Relevant documents: 13th and 17th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 1: Nuclear safeguards
1: Clause 1, page 2, leave out lines 18 and 19
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 2 and 12.The amendments place the definition of “civil activities” in the Bill. The House will be aware that the term “civil activities” forms a key part of the main regulation-making power set out in new Section 76A(1)(a). Regulations can be made for the purpose of ensuring that qualifying nuclear materials, facilities or equipment are available only for use for civil activities, so the meaning of “civil activities” is one of the elements that determine the scope of the safeguards regime that can be made through those regulations.
I am grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for its recommendation on this matter: that a definition of “civil activities” should be, so far as is possible, placed in the Bill, supplemented by a power where necessary to develop its meaning in regulations. Having considered the committee’s recommendation on this matter, I am pleased to have been able to table this government amendment, which places the definition of “civil activities” in the Bill. This definition takes into account the continuing work on the draft regulations which will underpin the Bill, on which we are intending to consult by June.
It is important to emphasise again the fundamentals of what safeguards actually are and what we are hoping to achieve with our new domestic regime. Safeguards are nuclear non-proliferation reporting and verification processes by which states demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military or weapons programmes. Nuclear safeguards measures include: reporting on civil nuclear material holdings and development plans; inspections of nuclear facilities by international inspectors; and monitoring, including by cameras in selected facilities.
As the House will now be well aware, nuclear safeguards are distinct from nuclear safety, which regards the prevention of nuclear accidents, and nuclear security, which is physical protection measures. Nuclear safety and nuclear security are the subject of separate regulatory regimes operated by the ONR.
The new domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime which we are developing is designed to ensure that we can robustly demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not being diverted into military or weapons programmes. I hope that the House will therefore agree that the proposed definition of “civil activities”, which has the concept of “peaceful purposes” at its core, suitably recognises this international commitment while including helpful detail on the types of activities covered by safeguards.
Although the committee accepted that it might still be necessary to supplement this definition with a power to embellish its meaning in regulations, I have not found that to be necessary. The amendment removes the existing power to specify in regulations activities that are or are not to be treated as “civil activities” and replaces it with a definition on the face of the Bill without creating another power. It therefore reduces the number of powers created by the Bill.
I hope that the House will agree that the amendments satisfactorily address the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I commend them to the House and beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome the tabling by the Minister of this amendment. It is always a good idea to see on the face of legislation the definition of terms used in it. It is helpful.
I quite understand why the Minister would want to confine the definition of “civil activities” to things carried on for peaceful purposes; for example, in relation to the production, processing and storage of nuclear material—it is within the safeguarding arrangements and makes sense; the same is true for the purposes of research and development. What I do not understand is why he has felt it necessary to use the words,
“carried on for peaceful purposes”,
in the context of generation of electricity, because I am not aware that the generation of electricity is ever for anything other than peaceful purposes.
My Lords, I will enjoy the Minister’s response to my noble friend’s question. I welcome the amendments brought by the Minister; they follow our discussion in Committee and the recommendation of the Delegated Powers Committee. However, on his eloquent defence of our having this Bill before us, the Bill would be quite unnecessary if the Government were to reverse their decision to leave Euratom, which remains for many of us unfathomable and unjustified.
On the last point of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, it is not necessary to rehearse all the arguments that we have been through on this matter because the decision has been made to leave Euratom. As he knows, that was dealt with in the transition Bill, which received a large majority in another place and is now an Act. It is a done deal. That is where we are and we have legislated on that issue.
On the more detailed technical point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, about electricity generation carried out for non-peaceful purposes, I have not got a clue and will take advice on the matter. I am assured by those drafting the Bill that this was the appropriate and proper way to deal with this matter. We wanted to ensure that we did not need to keep a residual power so that we could come back to this and make further amendments. That would have upset the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who would have accused me of retaining a Henry VIII power to seek further amendments to the primary legislation. By tabling this amendment and drafting it in that way, I have been able to make sure that there is not even that residual power. That is the proper way to go forward.
Having said that, I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, to give him an idea about electricity generation that is carried on for non-peaceful purposes, if such an answer can be found. I will make that information available to other noble Lords as they so wish.
Amendment 1 agreed.
2: Clause 1, page 2, line 23, at end insert—
““civil activities” means—(a) production, processing or storage activities which are carried on for peaceful purposes;(b) electricity generation carried on for peaceful purposes;(c) decommissioning;(d) research and development carried on for peaceful purposes;(e) any other activity carried on for peaceful purposes;”
Amendment 2 agreed.
3: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Agreements required before withdrawal
(1) In the event that any of the agreements listed in subsection (3) are not in place on 1 March 2019, a Minister of the Crown must, as part of the negotiations regarding the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community Treaty, request to suspend the United Kingdom’s withdrawal until either—(a) the agreements listed in subsection (3) are in place, or(b) other arrangements have been made to enable the United Kingdom to continue to benefit from existing nuclear safeguards arrangements until the agreements listed in subsection (3) are in place.(2) For the avoidance of doubt, a request for suspension under subsection (1) applies only to withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community Treaty and to no other part of the United Kingdom’s negotiations for withdrawal from the European Union.(3) The relevant agreements are—(a) an agreement between the United Kingdom and the International Atomic Energy Agency recognising the Office of Nuclear Regulation as the approved United Kingdom safeguarding authority in place of the European Atomic Energy Community;(b) a Voluntary Offer Agreement between the United Kingdom and the International Atomic Energy Agency resulting from the United Kingdom no longer being a member of the European Atomic Energy Community; and(c) relevant international agreements with those nations with which the United Kingdom has exercised rights in the last three years as a party to agreements made by the European Atomic Energy Community.”
My Lords, Amendment 3 seeks to ensure that the necessary agreements to secure the safeguards for our nuclear power are in place before 1 March 2019. It does not require us to withdraw but to suspend the UK’s withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community treaty until the agreements are in place.
The legal relationship between Euratom and the EU is not as clear to me as it is to the Minister. I have sought the opinion of learned friends who have told me there is no binding legal agreement that obliges us to withdraw from Euratom when we withdraw from the EU. However, the Government’s position is based upon what is stated in paragraph 18(1) in the Explanatory Notes relating to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act, which states:
“The power that is provided by clause 1(1) applies to withdrawal from the EU. This includes the European Atomic Energy Community (‘Euratom’), as the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008 sets out that the term ‘EU’ includes (as the context permits or requires) Euratom (section 3(2))”.
The situation is not straightforward. I am reminded of the words of Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons”—“I trust I make myself obscure”—which seems to be the situation.
As I have already stated, we are not asking for withdrawal but suspension of our withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community treaty until we have the relevant agreements described in subsections (3) (a), (b) and (c) of the proposed new clause in place to give the confidence that these agreements are complete and appropriate and will maintain the highest standards in safeguarding our nuclear power. This is essential if we are to maintain the nuclear baseload needed to underpin our intermittent renewables. As I said last night, if this fails we will almost certainly not be able to meet our reduction in emissions obligation.
Of all the world’s complex technologies, nuclear power is surely one where we must maintain collaboration with our partners, especially those in Europe, with whom we have been working so closely. To ensure that our energy strategy is secure, we must have the assurances contained in the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, in the draft transition agreement published yesterday the entry on Euratom is in green, which appears to demonstrate that there is some progress being made, apart from any legal complication which might emerge from the woodwork. The Government have committed themselves to a close association with the Euratom research and training programme. The Secretary of State has also committed to report back to Parliament every three months about overall progress on Euratom, with a first update expected before Easter. All so far so good, but this does not change the position that a default clause, such as this amendment suggests, might be sensible.
The only reason I have heard why this amendment will not or cannot be accepted is that, by our own folly, we have already given notice that we are leaving Euratom, come what may. My noble friend on the Front Bench described it as a done deal—which of course it is in terms of the Act we have already passed—but that is not the best of reasons for rejecting this amendment. After all, one Bill can amend a previous Act and if we find that the default position is needed in order to make sure that we do not fall between poles between one Bill and another, I should have thought that a fallback position such as that suggested by this rather sensible amendment would at least be worthy of serious consideration.
I recognise that the assurances given by the Government, and indeed by our Minister here, are helpful so far as they go—I have enumerated them just now—and that the disastrous decision to leave Euratom may ultimately be irreversible, but I will be listening to the Minister’s response to this debate with great care.
My Lords, I strongly support this amendment. I want to focus on the one issue that will cause me to vote for this amendment if my noble friend puts it to a vote. That is the way that the Government have been playing Russian roulette with our energy security by the ill-considered and ideological rush to leave Euratom without being sure that an equivalent regime is properly in place. The jeopardy this places the UK in is well set out in the latest briefing from the Nuclear Industry Association. The Government are doing a very unusual and risky thing in ignoring the advice of the nuclear industry’s experts simply because of their obsession with the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which, let me remind the House, has never intervened in a Euratom matter during the duration of Euratom’s life.
There is little evidence that it is possible to secure UK accreditation from the IAEA and negotiate a raft of new nuclear co-operation agreements with other countries before exit day. As the NIA briefing makes clear:
“Without access to Euratom’s NCAs and common market, the nuclear new build programme, nuclear could be seriously affected”.
Clearly, a responsible Government would stay in Euratom and not risk the disruption and uncertainty to a critical industry that departure brings, but not this Government. They claim that they will secure an equivalent alternative set of arrangements to membership of Euratom by exit day. Their backstop for failure seems to be that by the end of the transition or implementation period they are trying to negotiate with the EU. Despite yesterday’s upbeat gloss put on the negotiations of a transitional period, no such arrangements have yet been agreed by the Council of Ministers; they may well not be before the Bill leaves this House. Even if they are agreed before Royal Assent they will not provide for a transition period beyond the end of 2020. That may still not be long enough to secure all the new NCAs the UK needs, especially with the United States.
As the NIA briefing makes clear, without these agreements the trade in goods and services to maintain our existing nuclear reactors—these generate 21% of the UK’s electricity—is put in jeopardy, as is the building of new reactors. Sizewell B is particularly vulnerable because it relies on an NCA with the United States, and a new NCA is effectively a treaty, which requires congressional approval.
I have had the pleasure of living in the United States—at a slightly happier time—and of working in US government. Securing congressional passage of legislation is a highly uncertain experience. This is a legislature that is willing to shut down its own government in disputes over funding, so holding up an NCA with the UK is pretty small beer for the US Congress. It is far from certain that a new NCA with the US could be secured even by the end of 2020, whatever reassuring words the Minister might utter. Congressional approval is totally outside the Government’s control. Even if by good fortune the Government did secure a new NCA in time, it is likely to be a nail-biting experience, causing great uncertainty in the industry for the best part of two years.
In these circumstances, I suggest to the House that the only responsible action the Government could take is to remain part of Euratom until new arrangements can be guaranteed to be in place. If the Government are unwilling to do this, it is in the national interest for the House to pass this amendment and ask the Commons to think again.
My Lords, I am very happy to have added my name to this amendment. I am chair of the House’s EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, which looked at the subject of Brexit and energy security. Regretfully to some, we did not come out with any great headlines that said that the country was going to grind to a halt on the energy side, although we did say there was probably going to be an increase in prices because of increased electricity trading inefficiency. However, we made one exception, which we thought at that time was probably unlikely, but the evidence since might push this the other way. If the UK did not manage to replicate the agreements that Euratom has with the rest of the world and the IAEA, then there was a real risk of our current fleet of nuclear power stations coming to a halt, Hinkley C not being built and various other problems in terms of our deep work in nuclear research.
That is why this amendment absolutely puts its finger on the issue. It goes through the three things that have to be agreed for the United Kingdom to be able not just to fulfil its own obligations internationally but to be able to trade in nuclear material, people and spare parts even, post Brexit. What are they? We clearly need our own Office for Nuclear Regulation to be approved as a safeguarding authority by the IAEA, which is clearly essential; we need a voluntary offer agreement with the IAEA; and we need to replicate a number of our nuclear co-operation agreements with the rest of the world. I have certainly not heard, anywhere, even any attempt to try to give confidence that we will be able to roll over any of these NCAs following Brexit. But there are a large number of hurdles to achieving these aims, and this is going to take time.
In terms of the approval by the International Atomic Energy Agency of a safeguarding regime, they include recruitment, which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has talked about many times and was covered in the evidence that came to the House of Commons Select Committee. There is the training of those personnel. There is the retention of those personnel, which has been highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on previous occasions, as once they are qualified, there is a very strong international demand for them. There is also the issue, which I raised in Committee, of IT systems, and I thank the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his reply to my Written Question, which very carefully went through the new systems that are required for us to be able to function as a safeguarding authority. Those systems are quite substantial, and we will come on to that—on my Amendment 9A—later today.
Of course, we also need to negotiate an agreement with the IAEA itself. When it comes to nuclear co-operation agreements, these are absolutely essential to us for our nuclear fissile material for power stations, for repairing, for spare parts and for nuclear intellectual property. It is very difficult to replicate those agreements so, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, absolutely showed far better than I could, two of our key nuclear co-operation agreements—one with the United States, a legal requirement, and one with Australia, as the Minister highlighted in Committee—would expect us to be full members of the IAEA and to be able to have nuclear co-operation agreements in order to trade those materials. Even just in those two countries, we have major hurdles.
Turning to the voluntary offer agreements, these agreements are only necessary—or only made—by the five nuclear weapon states, or those that have declared as such; India, Pakistan and Israel have separate arrangements. I cannot imagine, however, that as a country that is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and that stands for the upholding of international law and for the importance of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, we would allow ourselves to go ahead without having concluded such an agreement with the IAEA.
That is why this amendment is so important. If we cannot fulfil these three criteria, then we should not go ahead: we should postpone leaving Euratom. Why is the date of 1 March 2019 there? Clearly, it is four weeks before we are set to leave the European Union. Like others, I have looked at the agreement that was made yesterday, and there is a separate article and chapter on Euratom. Paragraph 2 of Article 76 of that agreement—which is in green, meaning that it has been agreed by the European Union and ourselves in detail—says very starkly:
“The United Kingdom shall have sole responsibility for ensuring its compliance with international obligations arising as a consequence of its membership of the International Atomic Energy Agency and of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons”.
When you look to the transition chapter, there is no mention of Euratom, or of paragraph 2 of Article 76 being postponed in any way. This ties up with the Government’s own view. We will be leaving Euratom on 29 March next year unless we make other arrangements, and the EU 27 and the UK are agreed on that position. That is why this is a matter not just of energy security but of national security.
I want to say a few words in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Broers. I draw the House’s attention to my interest in the register: I am currently the chair of the Nuclear Industry Association.
None of us in this House or outside who has been following this debate really has any doubt at all that the Government are seized of the significance of the challenge that we face. Having made the decision, which many of us regret, to leave the Euratom treaty, the Government have to do two things against a very tight deadline. The first is to replace the existing Euratom safeguarding regime, which, as other noble Lords have said, is a very important part—in fact, the central part—of one of our obligations as a nuclear weapons state: to ensure against the risk of nuclear proliferation. That is a big challenge. We have not exercised that function, which is currently done for us by Euratom, and building up the capability under the auspices of the ONR is a difficult challenge. The ONR itself has said, in evidence in another place, that it probably will not be ready to fully discharge those responsibilities by next March. So the Government—rightly, in my view—have come to the view that they need a little more time, once we have left the EU, to ensure that the ONR can step up and do that job, but it will be touch and go.
The other thing that the Government need to do, although, with respect to the Minister, they have come to this a little late, is to put in place all the machinery necessary for the continuance of the nuclear co-operation agreements that exist between ourselves and Japan, the US, Canada and Australia, our principal nuclear friends and allies, for the continuing exchange of information, goods and services in the nuclear sector. Of course, unless we are able to move seamlessly from the current NCAs to the new arrangements, the trade in goods and services will come to an end at the end of the implementation period at the end of 2020—assuming that the implementation period is agreed—unless in that period we have successfully put in place alternative nuclear co-operation agreements.
The fundamental reason why your Lordships’ House should pay close attention to the amendment is that it is good to have a default or a back-up. Suppose we do not get to the point at the end of the implementation period where these nuclear co-operation agreements have all been agreed, renegotiated and put into legal effect. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, drew our attention to some of the issues of complexity around renewing the NCAs. The process is not in our gift; we do not have control of the process whereby these replacement nuclear co-operation agreements will take legal effect, because in many of those countries they are international treaties—and will require the consent of, in the case of the US, the US Congress.
Any student of US politics knows one thing: that international treaties progress very slowly in Congress. Something that we have come to see in the US repeatedly, under both Democrat and Republican Presidents, is the extraordinary process that we in the UK do not understand at all where the US Government shut down because of, for example, a failure in Congress to agree budgets. We have no say in or control of that. Suppose there is a prolonged shutdown in the government machinery of the US at the very time when we want the US Congress to renew the nuclear co-operation agreement. What do we do then?
Fundamentally, the amendment poses that question: what do we do, all of us, if, with the very best of intentions and the absolute commitment of the Government, which I do not doubt, to renew these nuclear co-operation agreements, the implementation period comes to an end and we have not succeeded in putting into place the nuclear co-operation agreements? It seems pretty obvious that, despite all the difficulties of trying to construct a default or backstop, we have to give attention to the risk that we come to the end of that period and we have not renegotiated successfully—through no fault of our own but simply because we do not control all the processes that are involved in moving pieces of the jigsaw—and we do not find ourselves in the situation, where we all want to be, where these NCAs can be seamlessly renewed.
If we get to that point where the NCAs are not in place with our key nuclear trading allies, we have a major problem. In my view, it would become impossible for the vital exchange of goods and services in the nuclear sector to continue beyond that point legally and lawfully, and if it cannot be done legally and lawfully then it will not be done at all. The noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Teverson, have referred to the problem which that might create for the energy security of the UK. I am sure I cannot be the only person in this House to say, “I don’t think any of us should take a gamble or a risk with the energy security of our country”. Given the important role of the nuclear industry, that is precisely what we will be doing if we do not find the wherewithal in this Chamber today to find a way of constructing a backstop for the “What if?” moment if at the end of the day these nuclear co-operation agreements cannot be brought into effect at the time when we want them to be. That seems to be the issue that the amendment has raised, and it is not going to go away. We have to have an answer somehow to that fundamental question, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, I very much respect the expert opinion of the noble Lords who have tabled this amendment. I share their concern about whether the ONR is going to be sufficiently staffed in time, with enough appropriately qualified experts who can quickly take up all the safeguarding duties. It is also essential that the ONR should have the necessary budgets and organisation and enough duly authorised persons in order to carry out its duties. I should like to hear from the Minister that he is satisfied that this will be the case.
I should also like to ask the Minister exactly what our status is going to be during the interim or implementation period, assuming that we have managed, before March 2019, to put in place an IAEA-approved safeguards regime. This is unlikely because I think we will need most of the implementation period till the end of 2020 to establish and enter into the new NCAs, at least with our principal nuclear trading partners. Many of them have to go through their own legislatures and we have no means of guaranteeing how smoothly this will be done. I think we can be confident that it is equally in their interests to make sure that they continue the appropriate arrangements with the United Kingdom as a major player in the nuclear sector.
I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Broers, and the other noble Lords who have tabled this amendment, fail to recognise that there is an upside from our leaving Euratom. It has been suggested that it is a mistake, and that we could have remained within Euratom but left the EU. Even if this were so—and I do not know whether I believe it or not—I think there are good reasons why we would do better to have our own safeguards regime approved by the IAEA and to escape from the rather cumbersome and onerous Euratom process.
Other noble Lords were present at the briefing given by Mr Colin Parker of EDF. I have also been told by Dr Pat Upson, former director of BNFL and Urenco and former chief executive of ETC—the joint venture between Urenco and EDF—that there could certainly be advantages to the UK in having an independent safeguards regime and not seeking to replicate Euratom safeguards which concentrate too much on complicated verification processes and are less robust than IAEA requirements on process, procedures and controls.
There are those who believe that our security in this very sensitive sector will also be enhanced if we are not obliged to share all the details of our research and development programme with the 27 members of Euratom. There is, therefore, a considerable upside. Euratom is also too expensive. To replicate Euratom’s safeguards regime does not provide extra safety or security over what is required by the IAEA. I therefore have some reservations about proposed new subsection (3)(c) of the noble Lord’s amendment regarding the necessity to continue to share research and development entirely with the Euratom community.
My Lords, I am inclined to clap a hand on my head and express my utter amazement at the absurdity of this aspect of the Brexit agenda.
We are at present attempting to mitigate the deleterious consequences of a wholly unnecessary programme of the Government for leaving the Euratom consortium. The present amendment, which is supported by all other parties, foreshadows an inevitable outcome. The programme to leave Euratom will not be fulfilled by March 2019, when we shall formally leave the European Union, and the Government will have to bid for extra time. A similar amendment ought to have been brought forward by the Government. Their need to demonstrate their faith in Brexit may have prevented their doing so. Indeed, they have fostered some dangerous delusions. At the outset, the Government evinced an unreasonable optimism in the ability of the ONR to have the necessary security arrangements in place by March 2019. They have since become convinced that they will be able to negotiate a meaningful transition period thereafter from which our nuclear industry could profit. I believe that, notwithstanding recent events, it is far from certain that a workable agreement on a transition period will be reached. Certainly, a secure agreement has not yet been reached.
The Government also have an unjustified optimism regarding the likelihood that the necessary nuclear co-operation agreements, or NCAs, will be in place in time to avert a crisis in the supply of nuclear fuels and engineering materials. Without these NCAs in place, the generation of our electricity by nuclear power and the construction of the new nuclear power stations are likely to grind to a halt. Let me elaborate on these three points in the order that I have raised them, albeit that, in doing so I am conscious that I will repeat some familiar arguments. It is necessary to do so in the face of the obtuseness of the Government.
First is the question regarding the readiness of the ONR to assume the burden of nuclear safeguarding by March next year. Doubtless the Minister will attest that the ONR has declared that it is willing and able to undertake the task, and that it is working hard to meet the deadline. One is bound to retort, “It would say that, wouldn’t it?” But it has also said much else besides, which makes it abundantly clear that the best that it could achieve by that date is a threadbare organisation that would be severely understaffed. These honest admissions on the part of the ONR of its incapacity do not seem to have registered fully with the Government. However, they may have registered with other agencies that participate in the international nuclear regime. I am thinking of the foreign organisations that will require that we should have a proficient nuclear safeguarding regime in place if they are to continue to be our suppliers.
Next, there is the Government’s optimism regarding the likelihood of our being granted a lengthy transition period to ease the demands of Brexit. We have heard a statement recently from Michel Barnier to the effect that he sees a prospect for a rapid advancement of the negotiations, but he has insisted that all this depends on the precondition of an arrangement regarding the Irish border. I wonder how this sounds in the ears of the responsible government Ministers. Have they been listening more to the upbeat tone of the delivery of the message than to the preconditions that it asserts? To many listeners the message serves only to increase the anxiety that there will be no viable transitional arrangements.
The final point to make concerns the nuclear co-operation agreements or NCAs. The importance of enacting these in good time has been stressed repeatedly by EDF, which is the owner of Britain’s existing fleet of nuclear power stations and the constructor of the first of what is planned to be a new fleet. These are surely the people to whom we should be listening. The NCAs can be established only when there is a viable UK nuclear safeguarding regime in place. There is likely to be a considerable hiatus between the time when a new UK nuclear safeguarding regime is up and running and the enactment of the necessary NCAs. The Government have said nothing about how they would accommodate the inevitable delays. As many have mentioned, one is mindful of the fact that a new NCA with the United States will require to be ratified by the Senate. This could be a hazardous and lengthy process. The US has a nuclear industry of its own. Someone in the US legislature might be minded to promote the commercial interests of the American industry at the expense of ours and at the expense of the French, who own our nuclear power stations. I believe that this amendment foreshadows an inevitable outcome. The Government will be bound to take the steps proposed in the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Broers, for tabling this amendment, to which we have added our names. I will say again what the amendment does so that we can be clear. The amendment delays the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom until the required agreements that will allow the civil nuclear industry to continue are in place. These required agreements are listed and have been debated at length in Committee. They are not in place at the moment and there is widespread opinion that they will not be— indeed cannot be—ready before exit day in March 2019 and, in respect of the proposed new subsection (3)(c) on international agreements, before the end of any transition period yet to be fully agreed.
In saying what the amendment does, we should also be clear what it does not do. It does not stop the withdrawal of the UK from either the EU treaty or the Euratom treaty. It does not seek that the UK will remain permanently either in the EU or in Euratom. The problem in scrutinising this Bill in your Lordships’ House is that the Government have been reluctant to give clarity to their negotiations—about what is and what is not included in them and how far they apply to nuclear safeguards and the Euratom treaty. The Government have even been reluctant to spell out exactly what immediate standards will be adhered to on exit day. I thank all sides of the House for the persistent challenges that have come to the Government and for remarks made again today examining the situation. I also thank the Minister for recognising the importance of this issue and providing what further assurances the Government are prepared to give. But the risks remain.
The conclusion is that the UK cannot set up its own Euratom-standard safeguards regime in time. In this situation it is only responsible that this House should insist on a delay. The importance of maintaining the UK’s integrity to be part of an international civil nuclear order cannot be overstated. Once the vital international safeguards standards have been met and agreed, withdrawal of the UK from the Euratom treaty can proceed. This may well take longer to achieve than even the transition period may be able to offer.
The Government will want to claim that the amendment is defective. That is the default position, since the Government always state that the two treaties of the EU and Euratom are legally joined. That the two treaties share common institutions is not to be denied, but the Government have not come forward with their legal advice for the interpretation that they cannot be separated. There are two distinct treaties. As was discussed last night in amendments to the withdrawal Bill, the UK was a member of Euratom distinct from the EU treaty, because this was the case before the UK joined the EU. Furthermore, in the Prime Minister’s letter of 29 March 2017 to President Tusk, she deliberately mentions both withdrawal from Euratom under Article 106a of the treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community and withdrawal from the EU. They are, therefore, separate.
Article 106a has never been invoked and was not mentioned in the drafting of the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which the Government insisted could not be amended. So the amendment does not try to undo anything legislatively that has already been agreed by Parliament. The Government claim that power to withdraw from the EU includes the power to withdraw from Euratom, so they make it a tautology in their opinion, and make no further reference or inclusion of Euratom. It can be argued that the noble Lord, Lord Broers, wishes to insist on the principle that leaving Euratom be delayed until the UK is ready. It is Labour policy to remain a part of agencies such as Euratom, as has been stated in the other place. The Government can perfect any drafting at Third Reading.
The Prime Minister herself, in her Mansion House speech on 2 March, stated that the Government want to explore with the EU how the UK can remain part of EU agencies. She mentioned three—namely, the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency and the European Aviation Safety Agency—and went on to explain the reasons. By accepting this amendment, the Government can, in their determination to be in close association with Euratom, keep withdrawal from Euratom in suspense while they explore how far adherence to EU rules can still be beneficial to the UK. The Government have expressed this wish repeatedly without further definition. In a letter to my noble friend Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan dated 28 February, the Minister stated that,
“the Government’s focus is on the outcome rather than the means”.
That means that the House needs to focus on the outcome of the amendment.
In all the discussions in this House and elsewhere, it is rare to hear many voices criticise Euratom, perhaps with the notable exception of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. In the debates on safeguarding, many Members of your Lordships’ House have drawn attention to the further benefits of Euratom, notably in research and development and in medical isotopes. The amendment to delay withdrawal from Euratom comes with added benefits—the UK’s participation in further research programmes, and any assistance that the observatory brings to the timely supply of medical isotopes can continue.
Many noble Lords have spoken up about the risks that the Government are taking. We will support this amendment in a Division and urge Members of the House to undertake the only responsible action available to maintain the necessary and proper safeguards—that is, by voting in favour of the amendment.
My Lords, I hope that I can persuade the House that it could be irresponsible and would create confusion and doubt to support this amendment in a Division, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, wishes to do.
The amendment seeks to require Ministers to request, as part of the negotiations with the EU, that the United Kingdom does not leave the Euratom treaty if it does not have certain agreements or arrangements in place by 1 March next year—that is, four weeks before exit day. Those agreements or arrangements are set out briefly in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of new subsection (3) proposed in the amendment, and I will deal with those in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, also made it clear that the amendment is not about stopping us leaving Euratom. He might give us that assurance but, listening to some of the other speeches, I am not sure that that is necessarily the wish of others, who have made it clear that they would like us to stay in Euratom—a point made in earlier interventions by the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, and others.
At this stage, it is important to remind the House that when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister gave notice last year of our intention to leave the European Union, she also commenced the process for leaving Euratom. The power to make that notification has already been debated at considerable length in both Houses of Parliament and authorised by the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017. That notification has been accepted by the European Union. The United Kingdom will therefore withdraw from Euratom at the same time as withdrawing from the European Union. That, as I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, earlier, is a done deal.
I commend all noble Lords’ commitment to ensuring that all the necessary measures are in place so that the United Kingdom can operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state upon withdrawal from Euratom. It is essential that the civil nuclear industry is not adversely affected by the UK’s withdrawal from either the EU or Euratom and that it can continue to operate with certainty. I underline the word “certainty”. That is our top priority and the reason for the Bill. It is why we are bringing forward all the regulations that sit beneath it—of which noble Lords will have seen draft versions—and the reason for the work the ONR is doing to put in place a regime, and that my department is doing to secure the agreements we need with the IAEA and key international partners. I will reiterate this point until the House understands the extent to which the UK stands ready to operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one of exit.
The first quarterly update to Parliament, which will be available before the Easter break, will demonstrate our significant progress on this front, and I will share some of the details with the House shortly. Before I do so, however, I will address the crucial issue of the timing of our withdrawal from the Euratom treaty and the timings provided for in this amendment.
The amendment’s proposed suspension period for Euratom withdrawal is in conflict with the transition period already agreed by the UK and the European Union. This has been referred to by several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard. The agreement is for a transition period running from 30 March 2019 to 31 December 2020 and will include all of the Euratom acquis. To be clear, the agreement reached in Brussels on 19 March is that the transition period will include the continued delivery of the Euratom safeguards regime in the UK, and the UK will continue to be covered by Euratom-level agreements with third countries during that period. Clearly, this will take effect after the UK has left Euratom, whereas this amendment refers to a period prior to the implementation of Euratom withdrawal—one of the reasons why it is not satisfactory. The amendment is, therefore, at odds with national government policy and as such mandates a request that we know is futile.
In terms of the overall principle of the amendment, I must be clear that an attempt to mandate a particular stance in negotiations, in the way that this amendment seeks to do, does not belong in primary legislation. I cannot, therefore, accept this amendment but I understand that the House will want reassurances that we have in place the international agreements that we need on safeguards.
I turn to progress on securing those new bilateral safeguard agreements. We have made very good progress in negotiating these with the IAEA, which I will simply refer to as “the agency”—I have problems with the initials, as noble Lords may have noticed. Both the UK and the agency are clear that the new agreements should follow the same principles and scope as the current trilateral agreements.
The amendment also addresses relevant international agreements with other nations—the NCAs. To be clear, the United Kingdom is not a party to nuclear co-operation agreements concluded by Euratom with other nations. These are concluded by Euratom on behalf of the member states. I understand, however, that the intention of this amendment is to cover agreements Euratom currently has in place with third countries.
As the House will be aware, the Government have prioritised putting in place nuclear co-operation agreements with those nations which have a legal or policy requirement for them to be in place as a prerequisite for civil nuclear trade. We are on track to conclude, and to secure third-country and UK ratification of, all such agreements that are essential to ensure a smooth withdrawal from Euratom in advance of 2019, in particular those with the US, Canada, Australia and Japan. We have held positive and constructive discussions with each of these four countries and remain on track to ensure that these agreements will be in place in time.
Have Her Majesty’s Government received any assurance from the Government of the United States that this legislation will be in place, having passed through both Houses of Congress, in time to ensure that there is no break in trade? Has he received that assurance?
My Lords, I am not aware of any such assurances. It is important that we get this legislation in place in good time. That is why I hope that we will complete Report today and Third Reading next week, and the Bill will receive Royal Assent some time after the Easter break. I do not know what is happening in the United States but I can assure the noble Lord that negotiations continue. We believe that we are on track to achieving the NCAs which are necessary. As I said, the important NCAs that we need are with the US, Canada, Australia and Japan. The amendment seeks relevant international agreements with those nations with which we have exercised rights within the last three years, which would include others that are not relevant. The important ones are those four—the ones that we trade with—and I give an assurance that we are on track. We have held positive and constructive discussions with each of these four countries and remain on track that those agreements will be in place in time.
All sides recognise the mutual interest in having these agreements in place to replace the Euratom agreements on which the UK currently relies. As I have said, discussions have been constructive; the substance of the new agreements is planned to follow very closely what is in the existing agreements. I am confident that sufficient progress is being made in this area, including on draft texts and ensuring that respective ratification processes and timetables have been taken into account in the planning.
Our substantial progress in international negotiations, coupled with our swift action to establish a legislative and regulatory framework for a domestic safeguards regime, not least via this Bill, means that we will be ready for exiting the Euratom treaty no matter the outcome of wider government negotiations on Brexit. The core aspects of this element of Amendment 3 will therefore already be met, and are therefore unnecessary.
Crucially, I must also bring the House’s attention to the fact that the effect of this amendment would extend to covering a number of additional agreements which, de facto, are not required to ensure a smooth withdrawal from Euratom. Introducing such requirements into the Bill will unnecessarily create huge risks and uncertainties to the UK’s ability to operate as an independent nuclear state from March 2019. I refer the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, particularly to proposed new subsection (3)(c) of the amendment, which could cover NCAs that Euratom has concluded with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Argentina, and Ukraine. As I have previously set out, none of these countries has a legal or policy requirement for an NCA to be in place to facilitate nuclear trade. Requiring us to put agreements in place with each of these countries before we withdraw from Euratom would be a fruitless exercise which could jeopardise our work to establish a civil nuclear safeguards regime for the UK with all the essential agreements in place.
Further, proposed new subsection (3)(a) refers to an agreement between the UK and the agency to recognise the Office for Nuclear Regulation as the approved UK safeguards authority. I would like to make it clear that the agency’s focus in respect of the UK’s safeguards lies with the voluntary offer agreement and additional protocol, rather than the domestic legislation underpinning the domestic regime, or the UK’s arrangements for fulfilling its commitments. It is the Government—not the ONR—who enter into these agreements, and therefore the Government who must uphold these commitments, regardless of whether or not we choose to delegate obligations to an independent domestic regulator. The additional agreement referred to in Amendment 3 as distinct from the voluntary offer agreement is therefore unnecessary, impractical, and in no way required for a smooth withdrawal from Euratom.
As I and ministerial colleagues have emphasised throughout the passage of this Bill—this has been echoed by all those taking part in this and earlier debates—certainty for the industry is essential. Creating a situation where we are compelled to secure agreements—
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister as he comes to his peroration. Will he answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, in more detail? Can he give a categorical assurance to this House that there is no risk of Sizewell B closing down as a result of the Government’s failure to put in place all the things that he assured us of by 29 March next year? As he will know, it is of a US design and relies on imported spare parts and maintenance arrangements, and generates about 8% to 10% of the UK’s electricity.
The noble Lord is asking whether that NCA with the United States will be completed. I have given all the assurances I can that it will be and I cannot go any further than what I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hutton. With that in mind, what I was trying to make quite clear in what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, described as my peroration was the need for certainty for the industry, and this amendment would remove that certainty. The amendment would create a situation where we are compelled to secure agreements that we do not need and it runs counter to what the Government are doing: creating certainty. Even if this amendment were technically correct, its impact would be to introduce further uncertainty and potential disruption to an industry by casting doubt over establishing the domestic safeguards regime in the long term. I do not believe that can be the intention of the noble Lords who tabled it.
I believe we are on track to provide continuity and that this amendment is not only unnecessary but exacerbates the risks that it seeks to remove. I hope with the assurances I have given, and with the explanation of the weaknesses in the amendment, that the noble Lord will withdraw it.
My Lords, I very much appreciate what the Minister said with respect to the progress the Government are making to seek these agreements—it is essential that we get agreements with our major partners. I do not feel that the amendment, as it is, will put us in great danger by going beyond our major partners, but perhaps such adjustments could be made in the other place.
I do feel, however, that I have heard too many assurances that have not been fulfilled. In a case of such great importance, this amendment would secure what may be relatively straightforward, as the Minister said. We are well on the way to gaining most of these agreements already so it should not be too burdensome, but I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Clause 2: Power to amend legislation relating to nuclear safeguards
4: Clause 2, page 4, line 24, at end insert—
“( ) No regulations may be made under this section after the end of the period of 5 years beginning with the day on which this section comes into force.”
My Lords, Amendments 4 and 5 seek to place a time limit, also called a sunset, on use of the power in Clause 2. I would like first to explain how Clause 2 works.
Clause 2 contains the power to amend by regulation the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Act 1978, the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000 and the Nuclear Safeguards (Notification) Regulations 2004. It can amend those three pieces of legislation only, and amendments can only be those in consequence of a “relevant safeguards agreement”, that being very specifically an agreement relating to nuclear safeguards to which the UK and the International Atomic Energy Agency are parties.
This is a narrowly drawn power to enable the amendment of references in this legislation to provisions of safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency—which I shall refer to simply as the agency. This legislation enables the agency to carry out its activities in the UK, including by providing it with legal cover for activities of its inspectors in the UK. For the UK to have a domestic safeguards regime in future, it is essential that the legislation specified in Clause 2(1) can be amended to make correct reference to new safeguards agreements that the UK enters into with the agency.
The legislation cited in this clause is extremely unusual in that it makes detailed references to specific provisions of international agreements. As such, these references—for example, to articles—are likely to change as a result of any amendment of, or change to, those agreements. The power in the Bill is therefore necessary to make the changes to the relevant legislation to update those references when the new agreements are in place.
The UK’s safeguards agreements with the agency, and the agency’s ability to perform safeguards activities in the UK in accordance with those agreements, are absolutely fundamental to the agency’s application of safeguards in the UK. While the power is narrow, it is essential and underpins the entire regime. The unavoidable nature of negotiations means that we are tied to timing uncertainties and this power constitutes the only way we can address that uncertainty.
The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee agreed that the power in Clause 2 is necessary and appropriately framed. It recognised that it is intended as a way of reflecting the new agreements with the agency required to establish the UK’s civil nuclear safeguards regime, and recommended preventing the use of the power after a period of two years had expired.
The Government accept the principle of the committee’s recommendation, and of Amendment 5, that we should not retain this power for an indefinite period. However, the regime is heavily reliant on wider international negotiations and it is therefore of the utmost importance that the power is not sunsetted prematurely. Prematurely sunsetting this power could result in the relevant provisions becoming ineffective, leaving the UK without an effective domestic safeguards regime and in breach of any new international safeguards agreements put in place with the agency. The potential consequences of such failures are serious. The UK’s reputation as a responsible nuclear state would be damaged.
The international negotiations relevant to this power are unprecedented in their nature. I consider it essential to retain a provision enabling the UK to adapt to any circumstances affecting the timing of the commencement of international safeguards agreements between the agency and the UK. I hope that, in the light of my explanation, noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendment, and the House will feel able to support government Amendment 4. I beg to move.
I speak to our Amendment 5, which is in this group. In Committee, we proposed that the power of the Secretary of State to enter into relevant international agreements without parliamentary approval be limited to a two-year period. The Government have accepted the principle but wish to extend the power to five years, as the Minister has proposed. We accept that this power is necessary and that there is oversight in its use through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.
However, I would like to press the Minister on why the Government think that a two-year period that coincides with any transition period could be insufficient to conclude necessary wider international agreements. We certainly do not wish to leave the UK without an effective domestic safeguards regime, in breach of any new international safeguards agreements put in place with the IAEA, but the Minister has not properly explained why she thinks it could be premature if this sunset clause were brought in at a period of two years.
The government amendments seek a further three years beyond the end of any transition period. Can the Minister clarify the kind of agreement she thinks could still be outstanding? I wonder whether included here could be the circumstances already drawn attention to in the earlier amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Broers, under proposed new subsection (3)(c), regarding international agreements with third countries, whereby the NCA agreement with, for example, the US could well take longer than any transition period. He argued for a suspension to our leaving Euratom.
I thank the noble Lord for his contribution. It is clear that the sunset provision we are discussing relates to the arrangement with the agency; it does not cover the nuclear co-operation agreements. Those are separate agreements.
We have thought very long and hard about the sunsetting of this—I think it falls into the territory of known unknowns—and we believe that two years is certainly too short and that five years is the right length. There may be circumstances that we cannot possibly foresee at this time that will make it necessary for the sunset clause to exist for slightly longer. We have now agreed—we hope, because nothing is agreed until everything is agreed—the implementation period. I think that noble Lords should take quite a lot of comfort in that implementation period in that, during that period, our safeguard arrangements will still be provided by Euratom. Indeed, it gives us an extra 21-month period for these arrangements to be put in place. Nevertheless, I think that the five-year period is appropriate. We have looked at the recommendations of the DPRRC and agree with them. A period of five years is the most appropriate time.
Amendment 4 agreed.
Amendment 5 not moved.
6: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Report on nuclear safeguards
(1) The Secretary of State must, in respect of each reporting period, prepare a report containing information about nuclear safeguards.(2) Information about nuclear safeguards includes information about—(a) international arrangements relating to nuclear safeguards to which the United Kingdom is (or is proposed to be) a party, and(b) the establishment in the United Kingdom of arrangements relating to nuclear safeguards.(3) A report under this section must be laid before Parliament after the end of the reporting period to which it relates.(4) There are four successive reporting periods, each of which is a period of 3 months.(5) The first reporting period is the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 6 I shall speak also to my Amendment 10. This group includes Amendments 7 and 9, of which Amendment 7 is an amendment to my Amendment 6. Therefore, I take it that after I have spoken the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will move his Amendment 7, and we can then debate the general issues. At this stage I shall speak to Amendment 6, and I shall respond to the noble Lord’s words on Amendments 7 and 9 in due course.
We all agree about the importance of ensuring that the industry can continue to flourish in trade, regulation and innovative nuclear research, no matter what the outcome of negotiations with the European Union or the final terms of our withdrawal from the EU and Euratom. Whatever the outcome and terms, we obviously want to see this great industry continue to flourish. We have made substantial progress in ensuring that the United Kingdom can operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one, and we are committed to being transparent to Parliament about our work in this area. We have taken seriously the requests from Members of both Houses, across all parties, for regular, detailed updates about nuclear safeguarding arrangements in this country.
I agree that it is vital that Parliament is able to assure itself that the Government are taking effective action in relation to nuclear safeguards. In order to promote a transparent system of regular information on progress, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committed to provide quarterly updates on overall progress on Euratom negotiations, going further than the proposed amendments at the time. The House will be aware that we plan to publish the first such update at the end of this month. This is even sooner than originally envisaged, coming three months since the publication of our January statement. As the end of the three months would fall during the Easter Recess, a decision was made to bring forward the publication of the first update so that it will be laid before Parliament rises.
Further updates will be made available every three months, with the next one scheduled for June 2018. I listened very carefully in Committee and I understand that noble Lords across the House would like something more than hopeful reassurances; for that reason Amendments 6 and 10 would place a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to provide quarterly reports on nuclear safeguards, covering both domestic and international matters, for the first year after the Bill receives Royal Assent. We will come on to the other amendments but I hope that our Amendments 6 and 10, as well as the current commitment under the Written Ministerial Statement of 11 January to report on wider matters relating to our withdrawal from Euratom, demonstrate our continuing commitment to provide information and clarity to Parliament and provide sufficient reassurances to noble Lords. I will listen very carefully to what the noble Lord says about his Amendments 7 and 9, in his name and those of a slightly varying list of supporters, and deal with them at the end of the debate. In the meantime, I beg to move.
Amendment 7 (to Amendment 6)
7: After Clause 2, after subsection (2), insert—
“(2A) A report under subsection (1) may include other information on future arrangements with Euratom, which may include information relating to nuclear research and development and the import and export of qualifying nuclear material.”
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for suggesting that I go next and speak to my Amendments 7 and 9. First, I welcome the Minister’s Amendment 6 and the intention that we have regular reports on nuclear safeguards; that is clearly helpful and we look forward to receiving the first report fairly soon, so I am most grateful to the Minister for his response to our debate. I hope today that we can just persuade him to go a little further.
As noble Lords will know, because some noble Lords have taken part in the debates, we have been having concurrent debates on this Bill and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Last night—fairly late, although not as late as on some amendments—we had a fascinating debate, led by the noble Lord, Lord Broers, about research and development. There is an intimate connection here, and an absolute necessity for us to continue to invest in research and development, particularly in relation to the projects that the noble Lord referred to, such as JET, ITER, research into advanced nuclear fission reactors and so on, on which our decision to leave Euratom could potentially have an impact.
In addition, we discussed in Committee medical isotopes and the concerns among medical colleagues and the health service in general. The work of Euratom has no doubt led us to deal with issues of shortage of supply and some of the issues of the rapid transport that is required. There is some concern about whether we can ensure the security of those supplies, which are absolutely essential for the treatment of many patients on a daily basis, in future. So adding a further reporting requirement to the noble Lord’s own amendment would be important and would reassure noble Lords on some of the very important issues that have been debated both here and in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.
In relation to nuclear safeguarding, we need to be clear that we are essentially taking a kind of policing role from an international agency. Nuclear safeguards make sure that nuclear materials used for peaceful purposes are not used for military ones, so this is very important in relation to nuclear proliferation and our treaty obligations. We are removing ourselves from Euratom, establishing ourselves as a single nation, with its own existing regulator being given these duties to police our responsibilities under the non-proliferation treaties, and then having a sort of backstop of doing it in accordance with the strictures of the IAEA.
So the Government themselves are taking on a very responsible duty. Although of course I would implicitly trust any report that the noble Lord presents to us on these matters, having as a backstop an independent reviewer who could report from time to time on what is happening to make sure that those safeguards are being conducted in the way that we need to do them internationally would be an important safeguard. I hope that the Minister will see that both these amendments are wholly constructive and intended to act alongside and add to the constructive nature of the noble Lord’s own amendments.
My Lords, I have attached my name to Amendment 7. I also support Amendment 9, which will be covered by my noble friend Lord Fox.
I totally welcome government Amendment 6, which brings in the reporting system, and hope that the Minister will take Amendment 7 really as sort of an aide memoire, as if it was something he clearly forgot to put it into Amendment 6. So many areas remain of concern about the precariousness of our exit from Euratom. We discussed many of them in Committee. As we have heard across the House already today, they include the critical issue of timing, with the industries that are directly affected and their supply chains being desperately concerned to avoid the cliff edge, unsurprisingly—and all the while the clock is ticking relentlessly towards exit day. Amendment 6 seeks to reassure us in the interim with regular reporting to Parliament on key issues. However, Amendment 7 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, amends Amendment 6 and seeks to cover those key elements of concern that we felt were missing. These include information on progress, and the form that is taking shape, on future arrangements on research and development, the import and export of qualifying nuclear material and, of course, the nature and form of future arrangements with Euratom.
I and my party still remain hopeful—Liberal Democrats are obviously optimists—that common sense will at some point take hold between now and exit day, and that we will simply be able to remain in Euratom or a bespoke associate membership of Euratom will become possible, just as a bespoke trade agreement seems to be possible in the Government’s lexicon.
On nuclear research and development, exiting Euratom has put a number of concerns on the table. It would be really helpful in dealing with the uncertainties raised over the UK’s future contribution to nuclear research and development if this were included in the reporting regime. We have benefited from Euratom funding for research. As was mentioned in Committee and earlier today, the JET project based in Culham receives £60 million a year from Euratom, covering 88% of the running costs; it provides employment for 500 people implementing the contract. We are also concerned about the impact on the ITER project, which is a magnificent international collaboration intent on proving that fusion is a viable source of large-scale, safe and environmentally friendly energy for the planet.
However, it is far more than the money itself. What should be an ongoing discussion in the negotiations, and what I would like to see reported back on in relation to our leaving Euratom, should be the co-operation and collaboration that is such an important part of research in Europe. We will discuss the talented people who forge that research and development—and their ability to come and go and work in countries around Europe—in my noble friend Lord Teverson’s Amendment 8.
It is absolutely critical that we remain a key partner when outside Euratom if we are to be able to continue to hold EU and international regard as a key player as a nuclear nation. All the programmes demand close collaboration with the EU and the international nuclear community. We currently have access to research infrastructures and capabilities not available in the United Kingdom. We are also able to leverage UK investment for industry, national laboratories and academia.
Going forward—whatever the arrangement—we have to make sure that we can continue as a leading participant in the Euratom working groups and EU-funded research projects. We do not want our ability to influence and shape this agenda to be lost, nor our access to facilities, data, people and material that has enabled us to be at the cutting edge of developing technology and innovation. Therefore, as the Government go forward on this agenda, they are going to have to come to an arrangement over the future of JET with Euratom: we hope that it can be paid for by the Euratom framework programme after 2020 if that is still the end date for the UK Government’s commitment to its funding. The Government are also going to need to come to an agreement over F4E so that we can carry on participating in the fusion programme. Future arrangements must ensure that international collaboration is ongoing so that both contributing and gaining from world-leading research continues. That is why Parliament must be kept informed on progress on all those issues and why it is crucial that research and development are part of the reporting requirement.
I turn now to the import and export of qualifying nuclear material. Currently the Euratom Supply Agency has rights over such materials produced in its member states. This confers legal exclusive rights to contract the supply of those materials entering or leaving the European Union. Our current nuclear reactors are totally reliant on this fuel supply chain so, post Euratom, the Government will need to ensure this process in relation to the export of fissile materials from Euratom to the UK. This possibly—and probably—will in future become an export and may need to be authorised by the EU Commission’s research and development department. What I am describing is a future situation regarding the import and export of fissile material that needs to be worked through so there are no additional barriers, to ensure that trade in this essential market can continue. It is vital that Parliament is regularly updated on these important issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I have made substantive and, I hope, persuasive arguments such that I trust the Minister can see the necessity for amending Amendment 6 with Amendment 7.
My Lords, I welcome Amendment 6, proposed by the Minister. It makes a lot of sense but I do not think the House would be wise to support Amendments 7 or 9. Amendment 7 is about collaboration with Euratom in future in research and development and the import and export of qualifying nuclear material. I think we will benefit from greater flexibility by making our own decisions about research and development and committing our own funds. Of course Euratom will be an important and continuing partner for us in nuclear but we will be freed of the obligation and in the position where we will own our own research material, which of course in the JET and ITER programmes we do not. We should caution against overoptimism on what ITER is likely to bring; I understand that there is considerable scepticism in the industry about whether it is really worth the massive amount of money that it costs, and that there is some chance of a demonstration operation by 2045 if all goes well. If we were to commit funds to SMR research, by contrast, in which we in this country have several notable qualified players, we would own the outcome and could get ourselves back into the lead in nuclear by selling our new technology to others. We would have greater flexibility and the freedom not to be committed—
I accept what the noble Lord says but if you are bound to commit, through the Euratom programmes, to a greater amount of funding for the sector as a whole, that could effectively mean that you were constrained in what you do on your own. I am not saying we would not wish to contribute or to continue to participate, but it would be our decision on whether we participated or not. We would recover the right to make decisions and to apply our research and development funds, which we would then own in so far as they were invested in programmes that we were running independently.
On Amendment 9, I do not see the need for the taxpayer to have to fund a further independent reviewer. The IAEA will ensure that we follow the approved safeguarding regimes, check and verify our safeguards regime and ensure that we work only with verified customers.
My Lords, I support Amendments 7 and 9, and I compliment the Government on Amendment 6. I remind the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that scientific research, in this area or anywhere else, is now overwhelmingly collaborative. If you do not get in the game collaboratively, you find that some of your best researchers and ideas are rapidly transferred abroad to someone else who is much more interested in collaborative research. We have moved on from being a Great Britain that does all this stuff ourselves to being a collaborative, global, international participant in research, including in this area. That is one of the reasons why I support Amendment 7; I think it takes us in the right direction. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Broers, whose amendment last night I sadly missed, will want to say a bit about that.
I am really pleased that we have come back to talking about medical isotopes and having a report that keeps Parliament up to date in that area. There is huge concern outside this House about whether the supply chains around medical isotopes will be sufficient to cope with the needs and demands of NHS research and NHS patients.
On Amendment 9, after the last debate that we had before the vote, you would have to be one of life’s perennial optimists—I am not a Liberal Democrat so I do not join that particular club—to believe that everything is going to be okay by March 2019. I suggest to the Minister that he might find it useful to have an independent reviewer who can make independent reports to Parliament to convince sceptical parliamentarians such as me and, I suspect, a few others in this House that good progress is being made on some of the critical issues. That is why I support Amendments 7 and 9.
My Lords, I support Amendment 9, to which my name is appended, and I commend the Government on Amendment 6 and support Amendment 7. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Warner: not even the Liberal Democrats are optimistic enough to imagine that everything is going to be in place in time. That is why we believe this is a helpful amendment to the Government and to the Minister. We heard in the debate on Amendment 3 that the stakes are high in achieving what needs to be achieved in time. I believe, en passant, that for the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, to use the cost as a reason for not having something like this in place is a little like trying to save the money that is down the side of the sofa when the whole house is potentially at stake. I suggest that cost is not a reason for not doing this.
The stakes are high. I will not rehearse them again but the Committee has heard scepticism, concern and worry from a vast array of people about whether the finish line can be crossed in time. The Minister—this is in no way reflects scepticism of the Minister himself—has stood up on a number of occasions and said everything is in order and we need not worry. Almost every statement he makes begins with, “I believe”. That is the problem; at this point, to some extent it is difficult to go beyond a belief system. Amendment 9 would put in place an independent voice, someone who was marking the Government’s homework but was not the Government. This is not a question of doing the work of the IAEA; it is a question of following and tracking the Government’s progress in getting to the finish line.
I echo the noble Lord, Lord Warner: this could be very useful for the Government in helping to give reassurance. It would be another voice to prove that the Minister was correct—if he was. When the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, says that this is not an aggressive amendment and not intended to be unhelpful, I know, because I participated in the discussion around this amendment, that it is genuinely not intended to wreck or harm the Bill in any way. It is intended to give support and some further credibility to the argument that things are moving in the right direction.
My Lords, I will make some brief remarks in answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. The research we are talking about here is not necessarily just in fusion—it includes fusion, but that is a great big project—but in areas that are ancillary to a certain extent but terribly important. Research is going on everywhere into radioactive waste disposal, but we happen to lead that. I do not think that this defeats the noble Viscount’s ambition—which is my ambition—that our own industry does a lot and gains a lot from that. It also gains a lot from being accepted by the community, so that when our advances come up, others will use what we did. The same is true of radiological protection, which is always a problem with workers around nuclear plants. So it is not just the new reactors, although the one gap in our knowledge is what is happening to the new generation fission reactors beyond the EPRs that people are working on. We really need international collaboration.
With respect to our own ambitions, I entirely support the noble Viscount in terms of SMRs. We are dying to get going—to be specific Rolls-Royce is dying to get going—on SMRs. In fact, Rolls-Royce tells us they are spending £1 million a month keeping that programme alive and waiting for the Government to make a decision on the competition which I hope will come.
Also, in fusion, there is Tokamak Energy. This is a very ambitious small company which feels it can contain fusion in a spherical tokamak, which is a fascinating thing. I should love to spend a lot of time talking about it. It is a very clever and effective way to up the efficiency of the use of the magnetic field to confine the plasma. So there is more to this research than just a few of the most obvious things. I think that is greatly in support of Amendment 7. I also support Amendment 6. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Fox and Lord Hunt, who mentioned this. I think the independent review is designed to help the Government and not be a hindrance.
My Lords, I want to begin by adding to something that the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said. He said that I repeatedly say, “I believe, I believe”, and that the House has to take it on trust. I hope this goes beyond me and officials within the department. We have seen what is happening when it comes to nuclear safeguards—
I was not suggesting that the noble Lord was doing that in any way whatsoever.
Since Second Reading, I have visited Sellafield—well, obviously I have visited it on occasions in the past because it is in my home county, but I visited it again—just to see what nuclear safeguarding amounts to. After all, Sellafield contains two of the three sites that will be relevant in terms of nuclear safeguarding. I cannot say that a one-day visit has turned me into an expert in any way. I would not want to claim that, but I can say that I can go beyond, “I believe”, and say “I have seen”.
I am amusing the clerical members of the Cross Benches and I will try to restrain from doing so. Perhaps they thought I was making some sort of evangelical speech.
Let me start by dealing with the two amendments. While expressing my deep sympathy for them, I do not think they are necessary, but I want to give some indication as to how importantly we take them. I am grateful to various noble Lords who welcomed the original amendment, which is government Amendment 6.
In relation to research and development, the Government are taking the future of UK participation in nuclear fusion and fission R&D programmes very seriously. I know this is a matter of great concern to the noble Lord, Lord Broers. We have already taken practical steps to protect existing programmes. For example, in 2017, the Government guaranteed their share of funding for the Oxfordshire-based Joint European Torus—JET—fusion reactor until the end of 2020, subject to the EU extending the JET operating contract beyond 2018. That commitment is independent of the outcome of Brexit negotiations. It underlines what both the noble Lords, Lord Broers, and Lord Warner, said about the importance of collaboration in projects of this sort. We understand that they will only make progress with collaboration.
In September 2017, our future partnership paper on science and innovation made it clear that the United Kingdom wants to find a way to continue to work with the EU on nuclear R&D. In December 2017, we committed a further £86 million to establish a national fusion technology platform. This demonstrates our continued commitment to international collaboration in this field.
In a Written Ministerial Statement in January, my right honourable friend confirmed and made it very clear that the United Kingdom’s specific objectives in respect of the future relationship are to seek a close association with the Euratom research and training programme, including the JET and ITER projects. We are also working closely with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and the Nuclear Innovation and Research Office to engage constructively with our EU partners to determine the best way forward for the United Kingdom’s nuclear R&D sector.
Similarly, while I appreciate the sentiment behind Amendment 7, I consider that it is unnecessary in light of the Government’s continued transparency on research and development and in the light of the existing commitment made in the Written Ministerial Statement to provide updates on overall progress of the Euratom negotiations and arrangements, including research and development, every three months.
Before I finish with Amendment 7, I will say just a little on import and export of qualifying nuclear material. This was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone. We recognise the importance of continuity of open trade arrangements with the EU for nuclear goods and products. This is one of the objectives of our future relationship, as set out in the January Written Ministerial Statement and covered by the commitment to report. However, the specific arrangements about trading goods, including the import and export of qualifying nuclear material, are part of the wider negotiations with the EU on our future relationship. The Government have made clear that we are seeking a bold and ambitious economic partnership, of greater scope and ambition than any such existing agreement. Draft EU guidelines for negotiation of the future framework have been circulated to the EU 27 for comment and we expect final guidelines to be formally adopted at the March European Council this week. We hope that they will provide flexibility to allow the EU to think creatively about this future economic partnership.
I did not think this debate would end without the subject of medical radioisotopes coming up—this is a course that we have been round before—and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for raising it. They are not qualifying nuclear material. Medical radioisotopes are not subject to international safeguards and, as such, we do not propose that they be covered by the domestic safeguards regime to be set up under this Bill. I know that this is a matter of concern to the noble Lord and to others who have an interest in this matter. I can confirm specific arrangements for the import and export of medical radioisotopes are also subject to those wider negotiations with the EU on our future relationship.
Turning to Amendment 9, I just want to set out the Government’s position on the role of an independent reviewer of nuclear safeguards legislation. As the House has heard, the amendment would require the Secretary of State to appoint an independent reviewer, who would be required to report at least annually to him. The reports would have to be laid before both Houses and address issues including: the readiness of the United Kingdom’s safeguards arrangements,
“to ensure that qualifying nuclear material, facilities or equipment are available for use only for civil activities”;
compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency; nuclear co-operation agreements with other countries; and the sufficiency of the ONR’s staffing and safeguards resources.
I would like to give an assurance—if the noble Lord, Lord Fox, will accept yet another assurance from me—that, like noble Lords, I fully appreciate that there are particular circumstances in which an independent reviewer of legislation plays an important role. It is a model of scrutiny which has been fully developed in the context, for example, of counterterrorism legislation, where the role has been most ably performed by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew—the former noble friend of the noble Lord, Lord Fox, but I am sure they are still good friends—who has contributed actively to deliberations on this Bill. I am sorry that he cannot be here today.
There are, though, significant differences between counterterrorism legislation and the measures we are proposing to establish a civil nuclear safeguards regime for the United Kingdom. It is necessary, to a certain extent, in the realm of counterterrorism to ensure secrecy over certain aspects of the regime at the current time, and perhaps for a long time in the future. Without this, the regime could not work and lives could be lost. Conversely, on nuclear safeguards, although there are aspects of the regime that are not yet certain because they are the subject of negotiation with another country or countries, the Government are committed to being as transparent as they can. As I explained to the House earlier, the Government have committed to provide information to Parliament on their Euratom exit work, and that information will no doubt be scrutinised by individuals and the appropriate committees. Given this existing commitment to transparency, I do not see what additional benefit an independent reviewer could add.
I hope that will satisfy the noble Lords who have spoken to these two amendments. I am very grateful for their warm welcome for the Government’s agreement to move further in this matter and bring forward Amendment 6. Having moved Amendment 6, I feel that Amendments 7 and 9 are not necessary.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full response. He expressed deep sympathy with the intent of our amendments but, alas, even with divine inspiration, he failed to go a little further. Essentially, his argument in relation to my Amendment 7 was that it was unnecessary in the light of existing commitments in the Written Ministerial Statement and what he has said today about the importance of research and development. I go back to our debate last night on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, in which there was an overwhelming sense that this country still has a lead in some aspects of nuclear research. The noble Lord, Lord Broers, spoke about that very eloquently. This is at risk because of what is happening in relation to Brexit and our withdrawal from Euratom. It is important to have on the face of the Bill—in primary legislation—a commitment that the Government will report on research and development. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Amendment 6 (as amended) agreed.
8: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Freedom of employment for specialists
(1) Article 2(g) of the European Atomic Energy Community Treaty, ensuring freedom of employment for specialists, continues to have effect in UK law in relation to those who work in nuclear safeguarding, after the United Kingdom leaves Euratom.(2) In this section “specialists” includes those staff essential to the United Kingdom’s nuclear safeguarding.”
My Lords, I remind Members of what the Euratom treaty says in Article 2(g)—that, in order to perform its tasks, the community shall,
“ensure wide commercial outlets and access to the best technical facilities by the creation of a common market in specialised materials and equipment, by the free movement of capital for investment in the field of nuclear energy and by freedom of employment for specialists within the Community”.
I have not taken the whole of the article, or of part 2(g), into the amendment, but rather the important post-Brexit part, which concerns the free movement of nuclear specialists. I will not make a long speech because I believe that this is self-evident. The Government have an industrial strategy around the nuclear sector: to expand it and for it to be part of where this country goes economically.
We have heard in previous debates that our most important need in the short term is to have a functioning safeguarding authority, whether that is Euratom or—as soon as that stops—our own Office for Nuclear Regulation. We need those bodies, and that body in particular, to function. We have a shortage of qualified people in this area and a shortage of specialists in the industry more generally—although the amendment is, because of the Bill, primarily around safeguarding. Therefore, it must be in the interests of the Bill, and of the country at large, to ensure that we maintain the mobility of those specialists in the nuclear industry and the nuclear sector, so that we maintain this benefit post Brexit and post our membership of Euratom. That is why the amendment is absolutely appropriate to the Bill and is of great importance not just to this sector but to our national security.
I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give a greater reassurance—perhaps higher up on my noble friend Lord Fox’s Richter scale of assurances—than we have received so far that this area will be looked after by the Government, that we will not be browbeaten by the Home Office into having a minimal circulation of specialists, and that this country will benefit from those with the experience and skills that will enable us to perform in this sector, not just in safeguarding but in the nuclear sector more broadly. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment because, like the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I remain concerned about the industry’s access to the workforce that it will need once the UK leaves Euratom. I suggest that the free flow of essential specialist staff could well dry up unless the Government are reasonably energetic in the guarantees that they give them. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, this is not just a safeguarding workforce issue; it affects the whole sector, as was very well brought out in the Nuclear Industry Association’s briefing. I shall not go into detail on that but it is clear that we need a very skilled workforce coming to this country to help both in maintaining existing reactors and, even more significantly, in building new ones, as well as in the safeguarding area.
With regard to the regular reports that the Government will give to Parliament on progress in the safeguarding area, it is a bit disappointing that we did not manage to get into the Bill a specific reference to the need for an essential specialist workforce. I hope that the Minister will take this suggestion in the spirit in which it is offered, and perhaps he might encourage his officials, when they are producing these reports, to say something about the progress that is being made, particularly with the ONR getting the specialist staff that it needs.
In conclusion, I would like to raise an issue which Ministers are usually keen not to talk about out loud—Immigration Rules. Successive Governments have been surprisingly flexible when they have been really up against it in getting specialist staff in certain capped sectors of our industries—no more so that in the NHS, where the Immigration Rules have been modified, bent and utilised to bring in specialist people when the country has had a shortage of them. In terms of this debate, what assurances can the Minister give us that the Government will not lose sight of the possibility of modifying the Immigration Rules where necessary to help specialist safeguarding staff to get into this country? I suspect that the industry would also like them to be a bit more flexible when it comes to areas where there may be problems—for example, in maintaining reactors or in getting the specialist skills needed to build reactors such as Hinkley Point C.
My Lords, for at least 20 years this country allowed its specialist skills in matters nuclear to run down. There was a failure by successive Governments to address the issues and determine what our attitude was to policy on nuclear generation, medical sciences and the like. Although things have improved a little in recent years, it is certain that we will depend on specialist skills from overseas. I doubt that it is really necessary to put this amendment on the face of the Bill, but I am absolutely confident that the Minister will agree that we will indeed need specialist skills. We must give an assurance to the industry that those specialist skills will be welcomed. Therefore, I am sure that, in responding to this short debate led by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the Minister can assure us that the Government will give due priority to those with the relevant nuclear skills.
My Lords, an important point about Euratom is that it had a research programme on connecting fusion and fission. A long-range problem in the nuclear industry is finding ways of dealing with nuclear waste. As the Euratom programme showed, one way of doing that in future would be to connect it to fusion, because fusion produces fast neutrons that can process waste and give it a shorter half-life. That is an extremely important issue, and the people who will be able to work on it will have a very broad range of specialties, not just the narrow range that experts have at the moment.
I commend the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Warner, for bringing back this amendment on Report. It concerns an important issue: that the UK must address the skills that are needed in the UK. The problem of labour supply with the necessary skills beyond those present and available in the UK will need to be addressed by several industries—and none more crucial than the power industry, in relation not only to new build but to the continuing need for decommissioning.
EDF is certainly correct to identify the importance of the specialisms needed to deliver Hinkley Point C on time. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, drew attention to this and to the Immigration Rules. With restrictions on freedom of movement, currently no route is identified for the many categories of workers to enter the UK under the points system in order to fill the vacancies envisaged. It is crucial that the Minister’s department underlines the importance of the issue to the Home Office and comes up with a solution. It will be needed in the best interests of the UK’s civil nuclear industry.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for moving his amendment, and for the contributions of other noble Lords. I accept that it will continue to be important to attract—as the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Warner, and my noble friend Lord Selborne put it—the brightest and the best, to ensure that we maintain our excellence in the nuclear field. This amendment, however, is somewhat more limited in scope than that. Our future immigration system will be set out shortly and it would not be right for me to go into it. As my right honourable friend made clear in his Statement on 11 January, we will ensure that businesses and communities, as well as Parliament, have the opportunity to contribute their views before any decisions are made about the future system that the Home Office will be developing.
As I remember, the last time we debated this, by chance—I may be misremembering—a Home Office Minister was sitting next to me. I can confirm, however, that the Home Office is fully aware of the concerns expressed in debates of this sort, and we will make sure that it continues to be so. It is important to us that we continue to—as I put it—access the best talent. As the noble Lord will be aware, we have already doubled the number of available visas in the tier 1 exceptional talent review, and will be looking at changing Immigration Rules to enable world- leading scientists and researchers under the tier 1 route to apply for settlement after three years and to make it quicker for highly skilled students to apply for work in the United Kingdom after finishing a degree. We are, therefore, relaxing the labour market tests where appropriate.
The crux of this amendment, which relates to safeguarding staff—the Bill has been drafted in that way and so the amendment must be too—attempts to ensure the freedom of employment of specialists employed in that field. This is clearly a matter of particular interest in the light of the Government’s preparations for establishing a domestic nuclear safeguards regime, which, among other important work, means securing the right quality and quantity of appropriate safeguarding staff in the Office for Nuclear Regulation. Given the importance of attracting the right staff to work in this specialist field, the Government are committed to ensuring that the ONR has the right personnel. I can give the House a bit of information: in the most recent recruitment round for two further posts in this field there were 112 applicants for the ONR to look at. We will continue to work with the ONR to ensure that it has the right staff to regulate the UK’s new civil nuclear safeguards regime. Those figures show that there is no shortage, certainly in the world of recruiting and training the appropriate inspectors and building additional institutional capacity.
The noble Lord will not be surprised if I do not go into this, because he will then ask for further details. If I give him an assurance that the amendment is possibly itself defective and not suitable for inclusion, and he accepts that in spirit there is no need for it—since the Government are committed to ensuring that we have the right specialists and the Home Office continues to work in this field—I hope that he will feel able to withdraw Amendment 8.
I thank the Minister for his reply. It is good to have some figures: can we have more of them in these interactions around groups? I also remind the Minister that he regularly mentions the highly skilled and the talented. That may, I agree, be the case in nuclear safeguarding, but in a lot of Brexit areas, perhaps including some areas of the nuclear industry, the need is far broader. However, I take his point in regard to this Bill.
I also recognise that this issue will inevitably be fought out during the immigration Bill that we will eventually get. I am delighted that we will have another opportunity to debate Euratom in another Bill, to pursue sanity and perhaps get some change in this area. I therefore accept the noble Lord’s challenge—as it were—and his assurances about taking up these issues in the future immigration Bill, which we continue to await with interest. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendment 9 not moved.
9A: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Report on information technology systems necessary for nuclear safeguards
(1) The Secretary of State must, in respect of each reporting period, prepare a report containing information about the progress made to provide adequate information technology systems necessary for the United Kingdom to operate a nuclear safeguarding regime to international standards.(2) The report under subsection (1) must include the progress on, and the estimated cost of, developing the following systems—(a) a State System of Accountancy for and Control of Nuclear Materials;(b) a Safeguards Information Management and Reporting System; and(c) any other technology system necessary for the United Kingdom to operate an effective international nuclear safeguarding regime.(3) A report under this section must be laid before both Houses of Parliament after the end of the reporting period to which it relates.(4) There are four successive reporting periods, each of which is a period of 3 months.(5) The first reporting period is the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”
My Lords, in Committee I raised an issue that I do not think has been raised before, about the information systems required for the Office for Nuclear Regulation to perform its tasks acceptably as a safeguarding agency in the international system. I subsequently submitted a Written Question to the Government on this matter, and I thank the Minister, very genuinely, for a comprehensive and interesting reply—a very good one. In that regard, I almost feel that I have to apologise to the House for the long names in subsection (2)(a) and (b) of the amendment: the State System of Accountancy for and Control of Nuclear Materials and the Safeguards Information Management and Reporting System. The Minister informed me that these were needed to fulfil our international obligations.
I also asked what those systems would cost, less to understand the cost than the size of the task that needed to be completed within the next 12 months. I will quote from the Minister’s Written Reply:
“ONR has estimated that it will cost £10 million to establish a UK SSAC and SIMRS”—
the two systems—
“is included as a part of this overall estimate. An initial tender opportunity in relation to the SIMRS is currently being advertised on the Government Digital Marketplace and responses to that tender will provide more certainty on estimated costs”.
I do not know whether we already have the other system—I do not think so—but what concerned me particularly about that reply was that we are only tendering for one of those systems. It is clearly a significant cost—£10 million for both—but we are only just getting around to advertising them. From both my corporate career and my role in this House in scrutinising what the Government are up to, and government systems, I know that it is not the easiest thing to predict when IT systems will be ready, let alone functioning. We had a debate last week about the Smart Meters Bill and all the IT needed for that, and it is 12 years later that we have come to those particular systems.
My real question is a serious one. Clearly, from the Minister’s reply, the ONR cannot function properly without these systems, but we are only at the stage of advertising just one of them. The size of them is at least £10 million and I feel very nervous that these systems will be ready when we need them to be ready on 29 March next year. That seems to be quite an ask. Therefore, with the amendment I am looking for some substantive reassurance from the Minister that this is under control and that it will be part of the Government’s reporting mechanism between now and our leaving date for Euratom, so that we can understand the progress in this critical area—an area where, to put it lightly, the Government do not have the greatest reputation in terms of delivering such systems. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment, but I do not expect us to go for our hat trick of votes on it. I speak as someone who had the misfortune to inherit the NHS IT system as a responsibility. I also had some experience in the Home Office of IT systems. Things never work out the way that noble Lords think they will. They are usually delayed and they usually malfunction a bit when they are first introduced and used. My question for the Minister is: has he got a plan B and what is it, if this IT system does not come online to time? At the end of the day, the ONR will still have some responsibilities to discharge. If it does not have the IT system, how will it go about discharging its responsibilities?
Following my noble friend Lord Teverson’s excellent explanation for the reason for this amendment, on the long-named programmes and systems in proposed new subsection (2), can the Minister tell the House whether these are built on existing systems that are being adapted or will they be built from scratch? The Minister may have to write to me in answer. Also, on the nature of the IT companies delivering these, is there competition in delivering systems such as this or is this a very specialist area with a small pool to fish from and not much choice, which of course leads to price escalation?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for raising the important issue of the information technology systems necessary for nuclear safeguards. I also saw the written Q&A from the noble Lord and I thank the Minister for replying so swiftly. In Committee, the importance of understanding the full inventory costs in IT management systems was debated. The Government clarified that the full implications of the mechanisms that the ONR will need to set up are matters that could be included in each report that the Government will undertake. It can only build confidence that Parliament will be reassured through any audit process that the UK’s regime will be costed, reported and certified to be robust.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for moving his amendment. He and the House really want two things. They want substantive reassurances and details of further reporting. I asked to have this amendment grouped with Amendment 6, which to some extent deals with this matter. We propose to put such reporting on the face of the Bill, and progress with the information technology systems required for the safeguarding regime will fall within that reporting duty. I hope that the noble Lord will feel that he does in due course get sufficient information. In the meantime, I will give an update about what is happening. As the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, I might have to write with further detail later on, but let us see how the quarterly statements take place to see whether they provide sufficient information. If not, noble Lords can come back to me.
The overall system of safeguards is generally referred to as a state system of accountancy for and control of nuclear materials. The noble Lord referred to that in my original Written Answer. That is also known as an SSAC. The last time I came across SSAC it was the Social Security Advisory Committee, but that was in another world and another place. We will not go there now. As part of this, the ONR plans to put in place an IT system which it refers to as the safeguards information management and reporting system. I do not know how you pronounce “SIMRS” so we shall refer to it by its initials. The SIMRS is aimed at enabling the ONR to obtain and process the information necessary to ensure timely submission to the International Atomic Energy Agency of the reports required by any future safeguards agreements with the agency. The SIMRS will also enable submission of any specific reports required by supplier states as part of nuclear co-operation agreements.
The ONR has estimated that it will cost some £10 million—the figure I gave some weeks ago in Committee—to establish a UK SSAC, and the SIMRS is included as a part of this overall estimate. A pre-qualification questionnaire in relation to the SIMRS was recently advertised on the Government’s digital marketplace. Sixteen suppliers responded, of which six have been invited to respond to the invitation to tender by 6 April. Responses to that tender will provide more certainty on estimated costs, and the ONR expects to let the contract in early May.
I of course take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, warned about IT systems from his experience with the health service and the Home Office. We are all aware of problems that new IT systems can have. I do not think that what we are proposing here is on the scale of what the National Health Service needs, but I accept that there can be problems. We and the department have a duty to examine that as carefully as we can. I give an assurance that we will do that as far as is possible.
Put very simply, that is where we are at the moment. We will keep noble Lords updated. We have accepted my Amendment 6, as amended by the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. There is no need to further complicate the Bill’s proceedings by adding this amendment, which duplicates what we already have. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister and welcome his undertaking that the IT systems will be included in the regular reporting. It would be useful if the Minister could answer my noble friend Lord Fox’s question about whether they are starting from zero or whether we are effectively modifying existing systems.
Amendment 9A withdrawn.
Clause 4: Commencement
10: Clause 4, page 4, line 38, leave out “Section 3,” and insert “Section (Report on nuclear safeguards), section 3,”
Amendment 10 agreed.
Amendment 11 not moved.
The Schedule: minor and consequential amendments
12: The Schedule, page 7, line 3, leave out “76A(5) or (8)” and insert “76A(8)”
Amendment 12 agreed.