My Lords, Amendment 3 would amend Clause 1 by adding the requirement that the UK’s nuclear safeguards regime must continue to the standards set by Euratom. Your Lordships’ House heard throughout Second Reading that the inspections undertaken by Euratom were to a higher standard than those set by the IAEA, and it was the Government’s intention that the ONR would be facilitated to continue the UK’s safeguarding and monitoring at this level. The Minister stated that the UK’s nuclear safeguards regime is currently provided primarily by Euratom and that there has been good progress in discussions with the EU about Euratom. Negotiations with the IAEA have similarly been constructive, and progress made with key partners such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan. The Minister stated that the UK needs continuity and must work to avoid any break in our civil nuclear safeguards regime to support the nuclear industry. This regime and the safeguards and agreements with the IAEA are critical for the continued operation of our civil nuclear industry. The UK’s new domestic regime must be as robust as that currently provided by Euratom, and the Minister contended that it would exceed the standards that the international community expected of the IAEA.
The Government’s intentions need to be fulfilled. Guarantees need to be kept and ambitions needs to be achieved. The amendment would strengthen the Bill to ensure that the only standard under which the UK regime will operate will be consistent with the Minister’s statements—that is, Euratom. The trouble is that we heard from the other place during its examination of the Bill that there is considerable risk that the UK’s regime will not be able to operate at this standard from day one, from the date of March 2019, when the UK will leave the EU. The Minister contended that those standards were needed to ensure that the UK could have the essential nuclear co-operation agreements with key international partners already mentioned, to ensure uninterrupted co-operation in trade and the civil nuclear sector. The UK standards must be as comprehensive as the current Euratom regime to enable public confidence in continuing high standards.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend and the amendment that he has moved. As I said in our deliberations last night, we must never forget that the issues with which we are dealing have implications not just for us, our children and immediate future generations, but for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years ahead. We have to get it right. There can be no confusion or compromise; there has to be fool-proof action right through, with continuity. There can be no gaps. We must have from the Minister categorical assurances that the Government have in place arrangements that will ensure that continuity when we leave. If we cannot have those assurances, the situation is impossibly grave, because anything can happen in even a short time if the adequate provisions are not there.
One very specific issue on this is that we know, from the Government’s own statements, that for our next generation of nuclear energy we are highly dependent upon expertise from outside the UK, because we do not have the expertise ourselves. What I do not understand is how we can have adequate—indeed, fool-proof—inspection teams working, and how we can have the quality and experience necessary for those teams, if we do not have that quality and experience available to develop our own energy. There seems to be an illogicality here. This is why it is crucial that the Government again have absolutely watertight arrangements about which they can tell the House to cover what happens if we foolishly come out of Euratom.
I have not heard those absolute, categorical assurances, or even begun to hear what the real arrangements will be. This matter is deeply grave. I have great respect for the Minister; I know he is a thoughtful man who will take on board the point being made. It is therefore crucial that this afternoon we have cast-iron evidence that the Government really have the situation under control.
My Lords, I rise to support this amendment and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on his drafting skill in producing words that will not inflame the Government or, in particular, the—misnamed—European Research Group and its red lines. The amendment in no way implies that we, the UK, will go back into Euratom, however much most people in this Chamber wish we would. The noble Lord has kept clear of that dangerous territory and I congratulate him on that.
Indeed, there is nothing in the amendment that goes against government policy. The Government say that they aspire to achieving the safeguarding standards of Euratom but by another method than the current set of arrangements. That is all that the amendment tries to do. Indeed, it may help the Government in securing accreditation by the IAEA when it comes to the ONR being recognised as up to snuff in its standards. That accreditation is essential, as many people have said today, for us as a country to secure nuclear co-operation agreements. This is a helpful and well-constructed amendment, which the Government would be well advised to accept.
My Lords, I support this amendment. It is not just a question of maintaining the standards that have been established but of putting us in a position where we will be able to meet and address new challenges. I happened to be in Tokyo the day of the Fukushima disaster and tsunami. I was in the company of a group of nuclear engineers and no sooner had the messages come over the television than they were on their BlackBerrys, communicating with their international colleagues—because there is an international nuclear community—and working out the extent of the damage.
It was shortly after that, on our return, that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate leadership was appointed to lead the international examination of the Japanese nuclear capability. We were seen to be at the forefront of that. That is a heritage that we want to maintain, and this amendment very succinctly addresses that challenge. It is important, therefore, that the ONR—the successor to the NII—is able to do that. We know that this will have implications for staffing, salaries and for the general financing—which we will come to later—but the point is that it would be desirable to have in the Bill a commitment to maintaining our current position, which is partly due to our membership of Euratom and partly due to the excellence of our inspection and monitoring capabilities.
It is incumbent on the Government, therefore, to give a commitment that they will seek to maintain the quality and standards that we currently enjoy and our capability in contributing to international nuclear safety. This is not something that should be in any way antithetical to what the Government seek to do; the amendment is no reflection on their commitment but it would enhance the Bill and I see no reason why, if not the wording, the spirit of this amendment could not be addressed. As I said in an earlier intervention, the point of Committee stage is to indicate areas of concern and, if the Government are prepared to accept the consensus around this Chamber on the matter, it is incumbent on them to return with the appropriate wording that enables us to proceed. In this instance, we have a very good blueprint from my noble friend Lord Grantchester, as my friend the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has said, for what is required. I do not think the Minister really has anywhere to hide on this issue and I would like to think he will be able to co-operate with us in enhancing the Bill to take account of the dynamic challenges that nuclear safeguards in the future will require.
I rise from these Benches to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. Given the amount of discussion across the Committee about uncertainty and concern, this well-worded amendment gives the opportunity to reassure the Committee on standards and nuclear safeguards. I hope the Minister will feel able either to use these words or to simply accept this as a drafting amendment and return on Report with new government words.
My Lords, the amendment can only be delivered by people, and it is the issue of people that I want to raise with the Minister, because I think that his letter is in fact quite worrying. I first go back to the evidence taken by the Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee on energy security on 13 September. We had two groups of witnesses, and the second group was essentially on Euratom, with witnesses from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and EDF—which of course runs most of the nuclear power stations and is building one—and Dr Golshan, the deputy chief inspector at the Office for Nuclear Regulation.
Having been asked how we were going to be able to deliver what is needed by the IAEA, Dr Golshan, in answer to Question 37 asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said:
“I started off by saying that we are building capability and capacity and we are recruiting experts in the safeguards area … the extent to which we can equip ourselves depends on the scope of the safeguards arrangements that the Government are working towards. That, in turn, depends on the outcome of the negotiations with both IAEA and Euratom. We are working towards having a regime in place that enables the UK to fulfil its international reporting obligations to the IAEA and to meet the reporting requirements of our nuclear co-operation agreements. We see that as a much more realistic starting point that we can build upon and build in additional layers of assurance as currently provided by Euratom”.
That was basically telling us, “We are not going to deliver”. That is what that means. Dr Golshan concluded her answer to that question:
“To seek to replicate Euratom standards arrangements by the end of March 2019 will be highly challenging and, while we would work towards that, we want a starting point that allows the UK to meet its obligations”.
Later on, in answering another question, Dr Golshan said:
“We currently have 10 staff in our safeguards function. I should not call it an inspectorate. We need another 12 to get to a level where we are able to provide the required reporting arrangements. If additional assurance layers are required we will need to staff to a higher level. Currently what we have, as I said, is based on the fact that we have been a member state of Euratom”.
She went on to alert us to what would need to be put in place to meet the roles and responsibilities that will be placed on the ONR. In answering a question from the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, she said:
“The first one is to have an IT system that allows us to collect and process data and then provide a report to the IAEA”.
I have seen nothing about that because clearly a new IT system is required. Dr Golshan continued:
“That means the UK would meet its international obligations as part of the non-proliferation treaty. The second element is that we should be able to facilitate IAEA’s activities in the UK. The third element is that we should have suitably experienced staff to undertake verification activities”.
In a later question, Dr Golshan was asked about the staff and she said:
“The biggest risk that I see is our ability to recruit”.
Of course, there has been free movement while we have been in Euratom and recruitment has not been a problem. Not everybody that is needed in the nuclear industry fulfils the Home Office requirement for getting into the country. We are not going to be able to build Hinkley, for a start, because we cannot get the steel erectors into the country. We need half the country’s steel erectors on Hinkley at one point. We will not be able to get them in. They are not qualified in terms that allow the Home Office to let them in.
I am sticking to the point of what will happen about the staff because we were then told in the report, which was published only a few weeks ago, that the training programme to train people to become fully trained new inspectors lasted between 12 and 24 months. Therefore, my first question is: why have six months been lopped off that figure in the Minister’s letter? What has happened to change that timescale between now and when the committee received the evidence? Have more resources been put in? Have the criteria changed? That is quite a big change, bearing in mind the timescales we are working to. We do not have a lot of time. In addition to the training lasting from 12 to 24 months, the committee was told that we need more staff anyway because the existing staff are not inspectors. The Minister’s letter flags that up and refers to 11 safeguards officers, all of whom will undertake training to become inspectors by March. The Minister then chose to put the next sentence in bold type. I assume that that was his choice to reinforce his assessment that the ONR will be in a position to deliver the international standards. The international standards mean lower standards than we have now. That is the assumption because they are not the Euratom standards.
The Minister went on to say that the ONR will require a team of 30 to 35 people, which was implied in the answer given by Dr Golshan that I cited earlier when she said that the ONR would need more staff. The ONR is recruiting but the fact of the matter is that a far more interesting choice of jobs in this industry is available in the rest of Europe than in the United Kingdom, notwithstanding the fact that I understand that a quarter of Euratom’s inspections take place in the UK, so there is quite a big capacity there. But, of course, we have not been doing that. We did not need to recruit or train people because we are members of Euratom.
The Minister went on to tell us that since the evidence was taken back in September and October—the report says the end of October—the ONR has managed to recruit the princely sum of four individuals. Where did they come from? I would like to know. Are they from the UK? Some 98% of its staff were from the UK or had dual nationality when the evidence was given. Where did the four come from? Why is it only four? If this matter is being dealt with urgently does that figure reflect salary levels or other matters relating to the job such as promotion prospects or seniority? Can the training programme cope with upskilling the safeguards officers to become safeguards inspectors?
The issue here concerns the staff but the Minister’s letter did not really address that issue. First, we are told there are only four. That is not enough. They cannot be trained in time, and in the Minister’s letter someone has lopped six months off the period given to the Lords Select Committee. Why is that? There must be a reason for it. I presume that someone reads the evidence given to your Lordships’ Select Committees from representatives of industry and other sectors. I would like to know the answers to those questions because if there is confusion about the number of staff, their training and recruitment at this point in time, we are heading for real trouble. That is clearly the case. Therefore, I hope the Minister has come to this debate prepared. I know that we are in Committee, so I apologise for the detail of my questions, but that is what this stage is for. We need some answers on this issue before we move on to the next stage.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for having gone through all that. That session of the committee which I chair was an eye-opener. That is why I tabled my Amendment 10, which we will consider in the next sitting of the Committee. The amendment is about labour mobility, which is an absolutely key factor in terms of not just safeguarding but the nuclear industry as a whole. I look forward to continuing that debate on that occasion and very much agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker.
My Lords, I hope that I can respond to and deal with the various points that have been made. I am very grateful for all the contributions that have been made, particularly from my former noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, who stressed that she wanted reassurances. I think that was the gist of what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said as well. He was seeking reassurances on when the ONR would be ready and whether we would meet the appropriate standards under the IAEA and so on.
I will refer back to the letter that I sent to all noble Lords, to which the noble Lord referred, and remind them of that. I also remind the Committee that we have committed to a domestic nuclear safeguards regime that is equivalent in effectiveness and coverage to that currently provided by Euratom. That is the commitment that we have made and I repeat it to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. That means a level of inspections and other regulatory arrangements—it is not just inspections—that goes beyond the normal international standards as applied by the IAEA that would be expected from the United Kingdom: for example, additional assurance and verification activities at additional facilities.
It is crucial that we meet all those international standards following our withdrawal from Euratom. Compliance enables the United Kingdom to discharge international commitments and would also underpin international nuclear trade arrangements with key partners such as the US, Canada, Japan and Australia. It is right therefore that the ONR focuses its efforts on ensuring that the United Kingdom is able to meet those standards immediately on withdrawal from Euratom and seeks to move to Euratom standards as soon as possible thereafter. The important thing is that we get to the IAEA—I hope I have got the letters in the right order; it is difficult to remember sometimes—as soon as possible thereafter.
We all have the same problem.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and I will not refer to his socks, which might have been distracting me.
I also say to the noble Lord that we will be ready; the ONR is sure that it will be ready and we are working closely with it to ensure that it will be in a position to regulate the new civil nuclear safeguards regime following our withdrawal from Euratom. The ONR is in the process of expanding its safeguards function by recruiting and training additional inspectors, building additional institutional capacity and developing necessary IT systems.
The ONR requires a multidisciplinary team to be able to deliver safeguards responsibilities. The staff essential to its safeguards function include safeguards inspectors as well as nuclear material accountants and information management and reporting specialists—so a whole range of different specialists. Current estimates—I set this out in my letter—suggest that the ONR would require a team of 20 to 25 staff, which would include at least nine safeguards inspectors, with the precise number depending on the exact requirements of the domestic regime set out in regulations. I remind the Committee again that we have made the regulations available to the House, and I am sure that noble Lords are studying them in some detail.
The ONR already has 11 safeguards officers in post, who are all in training to become safeguards inspectors by 29 March 2019. It is my assessment, and that of my honourable and right honourable friends in the department who have specific responsibility for this as the Ministers responsible, that, based on current progress, the ONR will be in a position to deliver to international standards on withdrawal from Euratom.
However, the speed with which the ONR is able to move from international standards to a domestic nuclear safeguards regime that is precisely equivalent in coverage and effectiveness to Euratom standards obviously depends on a wide range of factors. In particular, timing will depend on negotiations with the EU and negotiations on future co-operation with Euratom and the level of its involvement in the United Kingdom’s safeguards. The ONR estimates that, to be able to deliver its functions—I emphasise its independence—to a standard equivalent in effectiveness and coverage to Euratom, it may require a team of around 30 to 35 staff, which would include around 20 safeguards inspectors.
The ONR is already—again, as I made clear in the letter—actively recruiting and interviewing further candidates to meet this level. I cannot give precise levels as to exactly where it is at this moment, but it is actively recruiting and interviewing. The first phase of recruitment last year was successful: four individuals were recruited and are currently in training to become safeguards inspectors. A further recruitment campaign is under way. Successful candidates will join the ONR’s training programme, and ONR assesses—again, this is its assessment—that it will take 12 to 18 months to upskill new recruits to inspector level.
I hope that the publication of preconsultation versions of draft regulations in January, which set out more detail on the proposed domestic safeguards regime, indicates our genuine intention to deliver standards that are broadly equivalent to the Euratom regime as quickly and effectively as possible. However, the important point to get over to the Committee—
Can I just complete a sentence before the noble Lord intervenes? The important point is that it will be able to deliver the standards that are broadly equivalent to the Euratom regime as quickly and effectively as possible. I give way now.
I am very grateful. The Minister used the word “broadly”, which is very significant. Can he tell us a little more about what he means by that?
As I think I made clear at Second Reading, I am not quite sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has fully grasped the difference between safeguarding and safety. On safeguarding, the important point is that we meet our commitments to the IEA—
I will try to get it right. We will meet those without any problem at all. Those are the same as the commitments that the United States and other weapon states—an expression that the noble Lord probably does not like—have to meet, and we will meet them. Euratom’s commitments are slightly different, and so that applies to ourselves and the French as the two weapon states within Euratom. They are marginally different. We will get to those in due course, but we will meet the appropriate standards under the IAEA by next year, just as we do now.
Again, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Can he clarify one point? He said that he is not sure that I have grasped the difference between safety and safeguards. He is quite correct because I simply do not understand how there is a dividing line between the two. I just do not accept that that is the situation—the two are intimately related.
My Lords, I could go back but I think that I would try the patience of the Committee if I repeated a great deal of what I said at Second Reading and at other points about safety. The ONR has been dealing with safety for many years and it will continue to do so. Safeguards are another matter. In effect, they relate to the transference of certain things, ensuring that they cannot be used for nuclear warheads or whatever. Safeguards are different from safety. This Bill relates to safeguards and that is what we are trying to get over to the noble Lord. We will meet our IAEA standards on safeguards under this Bill once we have the powers so to do.
I hope that that provides noble Lords—with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Judd—with the appropriate assurances. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will feel that the information I have provided is sufficient in stressing that we will have a domestic nuclear safeguards regime equivalent in effectiveness and coverage to that currently provided by Euratom. That is what the Bill is intended to do. We are leaving Euratom. We have to make sure that we have the appropriate safeguards regime in place, and that is what the Bill tries to do.
Perhaps I may come back on that point. We are in a very vulnerable position, are we not? As a country, we have not been in charge of safeguarding; Euratom has been doing that. It is quite clear that international staff, with free movement under Euratom, have been doing the work. We are hoping to create a cadre of inspectors who will upskill people from various offices, but I have no idea of the industry salaries and so on. We have recruited only four inspectors. Are they UK or EU citizens? I am curious and would like to know that. Are we applying any contractual arrangements to people once they have been upskilled?
Once they have been upskilled to carry out safeguarding, Euratom will be their world—not the UK. The career or job enhancement opportunities and so on will be marvellous for the individuals in question, but I am concerned about my country. Are we placing any restrictions on them? Are we going to say, “We’ll upskill you and get you trained but, by gum, you’ll have to work in the UK for five years”? I do not know whether that will be the case but if we do not do something like that, we will be laying ourselves open to the vagaries of the market. We are entering a completely new area here. We cannot recruit fast enough—we have only four inspectors so far. Upskilling these people places them in a very advantageous position. I am really supportive of that—I want them to be upskilled and better qualified, and to have the freedom to move to better jobs if they do not like what is on offer in the UK. Presumably they will not all be British. They might take advantage of getting skilled and then, because of how we have treated foreigners since the referendum, say, “Right, we’re off to the rest of Europe”. Therefore, are any restrictions being placed on upskilling and training these people?
The noble Lord is enjoying himself, although I do not know why.
Answer the question.
I am answering the question but the noble Lord is enjoying himself. The ONR is recruiting and will make sure that it has the right people to provide the appropriate safeguards regime on 29 March next year to meet IAEA standards. Obviously we are not going to impose restrictions on where employees go thereafter. Is this a new policy being developed by the party opposite, that once people are trained in any job, they cannot move on and have to stay? These people will be employed by the ONR, and it is then a matter for the ONR to make sure that they have an attractive career and wish to continue working for the ONR. I am sure they will find that it is an attractive career and will want to stay
I am equally sure that they will do the job very effectively and that the ONR will feel confident that, with its recruitment processes, it can provide the appropriate safeguarding regime to make sure that we meet IAEA standards by 29 March next year.
My Lords, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, who mentioned the requirement for information technology systems, which is always the other area that needs to be looked at. When we get to my amendment in the next Committee sitting, I will certainly come back on the points that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, raised about churn, as that is important. However, are we also confident that we will have information technology systems in place? What nature will they take, in a very broad sense? Will they be Excel spreadsheets or something more involved?
It is amazing what you can do with Excel spreadsheets, and I suspect that most systems are based on something like that. I would be reassured if that were the case, but if it is rather more sophisticated, I start to get concerned.
I know that Liberal Democrats live and die for Excel spreadsheets. They find them enormously exciting, although I do not understand that. However, the noble Lord makes a very good and serious point. This is not just about the appropriate individuals to be trained; it is also about equipment. Yes, again, the ONR is happy that it will have the appropriate equipment and IT systems in place for 29 March. The ONR has given a commitment that it will be ready to provide the right service, so that we can meet those IAEA commitments next year. It is very easy just to talk in shorthand about the number of people on the ground, but as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, says, spreadsheets, which Liberals find very exciting, and other equipment are probably also involved. Yes, all of that will be ready—I can give those commitments.
There is one other matter. Of course, one of the results of what has been in place, very successfully, under Euratom is the international nature of the inspection. We have to recognise that the implications of something going seriously wrong are not confined to British frontiers; there are implications for people—men, women and children—beyond our frontiers. How are we going to ensure that in the arrangements we make, we retain international confidence that we are taking, and are seen to be taking, that responsibility seriously, and are not judges in our own courts?
The noble Lord talks about international obligations. The important thing to remember about the initials IAEA is that the first letter stands for “international”. It is an international body, we have been signed up to it since 1957 and we continue to be so. It will offer those guarantees.
I hesitated to respond to the Minister because I was not quite sure what he was saying. Is he saying he accepts our amendment, because he seems to be saying that we will maintain our standards to the Euratom standards?
As all noble Lords will know—particularly those who have been on the Front Bench in government from time immemorial—the lovely word “resist” appears at the top of the brief. No, I am not accepting the amendment. It does not add anything to the Bill. All I am doing is providing the appropriate commitment that we will meet the right standards at the right time.
My Lords, I am still confused by the way the Minister goes from one stance to another, saying that he will meet these standards but somehow feels it is inappropriate to have that on the face of the Bill.
I am not satisfied with the Minister’s responses and I do not think the rest of the Committee is either. This is the key challenge to the Government—that they can and will do what they propose in order for there to be a credible nuclear industry in the UK, operating to Euratom standards. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, made a compelling remark earlier, saying that the Government have not appreciated the situation and undertaken a risk assessment of their handling of Euratom issues. On a corporate risk register—one axis being low and high impact, and the other axis being high and low probability—leaving Euratom must be placed at the worst quartile: high probability of an unsatisfactory outcome, coupled with high impact.
We will certainly be appreciating the Government’s response across all the Committee’s amendments, in order to determine the best framework to propose on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I hope this next amendment will not ensure that we descend into the “end-of-the-pier show”, as we seem to be in danger of doing from time to time. I am very sorry that the Minister has taken the line he has on Amendment 3, and I have no expectations whatsoever that I will get a sympathetic response to Amendment 4.
I want to say a little about why I tabled this amendment. I am genuinely confused as to what the Government want their future relationship with Euratom to be—I simply do not understand. I understand that they want to withdraw from membership, but the Minister talks quite warmly from time to time about having some future relationship. I think “relationship” is probably a safe term to use: we do not talk about “associate membership” or “association”, but a “relationship”. He seems to want that relationship because Euratom provides a comfort blanket in all this. Many in this House are rather desperately looking for some kind of comfort blanket regarding what the situation may be at about 11 pm on 29 March 2019.
The Government’s position is very odd. They are staunchly determined to say that they expect the ONR to be up to meeting the IAEA accreditation standards by that date. However, they are singularly silent about whether that accreditation will actually be achieved in time for us as a country to put in place a series of nuclear co-operation agreements by 29 March 2019. I hope that I can tempt the Minister to say something about that.
My Lords, I would like to speak to Amendments 14 and 15 tabled in my name, and in particular to the proposed new clause set out in Amendment 14. I would never insult the Minister by accusing him of being overly sensitive; nevertheless, he will have realised that there is a great deal of genuine concern about what is going to be delivered in relation to Euratom on 29 March 2019. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, just said, which was in the same vein.
My suggested new clause would require the Government to answer certain criteria by that date. The criteria are set out clearly and they have been shown, in the debates on this Bill and on the withdrawal Bill yesterday, to be the ones that cause concern around the House and which the Minister has heard repeated time and again. In debating terms, this has basically been a one-horse race in relation to concern about Euratom.
Yesterday—and I will not repeat them—I cited some answers that had helpfully been supplied by the Minister to questions raised by the Society for Radiological Protection and by me as a result of that society’s representations. What was clear from those answers was that the Government do not know what will be delivered or when. This afternoon, I will cite another piece of evidence that draws the same conclusions. On 12 February, just over a week ago, there was a meeting between 10 officials—nine from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, one from Public Health England and the two senior relevant officers of the Society for Radiological Protection. I have in my hand a record of that meeting, which I feel sure is accurate.
In that meeting, there was what was described as a “Euratom exit update”. One of the officials, who was clearly a senior and responsible official—it is invidious to name officials, so I will not name him or her—noted that the Nuclear Safeguards Bill is currently going through the House of Lords. The official noted that,
“at current there has been minimal industry engagement, due to the short timescales to pass the bill. However”—
“did note that the bill is a skeleton, and more detailed consultation with industry and professional bodies would take place as the regulations are developed”.
All I am asking for, in my new clause suggested in Amendment 14, is the key to the skeleton or the cupboard where the skeleton is kept.
The official noted that,
“discussions are going well internationally”,
which is very welcome,
“with progress being made on bi-lateral agreements with the US, Australia, Canada and Japan”.
We would certainly like to know more about that. The official then explained—and this is very important—that,
“as part of the EU exit process they”—
the 10 officials—
“are unable to pursue agreements with the various EU countries”—
I think “pursue” means seek—
“till the exit process is complete”.
If that is right, it is extremely worrying. I am sure that the Minister can be supplied with a copy of the minutes of that meeting.
It was also noted that,
“there have been wider EU civil nuclear issues around legal ownership of fissile material and radioactive waste”.
Contained in that single sentence is a host of problems that will have to be unravelled in great detail if there is to be proper nuclear safeguarding.
Having read those notes, with the welcome support of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I tabled Amendment 14. It requires the Secretary of State to publish a report setting out the answers to all these questions before 29 March 2019. It requires the making of,
“regulations providing for the implementation of any agreements covered”,
by the clause and a statutory instrument which should be approved by each House of Parliament.
There is an evidence base for the kind of quality assurance that any responsible Government would demand of any contractor to which they were letting a contract. As a Parliament, we are entitled to demand, respectfully but necessarily, a similar level of quality control for the Government before we lose the legislative opportunities available to us and throw this enormously important issue to the wolves—or to a skeleton.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 9. One of the things I have tried to do in this amendment—I could not do it completely satisfactorily because of where we are in the Bill—is to ask what are the key things we need in place before it is safe and practical for us to leave Euratom and the system we have. There were three specific areas that we needed to cross that finishing line before we entered out into this brave new world. They are listed and they are very clear.
The first is that we should have an agreement from the International Atomic Energy Agency that our safeguarding procedures and the body that we are talking about in the Bill are approved. We need that; without it, we are unable to move forward. Secondly, because we are one of the few nuclear weapon states in the world, we need a voluntary offer agreement with the IAEA that relates to our new status outside Euratom. Thirdly and very practically—we have had a description of the difficulties around this—we need active nuclear co-operation agreements that have been confirmed or agreed by the other side. Whether we can get grandfathering rights on them is very difficult in some instances—the one with the United States has been particularly highlighted in that degree—but we also need to have those in place for those nations where we have active nuclear trading of the type of products listed in the schedules of the Euratom treaty and under the international agreements of the IAEA.
The difficulty in drafting this amendment was that if we do not have these in place, what do we do? My solution to that was very simple: that we should seek temporarily—as the Minister said, we have already gone through the process of agreeing withdrawal from Euratom, rightly or wrongly—to withdraw the notice under Article 106a until we have those three areas of agreement in place and we can be certain that we can go ahead. It is my opinion that we can do that ourselves unilaterally. More certainly we would need to get the agreement of the 27 other member states. That would clearly be the right answer, in that we would continue to be a member until we had those in place.
I was unable to put that in the amendment because it was out of the scope of the Bill, apparently, so I have looked to move on. What we would have to do here is, effectively, to have a transition period. On that, I come back to my question to the Minister that I raised in the first grouping of amendments: do we know that there will be a transition period with Euratom, the negotiation on which, as I see it, is going ahead and will have to be agreed or not on 22 March—it is only a month away—and that we can indeed somehow satisfactorily subcontract all these responsibilities to Euratom and to the international agencies should one of these vital areas go wrong? That is an entirely reasonable question for which I would expect us to have a workable strategy to avoid that cliff edge, if that should happen for all sorts of reasons that, quite clearly, are not totally in the Government’s control. From that point of view we need contingency and to understand the route map if those three areas are not fulfilled. I look forward to the Minister’s response on them.
My Lords, the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, underline the desirability of an implementation period in this area as in other Brexit areas. For clarity, I want to ask a question arising from what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said. Are energy officials and Energy Ministers able to get on with this? The assumption that I have been working on is that the timetable is tight in this nuclear area and that discussions therefore need to go ahead with the IAEA, Euratom and the other nuclear states. Is that work in hand? Is there a plan for it? It would be helpful if the Minister were able to respond on that.
I want briefly to speak in support of Amendment 14, which bears my name. While avoiding repeating what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has said, I want to pick out subsection (2)(c) of the proposed new clause, which refers to, “relevant research projects”. The noble Lord, Lord Broers, spoke eloquently in a previous debate about the importance of research in this area. As your Lordships and, I am sure, the Minister know, the UK benefits enormously from the long-term research funding and its membership of the Fusion for Energy programme, which flow through the Euratom relationship. I think the supply chain has been awarded some £0.5 billion to date and expects more, and the UK Atomic Energy Authority receives significant sums—around £50 million. On a broader level, as a leading participant in Euratom and the research element of it, the United Kingdom has been able authoritatively to drive research priorities. What does the Minister envisage our authority being following this process? Will it have risen or sunk as a result of our ability to drive and influence research in the nuclear field?
My noble friend Lord Teverson illustrated how hard and tough the Table Office has been on the wording of the amendments. In many cases—certainly, in other conversations—the Minister has ruled out of order a lot of what we have talked about. However, on Amendment 14, which covers some of these areas, the Table Office has been clear that this is in spec with the Bill and our debate today.
My Lords, we have added our names to Amendment 4 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. It is Labour policy to remain a member of Euratom or to continue equivalent arrangements with it. The Conservative Government have been reckless to reject immediately the UK’s membership of Euratom. Your Lordships’ discussion in Committee last night on the withdrawal Bill highlighted how the Euratom treaty is distinct from the EU treaty. The Government state that, because there is an overlap of membership, with the same nation states as are in the EU, it is part of the same organisation. However, the two treaties are legally distinct, which has not been contradicted by the Government.
The Minister said this morning that both organisations are uniquely and legally joined. He needs to explain how they are so legally. It is reckless to make the theoretical and technical oversight of the European Court of Justice a defining reason, when the UK is far from ready to undertake its own safeguards regimes to the standard maintained by Euratom. The ECJ has never been called on to make a ruling.
Furthermore, the Government have committed to continue as far as possible through negotiations to be in close association with Euratom. They must be exhaustive in their endeavours and report back to Parliament on the outcome. If it is no longer possible to establish an association, they must say so, with reasons.
Amendment 9, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, map out further agreements to be pursued before withdrawal. It requires the Secretary of State to request “a transition period” so that the UK,
“can continue to benefit from existing nuclear safeguard agreements”,
with the approval of the IAEA, that the ONR is the approved UK safeguarding authority. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath has spoken to Amendment 12 on the transitional period. It must be recognised that approvals of nuclear co-operation agreements are sequential to the recognition by the IAEA that the UK safeguarding standards are sufficient. Although these NCAs may be progressing, their ratification will necessarily take some time and may spill over into any transition period. We endorse the sentiments behind Amendment 9 as crucial to maintaining the UK as a credible internationally recognised nuclear state operating to international standards.
Amendment 14, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, would insert a new clause stating that before leaving Euratom the Government must publish a report detailing agreements reached with Euratom to ensure compliance with international non-proliferation agreements and lay appropriate regulations to give effect to their implementation. We understand and are in unison with the importance noble Lords on all Benches place on the highest standards, the nearest equivalence, the closest association, with any necessary transition period, to replicate the regime currently operated under Euratom. We support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that says the Government must keep Parliament informed regarding the ongoing UK status with Euratom. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has also said that it is far from clear where we will be in March 2019, when timing is such a critical issue.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the opportunity to address this important set of issues around the UK’s future relationship with Euratom. As my noble friend Lord Henley said, the EU and Euratom are uniquely legally joined. Noble Lords will be aware that when we formally notified our intention to leave the EU, we also commenced the process of leaving Euratom. I repeat my noble friend’s assurances, however, that the Government want to maintain the continuity of our mutually successful civil nuclear co-operation with Euratom and other international parties when we leave the EU.
The first half of the proposition of Amendment 4 —that,
“it is no longer possible to retain membership of Euratom”—
has already passed. On 29 March 2017 the Prime Minister notified President Tusk of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from Euratom. We are withdrawing from Euratom but we want a close relationship with it in the future. I believe that it would be deeply irresponsible of Parliament to pass an amendment which, quite explicitly, prevents us from using the powers in this Bill until we have attempted to do exactly the opposite of what the Article 50 letter says we are doing. That leaves the second half of the proposition: that we achieve, “an association with Euratom” that means that it is Euratom rather than our own regulator, the ONR, that carries out safeguarding in the UK after we leave the EU. To reiterate the point made by my noble friend, while the Euratom treaty allows for the conclusion of association agreements that allow third parties to participate in some Euratom activities, these agreements have so far been limited primarily to research and training activities.
This amendment would require us to have explored every avenue and concluded that,
“it is no longer possible”,
before we make regulations to enable the UK’s own domestic regime. That presents enormous timing difficulties and will introduce a risk of the one thing I believe everyone agrees we must avoid—being left with nothing in place from day one of Brexit. I do not believe that the industry would support such a position. We simply cannot await the outcome of the future relationship discussions before we use the regulation-making powers in the Bill. Of course, it may all happen very quickly but, then again, it may not. It would be deeply irresponsible to put ourselves in a position where we cannot exercise the powers in the Bill.
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister’s debut on the Bill. I am trying to make clear that I am not asking the Government to stop proceeding with the Bill; all I am asking them to do is to set out on a piece of paper the nature of their future association and relationship. The Front Bench keeps avoiding that issue. I do not use the words “associate membership”, I use the word “association”. I am willing to change it to “relationship”. What I am trying to get the Government to do is set out how they see their relationship with Euratom—because they have acknowledged that they will have a relationship with it in some way—and what that relationship will cover. If we could get some clarity from Ministers on that, we would not be having these endless discussions about the issue.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I am on paragraph 11. I have many more paragraphs to go and I hope that in those paragraphs I will be able to keep him very happy indeed.
I understand and share the sentiment of wanting to maintain a close relationship with Euratom. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, mentioned this relationship and it could indeed include any of the things that he mentioned, but they are subject to the negotiations. However, we have already stated very clearly that the Government will seek a close and effective association as part of phase 2 of the exit negotiations with the European Commission. What we cannot accept is that the regulations must await a definitive outcome of talks which are by their nature uncertain in both timing and result. It is therefore vital that we continue to work to enable the set-up of a domestic safeguards regime, and to have ready the bilateral safeguards and nuclear co-operation agreements that we will need to function as a responsible nuclear state from day one of exit.
This approach will reassure the international community that the UK remains committed to nuclear non-proliferation, and will provide clarity to industry that it will continue to be able to move vital materials, parts and expertise once we leave Euratom. There can be no question of waiting until we know the outcome of the negotiations on our future relationship before we can put in place our own arrangements. The implications of not having the right systems operating from when Euratom safeguards arrangements no longer apply are too serious for industry and for our position within the international civil nuclear community.
Can we actually make this clear? I have not heard anyone in this Committee saying, “Please, Her Majesty’s Government, do not do anything until this thing is finished”. We are not asking for anything to be delayed, we are saying, “Please get on with it”, but we need some information on the way; we have to have some idea of the destination, and Brussels wants some idea of the destination by 22 March and then in October. If it does not happen, what are the contingency plans? We are not asking for anything to not happen now. I do not think the Minister understands that. Did I hear anybody say that?
I put in this provision about regulations only out of sheer frustration because one cannot get any information out of the Front Bench about what that relationship will be. I am not seriously going to stop the Bill proceeding but there is a very high level of frustration across the Committee that the Government cannot explain in any way what relationship they are aspiring to. For example, do the Government want to talk to Euratom about seconding some inspectors to the ONR for a period of time to get it over the hurdle of the transition to a UK regulator? That is the kind of specific thing which it would be quite sensible to discuss. No one is going to stop that. We just want to know what the Government are trying to do.
I thank both noble Lords for their interventions. I will make a little progress because I think I will be able to make them both a little happier—although I am fairly sure that I will not get all the way.
I recognise the importance of providing Parliament with clarity on our future relationship with Euratom. The Written Ministerial Statement of 11 January includes a commitment to provide quarterly updates on progress.
I turn now to Amendment 9, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which would require the Secretary of State to seek a transition period in the event that the UK is unable to secure new international agreements with the IAEA and nuclear co-operation agreements—or NCAs—with key third parties by 1 March 2019. I will address NCAs first. It may be helpful for me to set out that the UK does not itself have any requirement for NCAs to be in place for trade in nuclear-related items to continue—but some of our key trading partners do. In the US it is a legal requirement; in Japan, Canada and Australia it is a very strong policy commitment. That is why those four NCAs are our priority. It is quite right to stress how important this is: an NCA must be in place before such trade with these countries can take place. Each of these four countries recognises the importance of putting in place bilateral NCAs to ensure uninterrupted co-operation and trade in the civil nuclear sector, following the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom.
There are also a number of countries, in addition to the four priority ones, with which we wish to discuss our ongoing nuclear co-operation to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to allow continuity of trade. But in those cases—
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I suspect that she is now on paragraph 15, but she is not answering this debate, which is about whether Her Majesty’s Government are prepared to provide specified information to Parliament on certain criteria. What she is telling us would all be very interesting if we had not heard it many times before, but it is a dissertation on the roles of different organisations. Can we please have an answer to this debate? It is 4.32 pm on a Thursday and I would have thought that it could be answered in a few paragraphs—maybe numbers 47 to 50.
I was happy with the answer that the Minister was giving about NCAs.
With the greatest respect, I did not interfere in the writing of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and I will crack on a bit further to answer the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, as I too think this bit is very interesting. We are talking about these additional countries because we are obviously going to have to set up NCAS with them, too, for trade to continue. I assure noble Lords that discussions on the four priority NCAs started a while back and are progressing well. They are on track to be completed before the UK leaves the EU. I can also assure noble Lords that this Government, as part of their planning process, have factored in the time necessary to seek parliamentary ratification of the agreements both in the UK and in third countries. This will enable the NCAs to come into force from the moment that Euratom arrangements no longer apply to the UK.
I turn now to the UK’s discussions with the IAEA. Noble Lords will be aware that the UK began formal discussions with it some months ago to conclude new safeguards agreements that would replace those between the UK, IAEA and Euratom when the Euratom arrangements are no longer applicable. These discussions, which began some months ago, as my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe mentioned, have been constructive and fruitful, and substantial progress has been made. I can be a little more specific: formal negotiations started last September and there were several rounds of preliminary meetings before that. There have been two rounds of negotiations so far, which have made substantial progress. I hope that that is helpful.
The amendment asks that the IAEA should recognise the ONR as the approved safeguards authority in the UK, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I will make it clear that the IAEA’s focus in respect of the UK’s safeguards lies with the voluntary offer agreement and additional protocols rather than with the domestic legislation underpinning the domestic regime or the UK Government’s arrangements for fulfilling their commitments. However, as I have set out, the Government have already held productive and fruitful discussions with the IAEA on the UK’s future safeguards agreements and understand what the IAEA requires of us in setting up the system. It is not necessary to consult on the detail of legislation or on the ONR’s readiness to implement the new regime with the IAEA.
As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy set out in his Statement to the House in September last year, the Government are seeking new agreements with the IAEA that follow exactly the same principles as the existing ones. This will ensure that the IAEA retains its right to inspect all civil nuclear facilities and to receive all current safeguards reporting, ensuring that international verification of our safeguards activity continues to be robust.
In addition to this, the Secretary of State set out on 11 January the Government’s intention to update the House on our overall progress with Euratom, including on the EU negotiations and other important matters such as international agreements. I trust that these reports, the first of which we expect to provide in a few weeks’ time—indeed, just before the Easter Recess—will reassure noble Lords that significant and substantial progress is being made. Indeed, noble Lords will be able to see it for themselves and will no doubt bring it back to the House to discuss, should they wish.
Amendment 15, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, inserts two new subsections and seeks to require that, by 29 March 2019, the Secretary of State must present to Parliament a substantially detailed report, along with draft regulations implementing any agreements reached with Euratom relating to safeguards, and have such regulations approved by both Houses. Amendment 14 seeks to prevent the substantive provisions of the Bill coming into force until regulations under Amendment 15 to implement safeguards agreements with Euratom have been approved. While I have sympathy with the noble Lord’s aim of ensuring robust parliamentary scrutiny, the process set out in Amendment 15 would not be appropriate. As we have already discussed in our deliberations on this Bill, I am confident that there are appropriate processes in place to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny of the substantive powers in the Bill. Noble Lords can be assured that the regulations establishing a UK safeguards regime under the powers in the Bill will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure.
I turn now to the report proposed in this amendment. We have been open about our strategy for withdrawal and our future relationship with Euratom. In the Written Ministerial Statement on 11 January, we outlined a twofold approach under which we are seeking a close association with Euratom through our negotiations with the European Union. I refer noble Lords to the Written Ministerial Statement. It goes into some detail about our specific objectives in relation to a close association with research and training, continuity of open trade arrangements and close and effective co-operation on nuclear safety. This is a very broad ambition of ours, and it goes much further than the nuclear safeguards that we are specifically talking about today. Simultaneously with these discussions about our broader relationship with Euratom, on which we will report to your Lordships’ House every three months, we are putting in place measures to ensure that we can operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one.
As noble Lords will be aware, we are planning negotiations on a possible implementation period. The Government have confirmed that they intend to include Euratom matters. This implementation period will start after the date that we leave the European Union. This must be taken into account. We are being open with our plans for a domestic regime, and we have been clear on our intentions for the new domestic regime. As made clear in the Written Ministerial Statement, the Government intend to be able to put in place a robust regime equivalent in coverage and effectiveness to that currently provided by Euratom. To put this more clearly, and for the avoidance of doubt, we would be meeting IAEA standards on day one and working our way to Euratom standards as soon as possible thereafter. A key but inevitable difference will be that reporting and assurance activities would be carried out by the ONR rather than Euratom.
The approach of using a domestic body rather than a supranational one to operate a domestic safeguards regime is common among other non-Euratom countries, such as the US and Canada, whose safeguards regimes consist of a state regulator, with the IAEA providing independent international verification. This approach necessitates some differences in the approach of the regime but we do not consider it to necessitate a reduction in standards. To be absolutely clear about independence, it is the international oversight provided by the IAEA and the inspections carried out by its inspectors that underpin the independence of nuclear safeguards around the world. As I have already mentioned, we have committed to providing Parliament with quarterly reports on progress from across the Euratom programme. These reports will include a section on ONR capacity and readiness as well as on research, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Fox.
Before I close, I want to return to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, about the meeting that he attended with officials. I want to flesh out the Government’s consultation strategy on this because I fear he thinks it is narrower than is truly the case. The Government continue to have discussions with the nuclear industry on the future of the nuclear safeguards regime. In addition to official-level engagement, Richard Harrington, the Minister for Energy and Industry, held a representative industry stakeholder forum in September. There have been further forums since then and the next one will take place on 5 March. The Government have provided the industry with pre-consultation drafts of regulations that we propose to make, and in late February we held a technical workshop on the draft regulations with key nuclear operators.
I hope my explanations have provided sufficient reassurances to noble Lords, and that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I would like to catch the Minister before she sits down, if that is possible. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, and I have mentioned research and development. Resources to sustain that research and development come through Euratom. Have the Government said anything about how these resources are going to be sustained in future?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Broers, for that comment. I did have a little more flesh on that particular bone so I shall share it now. On the question of research, the Government’s objectives are set out in our recent future partnership paper, Collaboration on Science and Innovation. We are seeking a close association with the Euratom research and training programme, including the Joint European Torus and International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, projects. The Government have already guaranteed our share of the funding for the Oxfordshire-based JET fusion reactor until the end of 2020, demonstrating our commitment to continued collaboration.
My Lords, I found part of the Minister’s statement extremely useful and I thank her for that, particularly on the NCA question.
However, there is an issue on which I would like clarity; I think it is very straightforward, and I ask this in a very positive tone. It is the Commission and the EU 27’s offer and negotiating position on transition that the whole of the Euratom acquis is also included in the broader EU transition agreement. Are the British Government in line with that, and will they go down that route as well? I do not hear that we are rejecting it. We have potential issues with the initial situation over residents and people on the EU side, but are the Government saying they are going to have the Euratom acquis as part of the transition that will be agreed, whether that is until the end of 2020 or the two years? If they were saying that, it would take a lot of pressure off what we are talking about as long as the IAEA was happy with it. That seems a very straightforward question and I presume there is a government policy on it. In the response today to Barnier’s negotiating position I did not see any contesting of the Euratom side of it, so I presume we are going ahead and agreeing that transition in March.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for that interesting question. If it is okay, I shall write to him, because I should like to find out more information about what we are allowed to say at this time.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, we come to the end of our discussion today, and I hope that the Minister will be able to accept these amendments. As the noble Lord made clear in the debate before last, nuclear safeguarding primarily involves reporting and verification processes by which we as a country demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military weapons programmes, so the definition of what is meant by “civil activities” is rather important.
In Clause 2, page 2, new Section 76A(5) of the 2013 Act as inserted by the Bill will allow the regulations to specify what and what not are to be treated as civil activities. The memorandum that goes with the Bill explains the reason the Government think that the power is necessary to enable further clarification of the regulating power already provided. The Government say that the phrase “civil activities” has a natural meaning, but this power enables the Secretary of State to provide greater certainty about what are and what are not civil activities. This in turn refines the purpose test contained in Section 76(1)(a) and provides enhanced certainty about when nuclear safeguard regulation can be made.
This is important, and the Delegated Powers Committee described the term “civil activities” as a concept central to the nuclear safeguards regulations. However, it says that it is not convinced that the term has a natural meaning. It takes it that it refers to non-military activities and says that if that is correct, there is no reason why that should not be made clear in the Bill. It recommends that it should be defined in new Section 76A of the 2013 Act rather than leaving it to be dealt with exclusively in regulations. My Amendments 5 and 6 essentially do just that, and I hope that the Government are prepared to accept them. I beg to move.
My Lords, this may be an opportunity for the Minister to play an uncharacteristic square drive. I support the amendment and, with the authority of the Delegated Powers Committee behind it, I should have thought this is an opportunity to send us away with a song in our heart before the next helping. I cannot speak for the noble Lord, but I guess that if the actual definition of civil nuclear needs amendment, there is plenty of conversation to be had. I hope that the Government are able to accept the amendment.
For someone of my age and generation, it was always fashionable to attack the Wilson Governments of 1964 and 1966. In the light of the Blair Middle Eastern excursions, which I have to say I supported at the time, history now favours Wilson on the basis that he did not send any troops to Vietnam. Equally importantly, those of us who in those days were marching against nuclear weapons often forgot that one of the great achievements of the Wilson Administrations was their sponsorship of the non-proliferation treaty. At the heart of the amendment is a degree of clarity and a redefinition of civil activities. It would be useful to have a clear and explicit definition, which is why this amendment deserves support. It is not against the Bill; it is not going to harm Brexiteers or frighten the horses. It is a straightforward amendment—and, at this late stage of the afternoon, for God’s sake give us something!
The Minister has hidden behind what are quite clearly inadequate ministerial briefs. The noble Baroness, Lady Vere, went on and on. I was reminded of the story about Lord Willie Ross, when he was shadow Secretary of State for Scotland at a time when Labour was in opposition. He dismissed the speech of the then Secretary of State for Scotland, saying that there were three things wrong with it—first, that he read it; secondly, that he read it badly; and, thirdly, it was not worth reading in the first place. I absolve the noble Baroness of the second charge, but the first and third points are still relevant. We are not on the same side of the Liberals, I have to say; it is only the Conservatives who get into bed with the Liberals. This is an amendment that we are quite happy to support, but do not let us have this obfuscatory nonsense that we have been getting. Give us something that makes today’s efforts worthwhile—if not, we will be after you at the next stage, and we will win because we have the majority in the House of Lords.
With the Liberals.
With the Liberals.
We have had rather a lot of history lessons. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, for reminding us of the late Willie Ross. I remember his technique when in opposition of calling Divisions just for the sake of having one, so that he could go out to have a cigarette—but that was in another world and another time, and now we have to go further away to have a cigarette than is possible in the time it takes to have a Division.
The noble Lord also reminded me of the first ever committee I was on, many years ago. I remember with great pride when the Chief Whip approached me and asked me if I would go on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Many noble Lords will remember being asked to go on to such a committee, either in this place or the other place, and feeling that it was a great honour and how important it was. JCSI did a very good job and was very important, but not nearly as important—and I think we are all very grateful for it—as the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which can look at the merits of the legislation. We are very grateful for its reports. We have taken note of exactly what it has said in relation to the amendment. We will look very carefully at those recommendations and I hope to be able to give a positive response in due course. I do not think that I can give that response at the moment because the words that are being queried—“civil activities”—have, as someone put it, their natural meaning, and we would accept that. But it might be that a change has to be made. I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that we will look very carefully at this matter and between now and Report we can have further discussions and see whether amendments are needed.
With that, I hope that the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment. At that point, going back to the cricketing analogies that we had earlier, we might at this stage draw stumps.
I want to break the rules and come to the defence of the Box. It is quite unfair to attack the briefs that Ministers have. The briefs may be poor not because of those who prepared the brief but because of the policy behind it. We should not level an attack at the civil servants in the Box.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for making that point. I followed the noble Lord into Defra some years ago. He and I know exactly what all those who have served us in the Civil Service do for us and how well they do it. If briefs ever fail, it is the failing of Ministers, and Ministers—including the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and other noble Lords I see in this Chamber—know that it is our fault and we take responsibility for it. On this occasion, I think that everything we have said and done has been absolutely marvellous and wonderful and we will continue to argue our case.
May I now make my second attempt to draw stumps, if the noble Lord is prepared to withdraw his amendment?
My Lords, it has been a long 24 hours for many of us, so I am delighted to say that is the nicest thing that the noble Lord has said to us. I take it that the Government will, in essence, be bringing an amendment back on Report. I am very grateful, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
Clause 1: Nuclear safeguards
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 23, at end insert—
“(c) ensuring that inspections of nuclear material, facilities and equipment for the purpose of nuclear safeguards continue at the frequency and standard established by UK membership of Euratom.”
To answer the concerns widely expressed in Second Reading, the Minister has written this week to noble Lords. I am very grateful that the noble Lord has followed up on this commitment to provide further assurances; his letters have been very helpful. Yet in his letter, the Minister agrees that the ONR does not have the required number of staff at present to operate at Euratom levels and that the ONR assesses that it will take a good 12 to 18 months to upskill new recruits once they have been found. When pressed, the Minister has admitted that the ONR aim is to meet international standards as applied by the IAEA from 29 March 2019. This indicates that from day one it will not immediately be to the standard set by Euratom. The draft regulations published in January indicate that standards will be “broadly equivalent” as quickly and effectively as possible.
The amendment would bring certainty regarding standards. The UK would operate only to the high standards currently set by Euratom. The Government have four mechanisms by which standards could be maintained in the likelihood that the ONR will not be able to replicate Euratom standards. First, the Government could subcontract from Euratom to continue providing the inspections and monitoring currently done by its personnel after the UK leaves. Secondly, the Government can negotiate a standstill in safeguards by securing a transition period with Euratom as well as with the EU, during which time the ONR could be in a position to demonstrate equivalence to the standards set by Euratom. Thirdly, as your Lordships’ House heard last night in Committee on the withdrawal Bill, the UK could continue its membership of Euratom separately from that of the EU. I agree with the Minister, who this morning said that there were severe difficulties around this area, and I shall come to that again in a minute. Lastly, the Government could achieve some sort of continuing relationship with Euratom, which they profess that they wish to set up, whether that is called associate or similar status, whereby there would be no gap in standards or in time between Euratom and that undertaken by the ONR. I agree with the Minister that “associate membership” will not be the terminology, as the Government have ruled that out from their negotiations. Many of those alternatives are explored in further amendments before the Committee.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to undertake three-monthly reports to Parliament on the critical pathway to put all the necessary provisions in place. Your Lordships’ House will then be in a position to monitor progress, and we have already discussed amendments to give effect to that this morning. This amendment would make sure that there was no drop in standards and that the UK safeguards regime will be to the high standard set by Euratom. The amendment would enable the Government and Minister to fulfil their commitments. I beg to move.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
4: Clause 1, page 2, line 15, at end insert—
“(3A) No regulations may be made under this section unless the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement certifying that, in his or her opinion, it is no longer possible to retain membership of Euratom or establish an association with Euratom that permits the operation of nuclear safeguarding activity through its administrative arrangements.”
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for denting the Government’s comfort zone with a few hard facts about staffing issues, which is very practicable. I look forward to finding out more what the IT requirements are as well. In my not inconsiderable experience of government departments, trying to deliver IT systems within any kind of agreed timescale is not that great. I have dealt with NHS IT systems, while the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, dealt with the IT system governing rural payments, so we must be excused our scepticism about the ability of public agencies to deliver IT projects on time.
If, against all expectations, we get the ONR up to a satisfactory standard on time, what do the Government want the relationship with Euratom to be? Do they want a consultancy relationship? Do they want Euratom to lend or second them some staff? Do they want some help in designing the IT system? If the Minister could give us some detailed clarification about the relationship, I think that we would all give him less of a hard time because then we would understand what it is that the Government are trying to achieve in the relationship. He has left me with a clear impression that they do want to have some form of relationship, and that is why I have tabled the amendment.
I think that I am now pretty clear that the Government are not going to continue our membership of Euratom, so the amendment is defective in its drafting. However, its intent is to flush out what the Government want the relationship to be, and in particular what they want the relationship to be in the period running up to March 2019 and any kind of transition or implementation period after that. The Prime Minister seems to accept that in many of these areas there has to be some kind of implementation arrangement, and her tendency is to see the implementation period as one in which the status quo will continue for some time. In this sector, the status quo is Euratom, but this government department wants to be out of our membership of Euratom by March 2019. Given that, a legitimate area of interest for the Committee is to look at is what the relationship with Euratom will be after that date during any kind of transition or implementation period.
I do not want to go in to bat like Ken Barrington or Geoff Boycott on the wording of this amendment, but I do want to know what the Government’s intentions are. On that basis, I beg to move.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
5: Clause 1, page 2, leave out lines 18 and 19
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Amendment 6 not moved.