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International Atomic Energy Agency (Immunities and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 2023

Volume 831: debated on Wednesday 28 June 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the International Atomic Energy Agency (Immunities and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 2023.

This instrument was laid before Parliament on 5 June, in accordance with Section 10(1) of the International Organisations Act 1968. A correction was made on 7 June to amend an error in a date referenced in the order. It is subject to the affirmative procedure and will be made once it is approved by both Houses before being put to the Privy Council.

The order’s primary purpose is to correct an omission in the privileges and immunities granted to the International Atomic Energy Agency—also referred to as the IAEA or the agency—under the 1974 order. In the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the International Atomic Energy Agency 1959, signed by the UK in 1961, the UK agreed to provide privileges and immunities to representatives of agency members attending any international conference, symposium, seminar or panel convened by the agency. This language was not entirely reflected in the subsequent 1974 order. The proposed amendment allows the UK to fulfil its obligations to provide privileges and immunities to representatives of members attending agency-convened events in the UK. The amendment also clarifies that representatives of members as defined in the 1959 agreement includes

“governors of the Agency’s Board of Governors and representatives, alternates, advisers, technical experts and secretaries of delegations”.

The Government consider these privileges and immunities both necessary and appropriate to deliver on the interests and commitments that the UK has towards the agency. They are within the scope of the International Organisations Act and in line with UK precedents. The amending order confers no new privileges and immunities but expands the range of meetings where they apply, in line with the 1959 agreement. The provisions of that agreement have previously been applied operationally and meetings of the agency have been held in the UK without incident. However, we cannot continue to bear the risk of our domestic legislation provisions being at odds with our international treaty obligations. It is therefore right that this amending order be passed to allow the UK to fully meet its commitment to provide privileges and immunities to representatives of members attending agency meetings in the UK.

The agency was established in 1957 to enable the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies. It plays a critical global role in developing and promoting high standards, in verifying that nuclear technologies are being used for peaceful purposes and in supporting nuclear science and research. The UK fully supports the agency: it is an important partner in achieving UK objectives on global security, non-proliferation and energy security. It provides an important forum for the UK nuclear industry to share its world-leading expertise and to collaborate with international partners.

As one example of our commitment to collaboration, we are pleased to host the 29th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference in London in October this year. The conference represents an important opportunity to showcase the UK’s world-leading fusion energy research, institutions and scientists. Researchers from around the world will gather to discuss the theory and practice of fusion energy, including the pathway to industrial deployment.

To conclude, correcting the omission in the 1974 privileges and immunities order will allow the UK to meet its internationally agreed obligations and ensure the successful delivery of the IAEA Fusion Energy Conference in the UK. It will also facilitate the continued hosting of a wide range of agency events in the UK, allowing the UK nuclear industry to continue its close collaboration with nuclear researchers and operators from around the world. I commend the order to the Committee.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his brief but comprehensive introduction to these regulations. I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, who is currently in the Chamber dealing with other matters. We broadly support these measures.

My noble friend was quite keen to ask a question about paragraph 4 in the Explanatory Memorandum, about the situation vis-à-vis Scotland. It says there that a separate Scottish Order in Council would be prepared. Will the Minister say whether there is yet a timetable available for that, and have these proposals already been agreed by the Scottish Government? Otherwise, we welcome these regulations from these Benches.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his introduction. I am extremely grateful for his very helpful letter of 12 June explaining why such agreements sometimes differ between different international organisations in how they are set out. I hope that a copy was placed in the Library of the House.

The noble Lord quite rightly pointed out that this instrument corrects discrepancies in a 1974 order which implemented a 1959 immunities agreement giving immunities and privileges across a range of events. I have one basic question: I looked in the Explanatory Memorandum to better understand why it has taken almost 50 years to realise the error. Could the Minister offer an explanation? It may be rather straightforward, but I could not see it in there. This struck me: if this error has been brought to the department’s attention, was anyone impacted by it, and do we need to address anything around detriment to an individual?

I was also grateful to the Minister for pointing out the importance of the 29th Fusion Energy Conference, which will be hosted by the IAEA in London in October, and the range of people who will be attending. Can he tell us a bit more about what the Government are doing to prepare and to offer support to ensure that the conference is successful? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to this discussion. In a sense, this legislation is part of our preparation for the event. It is a requirement for us in order to be able to meet our internationally agreed obligations. It is worth pointing out that the privileges and immunities granted to representatives of member states are a requirement of the UK hosting IAEA events. Ministers have looked at the requirement, and I believe a number of questions were raised in the other place about certain countries being involved. Ministers and officials have considered the requirement and any possible associated risk but, as host of the event, the UK has to honour the invitations to all 176 members. As a consequence, we expect a high attendance. We think there will be between 1,000 and 2,000 delegates, although clearly, we do not yet know how many there will be.

On the question about the devolved Administrations— I will come back to how the error was spotted—the 1974 order and the amending order extend to the whole of the UK, but there are some provisions that do not apply in Scotland. The opportunity has been taken to clarify which of the provisions in the 1974 order will apply to Scotland in so far as they are within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. Article 2 inserts new Article 3A into the 1974 order, which clarifies that position. A separate Scottish Order in Council will therefore be prepared in respect of those amendments within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. It will be laid before the Scottish Parliament soon.

The error was spotted only recently—I think because of the organisation in the run-up to the event that we have been discussing. I believe that it was the colleague sitting behind me who spotted the error. It was immediately agreed that the correction should be made to ensure that we comply with international law.

On the agency itself, the IAEA is a key partner for the UK for all the reasons that I described in my opening remarks. Its work to promote nuclear technologies and ensure that they are peaceful, safe and secure is key for countering proliferation, preventing accidents and facilitating the use of nuclear power for energy security and climate goals. I know the Committee has a keen interest in the UK’s relationship with the IAEA. As has been noted, passing this amendment will correct a historic error and ensure that we are able to meet our international obligations. It will enable us to successfully host the event that we have discussed in this exchange. That just leaves me to thank the Committee for its time and questions.

My understanding is that there has been no impact. I looked over my shoulder to confirm that and I got a nod, so I believe that I am right in saying that there has been no impact. The provisions had previously been applied operationally, and meetings of the agency have been held in the UK without any incident. However, the judgment is that we cannot continue indefinitely to bear the risk of our domestic legislation being at odds with our international treaty obligations. There have been no incidents. With that, I trust that the Committee will support the order.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 8.09 pm.