Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations under section 19(2) bringing into force subsection (1) may not be made until the Prime Minister is satisfied that resolutions have been passed by the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly signifying consent to the commencement of subsection (1).”
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to move Amendment 5. I pay particular credit to my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, who, having thought that we were going to deal with this earlier on—as indeed many of us did—has managed to stay with us right through to this late hour. I think that that indicates his enthusiasm and commitment, for which he deserves credit.
Amendment 5, generally designed to provide consent by the devolved Administrations, would prevent the European Communities Act 1972 from being repealed until legislative consent has been obtained from the devolved Administrations. Effectively, it would give a veto to the devolved Administrations. One or two of my more unionist colleagues have been having a go at me and saying that this goes too far, and no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—I was going to say my noble friend—might come in and say that. I am arguing this for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, which I hope, by the time we get to this, will be back up and working again as effectively as it has in the past and providing an effective voice for Northern Ireland.
I recall when devolution was introduced. I was in the Department for International Development at the time. I know the Minister is a bit younger than me and may not remember all the details—
Yes, he is a good bit younger than me, Steve—sorry, I mean my noble friend. He may not remember this, but Whitehall mandarins and Ministers did not like the idea of devolution. They were losing power from their central departments in Whitehall and opposed it. However, we had strong and effective Labour Ministers, particularly Donald Dewar, my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine and others, who made sure that real powers were devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Whitehall mandarins and Ministers still do not understand devolution. They have not come to terms with the new reality that there is not just one Parliament in the United Kingdom but four and that the others must at the very least be consulted on matters that affect them.
This Bill has exacerbated the already serious tension that has grown up between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations. In both Edinburgh and Cardiff, serious concerns have been expressed by all parties, not just nationalist parties, about the balance of power and the effect that the Bill has on the balance of power within the United Kingdom. As drafted, Clause 11, which we will discuss later, gives all retained European Union powers to Westminster initially. Then mandarins and Ministers in Whitehall will decide what powers should be devolved and how they should be devolved. As I say, I do not have the greatest faith in that. The United Kingdom Government argue that in areas such as environmental regulation, agricultural policy, state aid and some aspects of justice and transport, regulations and rules throughout the United Kingdom need to coincide to take account of the United Kingdom’s single market. I understand that; there is logic in that as regards certain areas. But why, for instance, does the United Kingdom not want the Scottish Government to deal with pesticides, fertilisers, the composition of mineral water and the tracing of animals, to take a few random examples? What difference would it make if the Scottish Parliament and Government or the Welsh Assembly Government took a different decision from that taken in England in many of these areas?
There are 111 areas to be dealt with. They were all forgotten about, certainly during the referendum. No one talked about them. We know about the bus that went around the country with lies painted on its side. At last, today, a red bus came through Westminster with the truth painted on its side, which pleased those of us who are fighting Brexit to the last breath. However, people’s attention during the referendum campaign was concentrated on the bus with lies on its side. These areas were not discussed during the debate on the triggering of Article 50, when they should have been discussed in detail. They have been the subject of apparently fruitless debate for many months between the UK Government and the devolved Governments.
We can legitimately ask why no agreement has been reached. Months and months have passed during which agreement could have been reached. The Secretary of State for Scotland promised that these amendments would be introduced when the Bill was in the other place. But what happened? Nothing; there was no sign of them whatever. That suggests a lack of trust between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Governments. A reason for failure to reach agreement is the fact that the joint ministerial committees, particularly the joint ministerial committee on the European Union, have not met regularly. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, will remember that under previous Governments—if my noble friend Lord McConnell were present, he would confirm this—we had regular meetings. I remember when I was Minister of State for Scotland going to a number of these meetings. I also remember going regularly to Edinburgh, with Ministers from the Scottish Parliament coming down regularly to Whitehall, and we had meeting after meeting to discuss things. Maybe there was a little more of a coincidence of interests and understanding between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government then. However, even when there is not a coincidence of interests—and even more in that case—meetings should be taking place to try to resolve that.
I understand that at last—the Minister will perhaps confirm this—the joint ministerial committee on the European Union will meet tomorrow. Perhaps the Minister will give some indication as to whether we might expect to have something positive out of it. We need agreement as quickly as possible. We need amendments to Clause 11 to be tabled soon.
It would have no great effect either way, to be honest. I would like to think that it would have a greater effect on getting an agreement, but I do not think that it will. Other factors will have greater sway. However, no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will have an opportunity to make his usual spirited contribution to the debate.
It is a running sore that these government amendments to Clause 11 have not been tabled. I say to the Minister that we in this House—I hope that the whole House will agree with me on this; I certainly know that the Official Opposition agree with it—should not debate Clause 11 not just until the amendments have been tabled but until the amendments that have been tabled have been considered by the devolved Administrations. It would be entirely wrong for us to discuss Clause 11 without having the views of the devolved Administrations about the amendments that the Government will table. I hope that we will get an assurance from the Minister that we will not have a debate in Committee on the amendments until they have been considered by the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Irish Assembly, if it is up and running by then.
As it happens, I have an amendment directed to Clause 11. I would have thought that there was an advantage in debating in Committee so that we can at least engage with the Minister and explain the points that lie behind the amendment. Otherwise, if the amendment is simply not pursued in Committee, we cannot come back to it until Report. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if in due course I move my amendment, which is intended to be helpful. At the end of the day, I hope that the amendment that the noble Lord is pursuing today will become completely academic because the differences between the devolved institutions and Westminster will be resolved. That surely must be the aim, not to keep this sense of tension until the Bill is passed.
My Lords, I have great respect for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and he is right on this. I will now rethink what I just said. As long as we have not deliberated finally on Report, we need on Report to have the result of the deliberations and the views of the devolved Parliament and Assemblies. The noble and learned Lord has made a good point, which I accept, and I hope that he is right that it will make my amendment ultimately redundant. No one would be happier than me if that were the case. The Sewel convention is that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate—
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord in full flow, but I want to make an intervention that I hope will be helpful in reconciling his position with that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. There is a precedent for pausing legislation. During the Committee stage of the Health and Social Care Bill, which became the Health and Social Care Act 2012, there were problems with making progress and the legislation was paused. I do not know whether that idea appeals to the noble Lord, but it occurs to me that, when we get to Clause 11 and if there has been no action from the Government, it might be possible to pause consideration in Committee at that point to give the Government sufficient time to come forward with their amendments, having agreed them with the devolved Administrations. I do not know whether he finds that a helpful intervention.
I was not in full flow; in fact, I was near the end, noble Lords will be pleased to hear. That is another helpful suggestion. It shows the advantage of debates in this place—we come up with helpful suggestions. I can only say that I wish that Ministers were as ready to accept helpful suggestions as I am, because this place would work a lot better if they were. To be fair, the Minister of State for Scotland was helpful when we discussed the British Transport Police. He came to this House and said that he would take the matter away and look at it further. One good thing is that yesterday the Scottish Government announced a delay in the implementation of British Transport Police integration. That says a lot for the wisdom of this House; it says a lot for the positive intervention of the Minister; and it indicates that, if we put some pressure on the Scottish Parliament, we can influence it. However, it should also be able to influence us.
As I said, under the Sewel convention, the UK Parliament will not normally legislate without the consent of the Scottish Parliament, although it depends what you mean by “normally”. However, this issue is so material to the work of the Scottish Parliament and indeed the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly that this is one area on which we should not legislate without their consent. I beg to move.
My Lords, I well remember the debate on the latest Scotland Act. I think that it was Clause 2 that enshrined the so-called Sewel convention. I remember arguing very vigorously that a convention was a convention and it was a mistake to try to incorporate a convention into statute. The then hapless Minister, reading from his brief, explained that “normally” meant that it would not be a problem. Some of us argued from different points of view that the word “normally” was rather vague and that its meaning could end up being discussed in the courts. We were given assurances that “normally” meant “normally”, but to argue that it is “normal” for the Sewel convention to apply to our repealing of the 1972 Act is stretching the meaning of the word.
I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and I feel very sorry about the position that his party now finds itself in in Scotland. It started off with the slogan that devolution would kill nationalism stone dead, but some of us on this side of the House argued that it would not; it would result in the nationalists getting power in Scotland and using their position in the Scottish Parliament at every opportunity to break the United Kingdom. Fortunately, there is a bit of a backlash in Scotland to the advantage of the Conservatives and unionists. I say to the noble Lord that this is not a unionist amendment; it is an extremely unwise amendment. It gives a veto to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly on United Kingdom matters. The noble Lord said that there are four parliaments in the UK. Yes, there are four bodies in the UK, but there is only one United Kingdom Parliament, and that is this Parliament. It is for this Parliament to implement the results of the referendum. The notion that the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly would be able to stop in its tracks the delivery of leaving the European Union, following the biggest vote in our history, is utterly absurd and ridiculous.
If we look at this from a Scottish point of view, as I tend to do, one of the ironies of the Brexit vote, when we are told that in Scotland Brexit was not the majority view, is that the political party with most of its members supporting Brexit was the Scottish National Party—and those 400,000 votes are apparently just to be written off. We all know that the Scottish nationalists use every opportunity to turn everything into a constitutional crisis. Ministers have worked long and hard to reach agreement, and I believe that agreement is there on a way forward. Personally, I do not see how we could write an amendment that could resolve this problem; we shall come to that later in the Bill.
When I was Secretary of State, from time to time I disagreed with my colleagues because there was a particular Scottish interest, whether that was in fishing, agriculture or other matters handled in Scotland under the arrangements. We had a joint ministerial committee, we would argue about the merits and we would reach a conclusion. It seems to me that when we have left the European Union and those powers have come back to the United Kingdom, it would be perfectly sensible to have some kind of administrative arrangement that enabled us to do what we have spent quite a lot of time talking about today, and preserve that single market. The nationalists are saying that they want to remain in the European Union because it is important to have access to the single market—but that single market is about a quarter of the size of the single market that is the United Kingdom. What is at issue here is how we maintain a United Kingdom single market and at the same time provide for devolved responsibilities to be carried out.
I look forward with interest to seeing what amendments may be brought forward, but providing a veto for the devolved parliaments is certainly not the way to preserve the single market.
May I ask the noble Lord to cast his mind back to 26 January 2012, when I moved a Motion that the Scotland Bill be considered in Committee, and he moved an amendment that the House,
“declines to consider the Bill in Committee until Her Majesty’s Government have laid before Parliament a report on the results of the consultation they launched on 11 January on Scotland’s constitutional future and until the Scottish Parliament has passed a further Legislative Consent Motion in respect of the Bill”?—[Official Report, 26/1/12; col. 1161.]
He was going to deny a Committee stage on a Bill that contained measures supported in the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour manifestos at the preceding general election. This amendment would still allow the Bill to go forward and become an Act. How does he describe his apparent lack of consistency?
I think I was behaving exactly like the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. I was using the procedures of the House to make an argument against what I thought at the time was a very bad Bill—and which only this week has meant that people like me are now the highest taxpayers in the United Kingdom, as we predicted would happen. If I may say so to the noble and learned Lord, his point is completely irrelevant to the amendment before us.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, talks about tensions being created in Edinburgh between this Parliament and the Scottish Parliament. There will always be tensions between this United Kingdom Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, as long as it is run by people who wish to destroy the United Kingdom. That is what they are about: using their powers to break the United Kingdom. The notion that we should move in a direction and get ourselves into a position where we need lots of legislative consent Motions simply provides more opportunities for everything to be turned into a constitutional crisis, which is the nature of the SNP. We will come to that later in our consideration of the Bill.
That is highly unlikely, although I am sure that it would welcome this amendment.
The key point, surely, is to be able to retain a single market in the United Kingdom. No one is suggesting not devolving powers as appropriate to the various parliaments and assemblies that make up the United Kingdom, but it has to be done in a way that preserves the single market. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked why we should not have different rules on pesticides. Noble Lords could ask a farmer who has one half of his farm in Scotland and the other half in England whether it would be a problem to spray certain pesticides in some fields and others in others. It is surely sensible in a single market to have a common view on matters such as that. Or let us take an issue that the Scottish nationalists have been keen on, such as fishing. Some of the Scottish Government would quite like to say that all fish caught in Scottish waters should be landed at Scottish ports. How would that go down with fishermen in the north-east of England or elsewhere who had caught fish in northern waters? How would we enforce proper fishing conservation and other policy other than by international treaty? Treaties are made by countries and so far we have one country, which is the United Kingdom.
There are all kinds of issues that need to be sorted out and the way that they are sorted out is by people sitting down and coming to sensible conclusions, not by putting in the Bill an amendment of this kind, which does not actually strengthen the devolution settlement but undermines it because it gives grist to the mill to those who would destroy the United Kingdom. My advice to the noble Lord is to withdraw his amendment. When we come to discuss the amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and others, we can perhaps address this issue more fully.
I wonder if I might add a Welsh dimension. The Joint Ministerial Committee did not meet from February last year until October. During that time, the department was beavering away producing the Bill without any consultation with the Welsh and Scottish Administrations about how the devolution of powers from Brussels would take place. Then we had a model produced in the Bill which even the Government rejected. They told us that they would bring forward an amendment to the Bill before Report in the House of Commons. That did not happen, so they continued to beaver away on their amendment. I do not know whether there have been any discussions since, but certainly up until the week before last, Welsh and Scottish Ministers were saying that they had not been consulted about the package that would now be put forward—no consultation. I gather that tomorrow the Joint Ministerial Committee will meet in Edinburgh, and no doubt the Government will produce an amendment and tell the Committee to accept an amendment on which there has been no consultation or discussion.
At Second Reading, I suggested that the whole devolution area should be taken out of this Bill altogether. There should be agreement between the devolved Administrations and the UK Government, and they should bring back a Bill that would encapsulate that agreement. It would go through both Houses without any difficulty. That would be proper consultation and the proper way to make law. We will come to something like that when we discuss Clause 11, because I have given notice of my intention to oppose the question that it stand part of this Bill. If by the time we get there, which no doubt will be in some weeks’ time, there is still no agreement because we have no idea what the reaction of the Scottish and Welsh Administrations will be to what is put on the plate for them tomorrow, then the only thing that this House can do is to take out the devolution principles and proposals in this Bill and bring them back when they have been agreed. There is plenty of time—a month, two or three months, however long it will take—for that process to happen.
I am not suggesting an amendment; I am suggesting that we take out Clause 11. The amendment being moved by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, today is born of frustration; you can see the frustration that is coming from him. Obviously the opposition to his amendment will say, “We can’t have this. We can’t give Nicola Sturgeon or Carwyn Jones a veto on legislation of the UK Parliament”. I understand that. The frustration behind the amendment should put pressure on the Government to get to grips with this issue. Earlier. my noble friend Lady Humphreys was quoting Mrs Thatcher on the single market. Noble Lords will recall that Mrs Thatcher said that there must be action on this and action on that, but with this Government there is no action. Nothing is happening and no decisions are being made with which we can get a grip.
This is one very important decision and it requires agreement from the devolved Administrations. Why is that? It is because if all the powers come from Brussels to Westminster and are then parcelled out as Westminster thinks fit, it gives incredible power to Ministers, particularly if it is done by means of secondary legislation. That gives them enormous power drastically to alter the devolution settlement. I mentioned at Second Reading that the grants which come to Wales—a lot of money comes to Wales—are sent because of need. That is the criterion that governs the distribution of funds for agriculture and for deprived areas. We are used to operating a Barnett formula in devolution terms and there would be nothing to prevent a Westminster Government with all these powers from Brussels from saying, “I think we will go back to the dear old Barnett formula. We will not look at the needs of the nations of this country; we will look simply at the population and distribute money in accordance with the way we have done it up to now”. That is the sort of thing that could happen. I am not saying it will, but it could, and it would create resentment and concern for the people of Scotland, of Wales and no doubt of Northern Ireland as well. That is the issue which has to be tackled.
My Lords, my understanding is that about a fortnight ago an undertaking was given in the House of Commons to the effect that this matter would be visited and that a suitable amendment would be made to enable consent Motions to be passed by both devolved Parliaments in this matter. It seems to me a matter of a strict undertaking. I do not know whether the Government are in a position to say how soon that undertaking will be brought into force.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, for moving Amendment 5. I had intended to add my name to it, but then I started to look at the Northern Ireland dimension and how that could be covered. I therefore want particularly to speak to my Amendment 356, which is linked with Amendment 5 and which tries to deal with the unfortunate situation in Northern Ireland. I shall be brief because noble Lords have probably heard enough of my voice today.
At a time when the devolved Governments feel that they are facing what they call, rightly or wrongly, a power grab, surely it is important that the UK Government should carry those Administrations with them in such a major project as this. I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said. As always, he was totally consistent, but he must accept that there is a conflict between the perception of a legislative consent mechanism at Westminster—which tends to regard it as a convention, as I said—and the understanding that has developed among the devolved bodies, which see it more as the norm and a mechanism required as part of the legislative process. I understand the noble Lord when he says that there may be parts of the legislative process without it, because of their international connotations et cetera, but when there is an impact, as has been mentioned in certain cases, on the powers coming back from Brussels and going to wherever they go to—Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast—then there clearly needs to be a mechanism to sort that out. That is not just at this point in time; that mechanism needs to be ongoing for the future, because I entirely accept that there is a UK single market and that there must be some rules for it.
I do not think there is a problem with pesticides. We had incidents in Wales; I think the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, will recall this in the National Assembly at the very early stage, when there was the question of GM crops. Exactly the same argument arose: what about the farmer with a farm straddling the Flintshire and Cheshire border? That question arose, but such things could be worked out. There was no great problem. The much greater problem is that there is a perceived unfairness there and no response to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, mentioned, the UK Government have given the impression that the Bill sometimes overrides the devolution settlements. That causes a reaction in Cardiff and Edinburgh that could have been avoided. There must be some attempt to negotiate some agreement by working together toward a consensus. The Government heralded Brexit as taking back power. The irony is that the settlement, in the light of the treatment of the devolved regimes, is seen by many people in Edinburgh and Cardiff in that context: powers are being taken back, but in the opposite direction.
The amendment gives the Government an opportunity to show in the Bill that they respect the devolved legislatures and, perhaps more importantly, to say how they will bring forward in due course their own amendments that will deal will this issue, which should never have boiled up to the level it is at now. It is the sort of thing that could have been resolved, but because of the lack of conversation and contact, it has become an issue that we are debating tonight.
My Lords, I note what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said in response to my intervention. On the occasion to which I referred, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, actually supported him in trying to stop the Bill going forward to Committee stage.
I think that what my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford said about the sheer frustration that lies behind the amendment—and what the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said about the lack of conversation—is absolutely true. That has coloured the background to these discussions. It is worth reminding ourselves about the root of some of this frustration. I think it was in October 2016 when, in a plenary session chaired by the Prime Minister, the Joint Ministerial Committee established the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations, with the following terms of reference:
“Working together in EU Negotiations … Through the JMC(EN) the governments will work collaboratively to: discuss each government’s requirements of the future relationship with the EU; seek to agree a UK approach to, and objectives for, Article 50 negotiations; and … provide oversight of negotiations with the EU, to ensure, as far as possible, that outcomes agreed by all four governments are secured from these negotiations; and, discuss issues stemming from the negotiation process which may impact upon or have consequences for the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or the Northern Ireland Executive”.
The fact that, tomorrow, the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations will meet for the second time in 12 months suggests that these terms of reference, agreed by the three devolved Administrations and the United Kingdom Government, have been more honoured in the breach than they have been in the actual implementation. That is at the source of much of the frustration that we have heard expressed. One hears it: when he was replying to the debate initiated on 25 January, the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank, said:
“The important thing is to stress that it is not for want of effort on our part”—
that is, the United Kingdom Government’s part—
“to secure a form of words that would allow the two devolved Administrations and the UK Government to reach a consensus on that point”.—[Official Report, 25/1/18; col. 1128.]
Yet, if you go to the devolved Administrations, they will say that they have had no communication. There is a lack of communication and there seems to be a complete mismatch with what has been said to us.
It would be interesting if the Minister could tell us yet whether the actual wording of any possible amendment to Clause 11—the Secretary of State for Scotland has accepted that Clause 11 has to be amended; he said that it would be done on Report in the House of Commons, but it was not—has been discussed at ministerial level between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations. If so, when was that discussed? When the Scottish and Welsh Governments addressed a briefing of Peers in late January they indicated that there had been no exchange of wording.
What is even more frustrating is that it does not seem that the parties are terribly far apart. In September last year, the Scottish Government acknowledged in their legislative consent memorandum that there were areas in which there would have to be common UK frameworks. The communiqué issued after the last Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations in October also set out the areas in which UK common frameworks were necessary and desirable. Both sides have agreed that that has to be done. Why in the world is more progress not being made, or at least why are we not able to see what progress, if any, is being made?
Perhaps the biggest problem here is the fact that it is done behind closed doors. If there were more transparency, we would see who was playing to the gallery and who was trying genuinely to seek a resolution to these matters. There are issues, such as agriculture, fisheries and the environment, where everybody acknowledges that there will have to be some kind of common framework. Let us identify what progress has been made.
We were told this week in newspaper reports that the United Kingdom Government have done a complete reversal. They now say that they will bring forward an amendment that will devolve everything back to the devolved Administrations, but, as it said in the Times report from yesterday,
“UK ministers are also adamant they would need to retain a veto over the use of some of these powers until ‘common frameworks’ are agreed”.
Again, in terms of public relations, it is like saying, “Here’s one hand; we’ll take away with the other”. What is the position? If we are to have to make decisions when we come to debate Clause 11, it is important that we know what the relationship is and what each side in these negotiations is saying.
The noble and learned Lord is very clever and experienced at negotiations with different political parties in government. Perhaps I am too stupid, but I cannot think of a way—and I agree with a lot of what he said—to word an amendment that would deliver the result that he suggests is needed. Can he help me? What would an amendment actually say that ensured that there was the kind of continuing co-operation that is needed?
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, there is certainly one attached to Clause 11 that has my name on it, as well as the names of a number of other noble Lords. He will find that Amendment 303 sets out a basis for having common frameworks. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, has one in very similar terms, Amendment 304, which certainly provides a basis for moving forward. We are in opposition. The onus is on the Government to come forward with this. Let us not kid ourselves. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, makes a fair point, but it is the Secretary of State for Scotland who promised amendments on Report in the House of Commons. He has made the commitment to amendments, so the onus is not on the Opposition to come forward with these amendments but on the Government.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us what the colour of the Government’s amendments will be. In the European Union negotiations, TF50 sets out where each of the parties is and gives us great transparency—where there is disagreement and where there are things that have to be clarified. This whole exercise would benefit from far greater transparency so that we can see what progress is or is not being made, who is holding things up and who is genuinely seeking to make progress. I appeal to the Minister to make a commitment when he replies that, following tomorrow’s JMC on the European negotiations, that transparency will become a reality.
My Lords, I hope that an Englishman, albeit one with a Scottish name, may be allowed to add something to this debate, because it is depressing for someone who lives in the north of England to hear a debate about how much of a privileged relationship the devolved Administrations should have with the United Kingdom Government, when the north of England is likely to suffer very much from leaving the European Union in terms of the loss of European development funds, and at the moment lacks any sort of forum for negotiation or consultation with the very centralised government of England in order to make its case. I am very conscious that the poorer parts of northern England were among those that voted most heavily to leave and that recent studies have suggested that they are also the regions that are likely to lose most from Brexit.
Amendment 227, when we come to it, addresses the question of how far a new mechanism will be needed for the central government in London to consult with English local authorities. My understanding is that the Local Government Association has been in conversation with the Government on that and that the Government have not yet come to an agreed view. I just wish to give notice that this is a very important point, politically and constitutionally, and when we come to it I hope that it will be given sufficient weight.
My Lords, this has been a shorter debate than the previous one and I will try to honour the Minister’s strictures earlier in the evening and limit my remarks to the Bill and to the issue before us, rather than wander into a premature debate on Clause 11 at this stage. At Second Reading, right at the beginning, while our attention was still good, the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, who introduced the debate, said that it was to be guided by two key principles, the first being the need for a functioning statute book on exit. I pause there to suggest that what I hear from Cardiff and Edinburgh is that there the devolved Governments too want a functioning statute book the day after exit, which is why we need some resolution of these matters, difficult as they may be. Secondly, she said there were to be,
“no new barriers to living in and doing business across the UK”.
We have no difficulty there. She went on to say:
“We will shortly be publishing our initial framework analysis”.
If the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has difficulty with the word “normal”, I promise him that I have difficulty with the word “shortly”, especially since, on 30 January, “shortly” suggested to me that we would have something before us now, but we have not. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, perhaps the amendment is born of frustration. All that time that went by without any consultation at all which could have produced something that we could be looking at, leads us to want to put in a caveat that if what has been promised does not materialise, it is serious enough for us to feel that we have to offer something quite drastic to shake people to their senses. It is in that spirit, I think especially at Second Reading, that we must look at this amendment.
The noble Baroness said:
“Noble Lords will be aware of the Government’s commitment to bring forward amendments to Clause 11”.
Those are her words, not mine. She said:
“This is a complex area”—
she would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—
“that we need to get right, and I hope these amendments will put us on the best possible footing to achieve legislative consent”—
her words, which we echo, of course, in the amendment we are looking at—
“which remains our overarching objective”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; cols. 1374-75.]
When my noble friend Lady Smith rose to reply to that opening speech, she agreed with those objectives without hesitation and promised that from these Benches we would want to co-operate with the Bill in order to get those agreements in place in time. But where are the amendments? How can we proceed? When will promises be fulfilled? Is it not frustrating—and it is at several stages that I have found this to be happening—that here we are, at this hour of the night, debating this matter, when tomorrow the Joint Ministerial Committee will be meeting? Would it not be lovely if it had met yesterday and then perhaps we could have withdrawn the amendment? But it must stay there until we have a bit more satisfaction than we do.
The Institute of Welsh Affairs made its own comment, saying that,
“in its current form, this Bill fails to respect the power already granted to the elected governments in Scotland and Wales, and to respect the democratic legislatures in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland”.
We are all sorry that this debate takes place in a situation where it looks as if we are going to have to make decisions on behalf of Northern Ireland that the Northern Ireland Assembly has not been involved in making for itself. We must all regret that. Cardiff and Edinburgh must do the speaking for the moment. But there is the Institute of Welsh Affairs talking about the lack of respect for the democratic Governments that have been set up for. For 20 years these Governments have been doing their business in areas where now we are told the United Kingdom Government will take things to themselves before deciding how the division of spoils will take place. That just does not seem right. When my two sons were around 20, if I, as the United Kingdom Government, had told them to go back to wearing short trousers, I know what they would have said to me. They would have tabled an amendment exactly like the one we are considering now.
Then the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution added its voice, saying:
“The primary concern … is that the devolution settlements must not be undermined”.
They are being undermined. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, shakes his head. I have seen heads nodding in Cardiff and Edinburgh—not just Scottish National Party heads either. The committee went on:
“While the Government has clarified aspects of how joint responsibility will operate, there remains significant uncertainty”—
if there is one thing I would want to say about all that we have been discussing today, it is the fact that uncertainty, like a bog, sucks us down into itself and is at the heart of the terrain we are trying to explore together—
“as to how and when these joint powers will be exercised. We are left only with assurances from the Government that it hopes to identify quickly … which powers can be transferred”;
that is quickly, not shortly. Assurances from the Government are like the grin on the face of the Cheshire Cat and we must be careful that we do not simply bow to auntie—big government—but respect the adulthood, maturity and readiness to do business in the respective regions and countries of these islands, in a better way than we have done thus far.
The Bar Council weighed in, saying that,
“there is force in the concerns expressed by the First Ministers”—
to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, alluded—
“and that Parliament should consider carefully whether an appropriate balance is struck by the current proposals or whether it would not be more appropriate, and more consistent with the devolved legislation, to accept the proposed amendments”.
Members of the Bar Council are not Members of the House of Lords so they probably do not count.
We come to the last strand of my development of an argument that is on the point, I hope the Minister will agree—he is smiling at me. That is nice; it is the first time I have seen him smiling all day, actually.
In its report, the Delegated Powers Committee said the following. We would not go this far, but it is worth listening to one of its summary proposals:
“The Government should bring forward separate Bills to confer on the devolved institutions competences repatriated”,
from the European Union. It also judges that:
“The Order in Council powers in clause 11 and Schedule 3 are inappropriate and should be removed”.
As has been alluded to by previous speakers, if we do not have either amendments or framework agreements, or evidence of the fruits of conversation, by the time scheduled for the discussion of Clause 11, I suggest that that discussion should not be taken in the place presently allotted to it but be delayed. When Clause 11 comes before us, I do not want to be saying, “The Joint Ministerial Council is meeting tomorrow”. I hope the Minister will recognise that this is not an inappropriate request in the circumstances. With that, I shall simply wait, as will we all before we go to our beds and our Horlicks, for the Minister’s response.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, for his comments and I agree that this matter is totally within the scope of the Bill. I will do what I can to satisfy his requests, but I will probably not be able to satisfy all Members of the House. I understand the frustration on this, but let me take the Committee through our position and where we hope to be when the Committee gets to discuss Clause 11.
We have sought legislative consent from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and it remains our priority to make a positive case in favour of that legislative consent for this important legislation. That is why we committed to work with the devolved Administrations to find a way forward on Clause 11, and to bring forward an amendment in this House. We will debate Clause 11 fully in Committee, and we will table government amendments before then for noble Lords to consider. Although, without an Executive, there is no way to seek legislative consent in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is working hard to restore devolved government there as soon as possible. We are committed to working to ensure that Northern Irish interests are represented in the meantime. We have explicitly recognised the role of the Sewel convention in the Wales Act 2017 and the Scotland Act 2016. We also have a strong track record on devolution. I make it clear to noble Lords that we are committed to the devolution settlements and the conventions that have been established.
But these amendments go further than Sewel; as my noble friend Lord Forsyth pointed out, they would prevent this Parliament exercising its sovereignty. They would require this Parliament to seek consent to legislate in some cases that are not within devolved responsibility and do not affect devolved competence. We believe in the importance of this Bill, which is in the interests of the whole of the UK, and will work to deliver it together with the devolved institutions. But it is also not right that one part of the United Kingdom can hold a veto over the decision taken, in the referendum, by the whole of the United Kingdom and risk the certainty this Government are committed to providing.
Let me address directly some of the points that were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked about progress on Clause 11 and the Joint Ministerial Committee. The Scottish and Welsh Governments asked us to work with them to amend Clause 11, and that is exactly what we have been doing. Officials have worked extensively on proposals and Ministers discussed these in their recent bilaterals in February. We have preserved the space to engage in meaningful discussion and sought to reach agreement with the devolved Administrations. We have not yet tabled an amendment precisely because those discussions still continue. Our proposed amendment will be discussed, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, at the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations tomorrow.
In response to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, but also by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, we are fully committed to the JMC process as well as to increasing our bilateral engagement between meetings to strengthen relations. Since the referendum, we have had six JMC meetings and, as I have already mentioned, it will meet again tomorrow. In addition, officials are meeting weekly in order to try to take forward the proposals.
The Minister said there have been six meetings since the referendum. Given that at the first meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations the communiqué said that they would meet on a monthly basis and that was in November 2016, by my calculation there have been several more months than six since then. Can the Minister tell us how many official meetings took place between February and October 2017?
I do not have information about how many official meetings have taken place. I understand that officials are meeting extensively. They are in regular contact. I am told by my officials that contact with officials in the Scottish and Welsh Governments and discussions are extremely positive. That is not the same as getting political agreement, but we are endeavouring to do that. Proposals have been tabled, after extensive discussion, for the meeting tomorrow. We hope there will be agreement. I obviously cannot guarantee that, but we hope there will be. We remain committed to obtaining legislative consent Motions if possible, and we will continue that dialogue in an effort to do that. That is the responsible way to proceed, but I totally understand the frustration expressed from all parts of the Committee that we do not yet have that agreement. We want to get that agreement. We are endeavouring to get that agreement. We will do our best to get it, but we will table amendments for this Committee to consider before we get to Clause 11.
Given the difficulties, which are understood, of getting agreement to one legislative consent Motion, can the Minister give us an assurance that whatever amendments he tables will not require us to have legislative consent to even more Motions?
What happens if there is no agreement tomorrow? Will the Government’s amendment, the one that they are putting to the Joint Ministerial Committee tomorrow, be published so that we can look at it and so that informed opinion throughout the country, throughout Wales, throughout Scotland, can look at it and comment on it and so that we can see where the problem is? At the moment, it is all obscure. As my noble and learned friend said, there is no transparency whatever in this process. What happens if there is no agreement tomorrow?
As I said, we will be bringing forward the amendment at the same time that Members of this House have an opportunity to view it. The public at large will be able to comment on it and discuss it, and I am sure there will be extensive comment on it in the media at that time. The reason we have not published so far is that we want to preserve space for discussion and to try to have the discussions with our colleagues in Scotland and Wales and with officials in Northern Ireland in as confidential an atmosphere as possible. The discussions are positive and are proceeding apace. I cannot guarantee that there will be agreement, but we want that agreement and are working to it. We have compromised on many aspects. As soon as we are able to, we will share it with this House. We will definitely be producing an amendment before Committee. I totally understand noble Lords’ frustrations, but we are endeavouring to produce a solution to this difficult issue as quickly as possible.
In order that the Joint Ministerial Committee should enjoy its full status, does the Minister accept that it would be desirable if minutes were kept of its meetings, if an agenda were to be published and if it were indeed to agree to meet at least monthly?
I understand the noble Lord’s question. I am not a member of the committee; it is handled not by my department but by the Cabinet Office. I will write to the noble Lord giving him details of what agendas are published and whether they are shared with other departments. I do not know the exact format, but I will contact him with it.
With those assurances in mind—limited assurances, I fully accept—I would be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, agreed to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this has been a valuable debate—up until the reply. I have been in this House now for 13 years but I have never heard such an inadequate reply to a debate, and I have heard some pretty inadequate ones. I warn the Minister, my colleagues are outside now.
I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, bringing his eloquence and erudition that we normally hear on “Thought for the Day” to the Labour Front Bench, where it goes down equally well. The only thing I am having difficulty with is picturing Mike Russell in short trousers, but I will try to put that out of my mind.
To return to the Minister’s reply, I am glad the Government Chief Whip is here. I ask him: why do we have a Minister, who is a nice enough man, replying when he does not know any of the answers? On three occasions he turned to the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, to get briefing. The noble Lord, Lord Duncan, is perfectly able to deal with this matter; he should be up at the Dispatch Box dealing with it. He knows what is happening; he is working at it on a day-to-day basis. He could have dealt with all the questions, as he has on previous debates. Even the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, would have done better than the noble Lord, Lord Callanan. [Laughter.] As we know, we are always obliged to the noble and learned Lord for his contributions to this House.
I say to the Government Chief Whip: please think about this. I know he does not always listen to me, but when we get to Clause 11 it would be much better to put a Minister up to reply who knows what is going on, sits in on these meetings and deals with this matter on a day-to-day basis. I hope it is a case of horses for courses. The Minister could not answer the question from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace. He could not even answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. That is unusual—actually, no, it is not unusual on that side.
The debate has been very valuable for positive suggestions about the procedures to deal with this issue, and we have had some information about the amendments coming forward and how we deal with them. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and others for their suggestions. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, rightly identified, this amendment is born out of frustration. I share the frustration of the devolved Parliament. We saw it when they came down to give a very good briefing to Peers, and this amendment was born out of that.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, paid me the greatest tribute that he has ever paid me: he likened me to himself. I must say that I was flattered. He understood what I am up to, and I know what he is up to. I know he is a real, committed Brexiteer and he knows I am not. I say to him that we would not have had all this debate about powers being transferred back from Brussels, and we need not have them if we stay in the EU. We can let the EU get on with doing what it is doing well on the environment, health and safety and a whole range of other things. That is what we are aiming for.
Does the noble Lord not realise how absurd he looks, arguing that if these powers remained in Brussels then he would not have to make the case for Scotland having those powers to exercise domestically? We on this side want that, but done in such a way that we retain the single market. He has just admitted that he is using this as an argument to try to turn people against what the people of this country voted for and is not actually interested in those powers being exercised in Wales, Scotland and elsewhere by the assemblies and parliaments.
If they are going to be transferred back to the UK, then I am; that is obviously the case. But it would be far easier to leave them where they are. That would be far better and more sensible, and would have more logic to it. Still, that is an argument for another day. I look forward to the debates when we come to the amendments to Clause 11, but I hope we will have Ministers who can answer the questions that are asked. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Amendments 6 and 7 not moved.
8: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations bringing into force subsection (1) may not be made until the Secretary of State has set out a strategy for seeking to remain a member of (or maintain equivalent participatory relations with) Euratom, in order to provide continuity with current arrangements for ensuring an effective nuclear safeguards regime and a secure and consistent supply of radioisotopes for a range of applications in medicine.”
Follow that, my Lords. If the theme of my noble friend’s previous debate was frustration, the word on my mind is bewilderment. On the first group of amendments, which we spent many happy hours discussing, there was considerable debate about whether the public, in voting to leave the EU, were aware that the Government would interpret that as a decision also to leave the single market and customs union.
Whatever noble Lords’ view on that is, I doubt very much that anyone who voted in that referendum understood that one of the most perverse outcomes of the Government’s approach to negotiation would be summarily to announce that the UK was leaving Euratom. This body has enjoyed an excellent track record over many decades. It was established by the European Coal and Steel Community as far back as 1957, around the time of the first civilian nuclear reactors. It has provided secure access to nuclear materials and technology for peaceful purposes. It has provided research, including co-ordinating funding for world-leading nuclear fusion research, much of which takes place in the UK at Culham. It safeguards nuclear material to ensure that it is being used for civil purposes, in line with our non-proliferation responsibilities. It facilitates free and frictionless trade in nuclear goods, services and people, including regulating the supply of isotopes used in nuclear medicine.
Why is the UK leaving Euratom? This was formally outlined in the Explanatory Notes to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, but the reasons for leaving have not been specified. The most likely speculation is because it sits under the jurisdiction of the ECJ, although the ECJ has never, as far as I know, been called on to make any pronouncements in relation to Euratom.
What are the consequences of leaving? I would identify four, and refer noble Lords to the work of the Institute for Government. First, we will have more difficulty ensuring a long-term supply of nuclear fuel to the UK. Secondly, we risk an immediate shortage of medical isotopes. Thirdly, we may no longer enjoy access to research facilities and funding. Finally, the UK will have to establish its own regulator with regard to nuclear proliferation, which will be both costly and challenging.
Let me pick up just two points there: first, interruptions to the supply of medical isotopes. Leaving Euratom risks breaking a series of time-sensitive supply chains which supply isotopes used in nuclear medicine. This is causing a lot of concern to people in the health service. Currently, Euratom facilitates free trade of nuclear material across the EU. This gives a secure and consistent supply. It is used extensively in diagnosing particular diseases and in the relief of pain, particularly in palliative care, and biopic analysis in clinical pathology.
The UK does not have any reactors capable of producing these isotopes, and they decay rapidly, often within a matter of hours or days, so we rely on a continuous supply from reactors in France, Germany and the Netherlands. History suggests that crises in supply can occur. It happened last in 2008-10. That meant that hospitals across Europe had to delay or cancel hundreds of thousands of medical tests. In response, Euratom’s supply agency was given a more prominent role in overseeing the supply chains and ensuring that the crisis did not occur again. Without the support of Euratom, the UK may find it harder to guarantee a supply of these materials to hospitals.
Pressed on this in the Second Reading of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, which is a parallel piece of legislation that your Lordships are debating at the moment, and which will have its first day in Committee—oh, joy—tomorrow morning, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who it is good to see in his place, said that,
“changes to our customs arrangements after our withdrawal from the European Union could ... affect the timely supply of medical radioisotopes”,
that the Government were working to minimise that risk and that he was confident that,
“a future customs arrangement with the European Union that ensures cross-border trade in this area is as frictionless as possible”.—[Official Report, 7/2/2018; cols. 2026-27.]
I think anyone who has heard this afternoon’s debate would question the noble Lord’s optimism. He is an eternal optimist, I know, but the reality is that, given the current state of negotiations, and the failure of the Government even to reach an agreement among themselves on what negotiation outcomes should be, this is a very risky prospect indeed.
The final point I want to make is that the Nuclear Safeguards Bill essentially enables the Office for Nuclear Regulation, one of our very own regulators, to take over Euratom’s vital non-proliferation nuclear safeguarding responsibilities. However, because Euratom is doing such a good job, the Government want us to leave Euratom but to remain in total alignment with the standards set by Euratom, even though we are no longer a member. You could not make it up if you tried. But more than that, having said that they want to stick to Euratom standards, they cannot do it because of the precipitate date of March 2019, by which time the ONR has no chance whatever of recruiting enough inspectors to meet those Euratom standards. So what they have decided is that we will not be able to accord to Euratom standards; we are going to accord to the standards set by the International Atomic Energy Agency. According to evidence given by the ONR to the Public Bill Committee on the Nuclear Safeguards Bill a few weeks ago, that means that there is a lower standard and less frequency of inspections.
Everyone agrees that Euratom is a good agency and that its standards are high—higher than overall international standards. The Government themselves say that they want to stick to Euratom standards, although we cannot have any influence over them in future, but we cannot do that in 2019 so we will have to live with lower standards until we can actually recruit the number of inspectors that we need. That is plain daft. It is quite clear that we should stay in Euratom. If we cannot do it, we should make sure statutorily that we are as aligned as we possibly can be.
All of us noted Mrs May’s comments on the European arrest warrant recently, where she accepted that there was a role for the ECJ. What I say to the Government is that Euratom works really well and that, for the sake of a theoretical involvement of ECJ, surely even at this late moment, it is time to accept that the wrong decision has been made and that it would be much better if we stayed within Euratom. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will be very brief. I did not speak at Second Reading because I thought that the decision to leave Euratom was tied irrevocably by law to our withdrawal from the European Union. I discovered, while participating at Second Reading of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has mentioned—that it was in fact a political decision. I still do not know who made the decision but I regard it as a very serious and damaging mistake, and that is why I wish to support this group of amendments. We should do everything we can to avoid the disastrous consequences of leaving Euratom.
Not only does our departure unnecessarily place at risk our ability to ensure nuclear safeguards and the availability of medical radioisotopes—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned—it places in jeopardy the funding and the partnerships essential to remain competitive in nuclear R&D. In doing this, it undermines our ability to deliver the nuclear power needed to meet our carbon targets and makes a nonsense of our energy strategy.
This R&D includes our world-leading work on nuclear fusion in Culham, where we have built and continue to develop JET—the Joint European Torus—in which significant fusion was demonstrated for the first time in the world and where we are developing new spherical tokamaks that offer increased efficiency. It also includes our work as a senior partner on ITER, the world’s largest fusion project, together with our partners, including the EU, the USA, Japan and others. I have been told that the Government will underwrite support for Culham through 2020, but what then? Why put all this unnecessarily at risk? Why not admit that we made a mistake and have changed our mind and ask if we can retain our membership of Euratom?
My Lords, I rise as a co-signatory of Amendment 8, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I do not want to repeat all that he has said; I want to talk about this from the point of view of the industry. The industry’s legal opinion is that leaving the EU did not require the UK to leave Euratom. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has set out all the conflicting arguments that the Government have had over their attitude to the ECJ. I will not go over those this evening, though I will not be able to resist the temptation tomorrow morning to go over them again with the Minister.
The fundamental point that I wish to make is that the Government have set out on this reckless course without taking the nuclear industry with them and without allowing sufficient time to put an alternative nuclear safeguards regime in place. I want to quote a few extracts from the excellent briefing provided by EDF, which after all provides 20% of the electricity generated in this country and is the Government’s preferred contractor for delivering new nuclear power stations, including Hinkley Point C. My first quote from the briefing is:
“The best thing for the UK nuclear industry would be for the UK to remain within Euratom. However, if the UK exits Euratom, new arrangements must be in place before existing arrangements are terminated, and there must be a smooth and orderly transition to the new arrangements”.
I have to say, from the Second Reading debate, you would not have been very confident about some of that.
My second quote is:
“It is absolutely essential that following the UK’s exit from Euratom and its EU wide safeguards regime, the nuclear sector in the UK is covered by a UK Safeguards regime. There can be no gap in coverage – the new regime must be ready for deployment on exit day, having already been reviewed and accredited by the IAEA, to ensure the UK can continue to fulfil its international obligations for nuclear non-proliferation”.
It has just about a year to achieve that.
My third quote is:
“An IAEA accredited nuclear Safeguards regime is a ‘must have’ – it is a pre-requisite for the movement of nuclear materials (including fuel) and for the agreement of NCAs”—
nuclear co-operation agreements with other countries outside the EU, such as the US, Japan, Canada and Australia. You would have to be one of life’s great optimists to have listened to the debate so far on the Nuclear Safeguards Bill and be confident that all those objectives set out by EDF will be achieved.
My final point is that, on the evidence so far provided by the Government, it is almost a racing certainty that by 29 March 2019 the UK will not have in place a nuclear safeguards regime equivalent to that provided by Euratom. Perhaps more worryingly, there is no published plan with clear milestones showing how the UK will have in place by exit day a nuclear safeguards regime accredited by the International Atomic Energy Agency. This is absolutely essential, as EDF has made plain, if the UK is to have nuclear co-operation agreements with a wide range of other countries, as it has said. These agreements are absolutely essential for nuclear trade with these other countries once we leave Euratom. The agreements have to be reached in time for them to be ratified by the political and governmental processes in the various countries. In the case of the US, they have to be ratified by Congress and even, I am told, be approved by the White House—there is a thought for noble Lords.
We are travelling very dangerously in this area, not least because of the timescales that the Government have allowed for putting in place alternative arrangements to Euratom membership. I suggest that we have a duty to make amendments to the Bill and to the Nuclear Safeguards Bill to give the Government a chance to pause and think more carefully about what they are doing. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is the very least we should do in the Bill. I suspect that we may well need something stronger on Report which reflects the outcomes of our consideration of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill.
My Lords, this issue is not quite as simple as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, claimed. I too was present at the briefing referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, given by the Nuclear Industry Association and EDF, which was very valuable.
The issue is not as simple as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said—namely, that Euratom is the most marvellous institution and we have to remain a member of it or continue to apply standards equivalent to those which have been developed by it. I recall that EDF explained that the international standards are set by the IAEA, and that it is absolutely necessary that before exit, other than by virtue of a transition or implementation period, which of course applies more generally to the EU, in order to exit from Euratom and continue to be able to trade in nuclear equipment and fuel, we need an IAEA-accredited—not Euratom—safeguards regime. We need nuclear co-operation agreements with four countries: the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan, a nuclear agreement with the European Union and an export licence regime. Euratom’s nuclear safeguards regime concentrates heavily on verifications, whereas the IAEA places more emphasis on process, operations and compliance with international standards.
The noble Lord referred to isotopes. It is essential to ensure a secure and consistent supply of radioisotopes. Molybdenum-99, for example, has a half-life of 66 hours, similar to human organs, and therefore cannot afford to be delayed by customs at ports and airports. There can be no delay at all. We obtain about 60% of our radioisotopes for medical use from the EU, to which the noble Lord referred, but we obtain 40% of our isotopes from non-EU countries, principally South Africa, which the noble Lord did not refer to. I understand that the procedures for importing both those from the EU, which come through the Channel Tunnel without, obviously, any customs procedure, and those from South Africa, which come through Heathrow under a fast-track procedure, are virtually identical; there is no significant difference at all. Our membership of Euratom does not in any significant way influence our access to the world market in isotopes. Therefore, our leaving the EU does not make much difference to how we get in our medical isotopes.
However, we need to have this IAEA-accredited regime, and, obviously, there is not enough time for the four essential nuclear partners to get NCAs through their Parliaments before March next year. But given that the Government have committed to an implementation period, we should be able to agree with Euratom that we remain a member of that organisation and therefore we will be able to continue to operate under its standards for that period.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount’s flow, but does he remember that the Government voted down in the Commons an amendment which would have given him more time for a transition period on this issue? So the Government have turned their face away from allowing more time to a transition period to get things right. Whether one believes that the Government have taken the right course or not, they have committed themselves to do all this by 11 pm on 29 March next year. Does the noble Viscount accept that that is an impossible objective because at the moment the Government have not agreed to a transition period for the subject area?
I am not familiar with the amendment which was voted down in the Commons. I believe it is perfectly possible for the UK to develop its own IAEA-accredited safeguards regime within the next few months, and I understand that a lot of work is being done on that already. I understand that Euratom’s treaties are mixed up with the EU treaties; therefore, is it not natural that, if there is an implementation period for putting into practice what comes afterward with the EU, the same will apply for Euratom?
My Lords, I am also a signatory to this amendment, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for having brought it before the House today. There is another explanation about why this has happened. Soon after the referendum, I submitted a Written Question to the Government to ask whether it was intending to leave Euratom. The answer I got back, after a little bit of foreplay, was that the people of Britain voted to come out of the European Union. It was quite clear that the Government did not realise that Euratom was not part of the European Union. They had not even thought about it. That is the answer that came back. I had to go back and ask the question again, at which point the Government answered that they were still thinking about it. Indeed, during ministerial conversations, there was a full admission that we should be able to remain part of the Euratom organisation. However, at that point it was legally impossible, for some reason which I do not understand at all. Euratom has its own separate Article 50 system, Article 106a; it is an entirely separate treaty, which did not come together during the Maastricht process when the other treaties came together, partly because there was a concern that Austria and Germany, which were anti-nuclear nations at that time—Austria still very much is—would not agree for that treaty to be integrated into the rest of the system.
I think that the Government agree that it is a good organisation. Coming out of it will certainly cost taxpayers a lot more money in terms of safeguarding and, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said, we have a real problem regarding the timescale. As I understand it, it is the Government who are saying that they want Euratom standards. That is their position; it is not ours. It is one that I agree with but the Government’s position is that we need Euratom standards, not purely International Atomic Energy Agency standards. We have a very difficult timetable here.
I was in Brussels earlier today. I was with Mr Barnier, although we did not talk about Euratom. However, yesterday our group talked a little about Euratom with some of the other European institutions. I was trying to get an indication of whether it was even possible to have a transition period to roll over the Euratom acquis in the same way that we will be doing for what are essentially commercial and security areas in relation to the European Union treaties. I am far from sure that a transition period will work, because with Euratom we are dealing with non-EU players—that is, the International Atomic Energy Agency and all the countries with which we have nuclear co-operation agreements, none of which is in the EU.
Therefore, we might be able to have an agreement with Euratom but I am not aware—I would be interested to hear about this from the Minister—that we even know whether the International Atomic Energy Agency will agree to our subcontracting others to run these essential facilities and procedures on our behalf for an unspecified period of maybe two years or 21 months. I would be very interested to hear that from the Minister.
We are dealing here not only with our own nuclear security. This is a question not just of building Hinkley Point C, which is a part of it, but of whether we can sustain our nuclear power stations. At the moment our fleet provides 20% of what happens to be relatively clean energy. Can we sustain that? There is also the question of nuclear co-operation agreements. Mobility of labour is the other important area. We have a huge scarcity of skilled labour in this area and we rely on freedom of movement under the Euratom treaty. Will we really be able to fulfil those areas when we leave on 29 March next year?
We need recognition by the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to import parts, skilled people and power, whether uranium or any other fuels, into our country. We need a voluntary offer agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and we need to replace the nuclear co-operation agreements in order to be able to trade in those areas. There are 12 of them, although some are less important than others. They include Australia, the United States, Korea, Japan, Canada, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, South Africa and Argentina, and I think that there are one or two others. We have to replace the agreements with those countries. I think that the noble Viscount is correct in that about four of them are absolutely critical to us. I see no reason why those countries should agree to continue the agreements as they are. Maybe they will but we do not have that guarantee. Certainly as regards the United States, there has to be agreement by Congress to continue that agreement.
Therefore, we are playing Russian roulette with our nuclear industry and our nuclear energy supply industry without being clear about a way forward or about what we can do, all because we have decided that Euratom is the same as the European Union, which it is not.
I now come to the radioisotopes. The biggest challenge in this area in terms of the day to day—the noble Viscount may be right; we shall have to see, but we do not know—is the customs arrangements with the European Union post Brexit. We do not know what those will be. Certainly the Port of Dover is not very sanguine about the issue, and we know the timescales are short.
However, we do know that back in 2008-10 there was an international crisis in the ability to purchase and get a supply of those materials into Europe, including the United Kingdom. As a result of that, after long consultations, as part of the Euratom Supply Agency an observatory was set up to make sure that those supply arrangements were not ever a problem again, by pooling the might of the Euratom community and by having contingency plans to ensure that the supplies were actually available. That crisis happened, and it will happen again, because those supplies are not as stable or as rigorous in terms of their origin as many other areas. By coming out of the Euratom Supply Agency and its observatory, we are taking ourselves out of that emergency crisis procedure that might well be needed at some time in the near future.
That is why it seems to me that, as other noble Lords have said, the sensible way forward is that at best we should seek to withdraw our Article 106a notification. If we cannot do that, we should not in any circumstances leave Euratom until we have the voluntary offer agreement, recognition by the IAEA and our nuclear co-operation agreements with the key nations. If we have those we might be okay, but I see the decision that we have made as pretty reckless and pretty unnecessary. We still have time to repair it, and I hope we will.
I agree entirely with what has been said already by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Warner and Lord Teverson, so I shall try to reduce the length of my remarks. I am puzzled about why we are here, and why we are here today at all. As to why we are here, we do not have to leave Euratom when we leave the European Union. There is absolutely no evidence that Euratom has performed other than well. It may well be that the Court of Justice of the European Union is the shibboleth, because it is related to Euratom and has jurisdiction over it, and our Government feel that because there is that connection our membership can be no more. But there are no cases about Euratom in the European Court of Justice, so Euratom has operated incredibly well.
I am puzzled as to why we are here today because there is another Bill before Parliament, the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, and, as has already been said, the first Committee day on it is tomorrow. I had assumed that we would be able to debate these issues as part of that Bill. After a three or four-day negotiation with the Public Bill Office I had to accept that that was not the case—so here we are today discussing Euratom, but not in the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, which deals with the nuclear safeguards relating to the products dealt with by Euratom. Alice could not have invented this situation.
I drafted Amendment 221, which is part of this group. There is nothing particular about the new clause in that amendment; it tries to do the same as all the other amendments and new clauses now being debated. It is clear that medical nuclear and radionuclear devices and products are extremely important. They save lives. For example, in University College Hospital and the Royal Free Hospital in London—I cite them because I have witnessed the process in those hospitals—every day of the week consideration is given to using these products to save the lives of patients suffering from cancer. All the arrangements for bringing those products into the United Kingdom are carried out under the umbrella of Euratom. It was not absolutely necessary for that to be done under the umbrella of Euratom, but it is what has happened. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned the European Observatory on the Supply of Medical Radioisotopes. That is the umbrella organisation that supervises all these arrangements.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, has been extremely helpful. As I have said in other debates, I am the patron of the Society for Radiological Protection, which contains more than 2,000 professionals who are engaged in various activities, including the use and safety of radioisotopes in the health service. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, as Minister, has answered many questions and had the courtesy to see the two senior members of the Society for Radiological Protection last week. He very kindly produced for me a list of questions with the Government’s original commentary and their additional commentary. It contains some gems, such as:
“We agree that continued engagement with ICRP”—
that is the International Commission on Radiological Protection—
“and IAEA will be important following UK exit from the EU and EURATOM”.
The trouble is that nothing has been done to ensure that that importance is translated into a process. The Government have said in one of these answers that they,
“will seek to maintain close and effective cooperation with Euratom on nuclear safety. This should include future discussions concerning development of Article 34 policy and cooperative structures”.
Well, hope springs eternal. Nothing has been done about that. I was told that,
“the Government is committed to ensuring that the UK regulatory regime covering radiation safety remains effective post-exit and can be updated in the future, including to take account of international best practice”.
Amen to that. Indeed, the Government are, “considering available options”—this year, next year. This is the flavour of the responses.
Then we have:
“The UK Government is seeking a bold and ambitious Economic Partnership with the EU that is of greater scope and ambition than any such existing agreement”.
It is Euratom plus, plus. The document continues:
“We want to have the greatest possible tariff- and barrier-free trade with our European neighbours”.
Noble Lords could have fooled me after the earlier debates this evening. It continues:
“The Government’s ambition is to maintain as many of these benefits as possible through a close and effective association with Euratom in the future”.
I mark that tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. So the document goes on.
“The Government is seeking a bold and ambitious Economic Partnership with the EU that is of greater scope and ambition than any such existing agreement. We want to have the greatest possible tariff- and barrier-free trade with our European neighbours”.
I mark that as to boldly go where none has been before. There is only a little more, but it is instructive. This is about standards:
“HMG are working with BSI to ensure that our future relationship with the European Standards Organisations continues to support a productive, open and competitive business environment in the UK and for the continued benefit of UK patients”.
I mark that as “where angels fear to tread”. Finally:
“There will be regulatory systems in place for both medicines and medical devices after the UK has left the EU”.
Then we come to the important part:
“The future arrangements are a matter for the negotiations and it would not be appropriate to prejudge the outcome”.
That sounds a little bit like those kids’ films I used to see on Saturday mornings which ended with the words, “That’s all, folks”, but no real conclusion.
What has happened is that, despite the great attempts at co-operation by Ministers, we have absolutely no system in place, in draft or even in vision for the efficient importation and export of radiopharmaceutical products. We should not allow this legislation to go forward unless we know what plans the Government have, and unless we know that those plans have been discussed, negotiated and are the subject of agreement. Otherwise, there is only one option: let us stay in Euratom, which works very well.
Could the noble Lord address the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about the notice of withdrawal under Article 106a? As a distinguished lawyer, is he of the opinion that Her Majesty’s Government could withdraw that notice unilaterally, which could be an issue of some moment if the Minister who is open to persuasive arguments were to form the view that the right course for the Government now is simply to withdraw the notice of withdrawal and seek to stay in Euratom?
If I could be allowed an ad majorem argument, I would recommend to noble Lords an article written on the Monckton Chambers website by the distinguished competition lawyer, George Peretz QC, which—as I understand it because I am not an expert on European law—provides the answer yes to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
My Lords, I have two amendments which are grouped with Amendment 8. I am afraid that they probably should not have been included, but like the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lord Liddle, I was in Brussels today and did not have a chance to argue the groupings, so I am afraid that noble Lords are going to have to hear me speak on this issue tonight. My Amendment 114 makes a rather important cross-reference to Euratom.
The amendment seeks essentially to add a clause to the Bill after Clause 7, with an accompanying schedule. Before we understand what is happening to our whole regulatory system and therefore pass this Bill, and certainly before we leave the European Union, we need to know from the Government what their view is on future relationships with the EU executive agencies. The schedule lists those agencies which include two Euratom agencies. It lists the supply agency to which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred. Its observatory plays a key role in dealing with supply chains of extraordinarily sensitive and potentially dangerous material. It lists also the Fusion for Energy agency which deals with some of the aspects to which the noble Lord, Lord Broers, referred in terms of the development of fusion as a new source of energy and the high-level, European-wide research programme at Culham and elsewhere. They are very important agencies. At this point we do not know what future UK participation, arrangements, observer status or links with those agencies are going to be.
In addition to those two Euratom agencies, there are 34 executive agencies of the European Union. I have noticed the time and I will therefore not go through the role and remit of them all, as well as the importance of knowing where we are, but they include a number of agencies of great importance to the lives of our citizens, to our industry and to our environment. There are agencies which deal with safety at work, food safety, environmental safety generally, and of course there is the EU Medicines Agency, which regrettably is moving away from Britain, dealing with medical safety. There is a whole range dealing with police and judicial procedures.
These agencies are not law-making bodies, but they are operationally very important to the sectors to which they apply. The UK has engaged very effectively with most of those agencies, to the benefit of our citizens, industries, sciences and judicial system. I have asked a number of Written Questions as to what the future arrangements are, with the standard reply being: “This will all be sorted out in the negotiations”. However, the negotiations are going on at the same time as we are dealing with the Bill. We need to know, in relation to the Bill, how those agencies will interact with the regulations newly transposed into UK law and the way in which we operate in those industries and systems.
My visit to Brussels in the last couple of days has underlined the urgency of the situation of knowing where we are with such agencies. For the first time, I carefully read the EU’s proposition on how we deal with transition periods. That document says that the UK will not only no longer participate in the institutions of the European Union but also,
“no longer participate in … the decision-making or the governance of the Union bodies, offices and agencies”.
In other words, in approximately one year and 34 days, we will no longer participate in any of these vital agencies. It is possible, if the Government put their mind to it, to establish in that period new relationships. In some of these agencies, non-EU bodies are either observers or participants. At the moment, we have not a clue how the Government are approaching the future in all of these important areas. It is an urgent decision that we cannot delay until the end of the transition period, because unless the Government persuade the EU otherwise in the next few weeks and months, from the date of exit we will no longer participate. This will change the way in which we operate in a range of safety, environmental, scientific, judicial and police areas—including security and defence.
That issue arises for a whole number of areas well beyond Euratom. On Euratom, I agree very much with what virtually everybody else has said: it is unnecessary to come out of Euratom. It is still possible to distinguish our approach to Euratom and effectively rescind our resignation from it without changing our position on the EU. Indeed, all the arguments—from industry, science and environmentalists—indicate that we should do that. At the same time, I urge your Lordships, and the Government in particular, that before we get very far in the process on the Bill, we should get a clear indication, not only on the Euratom agencies, but on the rest of the agencies set out in Amendment 263 proposing a new schedule, so that we will know, well in advance of leaving the European Union and its agencies and well in advance of the beginning of the transition period, quite how we will operate with them in future. I ask the Minister to take seriously the list I have given him and, perhaps in writing or on Report, to indicate to us how the Government intend to deal with this very important tissue.
My Lords, I think it is important on these Benches to put in a word of support for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. We all recognise that Euratom is a good brand; no one, on any side, is disputing that Euratom has achieved what a good brand should do. It has given confidence to the British and European public on a matter of critical importance, not least in handling medical isotopes with a very short half-life.
It is quite clear to my mind that if we leave for reasons that are obscure to me but probably are concerned only with the notional theory that the European Court of Justice might be able to exert some malign influence on Euratom—that seems to be the only reason that has ever been advanced as to why we should leave Euratom—then that plays second order to how we ensure, in the words of the amendment, which I very much support, that we “maintain equivalent participatory relations” with Euratom. It is essential that we continue to command the confidence of the users of isotopes and other nuclear material and of practitioners. It is not clear to me that the regulation we will have to put in place will be ready in time. In fact, I am absolutely certain that it cannot be. The amendment is a very sensible and modest proposal that I fully support.
My Lords, I support what the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said, and the other speakers who called for the Government to reconsider this question. I speak as a member of Cumbria County Council. Cumbria is very excited by the prospect of nuclear renaissance in this country, but how we are proposing to achieve it is interesting. First, to build a new nuclear power station we hand it over to the French. We are reliant on French leadership at Hinkley Point. Is it not paradoxical that we are not building up a native British industry, but saying to the French, “Please come and we’ll pay you lots of money to do it”, while at the same time saying that, for purely ideological reasons, we will not have anything to do with Euratom? The Government’s policy is contradictory.
Secondly, the Government put nuclear revival as one of the priorities for their industrial strategy. That is one of the things highlighted in the Industrial Strategy White Paper. That requires investment in science and the kind of European co-operation in science that we have seen so successfully with JET and nuclear fusion. Yet what do they want to do for ideological reasons on the other Benches? They want to throw spanners in the works of that co-operation by withdrawing from Euratom. What conceivable sense does this make?
Will the Minister produce a clear statement of reasons as to why this policy is being pursued? What are the reasons for it? Secondly, within what timescale are the many problems that withdrawal from Euratom will cause be addressed and by whom? Do the Government not have a duty to do that? Thirdly, what will the cost be of having our own separate national arrangements? The Government ought to know that by now. This issue was first raised in this House on the Article 50 Bill. What has happened in the succeeding months? What have the Government actually done since then to address these concerns?
Finally, I will make a point about the handling of the Bill in the House. I see this as an extremely important issue of national importance and we are debating it after 11 o’clock at night. Does that make sense? Is that not the duty that we owe people—to provide proper scrutiny? Should we not be allowing proper time for this debate? This is an example of an issue that should have been debated in prime time in this House. It should have been the subject of a vote in Committee. Because of the hour that is clearly not possible, but the fact is that we have failed in our duty to the people on this question.
My Lords, I support these amendments and echo the words of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Warner, Lord Teverson and Lord Carlile, from these Benches. This has nothing to do with the referendum: this is not the will of the people. We do not legally need to leave Euratom, as we have heard so many times this evening, if we leave the EU. It is not as though we asked the British people, “Do you want to leave Euratom; do you want to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to put ourselves back in precisely the position we are now, we hope; to basically reinvent the wheel; to incur huge costs and take huge risks in undermining our world-leading position in nuclear research?”
We may not be able to do this in time: we may not be able to find enough skilled people. Indeed, when we spoke with figures in the nuclear industry a few months ago, they informed us that the first they heard of the Government having decided to leave Euratom was when they read the announcement: there was no consultation with the industry on an issue of such monumental importance. What is the cost and what benefit will be achieved for incurring those costs? I urge my noble friend the Minister to relay to his department the tone of the House—that many of us on these Benches would welcome an admission that this decision is unnecessary. It risks our energy security, safety and public health and we do not need to take this risk. Let us withdraw our notification to leave Euratom.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Liddle I live in Cumbria and these issues are central for the people of Cumbria. In the wider context of all these things we are discussing, we are not expressly taking the point that it is not just in our political lifetime that the consequences will be felt. That is the gravity of the situation. The implications could reach for hundreds or thousands of years ahead. It is impossible to overstress the significance of the issues with which we are dealing. My noble friend was absolutely right to talk about the irresponsibility of discussing them at this time of night instead of at prime time in the parliamentary timetable. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves: how on earth can we convince people that we are properly scrutinising if we are pushing things through late at night?
In his amendments, with which I am associated, my noble friend Lord Whitty is bringing out very clearly yet again the cavalier, ill-prepared position of the Government as we race towards the conclusion of the negotiations. We have had reference to it in various discussions today. How on earth can all the points that have been raised by my noble friend’s amendments be met in the time available?
There is another crucial point. As my noble friend Lord Liddle said, we will be going ahead with our next generation of nuclear energy only with expertise from abroad. Can the Minister explain to us, very specifically, how we will have the people qualified to undertake inspections of the standard of Euratom if we have not got that kind of expertise available within British society for the development of our next phase of nuclear energy? How can we be lacking in that when it comes to the task itself and then say we can somehow inspect the task? Where are these people with the right qualifications going to come from? We need specific reassurances from the Government on that point.
My Lords, there are 101 reasons why people voted for or against leaving the European Union. As the great Lord Salisbury, the last Prime Minister to serve in this House, famously said after a general election, the problem is:
“When the great oracle speaks, we are never quite certain what the great oracle said”.
However, I have not yet met a single person in any walk of life anywhere who told me that they voted to leave the European Union so that they could leave Euratom. Indeed, I imagine that there were not many people outside the confines of your Lordships’ House and the nuclear industry who were even aware that there was this organisation called Euratom, where the final court of appeal was—wait for it—the European Court of Justice.
There is always a problem about loss of face. I have sat on that Bench, too. I know that Ministers do not like having to change their mind. But I do not think the Minister will have any problem with any loss of face with anyone, including those who have been so keen to see that we leave the European Union because of the instruction from the British people, if he were to announce that the Government intend to withdraw the notice under Article 106a of the Euratom treaty and put this complete nonsense behind them. I do not mind what hour of the night he announces it. I would be perfectly happy for him to announce it at 2.30 am if that ensures that it gets less coverage.
The Minister will have noticed that there has been no support at all from behind him. The noble Earl, who is not given to criticising the Government, made a devastating speech. Although the noble Viscount said that he thought the consequences might not be as bad as people had said, I did not detect him saying there would be any positive advantages from leaving Euratom. The noble Baroness gave an equally devastating speech.
I certainly said that Euratom was not the marvellous organisation that it is made out to be. I actually think it would be very good if we can find a way to continue the current arrangements until such time as we put in place the necessary independent arrangements with IAEA accreditation. But I did not say that I thought Euratom was marvellous. I know of one senior officer in the nuclear industry who thinks we should remain in the EU but leave Euratom.
My Lords, it is not part of the human condition to think that institutions are marvellous. They can always be improved. But I did not take the noble Viscount’s clarification to be raising the banner for abolishing Euratom because there were going to be such great advantages to the public from us—in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, to the House a few weeks ago—walking the “gangplank into thin air”.
However, I have a specific question for the Minister. Can he confirm to the Committee that Her Majesty’s Government can withdraw the notice of withdrawal from Euratom under Article 106a of the Euratom treaty and that they can do that unilaterally? As he knows, I am slightly persistent in these matters. I always thought that part of the argument from those who were in favour of Brexit was that we were going to restore the sovereignty of Parliament. It is not too much to expect that Parliament should be able to see and study the legal advice on which Ministers make decisions. I ask him yet again whether he will make available to the House before Report the legal advice which his department has on the legal basis on which the Government can act in withdrawing the notice of withdrawal under Article 106a of the Euratom treaty.
My Lords, once again I thank noble Lords for an excellent debate on this important issue. I will respond to the point raised by most people who spoke—certainly the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Warner, Lord Teverson, Lord Carlile, Lord Liddle and Lord Adonis—about the reasons for leaving Euratom.
The Euratom treaty is legally distinct from the European Union treaty but it has the same membership, which includes all 28 member states, and makes use of the same institutions. There are no precedents for a non-European Union member state being a member of Euratom.
Noble Lords will recall that the decision to leave Euratom formed part of both Houses’ consideration of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which is now of course an Act. Noble Lords spoke at that time about the unique nature of the relationship between the separate treaties of the European Union and Euratom. As the European Union and Euratom are uniquely legally joined, when we formally notified our intention to leave the European Union we also commenced the process for leaving Euratom.
When you say it is the legal position, what is the evidence for that? Can we have a look at that legal position? What you are saying as the Minister is that a decision was taken on advice that you are not prepared to show us, with no consultation with our partners, for no good reason.
Before the Minister resumes, can I pursue this issue? The industry is very clear in its legal views, which it is prepared to put in the public arena, that we do not have to leave Euratom if we leave the EU. Have the Government discussed that issue with the industry and what the reasons are for its difference of legal view from the Government’s legal view?
My Lords, there has been extensive discussion and liaison between ourselves and industry. I will come on to discuss that shortly but we remain of the opinion, as I said, that when we formally notified our intention to leave the European Union we also commenced the process for leaving Euratom. Having said that, we are determined to continue to have a constructive, collaborative relationship with Euratom. The UK is a great supporter of Euratom and will continue to be so. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for his efforts to help me save face—even at 2.30 am—but I regret that I will not be able to give him what he requires this evening.
Let me go on to discuss the details of Euratom and our other plans. I will go into it in some detail, if that is okay with noble Lords, despite the late hour. As the Government have made clear, the UK’s future relationship with EU agencies, including those under the Euratom treaty, is a matter for negotiations. I will come on to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, later. Requiring the Government to publish a report in advance of negotiations concluding would be neither helpful to Parliament nor in the national interest. As soon as negotiations have concluded, the Government have committed to hold a vote on the final deal in Parliament. This vote will cover both the withdrawal agreement and the terms of our future relationship, and provide Parliament with the opportunity to scrutinise the outcome of negotiations at the appropriate juncture.
In the interests of transparency and providing as much certainty as possible, we took steps during the Commons passage of this Bill and the Nuclear Safeguards Bill to set out our strategy in a Written Statement on 11 January. That Statement made it absolutely clear that the UK will seek a close and effective association with Euratom in the future, and that we are putting in place all measures to ensure that the UK can operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one. This is vital to ensure continuity for industry, whatever the outcome of the negotiations. As noble Lords will be fully aware, the nature of our future relationship with Euratom is part of the next phase of negotiations that has yet to start.
The Statement set out the principles on which our strategy is based: 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, including the Joint European Torus and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor projects. We will also seek continuity of trade arrangements to ensure that the nuclear industry can continue to trade across EU borders. Finally, we will seek to maintain close and effective co-operation with Euratom on nuclear safety.
While we have made clear that we will indeed be seeking such an association, it is also essential that we have our own safeguards regime ready to come into place when Euratom arrangements no longer apply in the UK, whatever the outcome of the next phase of EU negotiations on our future relationship. It may be helpful to explain the meaning of nuclear safeguards to inform our discussion of this important but rather technical issue. Nuclear safeguards are non-proliferation reporting and verification processes which states use to demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military or weapons programmes. The UK applies nuclear safeguards because it is a responsible nuclear power. Nuclear safeguards are different from nuclear safety and nuclear security. Civil nuclear safeguards reporting, by assuring the international community about the proper use of certain nuclear materials, underpins international civil nuclear trade.
As a result of the decision to leave Euratom, the Government have been taking forward steps to ensure certainty for industry for day one of exit. We have held several rounds of discussions with the European Union in the first phase of negotiations and there has been good progress on Euratom issues. Negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency on future voluntary agreements for the application of civil nuclear safeguards in the UK to replace the current agreements which include Euratom have been constructive and fruitful. Progress has also been made in negotiations to put in place new bilateral nuclear co-operation agreements. In particular, constructive progress has already been made in discussions with key partners such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan.
It is clear that we need continuity and must work to avoid any break in our civil nuclear safeguards regime if we wish to support the UK’s nuclear industry and its nuclear research community. A civil nuclear safeguards regime and safeguards agreements with the IAEA are critical for the continued operation of our civil nuclear industry. We have been working closely with the Office for Nuclear Regulation to ensure that it can be ready to take on new responsibilities for a domestic safeguards regime in place of Euratom’s current regime.
We have continued to be transparent throughout the negotiations. We have shared our position paper on nuclear materials and safeguards issues and have published further technical notes on some specific issues, such as the status of existing Euratom approvals for supply contracts, in order to give clarity and transparency to our position. It is in that spirit of transparency that in the January Statement we committed to report back to Parliament every three months about our progress on negotiations in respect of Euratom matters. These reports will cover not just the negotiations but the whole strategy set out in that Statement.
The proposed amendments would delay and prevent the critical work required for effective withdrawal from Euratom. They would tie our hands in negotiations, delay us in initiating any co-operation and therefore jeopardise long-term relationships with the EU, other trade partners and the International Atomic Energy Agency. This would threaten the continuity of our nuclear industry and would send the wrong message to the industry and the public. The consequences of inhibiting our ability to secure the right outcome in negotiations could be damaging to the UK’s civil nuclear industry and for the UK’s energy consumers, and I am sure that no noble Lord would want that to happen.
We are determined to avoid any disruption to our civil nuclear regime. Not only are we determined to ensure continuity, but we remain absolutely committed to the highest standards of nuclear safety, security and safeguards. The nuclear industry remains of key strategic importance to the UK, and the Government are committed to delivering a world-leading nuclear sector in close collaboration with Euratom and our international partners.
I will now address an issue that I know is of great concern to many noble Lords—it was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Trenchard—the supply of medical radioisotopes. First, I assure noble Lords that the supply of medical radioisotopes is a high priority for the Government, as we share their concern about the well-being of patients receiving such treatment.
My colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy wrote to the Home Affairs Sub-Committee of the House of Lords EU Select Committee on 18 January making this very clear. The letter outlined the Government’s position and approach to ensuring continuity of supply of medical radioisotopes. I will briefly summarise it for noble Lords. It is true that, as radioactive material, medical radioisotopes are captured by the Euratom framework; however, we have made clear that Euratom currently places no restrictions on the export of medical radioisotopes to countries outside the EU. Medical radioisotopes are not classed as special fissile material or subject to international safeguards regimes, nor are they subject to the approval of the Euratom Supply Agency, which governs the supply of special fissile materials. Neither the import nor export of medical radioisotopes is currently subject to any Euratom licensing requirements.
The Euratom Supply Agency has a link with medical isotopes through its participation in the European Observatory on the Supply of Medical Radioisotopes, which aims to support decision-makers by promoting information sharing on the security of supply of isotopes, commissioning research and co-ordinating reactor shutdowns within the EU. However, the observatory does not have a decision-making role and does not govern the supply of medical radioisotopes.
The UK is a world leader in nuclear research and development, and the Government are committed to maintaining and building on our lead in this important field. We fully recognise the importance of international collaboration and the UK’s key role in medical and nuclear research. As such, we are seeking an ambitious science and innovation agreement with the EU that will support and promote science and innovation across Europe both now and in the future. As mentioned earlier, that also means maintaining a close association with Euratom’s research and training programme.
The Government have been listening to and working with stakeholders and recognise the concern that changes to customs processes as a result of withdrawal from the EU could affect the timely supply of medical radioisotopes. However, I assure noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that the Government are committed to minimising any impacts. A cross-departmental effort with stakeholder engagement is already under way with relevant departments to ensure continuity of supply for medical radioisotopes after our withdrawal from the EU.
The Government are on course to have a functioning customs service on day one after our withdrawal from the EU, with suitable plans in place to ensure that supplies of priority goods such as medical radioisotopes are not compromised. There is already a two-hour clearance commitment for urgent goods. In respect of non-EU import controls, medical radioisotopes are already prioritised in recognition of their urgent nature. This ensures that their arrival to the UK is expedited rapidly. This topic will continue to be a priority for the Government in our domestic preparations as well as in our negotiations on our future relationship with the EU.
Before I conclude, I shall address the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
I am grateful to the Minister for the explanation that he has given on the issue of medical isotopes. Can he give us one further piece of information? How many meetings have actually taken place so far in an attempt to negotiate with the EU the continuity of the system of importing and exporting medical isotopes from the UK and from the EU?
Could the Minister respond to a question before he moves on to the important amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty? I stopped believing in Father Christmas and in the tooth fairy some years ago. Can he explain why he thinks there will be a warm working relationship between Euratom and a country that has abruptly and unilaterally withdrawn one-quarter of its budget?
I am sorry that the noble Lord no longer believes in Father Christmas. I think there will be a warm relationship for the same reason that we will have a good trading relationship with the EU: because it is manifestly in the interests of both sides to do that.
The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would require the Government to publish a report on how we will engage with a number of EU and Euratom agencies before negotiations had concluded. We believe this would be neither helpful to Parliament nor in the national interest. I can tell him that as soon as negotiations have concluded, we are committed to holding a vote on the final deal in Parliament, and this vote will cover both the withdrawal agreement and the terms of our future relationship, including of course our relationship with various EU agencies.
I hope that I have addressed noble Lords’ concerns expressed through the amendments and that the noble Lord will therefore feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, with respect, the Minister has not answered either of the two questions I put to him. He has not answered the question whether or not the Government are of the opinion that they can withdraw the notice of withdrawal under Article 106a of the Euratom treaty, and he has not told me whether or not the Government will publish or make available to the House in some abbreviated form the legal advice they have on this matter.
My Lords, with respect, that is not a good enough answer. When we return to this at Report, I fear that that it will simply be grist to the mill for all those noble Lords who feel that this is a colossal error that the Government will not even tell the House what power they possess to rectify the error which they have already committed.
My Lords, even at this late hour, we have had a good go at the issue. Seeing so many noble Lords here taking such an interest, I invite them to join us tomorrow morning, when we come to debate the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.
I thank the Minister for his lengthy response, but the reasons he gave for leaving Euratom are simply not credible. He said that we have two distinct treaties. As far as I can see, the only substantive reason he gave why we could not remain a member of Euratom is that all the other members are members of the EU. Presumably the Government’s view is that if we continue to be a member of Euratom with members of the EU, we would in some way be contaminated by having to sit round the table with the countries with which, according to the Q&A which the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has obtained, we wish to have a very close and fruitful relationship in future. We will see.
The Government’s position is inane. They have decided that we are going to leave Euratom, but we must maintain the same standards as Euratom and keep a close and warm relationship with the agency. The problem that we face, which is very serious indeed, is the issue of confidence, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, said.
I am a passionate believer in the contribution that nuclear energy can make to this country. We were the first country to develop civil nuclear energy. We completely screwed it up. We failed to take advantage of that lead. We have made foolish decisions on nuclear two or three times since then. My fear is that this will come to be seen as another very foolish decision, putting at risk this industry, which we have a chance—even given that we are relying on the French and on Chinese finance to do it—to restart with new nuclear, develop a supply chain and use the incredible skills we still have in nuclear engineering. The risk is that by doing what the Government are doing, alongside some of the financial uncertainties, we will put at risk the development of new nuclear. That would be an absolute tragedy.
The Minister basically says that all will be well, everything will be done to ensure continuity and, essentially, we can maintain the same processes and standards as we have had in the past. But the problem is—and it is why the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, suggested earlier that we need to remain a member of Euratom, at least in the interim—that the ONR, in which I have a great deal of confidence, has clearly stated publicly to the Commons Bill Committee that there is no way that it can recruit and train the number of inspectors that it needs to be able to maintain Euratom standards by March 2019. Alongside that, with the amount of work that would have to be done in negotiating new treaties and understandings with a series of countries, there is simply not the capacity to do it. We are greatly at risk in terms of public confidence in nuclear safeguards, which in turn undermines public confidence in the development of new nuclear.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. We really have to come back to this as a substantive issue on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
House adjourned at 12.01 am.