euratom. That, very largely, is what Lords amendment 3 seeks to do. It seeks to ensure that there is recourse to the full covering arrangements of Euratom if those boxes have not been ticked.
After waiting until the very last moment to tell us that Lords amendment 3 is not needed and will be opposed, the Government have finally come up with an amendment in lieu of their own that suggests that perhaps a fall-back plan is needed after all. Its wording is, in many respects, very similar to Lords amendment 3. It places the signing of these treaties as the essential element in securing the transition to a full nuclear safeguarding role without Euratom, and specifies, as amendment 3 does, what they are. That in itself is a considerable victory for those who counselled for this over a period of time, and is a substantial turnaround from the Government’s previous position. But, at the last, the amendment falls short. It places the option to decide not on whether principal agreements have been signed—for that will be evident, or not, at the time of departure—but on what one might call an interim stage on a fall-back which provides for circumstances where, at the beginning of a period of 28 days prior to exit, agreements may not have been signed and completed, but will in the Secretary of State’s opinion have been so signed before that 28-day period is up. In other words, there is a very abbreviated, but nevertheless significant, period during which the Secretary of State will decide whether treaties are going to be signed. That will, in effect, be putting off the relevant request to the European Council for an extension of the time during which Euratom provisions hold, because the Secretary of State thinks it is, after all, going to be all right. That is a far shorter period than under the original general provisions that the Secretary of State said he would try to organise and get right in time for exit from the EU, but we are still back to that assumption that it will be “all right on the night” with no complete plan B in place. I accept that the amendment in lieu proposed by the Government comes a very long way, and that it has taken a considerable amount of U-turning, if we want to call it that, to put in place these arrangements, but in reality it is not quite far enough.
It was a pleasure to serve with the hon. Gentleman on the Bill Committee. Does he agree that the Government’s new approach offering more flexibility and the ability to take a common-sense approach based on the circumstances at the time is a better approach than an inflexible decision taken now which might not fit the circumstances next year?
I am not sure that the term “inflexible decision” can be accurately addressed to this set of circumstances, because we have a very inflexible date by which these decisions will have to be made. If we have a provision that is based on the Secretary of State deciding whether things are going better or worse, and if the House then does not have time to apply to the European Commission for an extension, an objective judgment will be made about whether to make an application to the European Commission for an extension of Euratom’s overview, particularly in relation to nuclear safeguarding activities.
That is another reason why we seek to preserve the original clause and ensure that it goes into the final Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) mentioned nit-picking in respect of some of the wording of the amendment. It would have been possible, I think, to fix that wording without diluting the effect of the clause in the way the Government have done through their amendment in lieu. It still has the flaw in it that there is a period when the Secretary of State has the option to decide whether he thinks something is going to be done, as opposed to the absolute guarantee that it will have been done at the point of departure. For that reason, we seek to preserve the original clause, if necessary by means of a vote. Depending on the result of that vote, we might then offer the amendment in lieu back to the other place for it to decide whether it thinks it comes close enough to its intention not to be sent back to this House once more.
I do not intend to detain the House with a long speech, but I want to commend the Minister on the way in which he has guided the Bill to this point and to assure him of my support for the amendment that he has tabled. He has been, and is being, attentive and responsive to the concerns he has heard; he has listened and responded, and I believe that that is what makes for good legislation. I also wish to add to his compliments to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), whose positive contribution to the progress of this Bill has been greatly appreciated by us all.
To be clear, we need this Bill. Leaving the European Union creates the necessary, even if unwanted, step of leaving Euratom. The Government’s stated preference is for Euratom to continue to provide safeguarding functions in the UK. That is a laudable example of the pragmatic approach that the Government, and in particular the Prime Minister, are taking to issues surrounding our departure from the European Union. I like to think that my conservatism is based not on ideology but on pragmatism, and it is pragmatism that is going to see us through the process by which we leave the European Union. This Bill is a vital contingency plan, because if it transpires that we cannot agree with Euratom to continue with the civil nuclear safeguarding, we will need to have the regulatory framework, the infrastructure and the capabilities in place to maintain our international obligations and responsibilities as an independent and responsible nuclear state.
I was under the impression that we cannot remain in Euratom unless we are a member of the EU—we may want to, but we cannot, according to the rules.
My hon. Friend has the power of mind-reading because the next thing I wish to say is that given that it will not be possible for us to maintain Euratom membership, the Government have taken the realistic approach of declaring through the process of the current round of negotiations that we would like to achieve an “as close as possible” relationship with Euratom, however that might ultimately be described. Although there is no such thing today as an associate membership, perhaps it is possible to become an associate of some form or another to the end of achieving that “as close as possible” relationship that we desire.
My understanding is that we as a country want to leave Euratom. Does my hon. Friend agree that opening up a suggestion that we could have associate membership muddies the waters slightly in terms of the clarity of the debate?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I do not think it does. The Minister has made it clear during the passage of the Bill that although we are leaving the European Union and our membership of Euratom will therefore end, we still want as close a relationship as possible with Euratom. The Government have been absolutely clear in their determination on this. They stated in a written statement published last September that
“it is vitally important that the new domestic nuclear safeguards regime, to be run by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, is as comprehensive and robust as that currently provided by Euratom. The government has therefore decided that it will be establishing a domestic regime which will deliver to existing Euratom standards and exceeds the standard that the international community would require from the UK as a member of the IAEA.”
I hope that the Minister will reconfirm tonight that it is still the Government’s intention to reach and maintain existing Euratom standards in respect to safeguarding. I recognise that it will take time to get to that point, but it would be useful if he indicated when he expects we will able to assume that we have everything in place to maintain the Euratom safeguarding standards, and if possible, how much that will cost.
I also commend my hon. Friend on his success in progressing towards his objective of putting in place what his amendment in lieu describes as “principal international agreements” and “corresponding Euratom arrangements”. These principal international agreements refer to and include the nuclear co-operation agreements that we will need to maintain because it is on the basis of these agreements that nuclear goods, including intellectual property, software and skills, can be moved between the UK and other countries. The Select Committee report summarised the evidence we heard and concluded that nuclear co-operation agreements were
“expected to depend on the existence of a mutually acceptable UK safeguards regime. Witnesses were concerned about any potential gap between leaving Euratom and setting up new arrangements, which would cause considerable disruption to nuclear supply chains”.
We also heard that
“nuclear cooperation agreements with the US, Canada, Japan and Australia will be crucial for maintaining existing operations and should be prioritised.”
I welcome the news that the Minister has brought to the House tonight about the IAEA, the draft voluntary offer agreement and the additional protocol. I also welcome the US-UK nuclear co-operation agreement. Perhaps he will give us more detail on how long it will take for the agreement to be ratified. I referred earlier to the optimistic note that David Wagstaff, the head of Euratom exit negotiations at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, brought to our Committee, where he indicated that the co-operation agreements were
“well advanced and…would be completed in time for our departure.”
I have heard again tonight that that means March 2019.
With reference to the principal international agreements, perhaps the Minister will update the House on our negotiations with Canada, Japan and Australia. Will all Euratom’s existing nuclear co-operation agreements continue to apply to the United Kingdom until such time as new agreements can be established? It is vital that our civil nuclear industry can continue to operate with certainty and that there should be minimum to no disruption to the sector as we leave the European Union. Britain must be in a position to continue to honour its international obligations—
Will the hon. Gentleman explain what “minimum” would be acceptable? I do not feel that any minimum disruption would be acceptable; for me, no disruption is the only possible scenario. What would his minimum be?
The hon. Lady is right to pick me up on those words, and I am grateful for her intervention. Because the Prime Minister has successfully concluded the implementation agreement with the European Union, the minimum that we should settle for is no disruption, especially in this sector.
I was about to say that we as a country must be in a position to continue to honour our international obligations, and to be the responsible nuclear state that we are. The importance of this Bill, with this amendment, is that in the event of there being no agreement with Euratom, which is not what we want, it will enable the United Kingdom to be in a position to act as an independent and responsible nuclear state. That is why the amendment should command support on both sides of the House.
I should like to begin by echoing the remarks of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) about the Minister’s participation in the Bill so far. He has indeed been helpful, inclusive and relentlessly courteous as we have gone through the process. I welcome the progress that has been made, but that must be set against the background of what we believe to be the folly of leaving Euratom in the first instance. The last time the Bill came before us, I said that despite the Government’s ideological intention to abandon Euratom—it is ideological; there has been no attempt to challenge whether there might be a possibility to stay in it—their proposals fell short of answering vital questions on the UK’s nuclear future. Those answers have been asked for by the nuclear industry, the medical profession, our research sector and virtually everyone associated with nuclear power. Simply put, we should not be leaving Euratom.
Even with some sensible amendments from the Lords that have been accepted by the Commons, the Bill still fails to answer many critical concerns. As I have stated before, we in the Scottish National party believe that the safest nuclear power is no nuclear power. In Scotland, we have demonstrated what can be achieved by alternative renewable energy sources, and there is still a vast potential to be tapped, especially offshore, for an abundance of low-cost clean energy. In contrast, the UK Government continue to chase the folly of new nuclear, including the white elephant that is Hinckley C. That means higher costs for consumers, and technologies whose capital costs continue to skyrocket.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that “no nuclear” can be squared with full participation in Euratom? If he had to choose one or the other, what would he decide?
I find the hon. Gentleman’s question rather odd. I shall come to the reasons that we support Euratom in a moment, but a no-nuclear future means that we still have to navigate the nuclear that we have at the moment, and the wider public need to understand the existing nuclear technology.
I want to make progress, because I am aware that Members wish to move ahead and I wish to accommodate that as much as I can.
On safeguards, at Dounreay in the highlands we have lived with the consequences of the UK’s previous regulatory regime. Decades on, we are still finding nuclear material that has simply been dumped or buried. For these reasons, and many more, while we work for a nuclear-free future, we recognise the vital need for the continuing protections and benefits that we have enjoyed through Euratom. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.
Turning to the Lords amendments, and the Government amendment in lieu, I should like some clarification from the Minister. On Lords amendments 1 and 2, I have said that providing clarification on the definition of “civil activities” is a sensible move, but is he in a position to enlighten us on the question put by Lord Hutton as to why the phrase, “for peaceful purposes”, has been defined in regard to electricity generation? I understand that Lord Henley, the Under-Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, was to write to Lord Hutton with a response to that question. However, I am not aware that there is anything on the public record on that issue, so I would be grateful if the Minister enlightened us.
Lords amendment 4 proposes a sunset clause, but I still do not think that the Government have fully answered the question as to why the sunset provision needed to be extended to five years from two years, so I would welcome clarification from the Minister. That being said, this is a sensible clause to add to the Bill.
I also agree with Lords amendment 5, which will mean that we receive a report for each three-month period in the years after the Bill is enacted. I note that the reports could include information on the development of the domestic operational arrangements required for the new domestic safeguards regime. Will the Minister outline what level of information he expects to provide? What information does he intend to include in the reports? For example, will they include information on the profile of ongoing costs, including any increases, on skills, on the recruitment and skills opportunities for girls and women and on gender pay? Reports should also include a rolling risk register.
I also note that we are to expect, or “may” have, a report that includes information on future arrangements with Euratom, including on nuclear research and development and on the import and export of qualifying nuclear material. I listened carefully when the Minister said that he had “every confidence” about the situation. It is good that he does, but we should have a guarantee. As was said earlier, there should be no diminution of the current protection that we enjoy under Euratom. I remain concerned about radioactive isotopes, but I do not intend to go through the rationale that I presented in the previous debate for why they are vital—although if I did, I would make no apology for doing so. The medical profession is concerned about their future availability, and even if there are agreements about access to such isotopes, the question remains unanswered about how we are supposed to obtain them in a Brexit future that means no customs union. How are they going to get across the border in time, before their limited half-life has expired? I could say much more on that, but perhaps the Minister can tell us how he intends to overcome the customs barriers and get that material here.
The Scottish National party supports Labour’s position on Lords amendment 3, and if it comes to a vote, we will vote to disagree with the disagreement that the UK Government have brought forward. If the Minister was serious about giving Parliament assurances, he would accept Lords amendment 3, which was moved by a Cross-Bench peer. The amendment quite literally does what it says on the tin: no exit from Euratom if relevant and necessary agreements are not in place. Instead, in presenting their own amendment (a), the UK Government are again asking us to take things on trust and believe that everything will be all right on the night. That is not good enough when it comes to nuclear safeguards.
The hon. Gentleman talks about taking things on trust, but does he not agree that we have just heard hard evidence from the Minister of other parties coming to the table and negotiating with us to put safeguards in place?
I am delighted that the hon. Lady intervened at that point, because I was just about mention that condition 2 in amendment (a) states that
“(a) one or more of the principal international agreements have not been signed, but
(b) in respect of each agreement that has not been signed, arrangements for the corresponding Euratom arrangements to have effect in relation to the United Kingdom after exit day—
(i) have been made”—
which would be fine—
“or (ii) will, in the Secretary of State’s opinion, have been made before exit day.”
That is simply not good enough. Given that we are already seeing a lack of transparency around Hinkley Point C and rising costs, and around what is happening in Anglesey at the Hitachi plant, we cannot take such things on trust. It is vital that the Government are transparent on this issue now, because so much is at stake for people.
In conclusion, we have been advised that a deal has been struck with the USA, but will the Minister provide an update on the other agreements that need to be in place before the UK exits Euratom? After all, he expects us to take him at his word, so it should follow that we will be regularly updated on progress. In the interests of transparency, will he place the draft withdrawal agreement with Euratom in the Library? Although this is a reserved matter for the UK Government, the Scottish Government have regulatory powers on nuclear waste and emissions, so what discussions has he had with the Scottish Government to date on this issue? If he has had none, as I expect, what discussions does he intend to have?
I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Minister’s opening statement. Of the 87,000 people working in the UK’s nuclear sector today, some 27,500 people—nearly 40% of the workforce—are based in Cumbria. That is why, in Copeland and in Cumbria, we proudly call ourselves the centre of nuclear excellence, and I am so pleased to hear from the Minister that swift progress is being made.
I have said before that not to have arrangements in place would be catastrophic for my community and devastating for the nuclear sector nationally and internationally and for all who rely upon the sector for energy: low-carbon electricity, fuel, research and development, science and industry, clean-up operations, defueling, decommissioning, reprocessing, waste processing —the list goes on. There would also be wider supply-chain implications from advance manufacturing to apprenticeships and implications for ensuring that we continue the legacy of world-class skills and for the enormous number of businesses employing people right across the country in component factories and on our high streets. In my community, that means hairdressers and hardware stores, taxi firms and teashops; the nuclear industry in west Cumbria puts food on so many of our tables. Britain’s nuclear industry equals our automotive industry in terms of value to the economy. It is a vital to our economy, our environmental obligations and our society. It is therefore absolutely right that the Bill is being given the kind of priority that the ministerial team are affording it.
I thank all those who have been working so hard and so collaboratively on this important issue. The priority for me and my community is the UK being able to operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state when the Euratom arrangements no longer apply to the UK. There is a strong consensus across Parliament on the importance of ensuring that the necessary measures are in place so that the UK nuclear industry can operate with certainty while meeting all international commitments. That is clear from speaking with people working in the 70-something nuclear businesses in my constituency, including my husband, who is in the Gallery tonight and celebrating his birthday by watching this debate.
Will my hon. Friend forgive me if I take this opportunity to wish her husband a happy birthday?
I thank my hon. Friend.
The importance of having measures in place is clear from speaking to those working in the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. It is also clear from reading the Minister’s report, published on 27 March—and no doubt will be from reading the next report, to be published in June—that the ministerial team is making considerable effort to address all concerns. I am grateful for the time that the Minister for Nuclear has spent with me and in my Copeland constituency. He has met many businesses in Copeland, including on his visit to Sellafield, visits to the Copeland Borough Council “Open for Business” event and to a Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster meeting. I know that he understands both our concerns and our capabilities.
To ensure that we will operate without interruption after the implementation period ends on 31 December 2020, the amendments introduced by the Minister will improve the transparency of negotiations and improve our understanding of the procedures being carried out. The progress being made will result in better, stronger industry confidence, and I welcome that. The definitions that will be included in the Bill are also welcome.
Amendment (a), in lieu of Lords amendment 3, will address the concerns raised in the other place. As I understand it, 28 days before exit day on 1 March 2019, if any relevant agreements are not signed and if no other equivalent arrangements have been made, the Secretary of State would have to ask the EU for corresponding Euratom arrangements to continue to have effect, providing vital secondary reassurance in the unlikely event that all measures are not fully in place.
I am pleased that the UK has now signed a bilateral nuclear co-operation agreement with the United States of America, as the agreement will allow the UK and the US to continue their mutually beneficial co-operation after the point at which Euratom arrangements cease to apply to the UK. The UK-US nuclear co-operation agreement will enter force at the end of 2020, following the conclusion of the implementation period of 21 months after the end of March 2019.
It is vital we have certainty and confidence that there will be no interruption to existing relationships that are underpinned by international agreements. I also welcome the fact that the nuclear co-operation agreement has been drafted and signed on the same principles as the current Euratom-US nuclear co-operation agreement, with the same robust assurances on safeguards, security, transfers, storage, enrichment and reprocessing in relation to the transfer of nuclear material and related items between the United Kingdom and the United States.
All that is relevant to my Copeland businesses and constituents, who rely on the nuclear industry for their livelihoods, and vital so that the country can continue to generate electricity, carry on reprocessing operations and continue with the decommissioning and legacy clean-up operations in Britain and abroad.
I urge Government officials to ensure that the same swift, smooth, effective transaction agreements are prioritised with Australia, Canada and, especially, Japan, with which my constituency businesses are working very closely. World-leading and innovative clean-up, defueling and decommissioning work must continue. Skills and products are being invented and deployed to support the Fukushima clean-up.
Companies such as React Engineering, based in Cleator Moor, have worked with Sellafield to develop brand new technologies and techniques to deal with incredibly complex situations. It is in everyone’s interest that this essential work is carried out, without interruption, as we leave the EU and Euratom. The last nuclear reactor to be constructed in Britain was Sizewell B, completed in 1995 using imported pressurised water reactor technology. Since then, no nuclear power plants have been completed. The UK’s capability to design and build a nuclear power plant has been dissipated, and the renewal of the nuclear programme has been dependent on overseas technology and nuclear systems suppliers, so it is all the more important that we ensure that the international nuclear co-operation agreements are fit for purpose and in place.
This is surely a depressing situation for a country that led the way in nuclear development. I share the widely expressed concerns about the energy trilemma: the need to keep costs down, to ensure the security of supply and to reduce carbon. There must be a concerted cost-reduction emphasis, supported financially and in policy terms, and I urge the Government to consider becoming much more directly engaged in the nuclear fleet deployment to revitalise the UK nuclear industry.
Diversification of the industry is already happening in Copeland, as companies such as Shepley Engineers, for which my husband works as a welder and which was started at Sellafield in the late 1940s, are now winning contracts across the country. Such companies are deploying their highly skilled workers, who are very experienced and competent at working safely, in highly regulated environments and in extreme conditions. As I speak, the Shepley Engineers workforce are above us fixing the roof and deploying their reverse-engineering techniques to complex and ancient systems. They are replacing the cast-iron tiles and giving the stonework a new lease of life, and they are also working at considerable height on the Elizabeth Tower, always with safety as their principal concern.
It is brilliant that those skills, that expertise and that precision working are in demand across Britain and beyond, but what I really want, and what the industry is crying out for, is for our globally envied skills in nuclear to be valued, employed and deployed, grown and exported as we develop, once again, a UK fleet of nuclear reactors of small scale, advanced breed and large scale to power the country and to export across the world—leading the way and making the most of our established and highly regarded reputation for excellence, innovation and British-built, safe reliability.
The Government’s industrial strategy speaks of grand challenges, pledging to
“put the United Kingdom at the forefront of the industries of the future”.
I agree with the statement that a truly strategic Government must do more than just fix the foundations, important as they are, and must plan for a rapidly changing future. The industrial strategy reports:
“Nuclear is a vital part of our energy mix, providing low carbon power now and into the future. The safe and efficient decommissioning of our nuclear legacy is an area of world-leading expertise.”
Let us not forget that this is our responsibility. This is not the kind of job that we should be leaving for our children and grandchildren to deal with.
We have enjoyed the power generated by nuclear, we have benefited from more than 70 years of highly skilled employment and we have learned many lessons along the way. Now, we are doing the responsible thing and cleaning up our legacy waste. Old and deteriorating storage facilities are nearing the end of their useful life at Sellafield, and it is our generation’s task to deal with this, both by prioritising safe storage and disposal and by investing in research and development to realise the full potential of the highest grade fissile material.
The research and development carried out at the national nuclear laboratory and at the Dalton nuclear institute, in partnership with universities and academia, and with the small and medium-sized enterprises in Copeland, is world leading. It is truly ground-breaking innovation that will transform the way we power our homes and businesses, our vehicles on this planet and travelling to others, and how we live our lives.
This Bill is an essential element of that work, and nothing should detract from its delivery. Today is a positive step in the right direction for our nuclear industry. I am so proud to be part of the journey, serving my community in this House. I commend this Nuclear Safeguards Bill, Lords amendments 1, 2 and 4 to 7 and amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 3.
I rise to speak in favour of Lords amendment 3.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to follow the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison). She spoke powerfully about the contribution of civil nuclear power to our local economy. As she knows full well, every day several hundred people from my constituency go up that basket-case road and on that awful coastal rail line to Sellafield. I hope the Minister was not taken the long way around, and so avoided that awful bit of the A595 and that dreadful bit of the Cumbria coastline. Those routes are truly appalling, and we need his and his Department’s help in trying to unlock our dreadful logjam with the Department for Transport.
Before I reach the substance of my brief remarks, I would like to say how nice it is to hear that the husband of the hon. Member for Copeland is in the Gallery and that she has brought him to hear her speak on Lords amendment 3 to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill for his birthday. That shows, despite all the rumours to the contrary, that people from Millom really know how to have a good time. [Laughter.] I really should not say that, given that the boundaries may expand and I might end up asking for the votes of the people of Millom at the next election.
In this place and elsewhere, we often end up getting cross with the wrong people. I have a great deal of sympathy for the Minister because, as has been talked about at length in the Chamber today, he has listened. If we were to tally the people who are broadly on the right side of this debate, he would be one of them. The people we should be cross with—those who made the wrongheaded, deeply Europhobic decision to exit Euratom at the time of our leaving the European Union—are not here. We still do not accept the legal advice that he quotes. To my knowledge—he could set us straight either way—even when the Government are talking about associate Euratom status, or whatever is put in place, they will still not accept the jurisdiction of the European Court in those decisions, although I believe they have already conceded this in other areas, such as civil aviation.
The hon. Member for Copeland spoke well about the importance and power of the civil nuclear industry. She posited this Bill as essential to it, and in one case it is, but let us not forget that the Bill is necessary only because of that wrongheaded decision to leave Euratom, which, even at this late stage, could still be unpicked. Surely this is just common sense. The Lords considered these amendments at great length, and I had the privilege of reading back the speech of my predecessor, Lord Hutton of Furness, who was saying how catastrophic this would be not only for the many, many thousands of jobs currently in Sellafield and for the up to 18,000 jobs that could come through as part of the NuGen power station in Moorside, but for our whole energy security framework. In the words of Lord Hutton, it is not right for us to be playing fast and loose with this.
I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister will reconsider the opposition to the well-put proposal from the Lords. Ultimately, however, there is still time for the Government to make this decision and say, “Forget this, we don’t have to pursue associate membership. We don’t have to enact all of this scrabble to get new nuclear inspectors in place.” He may tell me if I am wrong about this, but if we have Euratom status, will these inspectors that we are recruiting be needed? We do not have to go through with this process if the Government swallow their collective pride and admit they were wrong to put us on the path to leaving Euratom in the first place.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak tonight as I spoke in this important debate at an earlier stage—on Second Reading. I was pleased to hear the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who gave a good, comprehensive analysis of why civil nuclear power and the nuclear industry are so important, not only to her constituency but to the country as a whole. In this debate, we tend to get forgetful about the immense contribution Britain has made to the nuclear industry and nuclear science. At the beginning of the 20th century, we had people such as Thomson and Rutherford, and others in the Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge and at other universities. They pioneered nuclear technology and advances in the nuclear industry. It is sad to hear speeches in this House that yet again undermine, frustrate or seek to question our capacity to get this right and to institute safeguards.
In that regard, the Bill is an excellent piece of legislation. It is sensible and it tries to construct a framework that will allow us to leave Euratom and go our own way. After all, we are members of the International Atomic Energy Agency—it has a structure and about 169 countries as members—and we should celebrate that. To hear people in this Chamber, one would think that without Euratom we were absolutely nothing and there would be no safeguards and no industry. We have heard the doom-mongering prophecy of thousands of job losses, to which the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) alluded in his mildly entertaining speech. We have had all these bugbears and goblins, and all this terror, held before us, but we are taking a simple step: we are going to leave Euratom and institute our own Bill, as we are doing, that will provide for safeguards in the industry. We also have the IAEA as a backstop. All this fear-mongering and these doom-laden prophecies of job losses are grossly exaggerated.
The other thing to say on the amendments is that in eight years in this House I cannot remember a Government who have been so accommodating and open to amendments as we have been on this Bill. In general, we see Governments, including the one of which I am a member, rejecting amendments; sometimes the amendments make sense and often they do not. In this instance, I have been surprised and impressed by the fact that our Front Benchers and the Government as a whole have adopted many of the amendments proposed in the Lords.
I want to talk a little about the House of Lords amendments and the processes they are going through. The job of scrutiny that the Lords are doing is good, but in the context of Euratom and debates about the EU there is a suspicion—I am not saying that all the people in the other place are influenced in this way—that a lot of these debates and institutions are being set up as straw men with which to block Brexit. When people say we should stay in this or that institution, there is always the suspicion of it being a rearguard fight to reverse the decision of the referendum of June 2016 and somehow to stay in the EU by other means. I am not suggesting the majority of their lordships are influenced by that, but in these debates there is always the suspicion that people are trying to use proxies and excuses to prolong our membership, unnecessarily, of these European institutions.
Euratom is a creature not of the EU but very much of the philosophy that was underpinning countries of western Europe coming together. I believe Euratom was established in 1957, roughly at the same time as the treaty of Rome, but we did not actually join it until 1973. To hear some of these speeches, one would think that we had no nuclear industry and no nuclear expertise before we joined Euratom. As I was trying to suggest, that is, of course, completely false.
Would the hon. Gentleman perhaps concede that he has misunderstood the amendment? It says that its provisions would be invoked only if everything had not been agreed. It does not say that we would stay in Euratom in perpetuity; it simply says that we would stay in until the point at which every single i had been dotted and every single t had been crossed.
I accept that it is a clever amendment. I accept that on the face of it, it says that it is just a backstop, there purely to ensure that if we do not have the right treaties in place we get to stay in Euratom forever and ever, but the hon. Lady and I know that the people who composed the amendment do not expect all the relevant treaties to have been signed in the short timeframe available. I suggest, perhaps cynically—perhaps the hon. Lady will challenge me on this—that the clever amendment is simply a ruse to prolong our membership of Euratom. Call me an over-cynical man of superstition, but a lot of my constituents, if they pay any attention to this issue, would come to the same conclusion.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me a second go. In a sense, we are all rooting for the Minister, in the hope that he will come to a complete set of agreements in time. We all want that, and as soon as he does that, the amendment’s provisions will no longer apply. There is no issue, because if it all happens, it is fine, and even if it does not happen, the amendment will no longer apply as soon as it does happen. I do not understand the hon. Gentleman’s argument; it does not make logical sense.
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s interventions. All I am suggesting is that what we have seen in the other House and heard in speeches there over several weeks is a consistent and concerted attempt to reverse the verdict of June 2016. I feel that this Euratom debate—I spoke on Second Reading—has been very much a proxy debate about the merits of the EU, which it should not have been. I have every confidence that the Government have the right safeguards in the Bill. I do not feel that the British civil nuclear industry is under any threat whatsoever. With the IAEA, we have in place the right structures. The scaremongering and doom-laden prophesies should be set aside, we should encourage the Government and we should reject the Lords amendments.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 3.
8 May 2018
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Lords amendment 3 disagreed to.
Government amendment (a) made in lieu of Lords amendment 3.
Lords amendment 1, 2 and 4 to 7 agreed to.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the urgent question on the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review earlier on, which had been published at 8 am on Friday 4 May with no press releases or advance copies in the middle of the local election results, the Minister of State for Care said:
“It is an independent document and the University of Bristol decided when it was going to be published. It was published on Friday without permission from or any kind of communication with the Department of Health and Social Care.”
However, the Secretary of State had told the House in December 2016:
“As the programme develops, all learnings will be transferred to the national avoidable mortality programme. I have today asked the LeDeR programme to provide annual reports to the Department of Health on its findings”—[Official Report, 13 December 2016; Vol. 618, c. 622.]
What the Minister of State said today cuts directly across what the Secretary of State told the House, which was that he intended annual reports to be made to the Department of Health. Since our urgent question, the programme itself has clarified this on social media. It said that following claims made by the Care Minister in Parliament,
“we would like to clarify that @NHSEngland chose when to publish the #Leder report and directed all communications.”
Given that clarification from the programme itself, has the Minister of State or the Secretary of State asked to correct the record?
The hon. Lady wishes to put her point on the record and, by raising a point of order, she has done so. I am quite certain that the Treasury Bench will have taken note of what she has said. She, like all Members of this House, will know that it is not a matter for the Chair what an individual Minister says at the Dispatch Box. Therefore, I cannot give her any ruling on the matter, but she has sought to put her point on the record, and she has succeeded in doing so.
Business of the House (Today)
That, at this day’s sitting, proceedings on the Motion in the name of Jeremy Corbyn relating to Criminal Legal Aid Remuneration may continue, though opposed, for 90 minutes after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order, and shall then lapse if not previously disposed of, and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) will not apply.—(Rebecca Harris.)