[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Public Accounts Committee on 9 October on Hinkley Point C, HC 393. Fourth Report of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee of Session 2016-17, Leaving the EU: negotiation priorities for energy and climate change policy, HC 909.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is straightforward. It ensures that when the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Atomic Energy Community—Euratom—we will have in place a legal framework that meets our future international obligations on nuclear safeguarding. Nuclear safeguards demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military or weapons programmes. It is important to be clear about the definitions in and scope of the Bill, because nuclear safeguards are distinct from nuclear safety, which is about the prevention of nuclear accidents, and from nuclear security, which relates to the physical protection of nuclear material. Those topics are subject to different regulatory regimes.
Our current nuclear safeguards obligations arise from our voluntary offer agreement—an additional protocol—with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA is the UN-associated body responsible for the oversight of the global non-proliferation regime. The first requirement flowing from the UK’s commitments on safeguards is to have a domestic system that allows the state to know what civil nuclear material it has, where it is and whether any has been withdrawn from civil activities.
Following conversations with the leadership of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, which is in my constituency, does the Secretary of State agree that their stance on Euratom is not about Euratom itself, but about knowing when all the details will be finalised?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is nothing in the Bill that will prevent us from seeking associate membership or arrangements with Euratom under article 206 of the existing Euratom treaty, and that it remains Government policy to seek to do so?
I can confirm that the Bill has been prepared on a contingency basis. The discussions around our continued arrangements with Euratom and with the rest of the European Union have not been concluded, but it is right to put in place in good time any commitments that are needed in primary legislation. Euratom has served the United Kingdom and our nuclear industries well, so we want to see maximum continuity of those arrangements.
My right hon. Friend has just confirmed that the Bill is necessary only because the Government have announced their intention to leave Euratom. I voted against the proposal when it was put to the House before the last general election, and I have yet to hear a rational reason for our leaving Euratom. As all our previously satisfactory arrangements for nuclear safeguarding are set aside, all our existing agreements with the IAEA are put in difficulty. Safeguarding is necessary to comply with the non-proliferation treaties, to which we apply a great deal of importance.
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may be the Father of the House, but that does not allow him to make a speech when everybody else is waiting. He has more experience of this House than I will ever have, and he ought to use it.
Triggering article 50 of the treaty on European Union also requires triggering article 50 on membership of Euratom. That is not just the Government’s view; it is the European Commission’s view, too. The Commission clearly stated to the European Parliament that,
“in accordance with Article 106(a) of the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union applies also to the European Atomic Energy Community.”
That is the basis on which we are considering these safeguards.
Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that, as we leave the EU, the Bill will enable us to develop our own watertight system for complying with nuclear safeguards? As he says, that means introducing reporting and transparency to make it obvious that no nuclear material is going where it should not be going. We want assurances that all these boxes will be ticked, even if we leave Euratom.
The Secretary of State is being generous in giving way. We heard clearly enough that this is a contingency Bill. What I did not hear clearly is the Government’s policy on staying in Euratom. He says that the treaty requires us to come out, which is debatable. If it is the Government’s policy that we want associate membership status, will he make that clear now? Maximum continuity is a rather vague concept.
It is very clear that membership of Euratom requires membership of the European Union, which is why we have this Bill. We have been satisfied with the arrangements we have, and part of the negotiation will be to ensure the greatest possible continuity, but that is to be negotiated with Euratom and the partners involved.
I have mentioned that the first requirement flowing from our commitments on safeguards is to have a domestic system that allows the state to know what civil nuclear material there is and where it is located, but the second fundamental principle of the global non-proliferation and safeguards regime is that there is some oversight of the system independent of the country itself. That provides obvious and necessary reassurance to the international community that material from civil nuclear programmes is not used other than for civil activities.
The UK has been a member of Euratom since 1 January 1973, and Euratom has carried out elements of both the domestic and the international activities set out in our agreements with the IAEA. The UK’s agreement with the IAEA on safeguards is a trilateral agreement, reflecting the relationship between the UK and Euratom. Upon withdrawal from Euratom, however, the UK’s main agreements with the IAEA will become ineffective, as they are predicated on Euratom membership. We are in discussions with the IAEA to agree replacements that reflect the UK domestic regime, including continued international verification by the IAEA. The Bill gives us the ability to give effect to precisely that regime. We have been working closely with the Office for Nuclear Regulation to ensure it will be ready to take on responsibilities for nuclear safeguarding that are currently delegated to Euratom inspectors.
Many professionals in the nuclear industry and outside academics are seriously concerned about the ongoing problem of what to do with nuclear waste from the civil programmes. Will the new arrangements simply parallel exactly what Euratom is doing or will they be stronger? Is the Minister not concerned that we still have to deal with the serious problem of long-term storage of civil nuclear waste?
Let me say two things. First, we want to see maximum continuity of the standards—we do not want any reduction in them, as they have served us well and they give confidence to the industry. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman knows, from his many years in this House, that successive Governments have taken forward our long-term disposal of nuclear waste, and work on a long-term repository is being conducted, but that is a domestic responsibility, as it always has been.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s approach. Will he confirm it will mean that all the operational work that happens in the relevant plants will continue as if nothing had changed? It is done to a high standard and we wish to preserve those standards.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I say, I do not think anyone regards the arrangements that have prevailed as deficient, so it makes sense to replicate them as we can. We are being orderly in making sure that we have the right domestic framework in place in good time.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) referred to the fact that we have to make all these international agreements which have previously been reflected in agreements between the EU and international bodies and other countries. Is any other country outside the EU objecting to the likelihood that we will be seeking to make these arrangements, or to be a full member of the IAEA in our own right, with a voluntary agreement that it proposes?
My hon. Friend will doubtless be aware that across the international community there is great recognition that there is little contention in this area. It is obviously in the global interest to have robust arrangements in place, and the discussions are taking place smoothly and without any contention.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on pursuing this issue with calm and decency. Will he take the opportunity to reflect on some of the scare nonsense that we heard earlier, particularly with regards to medical radioisotopes? That was front page—it was said that people would not be able to get their treatment—but nothing at all in our decision would ever stop the export of any of those medical radioisotopes to non-EU countries.
My right hon. Friend is right; there is nothing in that at all.
Let me state it another way: the Bill enables the United Kingdom to set up a domestic safeguards regime to enable us to meet international safeguards and nuclear non- proliferation standards after we withdraw from Euratom, no matter what the outcome of the negotiations. So we are being prudent and prepared, taking these steps now, in very good time. The ONR does not currently have this role because, under the Euratom treaty, all members, including the UK, subject their civil nuclear material and facilities to nuclear safeguards inspections and assurance carried out by Euratom. Euratom then provides reporting on member states’ safeguards to the IAEA, which conducts nuclear safeguards globally. The United Kingdom's new regime, established under this Bill, will ensure that the UK has the right regime in place to enable the ONR to regulate nuclear safeguards following withdrawal from Euratom—it could not be more simple. That will ensure that the UK continues to maintain its position as a responsible nuclear state following withdrawal from Euratom.
Will the Secretary of State assure me that interested parties in the industry, principally the Nuclear Industry Association and Prospect, the trade union, which represents most workers in the industry, will continue to be consulted, as at the moment neither is convinced that the Bill is better than Euratom?
I will certainly make that commitment. One feature of the nuclear industry is that it is, appropriately, highly consultative. People from across the sector talk to each other. It is a community of experts and they take advice. We will certainly continue to do that.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Nuclear Industry Association, with which I have meetings and with which the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) meets regularly. The NIA has said clearly that the publication of the Bill
“is a necessary legislative step in giving responsibility for safeguards inspections to the UK regulator”.
I have been clear with the House that the Bill is a prudent and timely set of measures that does not prejudge the discussions we will have with Euratom. I regard it as a model of good order.
The Secretary of State says that he speaks regularly to the experts in the sector and industry; can he give an example of anybody in the industry who would prefer the powers to be transferred to the ONR rather than for us to stay in Euratom? Is there anyone?
The hon. Lady justifies what I said at the outset. The arrangements we have had with Euratom have been perfectly satisfactory, and we want to see maximum continuity. I hope she would agree, though, that it is necessary and prudent to take legislative steps so that if we are not able to conclude a satisfactory agreement—I do not expect that—we nevertheless have a world-class nuclear safeguarding regime. I would have thought she would welcome our doing that in good time and sensibly.
The decommissioning of the UK’s ageing nuclear estate is a critical aspect of Euratom’s work, yet there is not a single mention in the Bill of decommissioning. Will the Secretary of State explain how the 17 nuclear sites that are currently in the process of decommissioning, including Trawsfynydd in my constituency, will be regulated and properly staffed and have the necessary expertise if the UK leaves Euratom?
There is no difference in the arrangements. As I say, the Bill makes provisions for a safeguarding regime. It is not about safety or security; it is about making sure it can be verified that nuclear material that is used in the civil sector does not cross to other uses. The robust arrangements supervised by the ONR that we have in place for decommissioning continue.
In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Dr Drew), the Secretary of State said that Ministers regularly meet various industry experts and bodies. Will he go further and say that by the time the Bill is enacted it will contain a clause that says it is necessary to consult the industry as widely as possible? The trade unions and the trade bodies currently feel left out.
Such consultation is the universal practice in the nuclear sector. The hon. Gentleman might serve on the Bill Committee, so perhaps he will be able to interrogate the issues he raises, but at every point the nuclear sector proceeds not through the unilateral fiat of Governments but appropriately, on the basis of expert advice. That is the culture of the nuclear industry and it will continue.
As I set out for the House in my written statement in September, our intention is for the new domestic regime to exceed the standard that the international community would expect from the UK as a member of the IAEA. The objective is for it to be as robust and comprehensive as that currently provided by Euratom. We are perfectly satisfied with the high standards that have prevailed under Euratom, so we do not want to take the opportunity to weaken them. As I have mentioned, we will also be agreeing new safeguards agreements with the IAEA. My officials have had meetings with officials from the IAEA at their headquarters in Vienna to take the discussions forward, and I am pleased to report that they are progressing extremely well.
On other aspects of the Euratom relationship, we have made it clear that we want to continue the successful co-operation. In June, I announced the Government’s commitment to underwrite the UK’s fair share of the costs for the Joint European Torus—the leading nuclear fusion facility in Oxfordshire—which supports 1,300 jobs, and we will continue to do that.
Let me briefly take the House through the clauses of the Bill. It is not a long Bill, as the House knows. Clause 1 amends the Energy Act 2013 to replace the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s existing nuclear safeguards purposes with a new definition. The ONR will regulate the new nuclear safeguards regime using its existing relevant functions and powers, so the measure is about clarifying its purposes. Clause 1 will also amend the Act by creating new powers so that we can set out in regulations the detail of the domestic safeguards regime, such as on accounting, reporting, and control and inspection arrangements.
The Nuclear Industry Association has made it absolutely clear that this legislation is necessary, but it has also spelled out that the best outcome would be for the UK to continue with some form of membership of Euratom. Will my right hon. Friend give the House an idea of whether he feels that the discussions so far with Euratom make it likely that we will be able to achieve some form of continuation of the existing arrangement?
As I have made it repeatedly clear, we regard the arrangements with Euratom as having served this country well and we want to see maximum continuity. As far as I can see, all members of the nuclear industry regard that as being the case. This is a good example of where I hope it will be possible to agree quickly and with a maximum of consensus a regime that continues the high standards that we have observed.
As the Secretary of State is of course aware, there is an extended search to find a new investor in the NuGen site. Potential buyers are looking on that with great interest. In his closest possible working with Euratom—or whatever his phrase was—is there a scenario in which there will not need to be new nuclear co-operation agreements, which could make the sale much more complicated and problematic?
The fact of this legislation should send a signal to the world that we are absolutely determined to be forward facing and to make sure that we have a regime in place that can continue the high standards that we enjoy while pursuing, in negotiation with Euratom and with other countries, the same continuity of arrangements that we have enjoyed. I see absolutely no obstacle to that.
Clause 2 will create a limited power, enabling regulations to amend the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Act 1978; the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000; and the Nuclear Safeguards (Notification) Regulations 2004. This narrow power will mean that cross references in that legislation to existing agreements with the IAEA can be updated once new international agreements have been reached.
Let me summarise the four key points. We are totally committed to the current and future prosperity of the nuclear industry. It is an important part of our energy future, our security as a nation and our commitment to clean energy. We are committed to meeting all our international obligations and to retaining our world-leading status on nuclear research and development. We need the powers in the Bill to give the existing independent nuclear regulator—the ONR—a new role to regulate nuclear safeguards, alongside its existing role regulating the UK’s nuclear safety and security.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way one more time. I am not sure whether he is coming to an end, but he has not yet responded to the intervention on radioisotopes of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith). Does that mean that the Nuclear Industry Association, Dame Sue Ion, the honorary president of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear, and the Royal College of Radiologists are right to express concerns about the future possible supply of radioisotopes, especially given that, in the past, there have been global shortages? The Euratom supply chain was prominent in managing those shortages of supplies.
Radioisotopes are not in scope of the measures before us today; this is about safeguards; and I replied perfectly adequately to my right hon. Friend.
The Bill sits alongside other work streams around our future relationship with Euratom, with the International Atomic Energy Agency and with third countries, and as such has been drafted to cater for a variety of possible outcomes to these talks. I want to reiterate our commitment to maximum continuity of these arrangements. The reason we are leaving Euratom is the decision to leave the European Union. The two treaties are uniquely legally joined. We continue to support Euratom and want to see a continuity of co-operation and standards and a close future partnership with it.
We do not know what the final arrangements will be, so we are doing what any responsible Government would do by putting in place now a civil nuclear safeguards regime for the United Kingdom through this Bill so that we will be fully prepared whatever the outcome of negotiations. I commend this Bill to the House.
As the Secretary of State has outlined, this Bill will provide the legal framework for establishing a domestic nuclear safeguards regime. Nuclear safeguards are essential obligations to ensure that work and materials for civil nuclear do not get transposed into work or preparations for military nuclear, and that is done under the umbrella of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Arguably, the UK already has a perfectly good set of nuclear safeguards through its membership of Euratom, so why is the Bill needed?
The Bill is a contingency measure, as the Secretary of State has helpfully illustrated. If we are to leave Euratom, and if there is no associate membership that gives us continued nuclear safeguarding provisions, we will need to put in place a new system of safeguarding, and that needs to be to the satisfaction of the International Atomic Energy Authority. Now that takes us into rather strange territory: we have not yet left Euratom; it is not clear whether we have to leave Euratom; the House has not agreed that we should leave Euratom; and we have not put in place any parliamentary procedure for agreeing that we should leave Euratom. In effect, the Bill is based wholly on the declaration that the Prime Minister made in her letter to the EU informing it that we were going to invoke article 50—
Clearly, the Secretary of State was not listening to what I was saying. If he displays some patience, he will hear a bit more about my thoughts on the Bill’s contents.
Euratom was agreed to as a body and a treaty before the EU treaty came about, and to that extent it is, arguably, separate from the actual formation and operation of the EU. That of course is the subject of fierce legal debate. It is true that its disputes mechanism does involve the European Court of Justice, and its terms include the free movement of scientists but those are specifically applied to civil nuclear activities and do not stray on to a wider canvas. Subject to legal debate, it certainly may have been possible—
My hon. Friend is right that it is debateable whether, legally, we have to leave Euratom. Would it not be helpful if the Secretary of State published the legal advice that he has obtained? As a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, I have heard a number of experts saying a number of things about this very matter.
It certainly would be helpful for the House to hear about the discussions that have been taking place between the Government’s legal advisers and the Government. The Library has helpfully provided a number of solicitors who have disputed the point that the Secretary of State puts forward. There is legal discourse going on that disputes the fact that Euratom and the EU are intrinsically linked.
Does the hon. Lady remember the long debates on the article 50 letter and the legislation to approve it? It was made very clear in those debates that we would probably have to leave Euratom at the same time and that we would therefore plan on that basis. She and many of her right hon. and hon. Friends voted for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill knowing that.
I earlier urged the Secretary of State to display a little bit of patience. If the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) did the same, he might hear some of the answers he requires in the remainder of my contribution.
Subject to legal debate, it certainly may have been possible—had the Prime Minister not taken the unnecessary step of specifically including Euratom in her letter to the Commission—to retain the UK’s membership of Euratom. At worst, we could have secured a close association with Euratom that was good enough to allow the continuation of nuclear safeguarding within that amended framework.
The Opposition believe that continued membership of Euratom or a close associated status with it is possible and necessary for the efficient, continued working of a whole raft of procedures relating to the nuclear industry, not just safeguarding. We see this procedure of starting to set up identical but separate processes, instead of a relationship with Euratom, very much as a last resort or a back-up measure. We are frankly disappointed that the Government seem to be putting rather more effort into this than into seeking to maintain an arrangement with a body that does all this perfectly well, although the effort put into this Bill is also questionable. I will come to that in due course.
I will just make some progress, if I may.
We have to be clear that the measures set out in the Bill are just a part of the process of disentangling ourselves from Euratom and replacing its provisions with satisfactory alternatives that allow the UK’s nuclear industry to continue working smoothly in conjunction with its international partners and not to face a cliff edge of uncertainty. Indeed, the position paper on the nuclear industry issued by the UK Government in the spring of this year lists a number of key activities of Euratom that are not covered by the nuclear safeguarding issue, but which are essential to place into a UK legislative framework if a tenable regime for nuclear power in the UK is to be created before Brexit.
One example is that we will need to reach an agreement on the international supply chain for nuclear reactors. Without such an arrangement in place, it is possible that the existing nuclear power stations such a Sizewell B will be forced to close until such time as the agreement is sorted out. The UK will need to conclude individual and separate nuclear co-operation agreements with non-EU countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, South Africa, Kazakhstan, the United States of America and others. We will need to agree new inspections with the IAEA. The status of supply chains such as nuclear isotopes for medical treatment will need to be maintained, supplied by reactors in EU countries. There is the issue of research in nuclear technology including, importantly, the fusion research carried out at the Joint European Torus facility in Culham, which the Secretary of State has already mentioned. These are all at serious risk if a fully worked-out series of agreements is not in place to allow these activities continuous operation. Working out a way to honour our safeguarding commitments under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is only the start of the process and we should not delude ourselves that achievement of that solves the Euratom issue. It does not.
The hon. Lady’s position seems to be that there is legal uncertainty about whether it is necessary for the UK to leave Euratom and that we should have left the issue until further in the negotiations, finding out whether we were leaving later on in the process. Would that not have just left rather less time to prepare if we did have to leave?
The point I am making is that there is legal uncertainty. Sadly, the Prime Minister firmly closed the door on the Euratom position, when it could have been left open. We could have passed this Bill through Parliament while questioning whether the legal position on Euratom membership was as the Commission states.
I will make some progress, if I may.
The Government stated in their notes on the Queen’s Speech that the Bill to be introduced on the future of safeguarding would also
“protect UK electricity supplied by nuclear power”.
This Bill clearly does not do that, which is perhaps why that claim has been dropped from the description of the Bill. But the challenge centrally remains, and it is likely that another Bill will be necessary to protect that electricity in its entirety. Will the Minister confirm when that legislation will be introduced?
Let us assume for the time being that maintaining membership of Euratom is not possible—by far the worst case scenario. How have the Government chosen to implement their limited stab at replacing the nuclear safeguarding regime? Well, they have chosen to do so by giving the Secretary of State all the power to make the changes. The Bill contains powers for the Secretary of State, by order, to provide all the detail and fill in the dots of the legislative changes without further meaningful recourse to the Floor of the House.
Clause 1 will give the Secretary of State powers to introduce substantial amendments to the UK’s safeguarding procedures and give effect to international agreements that are yet even to begin being negotiated without any further primary legislation. Furthermore, the Secretary of State will be given the power—also by order—to amend retrospectively, and without further meaningful recourse to the Floor of the House, no fewer than three pieces of existing legislation. Not only that, but he will have the power to amend those pieces of legislation, as the Government acknowledge in their explanatory notes accompanying the Bill, based on the outcome of negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency that the Government accept are not complete.
We have to take on trust that the negotiation with the IAEA to which Parliament will not be a party will proceed satisfactorily, and that the Secretary of State, in his infinite wisdom, will table the necessary amendments to primary and secondary legislation that will give effect to those agreements, whatever they are. While I am on this point, will the Secretary of State confirm the progress of such agreements and negotiations, and provide details?
I hope the hon. Lady will be reassured if she actually reads the Bill. It is clear that the power to amend the legislation that she pointed out—I hope that she can see what I am pointing out—is limited to
“consequential, supplementary or incidental provision…transitional, transitory or saving provision.”
It is not a general power. It is intended to ensure that the transposition of one set of regulations to another can be made efficiently.
Let me take the Secretary of State on a little journey. If he listens carefully, he might see how dangerous the scope of certain parts of the Bill might be. The explanatory notes indicate that regulations under clause 1 will be subject to the affirmative procedure only “on first use”. It would be helpful if he confirmed that that wording is actually a terrible mistake, that he does not actually mean it and that, at the very least, all legislation on the domestic safeguarding regime will be subject to the affirmative procedure.
I would never cast aspersions on the Secretary of State, but, unfortunately, his ministerial colleagues have shown that they are prepared to use their delegated powers not just to avoid parliamentary scrutiny, but arguably to legislate in open defiance of the House. In particular, I refer to the recent rise in university tuition fees. The original Act allowed any statutory instrument raising the limit to be annulled by either House. Unfortunately, the Government first prevented any vote whatever, and then refused to accept the vote of the House against the regulations. In effect, they used secondary legislation to rule by ministerial decree. They tabled the regulations the day before Christmas recess and the Opposition tabled a prayer against them on the first sitting day after that. But, despite the conventions of the House, the Government dragged their feet for months until eventually conceding the point and scheduling a debate on 18 April. Of course, the Prime Minister dissolved Parliament before that vote could be held. After the election, the new Leader of the House said that there were “no plans” to allow time for the vote that her predecessor had solemnly promised from the Dispatch Box. It was left to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) to secure parliamentary time under the rules of Standing Order No. 24. In that debate, the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation tried to deny that any vote had been secured, leading Mr Speaker to intervene and tell the House:
“I had thought there was an expectation of a debate and a vote, and that the Opposition had done what was necessary”.—[Official Report, 19 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 895-6.]
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but we are talking about very important arguments regarding the machinery of this House. If he will let me conclude my remarks, he might learn something very important.
Eventually, we had to use an Opposition day motion to revoke the regulations. The House agreed to it, only for the Government to refuse to accept the result after telling their Members to boycott the vote. When the Government say that Parliament still has a say on delegated legislation, there is a catch, and it is a Catch-22: they can refuse time for a vote within the 40 days and then say that it is too late for any vote to count once that deadline has passed. The Bill includes a power to amend primary legislation. The Government want us to trust them with the powers of Henry VIII when, to be frank, they behave like Charles I.
On the Brexit process, we have had long lectures from Government Members about parliamentary sovereignty, but Ministers have shown in practice that they will deny and defy this House. It is ironic that, just weeks ago, the Brexit Secretary was keen to assure us that no such thing could happen in legislation such as that under discussion. He told the House:
“Secondary legislation is still subject to parliamentary oversight and well established procedures. In no way does it provide unchecked unilateral powers to the Government.”—[Official Report, 7 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 357.]
Even as he was saying that, his colleagues were refusing to follow those procedures, rejecting parliamentary oversight and using exactly those unchecked, unilateral powers to force higher fees on students.
The Bill will give the Government similar powers. We know that they will use secondary legislation not just for technical details, but to make controversial and important policy decisions by the stroke of a ministerial pen.
The hon. Lady is going on and on, as is her wont, about the Government not giving the Opposition enough time or opportunities to vote against their proposals. There will, however, be a vote tonight on this Bill, so will the Opposition vote for or against it?
I am sorry that I am boring the right hon. Gentleman, but if he listens to the rest of my contribution perhaps his question will be answered at the end. Perhaps that will keep his attention.
The job of a legislature is to legislate. The Bill is effectively a blank cheque handing that job over to Ministers. I hope that the Minister will give an iron-clad guarantee that the Government will not use those powers in that way and an ultimate guarantee to change the Bill itself. Safeguards are vital for our nuclear industry, but they are needed for our parliamentary democracy as well.
The Bill’s Henry VIII clauses are particularly worrying, for the simple reason that if the Secretary of State does not use the powers effectively, the UK will simply not have a nuclear safeguarding regime. Our legislation book is scattered with such clauses that have never been enacted, so either the status quo ante prevails or some new primary legislation renders the power irrelevant. That is not the case, however, with the Bill, because if the regime is not fully established into UK law on exit day, it will not work.
The point is not only that the Secretary of State “may” introduce such legislation, but that they have to introduce it; otherwise the regime will not work. The Government are, in effect, asking us to trust that they will do the decent thing and make it work, while conceding that the Secretary of State may not, if he or she wishes, actually do it. That certainly does not look very good from the outside looking in, because there is no status quo ante to go back on in the event that the legislation is not properly translated into UK law. We will just fall of a cliff, as we depart from our membership of Euratom.
For all those reasons, it is evident that this barely fit for purpose Bill will, at the very least, need substantial amendment even to make it work on its own terms. Indeed, we also need a wider consideration of how the UK’s advantages and protections under Euratom can successfully be replaced in a national context.
We are clear, however, that, should all else fail, of course we need a nuclear safeguarding regime for the UK post Brexit—[Interruption.] I am pleased to get cheers from Government Members. But let me add a caveat: we will need to see evidence of substantial amendment to the procedure set out in the Bill, as well as evidence that the Government are really thinking about the best post-Brexit Euratom formulation, before we can wholeheartedly commit to agreeing to the passage of this Bill on Report and Third Reading.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about this important Bill, which is the first step to picking up the pieces from our withdrawal from Euratom. I am also grateful for the numerous briefings I have received from the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington). He is an extremely assiduous Minister and I cannot go anywhere, least of all the Tea Room, without being stopped by him to be briefed on clause 3(3)(b).
The Secretary of State has already outlined the Bill’s purpose and the benefits we have gained from being members of Euratom, which is, in effect, the single market for the nuclear power industry. It allows us to move nuclear material between member states and, importantly, to move nuclear scientists, many of whom have moved to Culham, live in my constituency and contribute to the leading role that Britain continues to play in nuclear research.
Everyone in this House knows that the Government do not want to leave Euratom. The decision to leave is a case of, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Euratom is collateral damage from Brexit. Clever lawyers—we have not seen the legal advice—have decided that we have to leave Euratom because of the article 50 notice and it is extremely unhelpful, unfortunately, that the European Commission agrees with them; otherwise we might have had a fighting chance of persuading the Government to reverse their decision to withdraw from Euratom. I cannot help thinking that some such decisions are made slightly on the hoof. I only knew that we were withdrawing from Euratom on the day on which the article 50 Bill was published. It is quite hard to keep up with Government decisions on the issue, so I hope that from now on they will give us a heads up in plenty of time with regard to their decisions as we withdraw.
It is clear that the Bill deserves the House’s support, because it will transfer the safeguarding regime currently undertaken by Euratom to the Office for Nuclear Regulation, in preparation for our withdrawal. It will allow the ONR to monitor fissile material in the UK, to make sure that it is in the right place and being used for the right purpose.
Of course, that is just a small part of Euratom’s work. As Members’ interventions and, indeed, speeches have already highlighted, we need clarity on numerous other areas. The Secretary of State mentioned the very important nuclear co-operation agreements between Euratom and other countries around the world. The agreements allow us to trade in those nuclear markets outside Europe, including Australia, USA, Ukraine and numerous others. Clearly, we will have to replace those nuclear co-operation agreements with those individual states. Indeed, in some of those states, in particular the United States, it is a matter of law that they cannot trade with a country that does not have a nuclear co-operation agreement with them. Clearly, that issue is of the essence.
Secondly, we need—this phrase has been used in many cases with regard to Brexit—to replicate what we already have. In this instance, we need to replicate the common nuclear market that already exists because of our membership of Euratom. That is absolutely vital. Given the transfer of knowledge between highly skilled individuals, I do not think that anyone would object to nuclear specialists being able to move freely between countries and, indeed, to settle in countries where high-powered nuclear research—no pun intended—is being undertaken.
Thirdly, what comes out of our membership of Euratom is our leadership in nuclear research. Culham is a very serious project that has attracted hundreds of millions of pounds of investment through the Joint European Torus project. We were successful in ensuring that the next phase of JET, ITER—the international thermonuclear experimental reactor—will be based in France, despite talk of its being moved to Japan at one point. It is clear that Europe, partly because of the UK’s expertise, maintains its leadership in this regard. Following ITER, there will come another project, DEMO, which will be the first working nuclear fusion power plant: a demonstration plant—the clue is in the name. We were in pole position to get that in the UK, but I very much doubt, regrettably, that that will happen now.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has referred to numerous trips to Vienna—a beautiful city—to talk to the International Atomic Energy Authority. He has hinted that progress has been made on the voluntary offer safeguards agreements—an additional protocol that we will need with the IAEA in future. I look forward to further discussions with him on that. I have already talked about the need for new co-operation agreements with the United States, Australia, Ukraine and others.
The issue of isotopes has been raised. The Government have made it clear that they do not regard isotopes as fissile material that is therefore within the scope of Euratom. However, I remind my right hon. Friend that there was in the past a crisis in isotope supply. We must remember that we do not create our own isotopes in this country because we do not have the right nuclear reactors, so we have to get them from our European partners. In fact, Euratom was there to step in when that crisis arose. In 2012, when the supply crisis happened, the Euratom Supply Agency specifically extended its remit to cover the supply of isotopes. It would be interesting to know what our relationship with the Euratom Supply Agency will be as we move forward.
I return to Culham and the fusion budget. I am pleased that the Government have made it clear that they will continue to fund Culham until 2020 regardless of whether that money is part of Euratom or otherwise. However, it is again worth pointing out what enormous benefits membership of Euratom has brought to British industry. Some 40 British companies are working on the next project, ITER, with £500 million-worth of contracts. I am sure that they will be maintained, but it would be good to hear reassurances that they will be. I stress that British scientists played a really key role in ensuring that ITER happened in France and not in Japan.
Then there is the question of whether the Office for Nuclear Regulation has the capacity to undertake the responsibilities it will be given in the Bill. As I understand it, eight members of staff at the ONR currently work on safeguarding, and about 40 Euratom staff do so. Incidentally, for those of us in this House who routinely refer to bloated European bureaucracy, I was interested to note that Euratom has only 160 staff, about 25% of whom work on safeguarding. Clearly, some financial support will be needed. The grant from the Government to the ONR is actually going down. Understandably, emphasis has been put on the nuclear industry funding the ONR, but it is a pity that the grant—admittedly it is very small, in the single millions—is being halved at precisely the time when new responsibilities are being put through in statute.
We now understand that the Government’s position on Brexit as a whole is to see a transition period. I cannot keep track of how long it will be, and who is in favour of it and who is not. I am in favour of the longest possible transition period—perhaps a couple of hundred years. [Laughter.] It would be delightful if we could get from the Minister some indication of whether the Government are thinking about a potential transition period as we leave Euratom so that we can remain members for a couple of years after we formally leave.
We will clearly have to look at associate membership of Euratom. However, nobody should be under any illusions that associate membership is something that we can take off the shelf. Switzerland and Ukraine are already associate members, but for very specific issues, mainly to do with nuclear research; they do not have nearly the same benefits that full Euratom membership brings. Therefore, yet again, we will be seeking a bespoke, special and close relationship with the single nuclear community otherwise known as Euratom.
It is woefully typical of the approach of this Government that despite their intention to abandon Euratom, this Bill falls significantly short of dealing with vital issues for the UK’s nuclear future. Without any confirmation of a transitionary deal, Ministers have left a host of unanswered questions around nuclear safety. The nuclear industry, the medical profession, our research sector and universities—virtually everyone associated with nuclear power or related supply chain industries—have asked for the answers to those questions. Breaking the news to Parliament that we will leave Euratom in a line of the Bill’s explanatory notes shows wilful disrespect to them.
It also betrays an all-too-common disregard for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, because while safety is reserved, areas of regulation are devolved. That regulatory role is just part of why the Scottish Government must be involved in discussions over Euratom as things move forward.
Do we not have to be very careful about our terminology? The Bill has absolutely nothing to do with safety standards as in the prevention of nuclear accidents—it is about safeguarding, which has an altogether different legal meaning. Is it not very important that we do not scaremonger about this?
It is very important that the unanswered questions are dealt with in this insufficient Bill—[Interruption.] Well, a lot of people will be concerned about the implications of what is not covered in this discussion, some of which I intend to cover.
With regard to nuclear safety, it is critical that we continue membership—or, at the very least, associate membership—of Euratom. Falling back on WTO rules could risk the UK breaking international law. It will come as no surprise that we in the SNP believe that the safest nuclear power policy is no nuclear power. We are determined to deliver just that.
I am going to make some headway.
In Scotland, we are already showing what can be achieved by renewable energy. New storage solutions for renewables are developing further access to the vast potential from offshore wind and tidal, meaning that an abundance of low-cost, clean energy will be generated. In contrast, this Government continue to chase the folly of new nuclear such as the white elephant that is Hinkley C, leading to exorbitant costs for consumers and leaving yet another burden for future generations to clean up—and that is if there is no more immediate crisis caused by failure or deliberate act leading to nuclear incident. I also wonder what care and attention has been given to people in Wales, as only days ago it came to light that about 300,000 tonnes of “radioactive mud”—a by-product of this Government’s nuclear obsession—is to be dredged and moved to Wales. I will leave that to hon. Members from Wales to debate further.
My constituency is in the highlands, which is not only the natural home of much of our renewable generation and its potential, but home to Dounreay. It is a place where the impact and long-term costs, both financial and environmental, of nuclear are well known. Those costs should not be repeated. The Minister pointed out that the responsibility for domestic nuclear safety resides in the UK, but that does not mean that the UK has a good record, especially prior to EU membership. Indeed, most of us living in the area can recall the various worrying nuclear material scares, and we are well versed on the dangerous radioactive levels recorded on Caithness beaches.
Each scare should remind us of why our membership of Euratom is so important—because while they can never be perfect, agreed EU directives over safety have been essential in ending some of the hair-raising practices in the UK nuclear industry. Who could forget that in 2006 the remains of actual plutonium rods were found on the beach at Sandside, in Caithness? Hon. Members earlier mentioned watertight provisions, but one retired Dounreay worker who was interviewed at the time spoke of a catalogue of errors, accidents and bad procedure, including claims that workers commonly disposed of radioactive material in the sea at night to avoid it having to appear on official documents. He told a reporter that he once saw a man
“using a Wellington boot tied to a piece of string”
to take test samples
“because the proper equipment had rusted”
beyond use. Mr Lyall, the retired worker who spoke out, had been a plant supervisor for many years.
Although the UK Atomic Energy Authority—as it would—denied that Mr Lyall’s claims were true, it did admit:
“There were practices from the 1950s to the 1960s that we would not repeat today.”
Those practices occurred before we were members of Euratom. In the same statement, the UKAEA told reporters:
“Standards have risen in health and safety and environmental protection, and government legislation has also been tightened considerably.”
Our membership of the EU, and especially of Euratom, has had a positive impact on the improvement of the standards that the UKAEA spoke of. In Scotland, although we are working towards a nuclear-free future, we have to maintain safety at existing facilities during that process, and we must plan for a future of decommissioning.
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but is not this the rub? He and I would both prefer to remain in Euratom if we could, but since the legal opinion, not just on this side of the channel but in the Commission, is that we cannot—that has not been challenged by any third party—we need this Bill to achieve exactly the laudable objectives that he and I share.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, but he highlights the fact that we have not seen that legal opinion or any indication that it is watertight. We should have the opportunity to see it; perhaps it will be forthcoming as a result of this debate.
No, I am going to make some progress.
As I was saying, in Scotland, although we are working towards a nuclear-free future, we have to maintain safety at existing facilities. The current challenges exist in the other nations of the UK; indeed, they are multiplied by this Government’s obsession with pursuing costly and dangerous new nuclear. That obsession has put nuclear at the heart of energy strategy, while the Government’s other obsession with hard Brexit would see them leave the very agency that oversees the security of markets, businesses and workers in the sector. To most people looking on, that is baffling and dangerous. To us, it is yet another day in the growing chaos of this Tory Government.
Leaving Euratom serves no purpose other than to put at risk standards that have been in place for many years. Hon. Members do not even need to take my word for it. The Nuclear Industry Association has said:
“The nuclear industry has been clear that our preferred option is to seek to remain part of EURATOM, and that the UK government should negotiate this with the European Commission. The industry in both the UK and Europe want to maintain the same standards as apply now, and have worked well for more than 40 years. Without access to Euratom’s NCAs and common market, the nuclear new build programme, nuclear operations and the decommissioning mission could be seriously affected.”
Everything that can be done must be done to mitigate the risk of any incident, the effects of which would be measured in millennia. Failures in nuclear safety and decommissioning carry a potential catastrophic impact so great that our closest eye and the very best and most up-to-date research are required to avoid such outcomes.
What we would support is a sensible approach to maintaining either full or associate membership of Euratom.
The European regulator oversees nuclear matters as diverse as plutonium storage and medically vital radiotherapy supplies. For example, our membership of the Fusion for Energy programme allows the UK to receive contracts. So far, the UK supply chain has been awarded contracts worth €500 million, and that would have been expected to rise to at least €1 billion. Leaving Euratom seems to serve no purpose other than to satisfy this Government’s hard Brexit mantra.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there seems to be a rigid consensus among Conservative Members that we cannot stay in Euratom if we leave the EU, and that they refuse to accept that legal opinion on the matter is divided? Does he agree that it is utterly incumbent on the Secretary of State to explore this divided legal opinion to see whether the UK can, indeed, stay in Euratom?
I agree that there are clearly unanswered questions about the legal position, which has not been challenged, exercised fully or even debated to any degree. Not only are our safety standards, research opportunities and business at risk, but we may see the most dramatic and negative effects of any withdrawal in the medical field.
No, I am going to make a bit of progress.
In its paper on radioisotopes and Brexit, the Royal College of Radiologists outlines the crucial role that radioisotopes play in medical advances. The majority of the UK’s supply of radioisotopes, used in scanning and the systemic and internal treatment of a wide range of cancers, is imported from Europe and further afield. The most commonly used radioisotope is used in 700,000 medical procedures each year, and global demand is growing by 0.5% a year. Radioisotopes are used for the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases, including cancers, cardiovascular conditions and brain disorders. The UK does not have any reactors capable of producing those isotopes, and because they decay rapidly—often within a matter of hours or days—hospitals in the UK cannot stockpile them and must rely on a continuous supply from reactors in the EU.
I do not think that the Minister is reflecting the view of the experts in the industry who are affected, and I will come on to underline that with some quotes.
Euratom supports the secure and safe supply and use of medical radioisotopes. If and when the UK withdraws, it will no longer—this is the critical point—have access to Euratom’s support, ending the certainty of a seamless and continuing supply. The Royal College of Radiologists points out that the supply of radioisotopes would be disrupted by leaving the single market, because transport delays will reduce the amount of useful radioisotopes that can be successfully transported to their destination.
No, I am going to make some progress. As I pointed out, radioisotopes decay within hours or days of production. The most common isotope has a half-life of just 66 hours. The consequences of a disrupted radioisotope supply was made clear not only during the incident that the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) mentioned, but during the channel tunnel fire in 2008. That led to a reduction of the availability of radioisotopes, and to cancelled procedures. So, for patients, there can be no no-deal scenario. Such a scenario is a ludicrous proposition with regard to leaving the EU; as practitioners point out, however, in relation to medical isotopes it is a matter of people’s very lives.
Leaving Euratom will increase the difficulty of maintaining nuclear fuel in the longer term and threaten research funding into medical isotopes.
No, because I am going to conclude.
Most concerning of all is that leaving Euratom has the potential to reduce standards of protection for workers and the public. Since the UK Government have committed to a nuclear future, it would be pushing their irresponsible actions to critical levels if they were to forsake membership or, at the very least, associate membership of Euratom. Until there is no nuclear in Scotland—on our land, or in our waters—we should have the right to remain a member of it.
It is abundantly clear, especially from the Westminster Hall debate secured by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), that Euratom is intrinsically entwined with our membership of the European Union. Legal advice says that, as does the Commission itself. That has been abundantly expressed during this debate, and no doubt it will be expressed again on many other occasions.
The tone of the Westminster Hall debate, and the contribution it made, was fantastic. Unfortunately, some aspects of the issue, as we have heard today, are actually a little more disturbing. The way the debate is going on medical isotopes—radioactive isotopes for cancer and other medical treatments—has been extraordinary, given that it is absolutely clear that this does not form part of the Bill. The impact of leaving Euratom will not be to stop people receiving such cancer treatments.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for referring to the debate I led on 12 July. There was consensus in that debate in the Grand Committee Room that we should have associate membership of Euratom. That was the general theme of what was said by Members from both sides of the House, and we need to move towards it. In particular, I do not think that the Bill provides the lifeboat necessary for us to leave Euratom. Many of us are arguing for a transition period so that we will remain in Euratom until we get either associate membership or third-party agreements.
I appreciate the broad consensus in the Grand Committee Room, but not everyone had an opportunity to speak in that debate. No doubt there will be a transition period of some sort, but whether we have an associate membership or just a very close association at the end of it—like the association we will have with the European Union—we will look at what the EU does and how it goes about things, and we of course want similar standards. We are not looking to leave the European Union and then to reduce and cut all kinds of standards.
We are very early on in the negotiations, and I am sure the Minister for Climate Change and Industry and the Department for Exiting the European Union will look at that.
The extraordinary aspect of this debate is that some people are saying we will go off a cliff edge and valuable radioactive isotopes will no longer be available. What does that suggest about our friends in the European Union—that they will no longer sell these products, or that they will choose not to allow those products to be sent over to the United Kingdom? It is extraordinary to suggest that such sales will cease.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that is not about the EU wanting to give us radioisotopes, but about half-lives? The radioisotopes we are talking about have extremely short half-lives, so any delay at all at the border means fewer patients will be able to benefit from them.
Yes, I understand that some half-lives can be as short as six hours, so the efficacy of the isotopes will diminish in an incredibly short period. However, to say that the European Union and the British Government are not fully aware of that and that getting such materials from Europe over to the United Kingdom cannot or will not happen is extraordinary.
Absolutely. I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. As has been highlighted, 500 medical procedures a year, involving 10,000 people in the United Kingdom, depend on these products, yet we hear that they are going to be withdrawn and taken away, or that they will be held at the ports.
No. I am going to make some progress.
As we leave the European Union, we want to continue research relationships with it on many projects. We will see through Horizon 2020 to the end, and we must consider what kind of relationship we will have on the successor programme—framework programme 9. We need a close relationship with the European Union on Horizon 2020, but we must also consider what relationship we need or want on framework programme 9, and we must be mindful of the direction of travel with the European Union.
There will be an ongoing consultation on the relationship the university and scientific sector in the United Kingdom wants on the successor programme. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know, Horizon 2020 really focuses on top-end research—the things that we often do very well in the United Kingdom—which is why this country has a disproportionately large share of the Horizon 2020 money. On the successor programme, however, the moneys may be directed towards capacity building, which would favour other regions of the European Union more and the United Kingdom less. We must look into that and watch the direction of travel in the European Union. This is not set in stone, and we should not think that the successor programme to Horizon 2020 will merely “cut and paste” what we have today.
My big concern about where we go from here, post-Brexit, is the migration to the United Kingdom of European Union citizens and people from across the world who want to take up jobs in the nuclear industry. There is a huge opportunity in this, post-Brexit, for trained and qualified staff who currently work in Euratom to come across and work in the United Kingdom or for us to recruit and bring in people from across the world. Once we leave the European Union, we will have an opportunity to set the skill requirements we need in this country.
The hon. Gentleman is making some interesting points. I have consulted the powers that be in my constituency, where I have two universities, and there is concern about the consequences for science of ending the free movement of labour, certainly in relation to the specialists who come in to help train people. Experts very often come from Europe to teach science and technology, and there is concern because if we do not get this right, those people may well not be available for those universities.
That is a fair point, and why we have to ensure that we have as close a relationship as possible, consistent with having left, with the European Union post Brexit. Universities will be one of the prime sectors that the Government look to to ensure that we have that co-operation. It is such an important sector for the UK.
When thinking about who we need in the UK, people often focus on the highly qualified—professors, lecturers and so on—and the technicians that universities need can be overlooked. They are often paid significantly less, but we need them to come over, too.
Finally, will the Minister comment in the winding-up speech about arrangements for co-operation with countries outside the EU, such as the United States and Canada?
Except the hon. Gentleman. However, we are where we are, and the Government have made their decision. I urge them not to abandon what I and many hon. Members regard as a sensible approach: to pursue a transition period during which we stay under Euratom’s auspices, and then seek some sort of associate membership so that we do not have to recreate everything that the Minister and others have said that we value from our membership.
I understand the need for the Bill. There is a risk that we could crash out of the EU and Euratom, and we need a back-up, given that the Office for Nuclear Regulation will take on the responsibilities that Euratom has today. Unlike trade, there is no fall-back option for nuclear. With trade, we have the World Trade Organisation, but with nuclear, if we do not have an arrangement with the IAEA, we will not be able to trade or move nuclear materials around the EU. The Bill is an important belt-and-braces measure in case we crash out, which I hope does not happen, but is a risk.
The Bill does part of one thing—pass the remit for safeguarding inspections from Euratom to our regulator, the ONR. As hon. Members know, the ONR is not new, but there are serious pressures on its capacity. It is currently recruiting a new chief nuclear inspector, and only last week the Government had to put aside more money for it as part of the clean growth strategy. We therefore know that the ONR is under pressure even before taking on the new responsibilities that the Government may pass on to it. As a senior ONR official was forced to admit to a Select Committee in the other place, the timescale for adding safeguarding responsibilities is “very challenging”.
My hon. Friend speaks with great knowledge. He led the Westminster Hall debate and has a constituency interest. He is absolutely right, and some of the questions I will pose later are about how we can be sure that the ONR has the capacity and the capability to take on the responsibility that the Government will pass on to it.
The Bill does not resolve all the safeguarding issues. It does not solve the difficulties associated with the common nuclear market that exists as part of the Euratom framework, and it does not put in place the nuclear co-operation agreements with other countries that we would require to enable trading and even the exchange of information between nuclear states. It does nothing to resolve the arrangements to continue the world-leading fusion research, funded by Euratom but located in Oxfordshire, as the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) pointed out. I know that Members who represent those communities have real concerns about the impact. When I visited Culham a couple of weeks ago, it was made clear to me that those working there would prefer to stay in Euratom and had serious concerns about our exit.
Despite what some hon. Members think and say, the Bill does not provide the assurance that radiographers and others have sought for months from the Government that medical radioisotopes, again not made here, can be seamlessly transported to the UK for diagnostics and treatment. No one in this Chamber can say with certainty what will happen in March 2019, and whether agreements will be put in place for the frictionless movement of goods and services. Without that, we cannot be certain that those radioisotopes can come into this country easily and without hindrance.
Given that list, it should not be a surprise to Ministers or the House that my Committee—the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—has launched an inquiry into the impact of the Government’s decision to leave Euratom. The House will also not be surprised to learn that a lot of detailed and concerning evidence has been submitted to us. As well as my visit to Culham and the Joint European Torus—JET—I was at Hinkley Point today, meeting representatives from Hinkley Point C. Again, concerns were expressed to us about ensuring that nuclear fuel can get into the country once we have left Euratom. Ministers should be mindful of that.
Let us be clear: the process of ceasing to be part of Euratom, if that is what we end up doing, is complex, time consuming, and relies on good will, negotiation and agreement with third parties. Ministers cannot simply say that we will get those arrangements—they are up for negotiation. The Bill is just one small part of that complex picture, and as Ministers know, there is a very limited timeframe to get a series of agreements with a range of third party states to replicate what already exists as part of the Euratom framework.
My biggest concern about the Bill as it stands is that although it provides for permission to transfer the responsibility for safeguarding, it leaves to a later date all the arrangements that need to be made to ensure that the ONR can carry out those new functions. It leaves it to Ministers to determine them, at an undetermined time—increasingly a feature of the Government’s attitude to this as well as other aspects of the process of disentangling the UK from the EU. That is worrying, and should concern every Member of this House. Parliament should be involved because the decisions made here will affect all our constituents.
If we consent to the Bill as it stands, and transfer authority from Euratom to the ONR, it is important that we are confident in the arrangements to effect that change. We must be confident that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) said, the ONR has enough qualified and relevantly experienced personnel, because this is a specialist and skilled task, to do the job. Given that it is currently done and has been done for decades by another organisation, we must be confident that those people have had the right training, that the equipment required for monitoring special fissile material—by inspection in person and remotely—is in place, and that we know that the IAEA, the international body responsible for safeguarding standards, is satisfied and confident that this can be done effectively.
However collegiate or conciliatory Ministers are during the Bill’s passage, and I know that they will be, they cannot provide those assurances to Parliament today, or any time soon, and they have no way of knowing whether the conditions will be met. It is a very big gamble, and frankly, it is unacceptable to say, “Don’t worry, it will all happen through regulation and we will deal with it later; we have a very good relationship”. It is Ministers’ and the Government’s responsibility to provide Parliament with the assurances, detailed information and confidence on this matter, and all those aspects of replicating what we currently benefit from as part of Euratom.
In the context of the Bill and what needs to happen in addition to it, there are several questions that need answers before Members can be convinced that the Government’s course of action—their choice that we go our own way rather than negotiate for a transition period and associate membership—is correct. When can Ministers tell the House more about the terms of any agreement with the IAEA? It has been suggested that standards will be broadly equivalent to those from which we benefit now. What does “broadly equivalent” mean? What is the difference between what we currently have and what the Government are seeking to get from the IAEA? When will the voluntary offer be agreed, ratified and confirmed by the IAEA? What measures do the Government have in mind to ensure that the Office for Nuclear Regulation has the right skills and resources in place, given how long it takes to train a nuclear safeguards inspector and the skills shortages that already exist in the sector?
The Minister knows well that many experts in the field are concerned about the decision to leave Euratom. Since its inception, Euratom has helped to facilitate trade, promoted key research and development programmes, allowed for the movement of skills and maintained high safeguarding standards. While nobody in this House would demur from the absolute requirement that safeguarding inspections happen, or from the need for the ONR to have powers from this House if it is to undertake that role, the Minister must realise too that, notwithstanding that position, many questions remain unanswered. I hope a better way forward can be found—transition and associate membership, not a risky and costly process of transferring powers to the ONR for something that by its very nature relies on international co-operation, agreement and trust.
I am grateful and very pleased to be here as the first brick is placed into the strong foundation that we will be building for a post-Brexit Britain. This is the first real piece of legislation enabling us to see what it will look like. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill’s brevity and concision. Hopefully that pattern will be repeated.
I welcome the Bill and indeed our leaving Euratom, as I said earlier, although I recognise that many will not. Warm has been the embrace of Euratom for the past 40-odd years. Much has been achieved, in both research and safeguarding standards, but in truth the mourning bell has been tolling for Euratom for some time, because it is clear that the EU is turning its face against civil nuclear power. Germany is phasing it out by 2020, in a decision taken a couple of years ago, while Belgium, in a decision taken by our friend Mr Verhofstadt when he was Prime Minister, has decided to phase it out by 2025. Italy and Denmark have already made nuclear power generation illegal. Greece and Spain are phasing it out. Austria—ironically, as the home of the IAEA—has made it illegal even to transport nuclear material across its territory, such is its antipathy to it.
Given that the aggressively anti-nuclear Green party peppers Parliaments across the continent and has 51 seats in the European Parliament, serious questions need to be asked about the future of Euratom and its funding. When we recognise that much of the Horizon 2020 funding, which will go towards nuclear research, is generated by Germany, which will not be using the technology invented under that programme, we have to ask how long Germany will tolerate the notion that it should be pouring hundreds of millions of euros into nuclear research.
As I was about to say, in truth, Euratom is the French. It is anchored around France, with its 58 reactors, and they are the only serious nuclear player among the EU 27. The UK is second and Ukraine, although not a member—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) pointed out, it is now a special associate of Euratom, as it were—is third. Nevertheless, we now have the opportunity to look strategically at where our civil nuclear is going, what global alliances we should have, the direction of Euratom and EU nuclear research, and whether there is a better way.
I absolutely think that nuclear waste is important, particularly to us in this country. That is why we should have total control of it ourselves and not be reliant on a series of countries that will perhaps not even be willing to put money into researching how to dispose of, or reprocess or otherwise use nuclear waste.
We have been members of the IAEA since 1957. We have the capability to make the change; indeed, there is a strategic argument that the Office for Nuclear Regulation would be much better served if it had responsibility for all three of the civil nuclear strands—safety, security, and regulation and safeguarding. We lead the world in safety regulation; we can lead the world in the other two.
I am immensely enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech, not least as I have discovered that the one person in the country who went to the polls on 23 June specifically to get us out of Euratom also happens to be a Member of this House. It is a remarkable coincidence. If I may probe his argument, does it not have a weakness, in that if he is saying that so many members of the EU want to undermine civil nuclear power, is this not precisely the wrong time for the Brits to leave the French to themselves? Does he also agree that, regardless of his attitude to Euratom, we will still have to go through an incredible number of hoops to recreate what we have benefited from?
No, I completely disagree with my right hon. Friend. This is not the wrong time; it is exactly the right time for us to recognise that there is a world beyond the EU in terms of nuclear research. There has been much angst in the House already about nuclear scientists being able to travel freely, but I would point out that they do actually exist outside the European Union. There are lots of them in Japan, Korea, China and elsewhere. Indeed, the leading edge of nuclear research and the development of civil nuclear power is elsewhere. As I have said, we are dealing with a community of countries that are turning their back on this technology. Even if we get to the holy grail of fission, and we manage to get fusion going from the great reactor in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, the Germans will not use it. They have said already that it is of no use to them. The idea that they will continue to fund it into the future is fallacious.
I am always further intrigued by the arguments of people such as my hon. Friend, who imply that we could do nothing outside Europe when we were members of Euratom. However, we got the Chinese to invest in Hinkley while remaining members. How did our membership prevent us from co-operating with other nuclear states?
It has not prevented us, but we now have the opportunity to recognise that the nuclear community is global. While Euratom has served its purpose thus far, the point I am trying to make is that the trend of European opinion is very much against nuclear, so those countries are unlikely to continue pumping the money into Euratom that it has hitherto enjoyed. That is why we need to look elsewhere. It is perfectly possible for us to have a bilateral relationship with France. We have one on nuclear defence at the moment, which was signed in 2010; we can do the same on power. There is absolutely no threat to our participation in some of the global research programmes, such as the one at Culham and the ITER in the south of France, which currently includes Korea, China, Japan and Russia. There are lots of ways in which we can be involved.
My message today, I guess, is that people have to learn that Euratom cannot be part of project fear. It must not be part of project fear; it is far too strategically important to us not to reach out to the rest of the world. I am quite happy for us to have an associate membership, if that is what is required, but there is a world beyond the EU, and we have seen that in medical isotopes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) said, no one is pretending that we will not be sent medical isotopes when we come out, but that points to a strategic problem because of our membership of Euratom: we should be manufacturing those isotopes here. Why have we not got a reactor that will create them? We have the largest agglomeration of life sciences research on the planet, yet we do not have this feather in our cap—this piece of the jigsaw. Notwithstanding the SNP’s antipathy to nuclear, perhaps we should build that kind of reactor in Scotland, given that thousands and thousands of Scots benefit from medical isotopes every year.
The argument about Euratom has exposed the strategic nature of nuclear to us, in defence, civil nuclear and medical, and allows us now to think more coherently about which way we go. Civil nuclear is an international effort. Regulation should be at international level, as should partnership, so that we can finally find the holy grail of fusion power, which will solve our power generation problems well into the next century.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse)—[Hon. Members: “Why?”]—because he at least made an argument, unlike some previous Conservative Members, whose speeches were filled with vapid nonsense about how everything would be wonderful. His argument, however, was essentially: the Germans are coming and we need to pull up the nuclear drawbridge.
Don’t tempt me!
Hugh Gaitskell had just turned on its head his previously strong support for the EU by saying that joining Euratom would be like reversing 1,000 years of Britain as an independent state, and Dora said to her husband, “All the wrong people are cheering”. The Minister has had enthusiastic endorsements not only from the hon. Member for North West Hampshire, who belongs to the new generation of hard Brexiteer, but from the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who I saw leaping to his feet enthusiastically, and others. He needs to look around at who his friends are on this and push much harder for the view that we might speculate is his own personal view—that the course the Government have set is potentially deeply damaging for the nation, for civil nuclear power and, as I will come to, for many workers in my constituency and far more in that of the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison).
The Bill is a hastily constructed life raft. Labour Members are not against life rafts—some of us have of late considered them in other circumstances. They might sometimes be necessary, and we will engage constructively in Committee to improve this hastily and poorly constructed life raft, but we should not be seeking to bail from the nuclear ship at all, as is currently the Government’s policy. I asked the Secretary of State two important questions—he was generous in allowing me to intervene on him twice—but to my mind he answered neither. The Minister might do so now or in his summing up if he wishes. First, is it the Government’s policy to negotiate a transition agreement beyond 2019, so that the cliff edge we are currently facing recedes at least by a few years? Secondly, are the Government seeking associate membership, which would negate the need for a whole new set of nuclear co-operation agreements?
I know that Ministers are inclined to put on a brave face, but still I must note the level of optimism coming from the Dispatch Box. The Minister will know better than me that the civil service is bursting at the seams trying to deliver the panoply of new treaties and arrangements that Brexit is forcing on the country. It is at best highly doubtful that there will be the capacity in the system at our end to put together a whole new set of comprehensive NCAs to alleviate the problem by 2019, and that puts at risk not only the current generation of civil nuclear power stations but the future generation.
Since the Minister took up his job, he has been engaged privately, like his predecessors, in trying to rescue the NuGen deal, which, if it goes ahead, will create up to 20,000 jobs in Copeland’s local economy. Several hundred of my constituents already go up the road and coast every day to work at Sellafield. We are talking about thousands more jobs, but that deal has potentially been damaged by the uncertainty around the post-Brexit arrangements—not only the final outcome but the Government’s intentions now. That uncertainty might deter this vital new investor, which can keep those 20,000 jobs on track in our local economy and help the UK to keep the lights on.
The situation is deeply worrying. I realise that many current and future Ministers will not have wanted to be in this situation, but they have some agency and could be clearer with the nuclear industry and other nations watching about where exactly they want to end up. That is the responsible way to safeguard jobs in our local area.
It is a pleasure to follow my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), with whom I share a passion for nuclear energy.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in an important debate that is crucial for my constituency. Fellow Members will have heard me speak previously of the world-class nuclear skills in my constituency, of its internationally celebrated safe ways of working and of the challenges my community is overcoming in dealing with the world’s most complex nuclear legacy clean-up. Sellafield and the supply chain are world leading in this field. Sellafield is Europe’s biggest and most complex nuclear site and has been central to the UK’s nuclear development right from the beginning.
The UK established the world’s first civil nuclear programme, with the opening the first nuclear power station in my constituency at Calder Hall, which was first connected to the grid in 1956 and officially opened by the Queen. It was the world’s first power station to generate electricity on a commercial scale and operated for 47 years until it closed in 2003. The International Atomic Energy Agency was formed in March 1957 to support civil nuclear collaboration across the globe, and again we were world leaders in its formation. It is critical that we continue to benefit from being part of the IAEA and Euratom after we leave the EU.
Since being elected in February, I have visited both of Copeland’s nuclear licensed sites, Sellafield and the Low Level Waste Repository, to see for myself the incredible work done there by humble but highly skilled workers—scientists, engineers, tradespeople, those working in quality assurance and the enormous support operations. Sellafield has changed considerably since I worked there 20 years ago. I should declare an interest, as my husband, father and brother all work at Sellafield or in the nuclear industry—but then so do more than half my constituents, either directly or indirectly.
I have visited over 70 of the nuclear supply chain companies operating in my constituency. From global household names such AECOM, Arup, Atkins and Ansaldo NES to the more bespoke, locally grown, niche businesses of Delkia and REACT Engineering. We have an incredible wealth of talent and capability, matched by enormous opportunity, but each of these businesses is wholly dependent on the Government getting this right. Even to make a phone call between countries depends on getting this right. For an engineer in Copeland to speak with a supplier in Savannah River requires bilateral agreements. With Hinkley Point C in mid-construction and a raft of nuclear new build on the horizon, including Moorside adjacent to Sellafield, all the more urgency and precision is required in maintaining the benefits we currently enjoy through our membership of Euratom.
As we leave the European Union, the Bill is a much-needed step that will potentially give the Office for Nuclear Regulation the necessary powers to take up and continue the role that about 40 Euratom officials currently undertake, if that is required. I understand that there may well be a potential for the United Kingdom to remain part of Euratom, or to become an associate member if an agreement can be reached that is mutually beneficial and suits the UK. Switzerland and the UK show that there is a precedent, but a deal of this kind must be right for the UK’s interests. However, it is essential to have a plan B, which is what the Bill provides.
The Bill seeks to transfer the responsibility for safeguarding inspections from Euratom to the ONR. It is important to note that Euratom currently has no impact on the management and safety of the UK’s many nuclear sites, which are solely the responsibility of the ONR, guided by UK policy. Of course, our policies reflect agreed international standards, and our standards are extremely high. There is no reason, in my opinion, that a similar set-up could not exist in respect of Euratom. The UK has a robust and well-established civil nuclear safety regime, which will not change if all the necessary steps are taken to ensure confidence and continuity throughout the transition stage.
The Government’s decision to withdraw from Euratom is a key concern for many businesses in my constituency and for those working in the nuclear industry throughout the UK. We need to ensure that, if we must leave Euratom, we have bilateral agreements beyond the EU. Foreign investment and knowledge are fundamental to the continued use and development of modern nuclear power plants. We need only look at Hinkley Point C to see an example of international knowledge and skill-sharing and, of course, an example of foreign investment. Any investor or developer requires confidence and continuity, particularly when the stakes are high. As a member of Euratom, the UK enjoys the benefits of several nuclear co-operation agreements, negotiated by Euratom on behalf of its member states. Trade agreements with many countries including Japan, South Africa and the USA allow the sharing of knowledge, personnel and components. We must not allow ourselves to lose that international co-operation.
Although the Bill is a good and necessary first step, even as a precautionary measure, more needs to be done to address and replicate the other aspects of Euratom, and to determine how we can ensure continuity in all the areas for which Euratom membership currently provides. While the transfer of responsibility from Euratom to the ONR seems logical, it is essential to ensure that the ONR has the necessary budget and is able to recruit appropriately skilled staff within the required timescales. I remain concerned about the Government’s intention to reduce the grant for the ONR. I fear that that would have a serious impact on the organisation’s ability to complete its current tasks, let alone perform its increased duties after Euratom withdrawal. That needs to be addressed.
I commend the work of the Minister and his Department. They have been very generous with their time when dealing with concerned Members such as me. The Department has obviously noted the difficulty, and the importance, of ensuring that there is a smooth transition if membership, or associate membership, of Euratom is not possible. Let me also recognise the work of the Prospect union and the Nuclear Industry Association in helping their members, and me, to understand the needs of the industry, and that of the many businesses who have contributed their concerns and suggestions in their efforts to get this right.
I must make it clear that not getting this transition right—not putting the right arrangements in place and doing so in time—would be catastrophic, in many ways, for my constituency, for the nuclear sector, for research and development, for science, industry and advanced manufacturing, for apprenticeships and our legacy of world-class skills, for jobs, for growth and for keeping our country powered up. It would be catastrophic for our country and for other countries, too. I know—this is just one example—that the skills, experience and innovative equipment of Copeland’s businesses are a vital part of the clean-up operation at Fukushima in Japan.
For decades, the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield has processed waste from other countries, safely and efficiently. THORP is generating about £1 billion annually for the UK. The processes of separation, encapsulation, vitrification and compaction to deal with complex decommissioning challenges have been perfected at Sellafield, at the Low Level Waste Repository and throughout our supply chain, and the time is right for exporting more of those skills, the knowledge of processes and the innovation of equipment. Our future is and should be bright if we get this right, but everything depends on appropriate and timely arrangements.
Let me end on a note of caution. Like other Members who appreciate the importance of this industry to our country, I will not accept being pushed off our pedestal of internationally respected nuclear excellence. Without the replacement provisions in place, if we have to leave Euratom, we will fall not only from that pedestal, but right off the cliff in March 2019. The Bill is therefore vital, if only as a plan B. I am pleased to have been able to speak in the debate and to commend the beginning of the process. Negotiations and agreements must be made swiftly, with rigour and robustness, and with the support and agreement of Members on both sides of the House.
As many Members have already pointed out, the Bill should not be needed at all. The most sensible approach to nuclear safeguarding would be for the United Kingdom to remain a member of Euratom, rather than wasting vast amounts of time and money in setting up an alternative regime that the Government admit will be as much a replica of the original as possible. The Government have created a rod for their own back by insisting that the European Court of Justice and freedom of movement are red lines. I wish they would just admit that that is the problem, rather than hiding behind legalese and unpublished, disputed advice.
As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), when most people voted on 23 June 2016, the vast majority did not even know what Euratom was, let alone how to pronounce it. It remains possible that Britain could have taken the option of remaining a member, and it is a political choice to withdraw from it before that has been absolutely set as the legal position. What I am sure of is that the fallout—pun absolutely intended—of this decision leaves a huge gap not only in the country’s ability to safeguard nuclear material, but in many other areas not covered by the Bill.
We are told that the Government will seek a new treaty to replace Euratom, so the Bill is applicable only in the event of Britain’s crashing out of the EU and Euratom with no deal. No deal would be deeply disastrous for Britain, and the Government should not even be considering that option; yet here we are, about to pass a Bill to authorise spending on just that eventuality. Let us give credit where it is due. Given the importance of this issue and the Government’s own lack of confidence in themselves, the Department is doing absolutely the right thing in preparing for the worst—and yes, the Liberal Democrats would vote for the Bill on Second Reading. However, the fact that the Government have produced the Bill so early in the Brexit process shows that they must be genuinely concerned by the complexity of the task ahead and the possibility that the negotiations will fail.
By the way, as we all know, we have not even started those negotiations, and industry experts tell us that it could take up to seven years to negotiate a treaty as wide-ranging as Euratom. Although I have enjoyed listening to the jolly assurances of some Conservative Members—I, too, am an optimist by nature—I fail to see how we are going to do this in time.
Like many other Members who have spoken today, I am gravely concerned about the limited scope of the Bill and the fact that it does not cover the full range of Euratom functions. In particular, I am worried for my constituents. At one time, Abingdon had the highest number of PhDs per square kilometre in Europe, and many of the scientists still work on the Joint European Torus—JET—in Culham. The United Kingdom is world-leading in that area. Fusion technology, if achieved at scale, would be tantamount in technological terms to putting a man on a the moon—it is that revolutionary—and it would be a criminal act to put that position in jeopardy, but that is exactly what we are doing. To ensure its future, we need guarantees about the next phase of the work programme by the middle of next year, months before the Brexit negotiations are completed. This is very urgent.
This is not just about money, as we will, I am sure, be told: to fully participate, we must ensure that these scientists can move freely and collaborate fully and, furthermore, that those already here are enticed to stay. These are the best minds in the world, and I need not remind the Government how rare they are. It is all very well saying that we want them to stay, but we need to give them more certainty than that; they are already leaving.
My constituents, alongside others in the industry, are extremely concerned about the implications of Government decisions on their futures. What kind of associate membership do we want? Will the Minister publish, and consult on, proposals for dispute resolution? Will he guarantee freedom of movement of specialist and technical staff in the nuclear industry? There is far more information that we need from the Minister about these and other areas, and it is worrying that this Bill is so limited in scope.
My concern is that, as we know, world-class nuclear scientists are a rare and valued commodity, and some nations might not see it as in their interests to open the doors and allow greater exits of people whom they want to keep. It suggests a potentially slightly naive view of the world to think that everyone will just say, “Yes, go to Britain; it will all be fine.”
I will be brief about this, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I forgot in my speech to ask for the leave of the House: unfortunately, a family illness means that I am not going to be present for the wind-ups—but in any case Labour does not seem to be voting against.
I let the hon. Gentleman make a long intervention when I realised that there was a point that he wanted to make. I just want to make the point that this does not create a precedent for long interventions, as it was a special case.
On funding, the haste with which the Bill has been introduced suggests the Minister wishes to move forward quickly with recruiting and training the nuclear specialists who will be absolutely crucial in the case of no deal, and rightly so for the reasons I have just described, but can he confirm how much he anticipates being spent on implementing these measures and exactly when this spending will begin? Also, how do we know it will be a sufficient sum? The explanatory notes talk about a new IT system; I look forward to scrutinising that in the Public Accounts Committee.
Another concern is the extent to which specifics are being left to regulations, as has been said, rather than written into the Bill. We are starting to get used to that in this House, but that does not mean it is right: it reduces the level of scrutiny over Government decisions and it erodes public trust.
Given that the Minister has said that he wants associate membership of Euratom, but that formal negotiations might currently not take place, will he publish a policy statement on associate status to enable the industry to start to work around such arrangements as they might progress? Also, will these be Ukraine-style, or Switzerland-style—or, as we have heard from the Minister before, will they be even better? Without oversight of the European Court of Justice and with no freedom of movement, I am not sure we are going to achieve even that. I want to share the Minister’s degree of optimism, but I learned in my physics degree that scepticism is also a valuable approach to life.
What about transition? Have the Government given up on that idea, or will transition include continued membership of Euratom? We have heard already how wide-ranging the Euratom treaty is; I suggest that we must decouple the Euratom issue from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill completely and stop any talk of a cliff-edge on Euratom issues once and for all.
What if this does go all wrong, however? Are the Government even considering that? If Government negotiations fail and we crash out of the EU without negotiating a new agreement with Euratom, we will need this legislation, but we will also need so much more. We keep hearing that it is going to be fine. I feel ever more that this House is being drawn into a scene from “Dr Strangelove”: “How Parliament learned to stop worrying and love Brexit.” Our relationship with Euratom is far too important to take a risk like that.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), who confirmed that the Liberal Democrats will support the Bill tonight. Indeed, all Members worried about the possibility of the UK falling off a cliff-edge without future arrangements as a result of leaving the EU should support this Bill. It is an important step to avoiding that situation, and this plan B is precisely why the Nuclear Industry Association has described it as “a necessary legislative step.”
It is therefore not a little ironic that the party that wants to have nothing to do with nuclear power, is presumably worried about safeguards, and cannot make a speech without chanting the words “Hard Tory Brexit” appears to be against a contingency plan to prevent precisely that wild accusation from coming true for the nuclear sector. The points made against this Bill by the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), and, indeed, by the Labour party spokesman, the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), cannot therefore be about a lack of preparation for any possibility of disagreement about sensible third-party status with Euratom being secured by negotiation, and it must be clear that anyone voting against the Bill tonight will, indeed, be voting for a very hard Brexit for nuclear energy.
The truth is that we must leave to one side the bizarre positions adopted by the formal two leading Opposition parties, and focus on the Bill itself and the comments of individual Members of Parliament, including the hon. Members for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) and for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), and my party colleagues, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who has worked in the nuclear industry.
This is a contingency Bill. We all want a form of associative membership with Euratom that replicates existing arrangements. That is the clear position of the entire sector, represented either by the NIA or EDF Energy, the operator of all our existing nuclear power stations, with its operational headquarters in Barnwood in my constituency. It is telling that EDF Energy has said, first, that it appreciates the Government’s “early and constructive engagement on this issue with us”, and, secondly—to deal with some elements of scaremongering —that the UK has extremely “robust” arrangements for safety and security, and, “whatever the status of our membership of Euratom, there is no question but that this will continue to be the case.”
The NIA calls this Bill a welcome first step, but it does raise some questions, and I would be grateful if the Minister, in winding up, responded to some of the following questions. First, will he confirm that a bilateral US-UK nuclear co-operation agreement would be put in place to secure US components for Sizewell B in the event of Euratom’s NCAs and common market not being available to us, presumably through a voluntary offer safeguards agreement with the IAEA? Secondly, will he confirm that our funding for the Joint European Torus—or JET—project, which continues to 2020, will be extended, assuming there is a new relationship with Euratom? Thirdly, will he clarify the contingency process for the movement of nuclear material, goods, people, information and services to be agreed with the Euratom Supply Agency? Finally, will he confirm that our preferred arrangement for the period of transition is as close as possible to the current status quo?
Two other points are worth mentioning. They are about matters that the Bill does not cover. First, the NIA has spelt out clearly that Euratom does not manage the safety of the UK’s nuclear sites, which is, and always has been, determined by the UK, overseen by the Office for Nuclear Regulation; it is important that all our constituents understand that. Secondly, as the Secretary of State spelt out earlier, the radioisotopes are not special fissile nuclear material and their availability will absolutely not be impacted by our leaving Euratom. That is incredibly important for anyone who is worried about the impact of this on our health service.
This is a contingency Bill. The Government recognise our clear goal of securing third-party status with Euratom so that we can have the continuity that is clearly being sought by the entire civil nuclear sector, but they are also putting in place legislative arrangements for the Office for Nuclear Regulation to carry out the nuclear safeguarding work currently done by Euratom if, for whatever reason, that does not happen. The arguments—that is a flattering word to use—put up by Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition were riddled with inconsistencies, as their own Members have shown. However, I would not disagree with anything said by the hon. Member for Leeds West, especially on transition and associate membership. I hope that, recognising the importance of contingency planning as she does, she and indeed all Members of this House will, like me, vote for the Bill tonight.
It’s Madam Deputy Speaker.
Order. There is no need for hon. Members to contradict the hon. Lady, although I know that they are trying to be helpful. She made a slip of the tongue in referring to me as a Chair rather than as a Deputy Speaker, but I know what she meant.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am pleased to be speaking in this debate. Once again, we are in a debate where we are all promised a post-Brexit world that is shinier, better and newer than anything we have witnessed up to this point. Whether we are talking about nuclear safeguards, food safety standards, consumer rights, trade with the EU, the strength of the pound, UK nationals living abroad, EU nationals living in the UK, or 30% being wiped off the bond yields leaving a £1.8 trillion black hole in our public sector pensions bill, we are told that it will be all right on the night and that everything will be wonderful.
The fact is that no state has ever left Euratom before. Despite what we have heard in the Chamber today, some legal experts—I know that we do not always like listening to experts—believe that it would be perfectly possible for the United Kingdom to leave the EU and remain a member of Euratom because, despite sharing the institutions, the two treaties are distinct and have separate legal instruments. I urge the Minister to explore that. The nuclear industry certainly believes that the UK should pursue some form of continuing membership of Euratom. We do not know what form that will take. We have no details or certainty. I think I probably speak for a large chunk of the public across the United Kingdom when I say that the UK Government’s negotiating skills have not inspired confidence.
I remember sitting in a Committee and being told by the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who is now the Leader of the House, that it was necessary and, indeed, essential for us to fly nuclear materials across UK skies so that they could be used in a range of medical treatments at the height of their efficacy. Experts now tell us that leaving Europe’s nuclear regulator will put patients in the UK at risk of losing access to vital medical treatments, but those concerns have been dismissed by Conservative Members,. Despite what we have heard tonight, withdrawal from Euratom as part of Brexit would make it harder for the UK to access the nuclear isotopes used in cancer treatments and medical imaging. It is not me who is saying this—I confess that I do not have the medical or scientific expertise to do so—but the Royal College of Radiologists has told us that this is the case, as has Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
I could give the House 20 other examples of people at the top of their game who have told us this, but I fear that I lack the time to do so. Despite all that, those concerns were utterly dismissed by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who is no longer in his place, and the Secretary of State told us that these matters are not within the scope of the Bill. I fear that such a response is not reassuring. I am also alarmed, as I am sure many others will be, that someone who is qualified as an economist sees fit to contradict medical experts.
Euratom is responsible for co-ordinating and regulating the transport, use and disposal of nuclear materials in Europe, including many of the isotopes used in radiotherapy and some kinds of body scans. It seems that some of the most widely used medical isotopes can be produced only in specialised reactors, none of which is located in the United Kingdom. The materials currently used in Britain are mostly manufactured in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Experts have told us that there is “no excuse” for Government Ministers failing to foresee the problems that leaving Euratom would cause. They have also indicated, given that all these matters are subject to negotiation, that although it might be possible for the UK to remain within the existing arrangements, it would be “exceptionally complicated” and that the UK’s position would “inevitably be weakened”. Those are the words of medical experts at the top of their field. Crucially, no real clarity on how any agreement might be achieved by the UK Government has been forthcoming. The Government’s position paper on Euratom published in July contained little detail even on nuclear power and it did not mention medical isotopes. Perhaps the Minister would care to mention them today. Can he also tell us whether the Secretary of State for Health has been consulted on this matter?
Ministers have absolutely no excuse for failing to anticipate this controversy. The problems were clearly highlighted in an article in the Financial Times way back in February and in briefings by nuclear industry experts. I know that we do not like experts, but occasionally it is useful to listen to them. As with all aspects of Brexit, there is little evidence of any serious planning.
We have heard repeatedly from those on the Conservative Benches about transitional arrangements and avoiding a cliff edge, but everything is subject to negotiation. As I said earlier, the negotiating and diplomatic skills of the UK Government are deeply suspect, and at worst alarming, when it comes to dealing with Europe.
Dame Sue Ion, the honorary president of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear and a former chair of the Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board, has pointed out that
“if suitable and robust alternatives to leaving Euratom are not in place, the potential impact”—
may mean that we—
“cannot move material or intellectual property or services or components or medical isotopes.”
That view was echoed by Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer, who has been critical of Government officials, whom he called “ignorant” of the impact of leaving Euratom because they
“think it’ll be all right on the night. It won’t.”
If he is tired of hearing that it will be all right on the night with regard to Euratom, imagine what he would make of the list at the start of my speech.
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I crave the indulgence of the Chamber for a few more minutes? I cannot let this debate pass without mentioning something that is not strictly within the scope of the Bill. I fear that we cannot talk about nuclear safety and regulation without pointing to another threat that looms large.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is making a point about a legalistic separation, but when I speak to constituents about nuclear safeguards and nuclear safety—his experience may be different—the two things are entwined. To separate regulation and safety legally may be one thing, but to separate them when discussing them with constituents is another.
My hon. Friend has already made her point perfectly, but for absolute clarity about the overlap between nuclear safeguards and nuclear safety, the House of Commons Library briefing on Euratom states that delays in making reciprocal arrangements
“would have consequences for current operation, waste and decommissioning, and to new builds such as Hinkley Point.”
If there will be an impact on nuclear decommissioning, does my hon. Friend agree that involves safety risks?
My hon. Friend makes that point with his usual succinct articulation of the facts.
Before I conclude, it would be remiss of me not to mention something that is outside the scope of the Bill, but very much at home in any debate about nuclear safeguards, nuclear regulation or nuclear safety. Last week, I met the Civil Nuclear Police Federation and was appalled to hear of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary’s concerns. In partnership with the civil nuclear industry, national security agencies and regulatory bodies, the force works to deter any attacker whose intent is the theft or sabotage of nuclear material, whether static or in transit. Should such an attack be made, the CNC will defend that material and access to it. If such material is seized or if high-consequence facilities are compromised, the CNC will recover control of the facility and regain custody of the material. Its officers are therefore heavily armed and have high levels of physical fitness. Their retirement age has been increased to 67 or 68, and I was deeply disappointed that the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), has not met those officers, who do such an important job in guarding our safety and often work in harm’s way. I urge him to make the time to meet them.
I also urge the Minister to explore fully all legal avenues and opinions for the UK to remain a member of Euratom, which provides a framework for international nuclear safeguarding compliance and undertakes safeguards, inspections and reporting. Indeed, dispensing with the UK’s international treaty obligations on issues such as non-proliferation that are managed through Euratom will undoubtedly damage the UK’s nuclear industry, jeopardise high-quality jobs in engineering and chemistry and do much to undermine confidence in the UK’s already significantly diminishing international influence.
I think all Opposition Members sense the unease with which Government Members are unwilling to talk about the Bill’s narrow scope, which leaves so many uncertainties and questions. We are all rightly concerned about nuclear safety, but in our discussions let us remember to give a break to the brave officers of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, who work day in, day out to maintain nuclear safety across the UK.
Realising the risk that I take by making this comparison, may I say that it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson)? She and I served on the Procedure Committee together for some time. I listened to her speech with great attention, but I have to say in all good humour that she did a very good caricature of the P. G. Wodehouse quote that it is not very hard to distinguish between a Scotsman or Scotswoman and a ray of sunshine. Her speech was the Don Quixote speech of this debate: there is nothing good in the Bill; we are all going to go to hell in a handcart and—[Interruption.]
And we’re all doomed, as I hear my hon. Friend say from a sedentary position.
Let me start by saying what this important Bill is not about. I do not believe that it is a Brexit virility test. I happen to believe that voters on both sides in the referendum will want to see the Bill delivered and landed safely through our proper procedures. I gave my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) prior warning that I would challenge his assertion that one of the core reasons that motivated him to vote to leave the EU was that we would leave Euratom. I simply do not believe my hon. Friend—despite his cerebral dexterity—when he says that millions of people tootled off to the polling station in their droves to vote leave because it provided the opportunity to leave Euratom. In exactly the same way, I did not vote to remain because I thought that our membership of Euratom might be in jeopardy. I must confess to the House that I am part of probably 98% of the nation that had no clue what Euratom was or did, who was a member, that we were a member or about the excellent work that we did.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) was suggesting that he was precisely the only person in Britain who had gone to the polls in order to leave Euratom, so my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) is making his point for him.
I still remain to be convinced, but I will not push that particular proposition to a Division this evening.
It strikes me that the position of most speakers in this debate rather echoes what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said in an intervention on the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. If I heard him correctly, he said that Euratom has done nothing wrong, we are not annoyed with it, and it has not offended us in any way, but lawyers on this side of the Channel and lawyers for the European Union have said that triggering article 50 means that we will de facto leave Euratom, which requires a further and separate discussion. I say with the utmost respect to colleagues on both sides on the House who have had a legal calling in the past—[Interruption.] My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) chunters from a sedentary position. No doubt there will be an invoice for me in the post for that chuntering.
It is indeed, and who in their right mind would ever criticise a lawyer?
If we and the EU do not like the legal advice, and if we want somehow to disaggregate membership of the EU and of Euratom, we could possibly get some different lawyers to say something different. I must say that I am about to dash out and get myself the stiffest of stiff drinks, because I am going to do something that I never thought I would do—[Interruption.] It is interesting that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker), arrives in the Chamber just at this moment—his stage timing is exemplary—because I am going to pray in aid one Mr Dominic Cummings, a man I have not joined on a campaigning platform before. If even Mr Cummings, getting terribly hot under the collar, does not believe that leaving Euratom is some sort of demonstration of Brexit adherence or virility or some test to be passed, that should give us pause for thought. Because Euratom has not done anything wrong, and because it has not offended against the principles of this House or the country, I fully commend the strategy adopted by Her Majesty’s Government. We need to be pragmatic and sensible in laying the foundations for this important part of our economic life in case, at the end of the process, we find ourselves having to leave. I do not know whether we will end up like Switzerland, which has special status and is seen as an equal partner, or whether we will end up like the United States of America or Australia, which have looser agreements but are not seen as equal partners. Let us see.
Whatever we do and however we do it, I hope it will always be underpinned by the guiding principle that our decisions benefit our constituents and the country at large.
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of engineering, research and innovation in this place and in her constituency, and she makes an apposite point. Anyone who wants to see Brexit a success needs to understand that we will have political processes but that the regulatory and business communities want clarity and certainty at the earliest possible point. I agree with her entirely that the Bill provides that bridge, for want of a better analogy, between membership now and a regulatory regime in the future.
I agree very much with my hon. Friend. It certainly shoots the fox that we will have a bonfire of regulations and a race to the bottom. I find it strange that those who have spoken against the Bill this evening have, in one breath, accused the Government of presiding over a chaotic, shambolic and uncontrolled, if not incontinent, Brexit process and have then chastised the Government for trying to ensure continuity at an early stage, as my hon. Friend and others have said. Such continuity is welcome, and we would be right to chastise the Government were we not to have it.
If the Bill is not a debate about Brexit virility, it is also certainly not about access to isotopes, and I absolutely deplore those who have tried to wave that shroud. One of my hon. Friends—I was going to say it was my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), but I do not think it was her—said that access to isotopes is important for a large number of our constituents who need them for medical treatment when they are unwell, and it is the worst kind of shroud waving to say that they will not have that access.
The hon. Lady falls into a classic trap. I am not one who seeks to dismiss experts—as a non-expert, I always turn to experts for advice—but a concern that is wrong in fact does not become legitimate if it is raised by an expert. A person could be concerned about all sorts of things, and they could have as many letters after their name as they like, but they are not always correct. Some Opposition Members started to fan the embers of this flame about three or four months ago, and it does not appear to have caught.
I have received a briefing note, as I am sure have other colleagues, entitled “What about medical radioisotopes?” The import or export of medical radioisotopes is not subject to any Euratom licensing requirements. Let us seek to assure the experts who have concerns—their concerns are legitimate, and the House must address them—that Euratom places no restrictions on the export of medical isotopes to countries outside the EU. These isotopes are not subject to Euratom supply agency contracts or to Euratom safeguards, which means no special arrangements need to be put in place ahead of withdrawal.
Withdrawal from Euratom will have no effect on the UK’s ability to import medical isotopes from Europe and the rest of the world. It is in everyone’s interest not to disrupt patients’ timely access to treatment, and it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that cross-border trade with the EU is as frictionless as possible. I entirely take the point raised by several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), that some of these products have a short shelf life, and clearly we cannot have these products sitting in an overheated metal container at the port of Dover or Calais.
Out of common sense I have to ask which country on God’s earth will set a tariff barrier regime and seek to take beyond its useful lifespan a vital component in the delivery of medical care. In the French Government, the German Government and the Belgian Government, we are not dealing with countries that have no interest in public health and healthcare, because of course they do, as do our Government. The idea that those countries will deliberately set up barriers that cause these products to pass their sell-by date, like a piece of chicken that has been sat too long on a supermarket shelf, is fanciful and compounds the allegation that I and several of my hon. Friends have made, that the Bill can be criticised for other reasons, but it is cruel, callous and unnecessary to criticise it at the expense of unsettling people who require medical interventions.
I thank my hon. Friend for largely making my point for me. He knows my deep interest in this area, and I draw to his attention the fact that not only has the Secretary of State reiterated those points today but that the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation firmly made them back in June.
Are the expert opinions that my hon. Friend is addressing recent, or are they historical?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. These debates often get stuck in a groove on the gramophone, the needle gets stuck and we do not knock it forward. I think it was John Maynard Keynes who said, “When the facts change, I change my mind.” A concern is raised, it is addressed, it ceases to be a concern and we move on to something else. I am not saying there will be no other concerns.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us when the Royal College of Radiologists, Dame Sue Ion or the Nuclear Industry Association changed their mind? The Nuclear Industry Association’s latest briefing came out today, and it still expresses the same concerns. Who are all these people who have suddenly changed their mind?
I apologise for seeking to remake this point for the convenience of the hon. Gentleman, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am simply saying this: irrespective of how we might have campaigned and voted in the referendum, this is a time when we have a responsibility, as parliamentarians, to make sure that on certain key things—something as sensitive as this is a key thing—we set aside our personal beefs on whether it is a good or bad idea, in order to make sure our constituents are not alarmed. We have heard from the Secretary of State, read the briefing papers and heard from the Universities Minister, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) has pointed out, and that should now shoot that fox well and truly. What has been suggested is not going to be a by-product of coming out of Euratom.
I just want to clarify this point, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will not try to intervene again, because I am sure he will answer it well, and I hope he understands that I have enormous respect for him. I understand that he has a background in public relations, so given his background and level of expertise in his field, is he comfortable with contradicting and dismissing as “scaremongering”, “overreacting” or whatever word he wants to use, the legitimate concerns raised by the Royal College of Radiologists?
No, this is not dismissing them either. Are Members honestly saying that when a question is asked and someone answers it, weight can only be given to that answer if it compounds the premise of the question that was raised? [Interruption.] That might be how the Scottish National party goes about doing its politics and its business, but it is not a particularly good way of doing it. People have raised a concern that leaving Euratom may well have an impact on access to this vital ingredient. As this vital ingredient is not covered by Euratom now, it goes beyond eccentricity to suggest that by coming out of this organisation some sort of control is going to be placed on this ingredient, as the organisation we are potentially leaving does not have control of its trade in the first place. I say to Opposition Members that that is a non sequitur. We have been trying to answer calmly and rationally a concern raised by serious and sensible medical practitioners, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds mentioned, we have heard from our Science Minister, who is held in high regard by those in the scientific and medical research community, irrespective of any of their political affiliations. Save for slashing our wrists and writing it in our life’s blood on the wall here in the House of Commons, I am not sure what assurance SNP Members are going to accept.
Does my hon. Friend think SNP Members will accept that it is ludicrous to imply that medical isotopes would not be able to be imported should we leave Euratom, given that countries currently not in that organisation are importing those medical isotopes at the moment?
Once again, my hon. Friend makes the point in the most telling way. If we are providing no illumination to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), we are obviously providing a vast amount of humorous entertainment; I am glad she sees this issue as being so hysterically funny. I do not think setting a regulatory regime to allow all of our constituents to have ready access to a medical treatment is anything particularly to laugh about. People can accuse me of being po-faced and a prig if they so wish, and I could almost hear the Twittersphere doing just that as the words left my mouth, but I do not see this as a particularly funny point. My hon. Friend has made the point tellingly: countries that are not part of Euratom are importing isotopes in due time so that their shelf life does not expire. Unless we have some peculiar, Machiavellian, under-the-counter sort of plan to deny people medical treatment by putting the largest possible tariff barriers on these things and making sure that the inventor carries them across the channel in some sort of purpose-made velvet case that has been hand-sewn by his ancient grandmother, I really do not think this is going to be the situation. Therefore, the concern raised by medics can now be set aside.
Does my hon. Friend accept that medical isotopes and some associated equipment are also very high value, so it is not in the interests of those who manufacture and seek to export to us to put obstacles in the way of selling high-value, highly profitable pieces of equipment or machinery, be they the isotopes or anything related to them?
My hon. Friend gets the point, because he takes a Conservative approach to the operation of the economy. People in Britain want to buy something. We do not make it, but some countries overseas do. But we have also heard this, “We make too much for our domestic market and we want to sell it overseas. We have been doing this for years, but, do you know what? Just to bite off our nose to spite our face, we’ll stop doing it.” That is the crux of the argument we have heard from the hon. Members for North Ayrshire and Arran and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown). I would say it was bizarre if it were not so careless.
Let me conclude my remarks by returning to the point about the value—soft as well as hard—to UK plc of the collaborative opportunities for research that membership of an organisation such as Euratom presents. We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) and the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) about the supply chain, the jobs and the offshoots of economic activity that flow from this. If we are talking about background research, I understand that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran has a nuclear facility in her constituency. One can only presume that she has constituents who work in it, but she said precious little about them in her speech—
Well, that did not stop the hon. Lady dilating on lots of other things that were not in the Bill. This sudden stricture of rectitude and probity that she cloaks herself in as the winter months approach is a little hard to take. We should never underestimate what that collaborative research does to advance the sum of human knowledge, and to benefit our country in hard currency terms and profile terms as a centre of excellence, expertise, professionalism and world leadership. I see this Bill as very much taking a belt-and-braces approach. I just hope that if we have to default to this, because we find that the lawyers are right or we are not allowed to remain part of Euratom as there is some conflict with the European Court of Justice or whatever, the regimes we put in place and the culture we create tell the rest of the world interested in this sector that we, too, are open for business and committed to research, and we are not turning our back on academic and, yes, medical collaboration.
What a pleasure it is to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare).
I support the Bill. The introduction of a Bill on nuclear safeguards is an entirely sensible contingency measure. It is sensible to cater for the possibility that no associate membership of Euratom can be agreed; indeed, given the importance of the matters covered by our current membership, it would be extraordinary were the Government not to do so. I have listened with interest to the Opposition speeches but, ultimately, they resulted in sound and fury signifying nothing, because it appears that no one is going to vote against the Bill’s Second Reading.
It is a sensible contingency to deal with safeguarding. We will no doubt be able to consider other aspects in due course.
Were the Government not to introduce the Bill, they would be in complete dereliction of their duty. The background is as follows: the UK has a strong and developed nuclear sector, with 15 nuclear reactors generating 21% of our electricity; there is something in the order of 30 licensed nuclear sites; and our nuclear industry serves important civilian purposes, including medicine, transport, farming and industrial processes.
It is worth my taking a moment to reflect on the Bill’s key purpose, which is to give the Office for Nuclear Regulation—a UK body—powers to take on the roles and responsibilities required for us to meet our international safeguarding and nuclear non-proliferation obligations. What does that mean? In other words, it is to demonstrate and ensure that civil nuclear material is used only for civil purposes, not military ones.
It is also worth reflecting on what the Bill is not about. First, notwithstanding the points made by the Scottish National party spokesman, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), it is not about security standards in the UK. The security standards relate to the physical protection measures. The UK already follows the convention on the physical protection of nuclear material, which is outwith the scope of the Bill. Indeed, the related responsibilities are already within the ambit of the ONR.
Secondly, the Bill is not about safety standards for the prevention of nuclear accidents. We will continue to observe the standards imposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, overseen by the ONR. We have heard a bit about medical isotopes, which are not special fissile material, so I do not propose to traverse the ground that has already been ably ventilated by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset.
It is clear, though, that our membership of Euratom covers far more than safeguarding. I wish to develop a little the points that were helpfully set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). First, on research and development such as that on fusion technologies, we need to continue our collaborations. We heard a little about the JET scheme, which ends in 2018, although the Government have rightly committed funding for it in case it is extended to 2020. We want that co-operation to continue.
Secondly, there is the international thermonuclear experimental reactor project to build the world’s largest tokamak—at that point, my expertise starts to evaporate, but it is important.
Thirdly, the Government have already committed to funding the Horizon 2020 projects that were entered into before March 2019—the date of our departure—even if they continue after our departure. That is absolutely the right thing to do. All that underscores the importance of such projects to our economy and the European economy more widely.
After research and development, the second area that the Bill does not cover but in the perpetuation of which we have a strong national interest is nuclear co-operation arrangements, and we have heard a little about Australia, Japan, the United States and Canada. Those agreements matter because the United States cannot enter into trade agreements with the UK unless NCAs are in place. That is vital.
The third point that bears re-emphasis is the free movement of highly expert scientists. All three things must be secured, and the easiest and most sensible way to do so would be through associate membership of Euratom. It is worth making the point that there is no off-the-shelf solution: the Swiss associate membership relates only to scientific and technological co-operation and the Ukrainian model is even more limited.
The Bill is entirely necessary and entirely sensible, but in a way it is just the easy bit. Just as vital is that we secure co-operation in all the other areas, too. I have already said a little about associate membership, which I suspect is the most straightforward way to deliver that co-operation, but there might be others. I have every confidence that once this sensible contingency legislation on safeguarding is securely enacted, moving on to other matters is precisely what the Government will go on to do.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), and before him my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), who looks like he is about to leave the Chamber. It is always a pleasure to follow the latter, but although he has many qualities, brevity is perhaps not one of them.
The Bill is important, and I very much hope that its Second Reading will be unopposed. It is a crucial part of the Brexit process and I believe it will be able to operate with or without an EU deal. That flexibility is provided in the middle section of the Bill. Despite what was said by some of the Labour Back Benchers who were present earlier, it is absolutely clear that a country cannot remain a member of Euratom if it is outside the EU. It is not just the UK Government who make that point; the EU Commission makes that point. If someone says to the Government, “Let’s see your legal advice, because we don’t believe you. We have no faith in that opinion”, they should also say that to the EU Commission and ask it why it is putting out that opinion and saying that it is absolutely correct that a country cannot be in Euratom if it is outside the EU. Nevertheless, our current safeguards relate to our being members of Euratom, so it is right that we have a Bill that will enable those safeguards to be replaced when we leave the EU.
It seems to me that the Bill is not only a contingency plan but a crucial building block for our negotiation. Our negotiation requires legislation such as this Bill, so that we can get everything else sorted and get a decent agreement with Euratom.
The Government have been absolutely clear that they must prepare for all eventualities, and that is precisely what is currently happening.
I congratulate the Minister on putting resources into the country’s nuclear industry. It is essential to ensure that British nuclear fusion research continues when we leave Euratom. We have invested a huge amount of time, resources and effort in becoming a world leader in this field, and we must not allow our status to diminish. The Culham Centre has been mentioned a few times. It is not the only centre that specialises in such work, but it is crucial and it employs many people. It is essential that the Government do all they can to protect its valuable work and keep its workers in place.
I am pleased that the Minister has found some funding for the JET project, which has massive potential in the nuclear fusion industry. It is hard to overstate just what advances can be achieved if we ensure that the investment in that project continues not just in the UK, but across the world.
All too often we are a little too apologetic about our work in this industry when, in fact, successive Governments can be incredibly proud of our work on nuclear safeguards. We have a proven track record as a nuclear weapon state; we have signed the non-proliferation treaty; we have worked at the heart of the IAEA since its inception and we will continue to work with it and uphold our international obligations. That is something about which we can hold our head high. We can be very proud of the fact that, right from the beginning, we have been one of the few countries that has said that non-nuclear countries should remain so without any assistance from nuclear countries. That is vital.
We have also worked very well with the EU over safeguarding, and can continue to do so in the future, but we will need this Bill to enable that to happen. The Bill will ensure that safeguards can continue uninterrupted and that collaboration with the EU can continue. The expertise that we have heard a lot about from both sides of the Chamber today can be shared between nations and with the EU and around the world. It is clear that the European Union and the UK have a strong mutual interest in ensuring that this close co-operation continues in the future. That was set out very clearly in the position paper of the Department for Exiting the European Union—the Government’s nuclear materials and safeguards paper—that was published in July. We have been very open in our positioning papers about our stance in negotiations, and in July we gave a clear indication of where we wanted to go with this particular issue.
There is no reason why we cannot have a safe, pioneering, co-operative and responsible nuclear industry after Brexit. Yes, decisions will have to be made and agreements reached on issues such as the ownership of property at Culham. My understanding is that Euratom owns some of the property at our centres and that there will have to be some negotiations over who should continue to own that property once Brexit takes place, but, like so many other things involving Brexit, that can be resolved through negotiation.
In conclusion, this Bill will provide continuity, reassurance, protections and safeguards for the whole of this country and the whole of the industry and therefore should be given its Second Reading today.
Order. It will be obvious to the House that a great many Members wish to take part in this important debate and that, although all speakers from the Opposition Benches have completed their speeches, a great many Members on the Government Benches wish to speak. I am afraid that I will have to impose a time limit from now on of six minutes. I am sorry that that may come as a surprise to Mr Mark Menzies, but I am sure that he will be able to deal with the matter.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am devastated by the news that I have been cut down to a mere six minutes, but I will do what I can.
This nuclear safeguard Bill is of real importance not just to me and to my constituency, but to the 1,200 people who work at Springfields nuclear fuels in my constituency. Springfields is at the heart of the British nuclear industry. We are the only site in the UK to manufacture nuclear fuel. As we have already heard this evening, 21% of the UK’s electricity production is produced from nuclear energy, and a great swathe of that is from nuclear fuel manufactured in Fylde.
Whenever I hear the phrase “northern powerhouse”, I think not just of the nuclear industry in the north-west, but of the nuclear fuel that is manufactured in my Fylde constituency. I have met both the workforce and the management in recent months. Initially, there were some real concerns over the UK’s possible exit from Euratom and what that would mean for the continuity of supply. However, in conversations with the Minister, I have been deeply reassured by the fact that this is a Government who are working towards the possibility of remaining a member of Euratom and, if we cannot do that, of ensuring that we are safeguarding Britain’s civil nuclear interests by having these measures firmly in place in this Bill.
This is not just about dealing with trade between the UK and Europe, important though that is. Springfields Fuels is owned by Westinghouse, a company with quite complex ownership—both Japanese and American footprints. Therefore, any deal or legislation must be compliant with what our Japanese and American partners have in place. I am reassured by the Minister’s words in our meeting last week and in the debate this evening that this Bill will, indeed, cover that.
The nuclear industry must be able to trade from the first post-Brexit moment. Without implementation of the safeguards in the Bill, the UK would be unable to put the nuclear co-operation agreements in place in the future. Those are currently provided under the Euratom regime and they are vital because this is about not just dealing with Europe, but all our international partnerships. We are not just talking about nuclear fuel in its completed form, but oxides, pellets and the various added-value products that a company such as Springfields Fuels puts into the nuclear supply chain. If we do not get this right, the jobs of British people could ultimately be at risk and moved elsewhere. It is not about keeping lawyers busy. I am delighted that the Minister understands that, has looked at all aspects of the UK civil nuclear industry and has made sure that the measures will protect not just the nuclear industry in the abstract sense, but real people and real jobs now and in the future. That is something for which we should be grateful.
Time is working against me, so I will move on to my final point. I ask the Minister to ensure that the measures in the Bill protect future programmes, one of the most important of which is that of small modular reactors. If the United Kingdom gets it right, we could be world leaders in this technology. That would be a game-changer for the nuclear supply chain. Fuel would be manufactured in the UK. In fact, huge proportions of everything—from research and development through to manufacture—could be done in the UK. That would become a highly exportable technology. Rather than importing much of the new nuclear technology from overseas, the United Kingdom can own it and, surely, emerging new nuclear technology must be at the forefront of shaping our post-Brexit destiny. I hope that the Minister can assure me that the Government will think about and protect SMRs in the detail of the legislation. That is also important for Moorside. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who is not currently in her place, is a passionate campaigner for Moorside, and such technology would bring jobs to Cumbria. The fuel from Moorside would also be manufactured at Springfields Fuels nuclear plant. Therefore, the measures in the Bill really are important to ensuring jobs and the futures of all our economies, particularly those in the north-west.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies). I join in this debate not as a Member who has a particularly close partnership with the nuclear industry, nor as someone with specific knowledge of Euratom. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) says that he voted to leave because of Euratom, but, a little like my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), I cannot possibly say that I voted to remain because of it. However, the nuclear industry and our nuclear future in all its guises is extremely important to us all. To that end, the Bill is a necessary measure in response to the decisions taken after the referendum—a plan B, as some have referred to it. I urge everyone to join me in giving the Bill an unopposed passage through the House this evening.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, while membership of Euratom has served the UK well, it is only prudent and simply good governance that we are prepared for every eventuality? It is common sense, which is perhaps why there are so few Opposition Members participating in and listening to this debate.
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend that this is common sense. The Opposition argue that we are being presumptive, but we are just being thoughtful by ensuring that things are in place to ensure a smooth passage.
As has been said, this is about soft collaboration. It is an important opportunity to reiterate that the Government’s aim is to ensure that collaborative research and development continues, with close working relationships between universities, both in Europe and across the world, and other organisations.
It is clear that nuclear is a global industry, given the foreign investment in the UK nuclear industry from France and China. The issue is particularly pertinent in Suffolk, with EDF and Sizewell C due to come on stream. It is for that reason that our future relationship with the European Union is so important to understanding the future of the sector in the UK, as well as what it will mean for jobs, skills and businesses.
I am reassured by the Bill’s commitment to maintaining our current safeguards and standards under Euratom. By leaving those unchanged, the UK can guarantee a close working relationship with the Euratom community and those further afield. That is a wise decision to ensure close working with our natural partners, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and others have said.
Closer to home, Sizewell C on the Suffolk coast is under consideration, having completed stage 2 of the consultation process. Its potential is huge: it could power 6 million homes with clean, affordable nuclear energy and create 26,000 jobs and apprenticeships in the region. It would be at the cutting edge of the UK nuclear industry and receive significant international investment. That point was ably made by my hon. Friends the Members for Fylde and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who stated that the nuclear industry gives nearly £1 billion to the UK economy. It is important that we acknowledge its monetary significance.
West Suffolk College in my constituency is a national centre for nuclear and it is preparing for Sizewell C. East Anglia is fast proving its worth as a crucial region for skills, research and innovation, with Cambridge sitting at its heart.
I appreciate that the Bill does not cover EU research funding, but given that we are discussing the UK’s nuclear industry, it would not be amiss to remind the House that the UK is a world leader in the most promising nuclear fusion technologies, which is not something on which we intend to compromise on Brexit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde has said, we could be a world leader and it is important that we have the appropriate safeguards in place. That is why a smooth transition, which is contingent on continuity for the sector, is so vital.
The UK wants to explore ways in which continued collaboration, including in nuclear research and training, can be taken forward. For a vibrant region such as East Anglia, that is crucial not just for the possibility of major nuclear investment on our coast, but so that any investment opportunities are not lost on Brexit. Part of that understanding is that all our obligations on safeguards are met. We need to ensure that all systems are transparent and accountable with regard to material and how it is kept.
I will close my speech with two wider points thrown up by the Bill, and I hope the Minister will respond to them when he sums up the debate. On nuclear safeguarding in our communities, what assessment has he made of the role that my outstanding West Suffolk College and other colleges could play as centres of learning for any nuclear engineering apprentices working on my coastline and others, including Hinkley and the north-west? How will safeguards be built into that training? How will we future proof those people whom we will employ in the industry? How does the ONR cascade information through this system? Hinkley Point is a crucial model to learn from for future nuclear projects in the UK, especially in relation to its funding models.
As we leave the European Union, the need to draw skills and jobs to keep our nuclear sector vibrant becomes arguably more urgent, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) said. That includes those whose skills lie in repositories. We must ensure that we are scoping for the skills needed as we withdraw from Euratom so that we have, as this Bill states, a seamless continuation of the high standards of this industry, and the UK maximises and, as the Secretary of State said, even raises the standards within the IAEA.
I am genuinely pleased that this issue has been given such importance. That is not because, as some might have suggested, it is a sort of remoaner ambush, but because it reflects the importance of our nuclear industry, which in turn reflects the importance that the Government have attached to nuclear technologies in the UK as part of our industrial strategy. The valued engagement of the industry is most welcome. It is great to hear its very legitimate concerns over Euratom. The industry would obviously want no change whatsoever: of course not; nobody can blame it for seeking certainly and therefore advocating the status quo.
Let us be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with Euratom. It has proven very effective at regulating the nuclear industry. If the treaty did not require us to leave after triggering article 50, I am pretty sure that we would not do so, but as it does require it, a new arrangement must be sought. I genuinely have no doubt that this new arrangement will be characterised by keen agreement and co-operation between the UK and our EU partners. The nuclear industry is, after all, international and interdependent. We have significant French ownership of our nuclear power stations, and further international ownership is promised with the remainder of the new nuclear fleet. Similarly, Germany has a great deal of nuclear waste being processed in Sellafield. With the UK, France and Germany so interdependent on one another on matters nuclear, one might expect the wind to be on our backs, not in our faces, when seeking a deal on our future relationship on nuclear matters.
An associate membership is probable—highly probable, even. For the more ardent Brexiteers among us, that should not bother us either. Euratom has been a remarkably consensual organisation—I do not believe there have been any votes—and therefore the jurisdiction of the EU Court should not be a concern for us in this case. However, regardless of that probable outcome, we need something else in case good sense deserts our EU partners and nuclear safeguarding becomes part of the wider wrangling over Brexit. That is why the Government are to be congratulated on introducing the Bill so soon. This regulation will give the nuclear industry the certainty that it so reasonably demands. Nuclear safeguarding is not something on which we take risks. Pursuing a favourable post-Brexit relationship with Euratom is important and should obviously be our preference, but legislating for increased powers in the Office for Nuclear Regulation so that Euratom’s capabilities are duplicated as being sovereign within the United Kingdom seems very prudent at this early stage.
After this debate, it is important to pause and reflect on what neither the Bill nor Euratom does. Euratom does not do nuclear safety—that is already regulated in the United Kingdom by the ONR. My constituents who live as neighbours to Hinkley Point know that the safety regulations that govern the operation of that site are entirely unaffected by the Euratom issue. Nor does the Bill affect isotopes used in medicine. The scaremongering on this has been unfortunate, and I hope that it will not continue as the Bill progresses.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Does he, then, disagree with the Nuclear Industry Association? It has said:
“Leaving the Euratom Treaty without alternative arrangements in place would have a dramatic impact on the nuclear industry including the UK’s new build plans, existing operations and the waste and decommissioning sector which all depend, to some extent, on cooperation with nuclear states.”
I am absolutely at a lost to understand the SNP’s position on this. We have an excellent relationship with Euratom, which we want, ideally, to continue as an associate member. But, as the hon. Gentleman quite rightly points out, the nuclear industry is very concerned that, if that arrangement turns out not to be possible, we should have some sort of contingency in place to ensure that the industry can continue to operate safely and co-operate internationally. That is exactly what the Bill will do, so I do not understand why he is not welcoming it with open arms.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to clarify. The key is in the final part of the quote, which talks about the impact on existing operations and the waste and decommissioning sectors. That cannot be carried forward by the Bill in isolation; there are many unanswered questions.
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman adds anything to his earlier intervention. There is a system in place through Euratom for the regulation and safeguarding of the movement of fissile materials and other issues connected to nuclear regulation. We would ideally stay within Euratom as an associate member, but if that is not possible, we seek to legislate for a contingency, so that we have those powers sovereign. One would assume that the Government—I think that this has been made very clear in the Secretary of State’s opening remarks and all the Government’s commentary on the matter thus far—expect to continue everything exactly as it is, so that we can continue to operate seamlessly internationally. The Bill will provide a contingency plan to avoid the hard exit or cliff edge that so many in this place and in the media seem so vexed about. I just do not understand why the SNP does not welcome the Bill, when it appears to give the party exactly what it wants by delivering certainty post Brexit.
There are two issues that the Bill does not cover, quite understandably, but that are worth discussing. First, nuclear technology, materials and engineers need to be able to move freely, so we must achieve a quick and lasting agreement with other countries. Our nuclear programme is international, and we must recognise that in the arrangements that we make. I have every confidence that we will, and that the countries with which we seek to work will warmly welcome our approaches.
Secondly, there is the matter of funding for research and development. As we decarbonise our heating and transport systems, our demand for electricity will rise sharply. Renewables and our new nuclear programme are the answer for now, but the prize that we have all been looking for, for half a century, is fusion power. That has been eight to 15 years away for a very long time, and quite possibly it is still eight to 15 years away. When the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change went to the United States last year, however, it was clear that progress is starting to be made quickly on that side of the Atlantic. When we returned home, we were pleased to find after further inquiries that progress on this side of the Atlantic has been even quicker still. The UK, with our European partners, is ahead on the matter. It is absolutely vital that the Government commit, as they have done, to continuing to fund the research and development of fusion power. The opportunities are huge, and it is a prize on which the Government should keep their eyes.
In conclusion, I absolutely understand the concerns that nuclear industry representatives have raised with me, and I understand why they want certainty. They work in an industry in which there is absolutely no appetite or tolerance for risk, so it is entirely understandable that they seek the certainty of continued membership of Euratom. They should be reassured that the Government’s first preference is associate membership of Euratom, as a result of which nothing would change. If that is not possible, how prudent it is for the Government to seek, at the very first opportunity, to legislate to provide a contingency to assure the UK nuclear industry that safeguarding regulations are firmly in hand. Those regulations will be familiar to the industry, because they will look remarkably similar to the ones that we have now.