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House of Commons Hansard
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Written Statements
10 January 2017
Volume 619

Written Statements

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

UK HPR1000 Reactor

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I have today asked the UK’s independent nuclear regulators, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and the Environment Agency, to begin a generic design assessment of the UK HPR1000 reactor.

This is the nuclear reactor design by China General Nuclear which General Nuclear Services (a subsidiary of Électricité de France SA and China General Nuclear) propose to use at a prospective new nuclear power station at Bradwell in Essex.

In September the Secretary of State confirmed that the Government had decided to proceed with the first new nuclear power station for a generation at Hinkley Point C. This will see the start of a new nuclear programme that will help provide the energy security we require as we move to a low-carbon energy future.

The investment by General Nuclear Services (GNS) in committing the resources required for the UK HPR1000 reactor (Hualong reactor) to go through the generic design assessment underlines the fact that international companies continue to view investment in the UK’s low-carbon energy future positively.

The Government welcome such investment. The nuclear industry in the UK is subject to a stringent regulatory regime to ensure safety, security and mitigation of any potential environmental detriment. Generic design assessment is now an established feature of the regulatory regime and is a respected process for rigorous and transparent nuclear regulation. I am therefore pleased to be asking the regulators to begin to assess the UK HPR1000 reactor through GDA.

As with previous such assessments, the full cost of the GDA will be charged to the requesting party (in this case GNS) which submits the design for assessment. This process is independent of any final agreement to commission a reactor of the relevant type.

[HCWS398]

Culture, Media and Sport

21st Century Fox/Sky Merger

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Sky Plc announced on Friday 9 December that it had received an approach from 21st Century Fox Inc to acquire the 61% share of Sky Plc which it does not already own and I made a statement on 20 December about the proposed merger and the process that would need to be followed.

21st Century Fox have been in contact with my officials and have confirmed that they intend to notify the proposed merger to the European Commission for review under the EU merger regulation. Before formal notification, the parties intend to engage in pre-notification discussions with the Commission from January onwards. The timing of a formal notification to the Commission is therefore not fixed and will happen dependent on the parties’ ongoing discussions with the Commission. It is in the nature of this process that we cannot know in advance the dates upon which certain steps will happen.

As I made clear to the House on 20 December, I will aim to make a decision on whether or not to intervene within 10 working days of formal notification being made to the European Commission. Given the clear intention of the parties to engage with the Commission informally, I have asked my officials to prepare and put in place the necessary procedures to ensure that when I need to make a decision I can do so as quickly as possible and with the relevant information in front of me. As such, my officials have commenced their work to analyse the relevance of the public interest considerations as set out in the Enterprise Act 2002 to the merger. In doing so, they will look at the available evidence and will consider representations which are relevant to those specified public interests. This is preparatory work, and I am clear that the point has not yet been reached where I will be taking a decision on whether or not to intervene.

Any decision I do take on whether or not to intervene will be a quasi-judicial one and it is important that I am able to act independently and that the process is scrupulously fair and impartial. As a result, I will not be commenting on the merits of the proposed merger. I do, however, I recognise that this is an issue of significant interest to the public and has raised a lot of interest in Parliament, as well as being a significant issue for the parties concerned. I will therefore be keeping Parliament informed of the process as it moves ahead and will make a further statement when the parties have formally notified the Commission, ahead of making any decision about whether to intervene.

[HCWS399]

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

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The eighth review conference to the biological and toxin weapons convention held in Geneva concluded on 25 November 2016.

At the review conference, states parties agreed a final declaration reaffirming their continued commitment to the convention’s objectives and their determination to exclude completely the possibility of the use of biological weapons. States parties reviewed the operation of the convention and expressed views on its articles. States parties agreed that the prohibitions in article I, defining the scope of the convention, apply to all scientific and technological developments in the life sciences and in other fields of science relevant to the convention that have no peaceful purpose.

The conference also agreed to:

Hold meetings of states parties of up to five days every year before the next review conference in 2021. The first meeting in December 2017 will seek progress on issues of substance and process, aiming to agree a substantive programme of work up to 2021.

Renew for five years the mandate of the three-person implementation support unit, which serves as a focal point and support for states parties’ work under the convention.

Continue to seek improvements to the convention’s assistance and co-operation database and to ensure specific, timely and concrete offers to states parties seeking assistance under the convention.

Renew the sponsorship programme to support participation by states parties otherwise unable to attend key meetings, funded by voluntary contributions.

The United Kingdom worked closely with other European Union member states and like-minded partners in preparatory meetings and at the review conference to secure an outcome which strengthened implementation of the convention. Despite our best efforts and the support of an overwhelming majority of states parties, a more ambitious work plan proved impossible to secure.

The UK will continue to support work in this field, addressing substantive issues with like-minded states parties and others; where necessary, we will do so outside the formal framework of convention-sponsored meetings. The UK will engage constructively in future annual meetings of states parties to support and strengthen the convention which remains a foundation stone of the international non-proliferation system.

[HCWS400]