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Nuclear Safeguards Bill

Volume 791: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2018

Commons Amendment

Motion A

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 3, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 3A in lieu.

3A: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—

“Request for continuation of existing arrangements

(1) The Secretary of State must make a relevant request to the European Council if neither of conditions 1 and 2 is met at the beginning of the period of 28 days ending with exit day.

(2) Condition 1 is that all of the principal international agreements have been signed.

(3) Condition 2 is that—

(a) one or more of the principal international agreements have not been signed, but

(b) in respect of each agreement that has not been signed, arrangements for the corresponding Euratom arrangements to have effect in relation to the United Kingdom after exit day—

(i) have been made, or

(ii) will, in the Secretary of State’s opinion, have been made before exit day.

(4) A “relevant request” is a request, in relation to each principal international agreement that has not been signed and in respect of which subsection (3)(b) does not apply, for the corresponding Euratom arrangements to continue to have effect in relation to the United Kingdom after exit day until—

(a) the principal international agreement comes into force, or

(b) arrangements have been made for the corresponding Euratom arrangements to have effect in relation to the United Kingdom until further notice.

(5) The “principal international agreements” are—

(a) agreements relating to nuclear safeguards to which only the United Kingdom and the International Atomic Energy Agency are parties;

(b) agreements relating to nuclear safeguards to which the United Kingdom is a party with, respectively, the governments of Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States of America (and for this purpose “agreement” includes an agreement or other arrangement that modifies or supplements an existing agreement).

(6) A reference in this section to “the corresponding Euratom arrangements” is a reference—

(a) in the case of an agreement referred to in subsection (5)(a), to whichever of the Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol corresponds to the agreement;

(b) in the case of an agreement referred to in subsection (5)(b), to whichever of the agreements to which Euratom is a party with the government of Australia, Canada, Japan or the United States of America corresponds to the agreement (and for this purpose the reference to an agreement to which Euratom is a party includes any agreement or other arrangement that modifies or supplements the agreement).

(7) In this section—

“exit day” has the same meaning as in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (and references to before or after exit day are to be read accordingly);

“the Safeguards Agreement” and “the Additional Protocol” have the same meaning as in the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000;

“signed”, in relation to a principal international agreement, means signed by both parties to the agreement.”

My Lords, as the House is aware, the amendment in lieu was proposed by the Government in the House of Commons in response to Amendment 3 made on Report in this House. Although the Government opposed Amendment 3 on Report, my honourable friend Richard Harrington and I have listened very carefully to the arguments and concerns put forward in both this House and another place about ensuring continuity for the nuclear industry. I hope that this amendment in lieu exemplifies the commitment to compromise and to engaging with Parliament that I believe the Government have demonstrated throughout the passage of the Bill.

Amendment 3 would have required that, where particular agreements relating to nuclear safeguards were not in place on 1 March 2019, the Government would have to request that the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom be suspended until those agreements, or continuation arrangements, were in place. This amendment in lieu would, like Amendment 3, apply 28 days before exit day, on 1 March 2019. Under this amendment, if any principal international agreement were not signed and no other equivalent arrangements in respect of unsigned agreements had been made or would be made before exit day, the Secretary of State would have to ask the EU for,

“corresponding Euratom arrangements to continue to have effect”,

in place of the unsigned agreements. The relevant agreements are those on safeguards between the United Kingdom and the International Atomic Energy Agency—the voluntary offer agreement and the additional protocol—and the four priority nuclear co-operation agreements with the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia.

Although the Government were not able to agree to Amendment 3, the House of Commons has made this amendment in lieu, which I hope the House will agree addresses its concerns on this matter. I beg to move.

My Lords, as one whose name was on Amendment 3, it gives me pleasure to support the replacement of that amendment with Commons Amendment 3A. The Commons amendment supports the basic proposals that we put forward in the Lords amendment but is more detailed and will better ensure that, if adequate agreements are not in place 28 days before exit day, the Secretary of State must request the continuation of the present Euratom arrangements. Amendment 3A more tightly defines the request that the Secretary of State must make and the relevant principal international agreements, and seeks to eliminate other possible ambiguities.

I would also like to say how much I welcome the Government’s acceptance of other Lords amendments, particularly the one that specifically points out that civil nuclear activities for peaceful purposes include production, processing or storage activities, electricity generation, decommissioning, research and development—a particular interest of mine—and any other peaceful nuclear activities.

Overall, I observe that the way this Bill has been handled is an excellent example of what can be achieved when there is constructive collaboration between the political parties, we Cross-Benchers and even between the Lords and the other place. Our parliamentary system has really worked well in this instance and it is my sincere, if naive, hope that this admirable spirit of collaboration continues throughout the consideration of all of the other Brexit-related Bills.

My Lords, I am also very pleased that we have come to a suitable arrangement. I support this amendment and reflect the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Broers. However, the challenges in achieving this are still major. We know from the leak from the risk assessment of the Office for Nuclear Regulation that we have an IT system that has only just been commissioned and timescales are very short for that £100,000 programme. We know that training has not been fast or easy in terms of recruitment or giving skills to those people to ensure that we have the right number of people in the Office for Nuclear Regulation. We have already had a concession that the standards that can be met by Brexit day are best international, rather than the Euratom standards the Government originally wished for.

Also, I understand that we have not yet had ratification of any of those nuclear co-operation agreements. Although I recognise and welcome the fact that we have agreement with the United States, agreement is not ratification. As the Minister himself said in a Written Answer to me:

“Ratification in the US requires the agreement to remain in Congress for 90 joint sitting days, whereby the US Senate and House of Representatives both sit, and the consent of two-thirds of the US Senate. Congress also has the option of adopting either a joint resolution of approval, with or without conditions, or standalone legislation that could approve the agreement. UK officials have held detailed discussions with the US and both sides are satisfied that this process can be completed ahead of the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom”.

I am glad to hear that optimism, but I still believe that that is a very difficult timetable to meet. I will be interested to hear from the Minister where we are on the other three nuclear co-operation agreements as well.

My Lords, as another who took part in the earlier stages of this debate, my eye joined with my noble friend Lord Broers in expressing thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for listening to the arguments that were made earlier, and to the Government for showing that the dynamic relationship that sometimes exists between your Lordships’ House and the House of Commons actually improves Bills, even in the febrile context of Brexit. I hope that this result today on Motion A, which I certainly support, will be a clear message to those who are given to say glibly that your Lordships’ House is merely trying to wreck Brexit. That is just not true. What is happening this afternoon is clear evidence, which the Government should cite, that there can be constructive work between the two Houses to improve even the legislation on this very difficult issue.

My Lords, one of the features of this provision is that it does not mention the exact question of finance. Clearly, we are working on some large and expensive programmes, particularly on fusion. In replying, will the Minister comment on whether new budgets will have to be created for the new arrangements, or will they fit within the existing budgets?

My Lords, I declare an interest that I share with my noble friend the Minister: we are both Cumbrians. Obviously, Cumbria is deeply affected by the nuclear sector, which is potentially very hazardous both to those who are engaged with it and to those living close to it. Therefore, having the strongest possible safeguards in place, which I believe that this amendment will help to bring about, is a great reassurance to those who would be affected should anything go wrong.

Just as my noble friend the Minister is absolutely certain that his house is not going to burn down, I am sure that that has not stopped him taking out an insurance policy. Equally, the Government, who are convinced that Brexit will take place, should recognise nevertheless that there is a possibility that, for various reasons, something may not happen as they hope. Having the strongest form of reassurance in the Bill in this regard is important because it is something to which those who might be affected were something to go wrong will be able to turn.

My Lords, to be frank, I wish that we could have just stayed in Euratom, which would be the simplest and most straightforward answer to nuclear safeguards, but I am relieved that the Government have listened to the concerns expressed on all sides of the House during the passage of the Bill, and I am very grateful that an amendment has been laid with which we can all agree. It is an important point that addresses any potential disaster, such as what if bilateral agreements were not in place, and avoids the cliff edge that we, like the Government, hope will never be reached. However, as the noble Lord opposite has just said, an insurance policy is a good thing and we now have that.

My Lords, it is a moment to be enjoyed when a Government Minister brings back to your Lordships’ House an amendment that all sides can resoundingly support. This amendment in lieu is in essence the amendment agreed on Report—admittedly, more deftly drafted—to ensure a responsible, less risky and more certain transition from the Euratom-monitored safeguarding regime to a uniquely robust regime operated by the ONR to full international recognition. The final version of the Bill is a vindication of the work of your Lordships’ House and the Government are to be congratulated on finally getting the legislation correct in the other place. While some noble Lords would contend that the Government had no need to trigger withdrawal from Euratom, given the difficulties around the notification letter and the Article 50 Bill, the House was right to focus this Bill on securing that the withdrawal from Euratom should proceed on a sound basis, satisfying all the contingencies that could arise during the process. This amendment in lieu allows the House to reflect on the fact that it has fulfilled its role successfully. Let us examine that in detail.

First, the Bill strengthens Parliament’s oversight and improves transparency by putting the Government’s reporting commitments on a statutory basis. Secondly, on the recommendations of your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Bill puts a further definition of “civil activities” on the face of the Bill and sets a time limit on the Government’s use of so-called Henry VIII powers. Thirdly, the Bill provides further information to the report that the Government will be making periodically. It may include arrangements with Euratom relating to nuclear research and development, as well as the import and export of qualifying nuclear material such as medical isotopes. The facility at Culham and the JET programme will be pleased with this outcome.

Finally, in this amendment in lieu the Government are agreeing that the practical realities of the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom will need to be recognised. The Euratom arrangements will cover all the conditions and standards to allow a continuation of trade and non-proliferation certification without disruption, interruption or dilution. At all times, whether phased or not, the UK’s withdrawal will not be put at risk and will not jeopardise the present status of operating within fully recognised international IAEA standards in place. The implementation period is still to be fully agreed and put on a statutory basis. It will qualify under Section 3(b) as a corresponding Euratom arrangement. This will allow a further period in which the Government can recruit and train inspectors. In addition, from exit day, we are satisfied that, where needed, the amendment would cover the six vital agreements necessary to maintain the status quo. Two of them cover agreements with the IAEA and there is one for each of the four countries with nuclear co-operation agreements: namely, the USA, Canada, Japan and Australia.

I am grateful to the Minister for his letter following our meeting to discuss the amendment. Together with the Minister in the other place, Richard Harrington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, he has put considerable effort into recognising and addressing valid concerns in both Houses throughout this process. I thank him and his team for co-operating with us on the Bill. The nuclear industry can be reassured that it may not need to face a cliff-edge moment and that the UK will continue to work constructively with Euratom. All sides recognise that the UK still has some way to go, yet we now have the right framework to bring that about.

In conclusion, I thank the House for its support and those who have participated so persistently and decisively in the Bill, namely the noble Lords, Lord Broers, Lord Warner, Lord O’Neill, Lord Carlile, Lord Teverson, Lord Hutton and Lord Fox, the noble Baronesses, Lady Featherstone and Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. I certainly cannot forget my noble friend Lord Hunt on the Front Bench, with the expert assistance of Grace Wright in Labour’s support team. This Bill has been a fusion of all the talents: it is a job well done.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Broers, for both his support for the amendment and for setting such a good and welcoming tone for the debate. I thank all other speakers for their positive remarks—although I accept that there are still challenges ahead, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, put it. As I made clear during the passage of the Bill, I want to continue to provide information to the House as we proceed to make sure that everyone is happy with what we are doing to ensure that the right arrangements—or the appropriate insurance policy, as my noble friend Lord Inglewood and the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, put it—are in place.

The House will be aware that the passing of this Bill is just one of the steps needed to establish new nuclear safeguards arrangements for the United Kingdom. It is only one aspect of the Government’s efforts to maintain close and effective arrangements on civil nuclear co-operation, safeguards and safety with Euratom and the rest of the world. To that end, we have made good progress both at home and abroad. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has enhanced its organisational capacity and capability to deliver the future safeguards regime. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that we have increased its available funding to £10 million, which includes the procurement of the new IT system. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that we will do all that we can to make sure that the system is appropriate. We are also recruiting and training a large number of new inspectors and strengthening the institutional capacity to deliver the project within budget.

We will soon consult on nuclear safeguards regulations. An early draft of that was provided to this House. The department and the Office for Nuclear Regulation will continue to engage stakeholders individually and through wider events. I assure the House that only this morning, in Vienna, the IAEA board of governors formally approved new bilateral international safeguards agreements with the United Kingdom to replace the current agreements, which include Euratom. We expect that they will be signed tomorrow. The conclusion of these agreements, which will take effect once Euratom arrangements cease to apply to the UK, once again demonstrates this Government’s sustained commitment to the civil nuclear sector, international safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation.

I can further reassure the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that on 4 May, as I think he is aware, the Government signed a new nuclear co-operation agreement with the United States of America. That will be ratified by Congress and laid before Parliament before ratification in the UK. Again, I will make sure that the House is kept informed of that process. On further NCAs, good progress continues to be made to put in place respective arrangements with Australia, Canada and Japan ahead of March 2019. Again, I will inform the House when that happens.

As part of EU exit negotiations the UK and the EU have agreed the terms of an implementation period, as the House will be well aware, running until the end of December 2020. That means that existing Euratom arrangements, including international agreements, would continue during this period.

I hope that I have given all appropriate assurances to noble Lords who have taken part in the short debate on this Motion. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.