Clause 2: Designation of nuclear company
1: Clause 2, page 2, line 14, leave out from “project” to end and insert “will result in value for money, as evidenced by the publication of the Value for Money assessments conducted to date.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to provide stronger evidence that the project will result in value for money through publication of such assessments carried out to date.
My Lords, I shall speak to all the amendments in this group. They deal with value for money for the taxpayer and for bill payers, the impact on consumer bills of the regulated asset base charge, and the final amendment relates to excluding those on universal credit and other legacy benefits from such impacts.
Amendment 1 requires that the Secretary of State is of the opinion that designating a nuclear company will result in value for money, as evidenced by the publication of the value-for-money assessment. In this sense, it is about both value for money and transparency, which we will also touch on in later groups. We want to know not just that such a designation will result in value for money but on what basis that decision has been arrived at. We know from the history of the nuclear industry that promises about costs have rarely been kept and that finances have been opaque, to say the least. If there was one advantage of energy sector privatisation, it was that the costs which had previously been fairly buried in the accounts of the Central Electricity Generating Board became much clearer. That is a significant part of the reason why nuclear power ceased to be attractive, because it was clear that it did not offer value for money either for the taxpayer or for the consumer.
As my noble friend Lord Foster said when he spoke to this amendment in Committee, the Government have said already that they are going to conduct a value-for-money assessment. All we are asking is that that assessment is published as part of the process of the Minister being clear that it is his position that the designation would represent value for money. In Committee, the Minister notably failed to give any such commitment that the value-for-money assessment would be published, so I ask him to tell the House directly in his response whether the Government will publish that assessment. If he does, he will satisfy many of our concerns on this matter. If he does not, he will simply confirm our belief that the result of the Bill will be that the public are going to be landed with eye-wateringly expensive power generation which does not offer value for money and for which they will be forced to pay on their bills in advance.
Amendments 3 and 10 deal with the impact on consumer bills. Amendment 3 requires the Secretary of State to be of the opinion that designating a nuclear power company will not have a significant and material impact on consumer bills and to lay a report before Parliament setting out the reasons and evidence for that opinion. Again, this is about both the protection of the consumer and transparency over decision-making.
Amendment 10 seeks to exclude recipients of universal credit and legacy benefits from the regulated asset base charge, and I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on this amendment. It would guarantee in law that the most financially vulnerable in our country do not see an additional increase in their energy bills to finance the exorbitant costs of nuclear power generation. The most indefensible part of the Bill is that the cost of nuclear generation and the way the RAB charges work would have a disproportionate impact on those who are already struggling to pay their bills. With the energy price cap already set to increase by 54% and with further increases very possible, indeed likely, in the autumn, this is no time to place further burdens on those least able to meet them, as the Bill does. On the Liberal Democrat Benches, we believe that we have an absolute duty to protect those least able to meet these costs at such a difficult time.
As finance expert Martin Lewis has said, the financial strain on families is already the worst he has known. He describes the increase in energy bills as a
“fiscal punch in the face”,
“I am out of tools to help people now … It’s not something money management can fix … we need political intervention.”
But what we have in this Bill is political intervention to make the situation worse. Reports from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have added that the case for support
“to help people on the lowest incomes could not be clearer”—
so why are we doing the opposite? As we all know, the number of people in fuel poverty is increasing at alarming rates; it is estimated that it will have tripled in the space of two years.
Citizens Advice finds that 55% of universal credit claimants are already going without basic essentials. The Government are proposing to increase benefits by just 3.1% at a time when inflation is forecast to peak at 8% to 9%. Many, including the CBI, believe that peak may be sustained over a significant period. This Bill would exacerbate the problem even further. Amendment 10 would at the very least make sure that the most financially vulnerable people in our country are not forced to bear further costs on their energy bills as a result of this unfair policy.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 1. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, disposed of the previous version of this amendment most effectively in an eloquent speech in Committee, yet the Liberal Democrats persist in asking for an unequivocal value-for-money assessment of any project to build a new nuclear power station. It is not clear on what basis such an assessment should be made.
They may be inspired by the expectation that an assessment conducted according to commercial accountancy would cast doubt on the economic benefits of building new nuclear power stations. It has been pointed out to them that such a valuation would entail the commercial cost of capital funds, which are available from the financial sector only at an exorbitant rate of interest. It is precisely for the purpose of overcoming this impediment that the financial device of a regulated asset base, which is what this Bill advocates, has been devised.
Commercial accountancy—if that is what the Liberal Democrats have in mind—would be a most inappropriate means of assessing the value of investment in social and economic infrastructure that would provide us with a carbon-free source of electricity for the long term. Not only will this electricity be making a vital contribution to our climate change agenda but it will serve to sustain our industries in the absence of fossil fuels. Surely the Liberal Democrats should support such objectives.
The Liberal Democrats have been enjoined to tell us how they envisage that we might satisfy these objectives in the absence of the secure and reliable supply of electricity that would be provided by nuclear power stations. They have failed to do so. They have failed to tell us how the problems of the insecurity and intermittence of the supply of electricity could be addressed if it were dependent on the wind, the sun and imports from abroad. We must assume, in the absence of any declaration from them, that this is what they envisage. The truth is that they have failed to address the logistics of the energy supply in a meaningful way.
The value of renewable sources of power must be assessed not only on the costs of what they are able to produce but on the costs of what they fail to produce. At times when this power is not available, other sources must be found. In the absence of a baseload of electricity, they are liable to become exorbitantly expensive when there is a dearth in power. Wind and solar power will not satisfy the demand for a greatly increased supply of electricity, which must arise if our industries and our transport are to relinquish fossil fuels. The renewable sources of power would serve to satisfy the demands only of a wholly deindustrialised and socially immiserated version of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I rise to oppose this amendment. It is not that I am out of sympathy with the concerns and motives behind it; I am all for any moves that create a more explicit explanation of the real, full value of modern nuclear power and the way in which it is developing. Nevertheless, I oppose the amendment because, if you are talking about value for money, it is wildly unrealistic and out of touch with reality, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, rightly indicated.
Let us certainly have a good argument about value, but what is the value, first, of national security? What is the value of building up a large chunk of our electricity power for low-carbon reliability in the future when, although we all want to see more wind and sun and so on in the package, we know that any part of a complex energy system can go down or be disrupted at any time? There has to be diversity and a large block of reliable, low-carbon power from modern nuclear, with full provision for taking care of the difficult problems of waste which we discussed in Committee, and all the rest. But there is a value in the national security of having a large section of our power coming from nuclear, ready to come in—at a cost, yes—when the wind does not blow, when there are interruptions in oil or gas supplies, and all the rest, as we are experiencing now, when prices go crazy, when LNG, the frozen gas on which we rely, is beckoned by higher bids from China and turns away from us.
What on earth is the value of having this provision? What is the value of diversity in our system, in having conserved the system which we have now which, alas, is grossly overconcentrated either on renewables, which can go down occasionally, or on gas? We were never meant to have as much gas in our electricity production as we have now. When I was looking after these matters a long time ago—and I should declare my registered interest on that—1% of British electricity came from gas, and Sir Denis Rooke, the then chairman of British Gas, was very opposed to an increase. Now it has gone to the other, mad extreme: we are now at 45% to 50%, and when gas problems go badly wrong internationally, as they have, and we have a sevenfold increase in the gas price, we are hit directly through our gas and electricity prices. So the case for a large chunk of renewable energy through nuclear increases by the day, particularly now that we may get an acceptance that nuclear electricity is green electricity and is approved under ESG rules and so on.
I put it to our Liberal Democrat friends that they must face the issue that there is a value—yes—but it cannot be put into money, because it has to be measured in terms of security, diversity, back-up for wind when the wind does not blow, hydrogen production and a variety of other things. There must be some realism in the stance of great political parties in addressing this issue: that is all I plead for. Therefore, I think this amendment is unrelated to the real needs of our security and our national prosperity, and to the whole helping of the poorest and the most vulnerable in society in the future. It cannot be the right amendment to make.
My Lords, as acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, Amendment 1 was debated in Committee. And, as acknowledged by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, just now, I also thought that my noble friend Lord Howell explained very well, both in Committee and today, that value for money is totally subjective. The judgments that have to be made will, of course, take account of the financial plans for projects. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, was spot on in referring to Switzerland, whose electricity grid depends almost entirely on hydro and nuclear. It is hard to put a price on the huge value that energy security gives that country.
Amendment 3, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Stunell, is unnecessary, because the Secretary of State will clearly consider this point in assessing any applicant company under the designation process. Furthermore, Ofgem is bound to protect consumer interests as part of the consultation process. I recognise that electricity bills are already rising exponentially, and I expressed concern in Committee that payments under the RAB model will further increase the subsidies that consumers are required to pay. The solution here is to reduce the subsidies paid to renewables projects, to provide a more even balance between support for those sectors and support for the nuclear sector, which has been left out in the cold until very recently.
As for Amendment 10, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, and others, I fear that the costs of administering such a complicated exemption would far outweigh any possible benefits to the particular groups of people concerned. Besides, there are other groups facing difficulty in meeting higher electricity bills, such as pensioners, who are seriously disadvantaged by the suspension of the triple lock. The best way to assist the people whom noble Lords who put their names to this amendment seek to assist is to enable a stable, well-funded energy mix, including a significant amount of nuclear, both large gigawatt plants and smaller, more flexible SMRs and AMRs. On the latter, the Government are trying to reinvent the wheel and are moving much too slowly in the case of JAEA’s HTGR technology, which has been operating for 10 years and is inherently safe.
I hope that the Prime Minister’s much greater enthusiasm for nuclear, revealed in recent weeks, will lead to rapid changes to the very cautious current plans of BEIS, in three phases, merely to establish a demonstration by the early 2030s. We need this technology yesterday, and we should be rolling it out commercially before the end of the decade. The Times reported last week that Ministers are exploring the creation of a state-owned nuclear company that would take stakes in future nuclear projects, to reduce our reliance on foreign energy. That is very welcome. What a pity it is that such a company was not in existence before Hitachi made the decision to cancel the Horizon project in September 2020.
My Lords, I speak in favour of Amendments 1 and 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Oates, and in favour of Amendment 10, also in his name and to which I have attached my name.
Speaking for the first time on Report on the Bill, I am getting something of a sense of déjà vu. I do not know whether the ministerial Front Bench has brought its snacks this time, but it can sit and watch the show as we see enthusiasm from both Labour and Tory Benches for new nuclear power.
It is interesting to go back to the Explanatory Notes. The policy background that explains the purpose of this Bill is
“a clean energy system that is reliable and affordable for energy consumers”.
These three amendments particularly address that last point—although the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on reliability were also interesting. The words that he used were interesting: “decentralised”, “security” and “stability”. Why put all your eggs in a few large baskets rather than into an extremely decentralised system of renewables, storage and, particularly, energy conservation? That is a genuinely diverse and secure supply. Ask the Japanese about what happened after Fukushima, and they will tell you that, if nuclear goes wrong, you can lose the lot—and then you have a very large problem, as the Japanese did.
With regard to security and affordability, there is an interesting letter in the Financial Times this morning, headed:
“Arguing for more nuclear power was wrong then too”,
from Andrew Warren, chair of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, in Cambridge. It picks up my point that the cleanest, greenest energy that you can possibly have is the energy you do not use. It also comes to the point about value for money and the argument that new nuclear is essential. Mr Warren says that
“back in 2006, when the then Labour government … committed to a ‘family’ of further nuclear power stations”,
it was on the basis that our usage of electricity was going to go up enormously and therefore we needed new nuclear power stations, which of course did not happen. The letter points out:
“UK electricity consumption has in fact gone down by over 15 per cent since 2006. In other words, all that expectation of demand growth which was used to justify new nuclear power stations was grossly exaggerated … by over 30 per cent.”
As Mr Warren notes,
“no new nuclear power stations have been added to the system. The system hasn’t collapsed, and it’s also far less carbon intensive.”
I can imagine that many noble Lords might say at this point, “Well, yes, but we have to electrify transport and home heating”. However, if—to use a word associated with the Prime Minister—we went gung-ho on energy efficiency and a modal shift to walking, cycling and public transport instead of private cars, we could greatly reduce the kind of assumptions that are made. The policy background suggests that the UK electricity supply will need to double and low-carbon sources quadruple by 2050. If we build a different kind of society that needs less power, that is an extremely cost-effective way forward.
To come back to cost effectiveness, I have looked at some figures on this. The Nuclear Industry Association has suggested that the proposed new nuclear plants at Sizewell, Wylfa and Bradwell could come in at £60 per megawatt hour. We have just seen, in the most recent offshore wind projects selected for round 3 of the contract for difference allocations, strike prices as low as £39.65 per megawatt hour. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, referred to concerns about green subsidies. These do not need subsidies because they are cheaper than any other source of power. That is offshore wind, without even coming to the fact that onshore wind, which I am delighted to see the Government now moving towards, is much cheaper again, as indeed is solar.
Of course there is Hinkley Point C, with a £92.50 contract. The nuclear industry says, “Oh, it will all get better eventually”. It is confident about the £60 figure—and we know how confidence about the cost of nuclear power has worked out in the past—and that over the long term it will eventually get to £40, which is what offshore wind is delivering now.
I particularly want to address Amendment 10, as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, did so effectively in introducing this group, to which I have attached my name, and to look at where we are with fuel poverty. From 1 April, 27% of UK households are expected to be in fuel poverty—and that is a watered-down definition of fuel poverty—so that is 6.3 million households. Each year around 10,000 people die prematurely as a result of cold homes. Again with regard to the policy landscape, if we insulated those homes, those people would not die prematurely. It is interesting that the charity National Energy Action notes that this seems to be within the bounds of some perverse statistical acceptability; we just accept it as being normal and continue to go on as we are.
I want to address the point about the Government’s levelling-up agenda and look at some of the figures for fuel poverty that will be in place from 1 April. The Bushbury South and Low Hill area of Wolverhampton will have an 88% rate of fuel poverty. The Washwood Heath area of Birmingham, Castle and Priory ward in Dudley and the Shelton area of Stoke, will have more than 80% of households in fuel poverty. Areas of Rochdale, Leeds, Sheffield and Derby will have just below 80% of households in fuel poverty. We are talking about adding significantly to the cost of those bills through nuclear power when cheaper alternatives are available.
I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, on bringing back the triple lock to pensions, but it was his Government who took it away. By focusing on universal credit, we are not reaching everybody who will be in a worse situation because of nuclear power, but we would at least reach a very significant group of people and, because of universal credit, a significant number of children through Amendment 10.
Finally, another question to address was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. He suggested that the Liberal Democrats were not interested in sustaining our industry, but if our industry is competing with a world that has gone for far cheaper renewables, and our industry is relying on expensive new nuclear power, then that is not the way to sustain our industries.
My Lords, I shall speak to this group of amendments, particularly Amendment 1, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Oates. As I said in Committee, I have some sympathy with the greater transparency of the assessment of the value for money of new nuclear, partly because it will prove once and for all that there is a very strong case for pursuing reinvestment in our nuclear capabilities at every scale, whether the large-scale reactors that we are considering at Sizewell and Hinckley Point, or the SMRs, which I hope will be pursued with a considerable increase in speed as we address our needs for secure, affordable and zero-emission electricity.
As noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, we will be seeing a greater need for electricity. We will, I hope, see a huge increase in energy efficiency as we move to electric vehicles, because they are inherently more efficient than the combustion engine fuel supply chain, but there will be a greater load on the grid so we will need vastly more electricity, even as we get more efficient. We need a varied set of technologies providing power reliably and with resilience throughout the year. Nuclear can clearly play an excellent role alongside greater increases in solar, wind and other forms of renewable electricity. There is no need for these to be seen as competing; they complement each other very well.
I suspect that the Minister will reply that it is not necessary and that there will be information in the public domain about the choice. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, made a very compelling case for how difficult it would be to provide a full value-for-money assessment when such things as national security are so hard to translate into a sum of money. As we noted in Committee, there are countries much less concerned by the terrible events in Ukraine because of the nature of their electricity supply. It is right and proper that the UK should pursue the Bill—that we get on with it and see money flowing in the sector, which has been very stop-start. If we get this going, can sustain our interest and not do stop-start, the value for money will increase. The Bill is all about making these investments less costly for the taxpayer and the consumer and I support it. I am sympathetic to the amendment, but I do not support it.
My Lords, there were a couple of paper tigers dancing around in the Chamber today. I will deal with one of them straightaway. We are not unique in this Chamber in thinking that it is a good idea to do a value-for-money study on these projects. In Clause 2(3)(b), one of the criteria for designation is that
“the Secretary of State is of the opinion that designating the nuclear company in relation to the project is likely to result in value for money.”
Given that the Government themselves believe it is appropriate to have a value for money study, those who think we have somehow dreamt up something totally unfeasible, ridiculous and stupid need to address their remarks to the author of the clause, not the authors of the amendment. The two amendments actually say two things, the first of which is that we believe the Secretary of State thinking it likely to result in value for money is not a sufficiently high level of evidence. It needs to be that it
“will result in value for money”.
I would express that as being the difference between “the balance of probabilities” in a civil case and “beyond reasonable doubt” in a criminal case. Basically, we want a better than 50% chance that the value for money guess comes out right. I do not think that unreasonable or contrary to the spirit of value for money, as Governments ought to be exercising it when spending public money. That needs to be considered quite carefully by those who think that value for money is somehow a Liberal Democrat evil which has been conjured out of nowhere.
The second of our Amendments says that when that has been done it should be published. My noble friend Lord Oates drew on examples in the nuclear industry in the past 60 years of evidence and material being gathered and kept very, very quiet. Of course, eventually it all comes out, if only in the decommissioning costs or from the actual unit cost of producing the electricity, which nobody can any longer avoid. The first generation was built on the basis that the electricity would be so cheap we would not need to have electricity meters. We tend to forget that those kinds of claims were ever made, but they were never supported by evidence because the evidence was never published at a relevant time when it could have affected the decisions being made.
The two amendments the Liberal Democrats have put into play are based on making sure that the Secretary of State does a proper value for money exercise and that they base their decision not just on the balance of probabilities—“If we’re lucky it’ll be all right; if we’re unlucky, well there we go”—but with some reasonable level of certainty that the exercise has produced the right result. Making it transparent and putting it on the public record is a good way of making sure that those who make a professional evaluation of value for money are well aware that what they put into their report will be in the public eye and open to challenge and discussion.
If only that had been the case with previous generations of nuclear generation decision-making, we would have got a better outcome. I do not mean that there would be no nuclear plants built, but we would have perhaps avoided what the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, speaking on behalf of the Government, complained about in relation to the decommissioning process. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said that it is necessary to avoid “gold-plating” decommissioning costs
“that deliver millions of pounds to contractors unnecessarily”.—[Official Report, 8/3/22; col. GC 434.]
I thought those were powerful words. She was talking about decommissioning costs, but should we not be doing the same with commissioning costs? What can be wrong with testing that out?
Also, value for money is not something that can be assessed anyway, because there are impenetrable questions which make valuing the outcome completely unfeasible. When one looks at the value for money of any project, there are two issues. The first is the actual cost of the project. Have the costs been realistically assessed and are they properly built into the estimates being presented? For generation after generation of nuclear plants, it has been perfectly obvious that the cost of building them has not been correctly assessed. Indeed, that is true of the plants currently under construction.
The second thing that needs to be quantified is the nature of the rewards that one gets from the project when it has been built. What are they? The rewards from a nuclear plant consist of the electrical output and the security factor. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, made an excellent contribution on that topic in Committee, the essence of which he repeated just now. I do not reach quite the conclusion that he did, but I will say how I think we might best analyse it.
We know that at the moment, the electricity that will be produced will be at least 50% more expensive than if it came from offshore wind power, for example. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, gave some of the figures. This plant will not come on stream for another 15 years. We do not know what the unit cost of offshore wind will be in 15 years’ time but, if you follow the graph, it is reasonable to suppose that it will be quite a lot cheaper than it is now. So it is a competition where nuclear starts 50% ahead; it will probably be more like 70% ahead when it comes online. I am setting aside any consideration of whether any allowance should be made for decommissioning costs.
Then, we get to the security argument: what happens when the wind does not blow? Well, we have a strike price that is nearly double that of offshore wind. It is therefore obviously a premium product. It is not something you would indulge in unless you could see a substantial value that was related not to its electrical output but to something else. The carbon reduction is real and not to be neglected but, of course, other renewables—certainly offshore wind, solar and onshore wind—have those carbon savings. It is a matter of debate whether they provide more or fewer savings per gigawatt than nuclear but, as I understand it, nobody is really saying that other renewables would not deliver the same carbon savings. So security of supply is the point in play. For me, the exam question, therefore, is this: can we get that security of supply in any other way that is cheaper and faster, with less or no impact on the RAB figures, which consumers will have to pay at the end of the day?
By coincidence, yesterday morning, I attended a presentation given by National Grid. It was asked some quite poky questions about whether it thought that the national grid would have the resilience for all the electrical power that will be demanded to flow through the system. Its answer was surprisingly upbeat. It said that it would be relaxed about the grid’s capacity if, for instance, there were 15 million or 20 million electric-powered vehicles dispersed widely throughout the United Kingdom, and, incidentally, concentrated in the places where electrical demand is greatest, such as the south-east of England. It sees the grid as a fundamental element of the storage of power to cover the times when it is needed. It did say, however, that there will have to be additional investment by the distributive network organisations, or DNOs, to reinforce the local distribution grid.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has pointed out, doing some proper retrofitting and demand reduction in the domestic sector, never mind the industrial and commercial sectors, will also produce dividends. We should not forget that we have a project of nuclear expenditure which is costing something like £3 billion a year per plant at present. If the question is: could we get more bang for our buck by spending that £3 billion on a mixture of reinforcing the local distribution grid, accelerating the rate of transformation for electric vehicles and investing in demand reduction in the domestic, commercial and industrial sectors, the answer is probably yes. But, let us face it, that needs proper study.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that although it is unconventional thinking that we should perhaps not produce as much as we used to and stop warming up the sky with our leaky houses, that is the way we ought to be going if we were rational. I hope that sets out my reply to the noble Lord and other critics who perhaps express their view less elegantly than he does.
So what is the answer? If we are to take seriously the reduction of the burden on the poorest households from the cost of the energy that they use, surely we ought to give very careful consideration to Amendment 10. Whatever the merits of this nuclear programme, it will, as it stands, increase the burden on them, when some of us certainly believe that the alternative strategy which I have just set out, in only the sketchiest form, would save that burden being placed on them and result in an altogether much more satisfactory energy mix.
That is exactly what Amendment 10 does, so I hope that noble Lords will stop trying to shoot down value-for-money studies because the Government want one and understand that making it transparent means that it is more likely to be honest. I hope they will support the view that we ought to be protecting the poorest against fuel poverty, and support Amendment 10.
My Lords, this Bill is about finance as much as it is about nuclear power. Labour believes that new nuclear has an important supporting role to play in the energy mix, alongside the decisive shift to renewables needed to deliver the climate transition and low-carbon energy and secure our energy for the future. As set out by the Climate Change Committee, we need all the low-carbon sources at our disposal to deliver that rapid and fair transition.
The fundamental point is: if we are to build new nuclear power stations, how are we to fund them? Labour supports the building of them for a number of reasons. Nuclear energy is the only proven technology which can supply low-carbon baseload electricity at scale. At a time when we face a global climate crisis, the further rolling out of nuclear energy will also play a crucial role in the UK meeting its climate targets.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for tabling Amendments 1, 3 and 10 in this group and was pleased to add my name to Amendment 10, following the extension of the scope into legacy benefits. We are in agreement on the importance of achieving value for money but, given the Government’s track record on their use of taxpayers’ money, it is no surprise that many noble Lords want to see stronger requirements in the Bill. Amendments 3 and 10 bring us to the core issues here: the impact of the RAB model on consumer bills and the practical impact on people on very low incomes.
For weeks the Government have been promising meaningful action to help people across the country through the ever-worsening cost of living crisis. Try as the Government might to blame rising inflation, energy bills and Ukraine, the OBR’s stark warning about living standards shows that the problem faced by many is an issue around the British economy. In meetings over recent weeks, we have been told that protecting claimants of universal credit and other social security benefits is simply too difficult, particularly as we are talking about saving only £1 or £2 a week, but in these circumstances £1 or £2 a week will be critical for many families and households.
However, yesterday’s Spring Statement did nothing to support pensioners and benefit claimants and we must consider Amendment 10 against that backdrop. If we had faith that the most vulnerable in society would be protected, there would have been no need for the noble Lord, Lord Oates, to table this amendment. In less than two weeks’ time, pensions and other social security payments will be cut in real terms. People are already having to choose between heating and eating.
We support the use of the RAB model to finance new nuclear projects and we very much hope that having a more reliable energy baseline will make costs more predictable. However, it is our duty to look at those who are disproportionally impacted by this decision. We have only to look at the newspaper headlines this morning about the deepest cost of living crisis since the 1950s. On that basis, we hope that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, will test the opinion of the House when we come to Amendment 10 and that MPs will have the opportunity to debate this important matter.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. There was a certain element of déjà vu about it from the discussions in Committee. In particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, rehearsed her well-documented and faintly nonsensical views. She will be pleased to know that I will resist the temptation to tackle them again as we did in Committee, not least because it was done fairly expertly by my noble friends Lord Howell and Lord Trenchard, the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, who made some very good points. If I would leave her with one word in response it would be “intermittency”, which is the key argument against her point.
Starting with Amendments 1 and 3, I remind noble Lords that designation is only one step in a rigorous process to ensure that a potential nuclear RAB project is sufficiently scrutinised, evaluated and subject to all relevant approvals prior to a final investment decision. As discussed in Committee, we have set out a transparent designation process which requires the Secretary of State, at the point of designation, to be of the opinion that designation is likely to result in value for money. This process requires the Secretary of State to draft reasons for designation and to consult on those reasons with consultees as set out in the Bill. Importantly, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard reminded us, they will include Ofgem, which, as per its principal objective to protect the interests of existing and future consumers, will ensure that consumer impacts are fully considered at the point of designation.
I reassure noble Lords that the Bill requires the final designation notice to be made publicly available. It will include the reasons for designation, which will incorporate details of the value-for-money assessment made to support the designation decision. We would expect that a value-for-money assessment at this stage would consider the potential impact of designation on consumers, using all relevant information available at the time.
However, as per my previous comment, designation is only one of a number of approvals that will mature our understanding of a project’s costs, alongside intensive negotiations. I feel therefore that Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Stunell, perhaps comes too prematurely in the overall process of approving a project to receive the benefit of the RAB funding model.
It is important that we retain our flexibility in how we negotiate with different project companies that are designated for the purposes of the RAB model. We can therefore commit that, at the point of directing a revenue collection counterparty to offer to enter into a revenue collection contract with a designated nuclear company, the Secretary of State will publish a value-for-money assessment of the project and its impact on consumers, along with all the appropriate documentation, save for information which the Secretary of State considers would be likely to prejudice someone’s commercial interests or would be contrary to the interests of national security. I can confirm that this would mean that value-for-money considerations would be published at two key points in the approval process: both when designating a project company in its final designation notice, as I outlined previously, and once the outcome of negotiations and market engagement have been reflected in project costs. I am not sure that even two value-for-money assessments would convince the Liberal Democrats of the value of this, but nevertheless I am prepared to give it a go.
On Amendment 10, I will begin by slightly correcting the figures used by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. I value the noble Lord’s support for the principles of the Bill and Labour’s support for new nuclear. I think that the noble Lord used the figures of £1 to £2 per week for this model. Our estimate is closer to £1 per month. This will obviously depend on the negotiations, but it is not quite as drastic as the noble Lord implied.
I understand and share the desire from noble Lords to protect vulnerable consumers. Of course, we all want to do that. The Government agree on the importance of supporting low-income households, particularly at this time of high energy prices. I will remind noble Lords of the commitments which we have made to supporting households to meet the costs of energy bills. This includes the energy bills rebate scheme, worth a total of £9.1 billion and covering a £150 non-repayable rebate for households in England in council tax bands A to D, as well as an additional £144 million of discretionary funding for billing authorities to support households that are in need but do not meet the council tax criteria. This is in addition to the actions we are taking through the warm homes discount, cold weather payments and the household support fund, which the Chancellor announced yesterday will be doubled to £1 billion from April this year. All of these are aimed at providing immediate support for vulnerable households.
Over the longer term, we are helping to lower energy prices by supporting increases in energy efficiency through the energy company obligation, the sustainable warmth programme, the local authority delivery scheme and the home upgrade grant. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, does not want to be reminded of this, but the Government are spending considerable funds, of up to £6.6 billion in this Parliament, on energy efficiency schemes. To that extent, I agree with the noble Baroness that energy efficiency is a good thing to do, and indeed we are doing it. Noble Lords will see from this programme that the Government take the support of low-income households at this time incredibly seriously. However, it is our strong view that this challenge is best tackled holistically.
On the specifics of Amendment 10, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, the RAB model charges suppliers rather than consumers. The amendment means that suppliers could be required to pay their full share of the RAB charges but not pass the cost down to consumers on universal credit. Suppliers would be very unlikely to meet those costs themselves. Instead, they would most likely spread the additional charge among other consumers who are not exempt, placing addition burden on, for example, low-income households and those who were not on benefits. The amendment would also create a substantial administrative burden, as suppliers would need to accurately identify and verify benefits recipients—information which could be difficult for them to access. Again, it is likely that they would choose to pass the administrative costs of this on to other consumers, including other vulnerable groups, such as pensioners.
I also have concerns about the compatibility of the amendment with a scheme which, if implemented, could last for many decades over the life of nuclear projects. For instance, the amendment specifically references universal credit and “any legacy benefits”, and it is likely that alternative benefits will be brought forward during this period. Referring to universal credit on the face of the Bill would result in updates to the legislation being needed whenever changes to the existing benefits system were made. I hope that noble Lords will accept that this would clearly be impractical.
Ultimately, it is expected that the overall RAB charge will make up only a very small proportion of overall energy costs for consumers, which are largely driven by volatile global fossil fuel prices. The Government’s policy is to consider holistically the impact of all cost drivers of energy bills, and to develop plans to support households in the light of these. If, however, circumstances arose in which it was considered that the burden of charges to contribute to nuclear RAB projects was felt to be too great, the Secretary of State could also, if considered appropriate, include provision in revenue regulations under the Bill to exempt part or all of a supplier’s obligation to pay RAB charges, for example based on the consumer base.
Although I have set out our strong support for a holistic approach to supporting households in meeting the cost of energy bills, I can commit to the House that, as part of the statutory consultation required on the revenue regulations, we will explore further the arguments for introducing such an exemption, and whether the administrative arrangements required to give effect to this would be considered proportionate and appropriate. Placing the requirement in primary legislation would prevent us giving the proper careful thought that any such proposal would properly deserve.
I thank noble Lords for their consideration of these matters, and I want them to know that their concerns have been heard. I therefore hope that, with the reassurance I have been able to provide that the Government are taking the necessary steps to deal with the concerns behind their amendments, noble Lords will feel able not to press Amendments 1, 3 and 10.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in the debate. I thank the Minister for his response. The issue of value for money, as my noble friend Lord Stunell pointed out, is a central part of the Bill. All we are asking is that the value-for-money assessments the Government rely on are published. I am pleased that the Minister said that they will be published, albeit not at the stage we would wish them to be. That is some progress at least, but it puts the slightly bizarre argument that this is not an issue for amendment in that context.
Regarding universal credit, the Minister said that it would be administratively difficult because the electricity suppliers are charged the RAB charge and would have to pass it on to consumers. It would, of course, potentially be possible for the Government to exclude the relevant amount for universal credit and other legacy benefit users. It would also be possible and open for the Government, if they wanted to, to assess whatever the RAB charge is and give that as an additional benefit to those people. But the essential issue is that we cannot put further burdens on people who are already suffering enormously with the cost of energy and cost-of-living increases. This has to be solved. I am sure it is not beyond the Minister and his colleagues, if he says that there are technical problems with putting universal credit or other legacy benefits into the Bill, to correct that when it goes back to the Commons and bring forward an amendment that they think would work.
Overall, we have to take some action to protect these very vulnerable consumers. I think we can all agree on that and I hope the House will support the amendment when we come to it. As I said to the Minister, I am grateful on the issue of value-for-money assessments. I am sorry he could not go further on the impact on consumers’ bills as a whole. We really need more transparency on that.
Finally, I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, that I am absolutely delighted by his interest in Liberal Democrat policy. Knowing his deep and clear affection for the Liberal Democrats, as shown in these debates, I am surprised that he has not already read our excellent policy paper Tackling the Climate Emergency, which sets out in comprehensive detail, as only a Liberal Democrat policy paper can, how to decarbonise the grid without the need for new nuclear. However, if by any chance he has not had the chance, I would be very happy to send it to him. With that, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 2, page 2, line 14, at end insert—
“(c) the nuclear company is not owned, wholly or in part, by a foreign power or entity listed in regulations made under section (Barring of certain foreign powers or entities from involvement in UK civil nuclear projects).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that a company may not be designated by the Secretary of State if it is owned, wholly or in part, by a foreign power or entity specified in regulations laid by the Secretary of State.
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 6 in this group.
“makes clear that a company may not be designated by the Secretary of State if it is owned, wholly or in part, by a foreign power or entity specified in regulations laid by the Secretary of State.”
In Grand Committee, my noble friend Lady Wilcox of Newport very ably, in my Covid absence, introduced two Labour amendments that would have severely restricted foreign involvement in the UK’s civil nuclear industry. During the course of that debate, she suggested that if the Government were sympathetic to the arguments but uneasy with the mechanism, they could come forward with an alternative. In responding, the Minister confirmed this. These adapted amendments following Committee take on board the considerations that we debated and, although weakening the original amendments, retain their essence.
It is with that in mind that I hope the Minister will consider Amendments 2 and 6 favourably. They now provide alternatives—rather than banning foreign involvement completely, they would require the Secretary of State to establish and maintain a list of foreign powers and entities that are barred from involvement in UK nuclear projects. This feels both proportionate and reasonable. As we see it, the list would operate in a similar manner to the financial action task force’s list of high-risk countries for money laundering, which is part of our domestic law via regularly updated SIs.
The amendments do not specify criteria for including states or entities on the list; it could be national security, but the Secretary of State could also choose to bar a company that has a questionable track record in other respects—be it a poor delivery record or safety concerns. It may be that the department wishes to bar the involvement of some individuals or entities currently subject to sanctions but who may not necessarily still be on the sanctions list at the time of a future designation.
The Minister told us in Committee that this was an interesting idea and that the department would study it closely. We are grateful that he made BEIS officials available to us for discussion on this and other topics last week, but that meeting took place just hours before the deadline for tabling government amendments, and final agreement could not be reached. The Minister knows we are supportive of the Bill, but our general support should not diminish the importance of our concerns. The feeling of colleagues in Grand Committee and in private discussions since has been that the protections under the National Security and Investment Act 2021 are not sufficient in this area. We feel that Amendments 2 and 6 offer a sensible way forward, building on a system already used by other departments—Her Majesty’s Treasury, for example—and familiar to financial and other institutions across the country.
Should the amendments be accepted, I am sure the department will be free to address any drafting deficiencies, but we on these Benches believe that this is an important point of principle and will test the opinion of the House if the Minister does not accept Amendment 2. With that, I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak to Amendments 4, 7 and 8 in this group in my name, but, before I do that, I will quickly say that I also support Amendments 2 and 6, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride. In Committee, I said I was unable to support his amendments because I felt that a blanket ban on foreign state involvement in our nuclear programme went much too far, so I am delighted that he has now found a more flexible formulation, which would enable the Secretary of State to decide who should be barred from the nuclear programme.
The amendments in my name are intended to cover a similar point, but perhaps more widely and slightly more flexibly. Last week, we spent a lot of time discussing the importance of being able to identify the ultimate beneficial owners of property in the UK. It seems to me considerably more important that we should always be certain of the identity of any party that may be able to exercise significant control over a nuclear company, either directly or indirectly, and that we should be able to take action to prevent undesirable parties, should they attempt to obtain significant control of a nuclear company. My amendments simply seek to achieve that.
As I mentioned in Committee, it was ruled out of scope when I tried to introduce an amendment that would have allowed the Secretary of State to revoke the licence of a nuclear company if an undesirable party obtained significant control. My amendments here are restricted to the designation under the Bill, but the comments I am about to make apply every bit as much to the licensing regime, and I ask the Minister to keep that in mind.
I have revised my amendments from Committee so that my three amendments now introduce a regime for designated nuclear companies that is similar to that which applies to persons with significant control of UK companies. They further give the Secretary of State the ability—not the obligation—to revoke the designation of a nuclear company either where the Secretary of State is not satisfied that the identity of a party with significant control has been verified, or if a party later obtains significant control and the Secretary of State is not satisfied that they are a fit and proper party to own or control a company.
I am very grateful to the Minister and his team for their helpful engagement on this point—again, unfortunately, just before the deadline for submitting the amendments. They have pointed me towards the National Security and Investment Act 2021—the NSI Act—as providing the protections that I am seeking and, to an extent, they are right. But there remain important gaps, and I want to raise them and hear what the Minister thinks.
First, the NSI Act comes into play only if there is a notifiable transaction, so it does not apply at the point when a nuclear company is applying to be designated. It seems to me important that we designate companies only where we are satisfied that we know the identity of all parties that might have significant control, so Amendment 4 adds a new condition that the Secretary of State is satisfied that the identity of any party with significant control has been verified.
I am sure the Minister will tell us that the Government will of course carry out this verification as part of their due diligence—he is nodding—before a designation is granted. If the Government intend to carry out this step anyway, why not accept the amendment? Secondly, it is, sadly, not uncommon for due diligence not to be completed as thoroughly as we might like—1 am sure we can all think of examples of that. The amendment would not add any burden to the Government, but it would ensure that this critical verification step must be included in the due diligence, so why not accept it?
There is another reason. If the due diligence failed to identify such a party for some reason, without Amendments 4 and 7 taken together there would be no mechanism in the Bill to remedy the situation after the designation had been granted. The NSI Act would not apply, because no qualifying transaction would have taken place. So we would be stuck with a party that we had not verified, which cannot be right.
The next problem with relying on the NSI Act is that the first remedy under the Act is that, if a notifiable transaction takes place without authorisation, it is void. But that can apply only to UK companies. If, for example, a nuclear company has a 51% shareholder that is a Japanese company, and a Chinese company later takes a stake in that Japanese company, there is no way we can void that transaction, regardless of what the NSI Act says.
In such a case, the Secretary of State can call in the transaction and, following an investigation, make an order. That order can require a
“person, to do, or not to do, particular things”.
In such a situation, I do not think the Secretary of State can actually revoke either a licence or a designation. While the Secretary of State can impose restrictions on the use of the licence or designation, the nuclear company would retain that licence or designation. I am not totally sure about that—the NSI Act, frankly, is not as clear as it could be in that respect—so perhaps the Minister could confirm whether I am right. If I am, does the Minister agree that having the ability to revoke a licence or designation would be a simple and powerful remedy that ought to be in the Secretary of State’s armoury? That is what Amendment 8 tries to do: to strengthen the hand of the Secretary of State, if they are not satisfied that a person with significant control is a fit and proper person to own or control a UK nuclear company.
The clue to the final problem about relying on the National Security and Investment Act is in its name: it can be used to intervene only in situations where a risk to national security arises. That is obviously critical, but it is easy to think of many other situations that do not amount to a national security risk, but where we might not consider such a person to be a fit and proper person to obtain significant control. I can give a few examples: a company with a poor safety record, a poor environmental record, a poor record of employment practices, with a previous criminal record or with commercial conflicts of interest with the nuclear company. Would we want any of these companies to obtain significant control of a nuclear company? Clearly not, but there is nothing in the NSI Act or this Bill that would stop it happening. Does the Minister agree and how do the Government intend to deal with such situations if they arise?
I am not going to divide the House on these amendments, primarily because, as I said before, their scope has had to be limited just to the designation process, so they would have a limited impact anyway. But transparency around the ownership and control of key assets has rightly become a real area of concern recently, for obvious reasons. I hope I have demonstrated that there are real gaps in our current ability to know who might hold or obtain significant control over a licensed nuclear company. Relying primarily on the NSI Act for our protection against undesirable parties becoming involved in our nuclear industry also leaves substantial gaps, especially in what action we are able to take where it is not clear cut whether this is a national security risk.
I hope the Minister can confirm that the Government will take a close look at this and carefully consider whether there is anything we should do to close these gaps, particularly by looking at the circumstances in which we might wish to have the ability to revoke a nuclear generation licence.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, tabled an amendment similar to Amendment 2 in Committee. The Minister could not accept it because it appeared to rule out EDF as an investor in Hinkley Point C or Sizewell. It also attempted to restrict sourcing of nuclear fuel to domestic producers, which the noble Lord has dropped from his revised amendment. My noble friend explained that the Government do not support investment in our critical infrastructure at the expense of national security, which was good to hear. I ask the Minister to tell your Lordships what progress the Government have made on replacing proposed Chinese investment in Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C.
Amendment 2 is an improvement on the version debated in Committee, but the link to Amendment 6 requires the Secretary of State to establish a list of foreign powers or entities that are barred from involvement in the UK’s civil nuclear sector. Amendment 2 covers nuclear companies owned wholly or in part by a power or entity included on this list, but ownership in part could mean just one share. Surely this amendment should restrict only significant shareholdings; perhaps 5% would be an appropriate trigger.
Furthermore, the requirement on the Secretary of State imposed by Amendment 6 would clearly be massively burdensome, if not impossible. It is quite adequate that the Secretary of State should deal with each application separately and assess the shareholders at the time of application.
I said in Committee that I was inclined to support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, who has experience in these matters and always takes a well-considered view. He has persisted in seeking more safeguards in the Bill by bringing back his amendments, but now aligned with the generally accepted definition of “persons of significant control” of UK companies. Those are usually persons holding more than 25% of the shares in a company or having the right to appoint a majority of the board of directors.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, is also surely right in his purpose in tabling Amendments 7 and 8 that designated nuclear companies should promptly notify the Secretary of State of any change in persons of significant control. However, I am not sure that it is necessary to state this explicitly in the Bill, and there could well be cases where the Government welcome changes in the shareholding structure of nuclear companies. As my noble friend explained to your Lordships in Committee, the Secretary of State may attach any conditions he deems appropriate to the designation of a nuclear company, and I believe that this will give him the flexibility to make whatever stipulations he needs to with regard to the balance of shareholdings in such a company.
The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, made some further good points today, although I must say that I consider his suggestion that a Chinese company might take a 51% stake in a Japanese company to be very unlikely, based on my experience of working in the Japanese stock exchange. Nevertheless, I look forward to the Minister’s reply to those points.
My Lords, this group addresses the foreign ownership and transparency issues which we have just heard about, and it includes the amendment in my name and that my noble friend Lord Stunell, on transparency issues.
I very much support the compelling arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and I hope that the Minister will be able to address them. I was also pleased in Committee to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. He has brought back one that addresses the concerns that were raised in Committee, and he will certainly have the support of the Liberal Democrats. I think it fair to say that Peers on all sides of the House are concerned about the foreign ownership issue, so I hope the Minister can give us some comfort on this. However, if he cannot accept the amendment and if the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, chooses to divide the House, he will have our support.
Amendment 9, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stunell, deals with transparency. As drafted, Clause 13(2)(a) allows the Secretary of State to withhold any material which they believe would
“prejudice the commercial interests of any person”.
As I said in Committee, this is an enormously wide loophole which does not take any account of the degree of prejudice to the public interest of withholding that disclosure. Surely it is only proper in order to ensure effective public scrutiny that Ministers are not able to hide information behind claims of prejudice to commercial interests through wide loopholes such as this. These projects are being funded by the public and they have the right to know all relevant material, except in exceptional circumstances.
We already know how reluctant the Government and their agencies are to provide information on costs which is overwhelmingly in the public interest, but it goes wider than that. I note that in a reply to a Written Question from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about meetings between Ministers and the China General Nuclear Power Group, the response was that no minutes were kept of that meeting. I am not clear whether that is within the Ministerial Code, but it goes to show that there is a reluctance to share information here.
The record of transparency in nuclear affairs is poor. This amendment would require the Secretary of State, if he withholds information, to make it clear that it was seriously prejudicial to commercial interest and to set out to Parliament his reasons for withholding it. I hope that the Minister can address those issues in his response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debates. As all the amendments in this group, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord McNicol, Lord Vaux, Lord Oates and Lord Stunell, are linked, I will address them together.
I start with those tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. As the noble Lord has described, the amendments seek to create an obligation for the Secretary of State to bring forward a list of foreign powers and entities that should not be allowed to invest in nuclear projects, and to use this as the basis for a new designation criteria under the Bill. I appreciate the sentiment behind the amendment but, as the noble Lord will understand, I cannot agree to it for a number of reasons. The amendment is too broad; it does not specify the range of companies that it could cover or the reasons that a foreign power or entity could be included on a list, and the excluded activities are extremely wide—all participation in all projects. This is an extremely broad-brush approach which could severely affect our ability to bring in finance and to deliver new nuclear projects. We would expect the amendment to have a chilling effect on investment, ultimately leading to a higher cost for consumers.
In addition, I am concerned about the further impacts of the amendment. In the noble Lord’s explanation of the amendment, he mentions that the list should act
“in a similar way to the Financial Action Task Force’s list of high-risk countries.”
However, the main focus of that list is to encourage enhanced due diligence in respect of these countries, rather than to provide an outright ban as this amendment seeks to do.
There is also an inconsistency between the amendment to Clause 2 and the proposed new insertion after Clause 3. While Clause 2 is targeted at preventing listed entities from having full or partial ownership of a nuclear company under the RAB model, the proposed new clause discusses barring entities’ involvement in the whole civil nuclear sector. If this wider approach were taken, it could limit our options for international co-operation on this sensitive issue, including obtaining technical advice.
By highlighting these problems, I do not suggest that I disagree with the sentiments behind the amendments. Indeed, as the noble Lord will know from the numerous discussions that I have had with him, the Government know that the protection of our national security must be the top priority. The Government already have strong oversight of foreign ownership in nuclear projects as a result of the NSI Act 2021, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, reminded us, which includes the ability to call in for assessment any qualifying acquisition if the Secretary of State reasonably suspects that it may give rise to national security concerns.
Importantly, certain acquisitions of entities operating in the civil nuclear sector require mandatory notification and clearance before the acquisition can be completed. This is set out in Schedule 4 to the notifiable acquisition regulations made under the Act, which specifically include entities which hold, or are in the process of applying for, a nuclear site licence or development consent under the Planning Act 2008 in relation to a nuclear reactor.
To provide an illustrative example, this means that if a new entity wanted to acquire over 25% of the shares in a nuclear project company, this would have to be notified to the Secretary of State and could not be completed until, or if, the Secretary of State agreed it. Indeed, the Secretary of State could require that the transaction was not progressed, assuming the relevant tests in the Act were satisfied. If the acquisition was completed without first being approved by the Secretary of State, or in breach of an order from the Secretary of State, it would be void and not legally effective.
Beyond the NSI Act, the Secretary of State can also apply conditions as deemed appropriate to the designation of a nuclear company—conditions which if not met may lead to the company having its designation revoked. We are committing today that, as a condition of a nuclear company being designated under the legislation, the Government will have a right to take a special share in the company being designated and any of its group companies that the Government consider appropriate. We would expect a Secretary of State to make this a condition of designation wherever this is felt to be relevant and necessary.
While the exact rights to be included in such an arrangement would be developed in parallel to negotiations with a prospective RAB company, a special share could provide a variety of rights that would allow the Government to safeguard the UK’s national security and related objectives. For example, this could include—complementary to the NSI Act but tailored to the unique nature of nuclear—the ability for the Secretary of State to scrutinise investment above a specified threshold and to take any appropriate action in the light of this.
I turn now to Amendments 4, 7 and 8 laid by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux. These amendments also seek to add an additional designation criteria with the effect that the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the identity of any person with a specified degree of control over the nuclear company is verified. They also seek to ensure that any changes in ownership are notified to the Secretary of State.
I welcome the noble Lord’s attention on this subject. We met earlier in the week to discuss this and I believe that, since then, officials have provided the noble Lord with further information. The points he makes both in his amendment and his speech are good ones. However, we believe that the most appropriate place for many of these issues to be resolved is through the commercial processes and negotiations around a proposed nuclear project. For example, if considered appropriate, there would be opportunities to include conditions to a designation as the Secretary of State feels appropriate, at both the designation and licence modification stages of the process. The right to take a special share, which I earlier stated would be a condition of designation, could also potentially be used to address all the issues that the noble Lord has raised.
I repeat the assurances I gave the noble Lord during our meeting. At the point of designation, which is only one step in a process towards a project benefitting from the RAB model, we would expect to have very good visibility of those who have control over the nuclear company. As part of the due diligence around a project the Government will seek to identify those with control of the relevant project company.
When making modifications to a designated nuclear company’s generation licence to implement the RAB model, we would also expect our commercial engagement and due diligence to include scrutiny of prospective shareholders in the nuclear company. For example, we may expect to include conditions in the nuclear company’s modified licence which would require the company to declare details of its shareholders. This would aim to provide the Government with sufficient transparency on who has ownership of a RAB project company.
As I have already set out, the right to a special share could also be used to provide the Government with rights to scrutinise ownership of the company, even after the point of designation, if any new information came to light.
Amendment 8 seeks to deal with changes in control. Again, I reassure the noble Lord that the NSI Act already provides the Secretary of State with powers largely equivalent to those that the amendment would provide. The amendment even uses a 25% threshold, which reflects one of the thresholds in Section 8 of the NSI Act. Let me make it clear to the noble Lord that, like all previous Governments, we deliberately have not defined what national security is within the Act. It is up to the Secretary of State or whichever other Minister he designates to determine the precise nature of national security.
The NSI Act has been designed to account for the full range of potential ownership structures and includes provisions covering interests which are held indirectly through a chain of other entities. The Act also allows the Secretary of State to call in acquisitions of control, even when mandatory notification requirements are not triggered, provided that the relevant conditions in the legislation have been satisfied.
I understand that the noble Lord wants to ensure that the Secretary of State has the power to revoke a nuclear company’s designation in this context. The Bill includes the power to revoke when the designation criteria are no longer met. A designation may also automatically lapse if conditions attached to it are not complied with. Given the powers we have to stop transactions under the NSI Act, we do not require an additional power for the Secretary of State to revoke a designation in relation to acquisitions of ownership in the nuclear company.
Finally, Amendment 9, laid by the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Stunell, is an altered version of an amendment previously laid on Report. I see that the amendment now focuses more on the exclusion of commercially sensitive information. I again stress that this amendment is unnecessary. As currently drafted, Clause 13 is drawn narrowly so as to allow for the legitimate exclusion of commercially sensitive information. It is the same wording as deployed in similar provisions in the NSI Act, which has functioned well since its introduction. I therefore do not believe that the amendment addresses any genuine issues. Indeed, as I made clear in Committee, the addition of “seriously”, given that this term has no clear definition in this context, would potentially add significant uncertainty. This ambiguity about whether their legitimate commercial interests would be respected would seriously damage investors’ confidence and make it less likely that they would become involved in projects.
I also note that the Government have already obligated themselves through the legislation to publish the reasons for the designation of a nuclear company in the relevant designation notice, as well as any material that is required to be published under Part 1 of the Bill. A large part of the amendment is therefore duplicative of existing requirements under the Bill.
With the information I have been able to provide and the necessary reassurances I have given that the Government already have in place the necessary powers and mechanisms to deal with those concerns, I hope the noble Lords will feel able not to press their amendments.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his detailed response to these amendments and to the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, who ably introduced his amendments and made many powerful arguments in their favour. I appreciate the sentiment and tone of the Minister’s response. It is unusual to hear a Minister not taking up the powers that we are looking to give the Secretary of State and being constrained. In the world that we live in today, and given the importance of the civil nuclear sector, we think that these amendments—the Secretary of State having this power—is so important.
The Minister is right—this is about due diligence—but I think he is wrong when he talks about an outright ban. That would come in on an entity or designated organisation only if the Secretary of State wished it. It would come to Parliament only if it was recommended by the Secretary of State. Amendments 2 and 6 as written give that power to the Secretary of State.
I am also very pleased to hear about the special share. It was in one of the amendments that we laid in Committee, and we fully support moving forward with Sizewell and the Government taking a special share. We would love it to be retrospective as well, for Hinkley, but we understand the difficulties with doing that.
We on these Benches fundamentally believe that Amendment 2 and, consequentially, Amendment 6 set important principles, so notwithstanding the Minister’s response I would like to test the opinion of the House with regard to Amendment 2 and, consequentially, Amendment 6.
Amendments 3 and 4 not moved.
Clause 3: Designation: procedure
5: Clause 3, page 3, line 8, at end insert—
“(5A) Where conditions are imposed under subsection (5)(c), these may include duties on the nuclear company to—(a) collect data relating to the quantity and value of domestically produced goods and fuel utilised during the construction and operation of the nuclear project, and(b) make such data available to the Secretary of State to publish in a manner, and at a frequency, that the Secretary of State deems appropriate.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would allow the Secretary of State to compel a nuclear company to collect data relating to domestically produced goods and fuel, with such data to be shared with (and published by) the Secretary of State.
My Lords, I am sure this group will be very brief. Amendment 5 does exactly what it says: it instructs
“the Secretary of State to compel a nuclear company to collect data relating to domestically produced goods and fuel, with such data to be shared with (and published by) the Secretary of State.”
When tabled in Committee, this amendment was far broader and wider, but I have edited it down in the hope that the Minister will accept it. If it is not technically quite right, we could bring back some wording for Third Reading. We believe the actions required would not be onerous on industry, as much of the data already exists within its procurement process.
The reasons for tabling this amendment are twofold. First, as was said in relation to amendments in the previous group, in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Vaux and Lord Oates, the nuclear industry is a highly sensitive one. Parliament and the Secretary of State knowing where the component parts originate is just a sensible approach. With the war in Ukraine and problems with Russia, China and other nations, being clear on where goods and component parts originate makes good sense.
Secondly, we are unashamedly in favour of government, Parliament and the Secretary of State supporting the development and promotion of British goods, skills and jobs. To do that and to invest in relevant areas, it helps—and they should be required—to know what is and is not domestically produced, and thus where the gaps are.
We have just completed Report on the Subsidy Control Bill, which replaces the historic EU state aid scheme. If implemented well and properly by devolved authorities, local authorities and national government, the Bill will assist in the direction of subsidies to help the UK industry. With those few words, I beg to move Amendment 5.
My Lords, I rise briefly to speak in support of Amendment 5 and particularly to pick up an aspect of it that we did not really discuss in Committee. It was brought to my attention by a foreign visitor. If we are talking about the source of the fuel, it is not just about whether the fuel going into the reactor is manufactured in the UK but where the raw material, the uranium, comes from. As the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, just said, there are issues of security here, as well as issues of human rights et cetera. Looking down the list of the world’s top uranium producers, Kazakhstan is number one and Russia, China—according to an estimated figure—and Ukraine are also in the top 10. I have been trying to establish what the current situation is—perhaps the Minister will tell me, or write to me later—about our current fuel and the origin of the supplies, but it is important in the context of this amendment that we consider that.
I thank the noble Lord for his continued and constructive engagement with the Bill. I state clearly to him and to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that I share the ambition to maximise the opportunities for UK industry in the nuclear supply chain. We are taking steps actively to support and develop the UK nuclear supply chain, including our world-leading nuclear fuel industry, which the recent spending review confirmed will be supported up to £75 million to preserve and develop the UK’s nuclear fuel production capability. We expect developers to play their part in this, supporting UK businesses to compete for opportunities in new projects, and to share their plans with government. For example, EDF has set out that, if the Sizewell C project is approved, it will aim to place 70% of construction contracts with UK companies—up from 64% at Hinkley Point C—and has engaged with the department on its plans for the plant’s supply chains.
For those projects that proceed to construction and operation, we expect that data on their supply chains, including what opportunities are being won by UK businesses, will continue to be shared with the department. Specifying that a nuclear company must use UK nuclear fuel would create a significant risk of putting the UK in breach of its obligations under the TCA, and potentially also of our obligations under the WTO and other international agreements—but we do expect developers to be transparent with the public about UK content in their effective supply chains during construction, as EDF has been with the Hinkley Point C project. We will support developers to make this information public where it does not prejudice commercial interests.
We believe that the matter is best taken forward through negotiations on new projects seeking the support of a RAB funding model and ongoing partnership working with the sector. Therefore, I do not believe that it is appropriate to accept the noble Lord’s amendment today. However, I accept the spirit in which the amendment was tabled, and I hope that I have given some assurance that we will actively aim to maximise the opportunities for UK companies as we deliver on our ambitions for nuclear power. As for the specific question from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, I need to check with my officials to make sure that that can be divulged and, if it can, I will write to her after this stage of the Bill. In the meantime, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for her response and for her assurances. It is good to hear that the information on where the products come from is shared with the department. We were hoping that it could be shared more widely and publicly to help promote our industries. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Amendment 6 not moved.
Clause 5: Revocation or lapse of designation
Amendment 7 not moved.
Amendment 8 not moved.
Clause 13: Sensitive material
Amendment 9 not moved.
Clause 19: Supplier obligation
10: Clause 19, page 16, line 12, at end insert—
“(4A) Revenue regulations must make provision to prevent electricity suppliers from recovering the costs of paying a revenue collection counterparty from customers claiming Universal Credit, or any legacy benefits specified in the regulations.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would mean that electricity bill payers who qualify for Universal Credit, or certain legacy benefits, would not be liable for levies on their bills that pay into the RAB revenue collection fund.
My Lords, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
11: Clause 31, page 23, line 22, at end insert—
“(3A) Nothing in this Part prevents the Secretary of State establishing a Government-owned company into which the assets, liabilities and undertakings of the relevant licensee nuclear company may be transferred in order to allow electricity supply to be commenced or continued.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that nothing in Part 3 of the Bill (the special administration regime) prevents the Secretary of State from taking a project into public ownership, where that would allow electricity supply to be commenced or continued.
My Lords, Amendment 11 would require the Secretary of State to undertake an assessment of the case for establishing a state-owned entity to take over the delivery and operation of a nuclear project in the event that a nuclear company fails and cannot be saved or have its assets transferred:
“This amendment makes clear that nothing in Part 3 of the Bill (the special administration regime) prevents the Secretary of State from taking a project into public ownership, where that would allow electricity supply to be commenced or continued.”
The ultimate aim of the Bill is to get power generated and distributed to homes and businesses across the country. We hope that firms will not fail, but if they do, there needs to be a clear process to ensure that plants are able to be built or continue to operate. I am sure the Minister will argue, as he did in Committee, that the special administration regime does this, but there is still potential for steps that may be needed, and surely, options should be defined in legislation now, rather than waiting until the worst should happen.
Amendment 12, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, is fundamental to how nuclear energy is seen in the green mix. The Prime Minister has made this argument in favour of the wording within this amendment: I realise that we on these Benches do not often call for the Prime Minister’s words to be turned into law, but in this case we do. In fact, the government briefing and policy background to this Bill states, in paragraph 2:
“The Government has made high-level commitments to eliminate its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. This includes the passage of legislation that requires the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, as well as subsequent commitments to reduce carbon emissions by 78% and to decarbonise the electricity system by 2035.”
That is all commendable. It goes on:
“This will require rapid, significant changes in the energy sector: total UK electricity supply will need to double by 2050 and electricity from low-carbon sources will need to quadruple, in order to deliver the UK’s commitment to become a Net Zero emissions economy by that year.”
This is the important bit; it goes on, in paragraph 3:
“A key part of this will be to secure the transition to a clean electricity system that is reliable and affordable for energy consumers. This will require a substantial deployment of renewable technologies, alongside technologies such as nuclear which can provide energy to consumers when the wind is not blowing or the sun does not shine.”
Finally, paragraph 4 says:
“Large scale nuclear power plants are the only proven technology available today to provide continuous, reliable and low carbon electricity.”
I think the Government’s words speak for themselves, and I am happy to support the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, in his amendment. With that, I beg to move my Amendment 11.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 12 in my name. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for highlighting this issue to me and for working with me to develop this amendment. I also declare my interest as a project director and engineer in the nuclear industry working for Atkins. I apologise to noble Lords for not being able to be present in Grand Committee and thank the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for his support with the amendment too.
This is a probing amendment designed to highlight a key issue with the way that nuclear projects under the RAB model under the provisions of the Bill are to be financed. The RAB will change the dynamics of capital rates for new nuclear projects by allowing pension funds and other institutional investors to fund large nuclear projects. There are three aspects relating to financing of new nuclear that need to be highlighted here.
First, the focus of Amendment 12 is that investors are constrained by ESG criteria that apply to their funds, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to earlier. The Government are due to consult on a UK green taxonomy this year, with a target to legislate by the end of the year. Our concern is that nuclear will not be considered sustainable or taxonomy aligned under this scheme. This concern comes from previous positions on nuclear and similar EU schemes, and that the Treasury did not include nuclear within its recent green financing framework.
This all comes back to technology independence. Nuclear is a low-carbon technology, along with many other low-carbon technologies, and the Government should not be picking winners in the race to net zero but enabling a level playing field. If nuclear is not considered as taxonomy aligned under the UK green taxonomy, there is a real risk that Sizewell C will not be viable under the RAB model. ESG alignment is now a key factor in capital raises for pension funds and institutional investors. In this case, a large non-ESG technology simply may not be able to attract capital in a sufficient quantity. I would be most grateful if the Minister could provide some assurance that nuclear will be considered as taxonomy aligned under the UK green taxonomy.
Secondly, I referred earlier to the UK Government Green Financing Framework, which describes how the UK Government plan to finance expenditures through the issuance of green gilts and the retail green savings bond. Currently, this excludes investment in nuclear, but again I urge the Government to reconsider. The Government need to take the lead here in defining what counts as sustainable within their frameworks. This is so important in leading the markets in the right direction and in allowing these schemes to finance future government investment in nuclear.
Thirdly, Solvency II rules govern the amount of illiquid assets which can be held by pension funds and insurance companies. This is another factor which could limit the ability of these market participants to invest in nuclear projects under the RAB model. Given that I understand the EU is undertaking reform in this area, can the Minister say what plans there are to reform Solvency II for the UK to ensure that sufficient capital is available to invest in infrastructure such as nuclear projects under the RAB model?
I note that these proposals on finance for nuclear are one of the five steps needed to make nuclear happen outlined last week by the APPG on Nuclear Energy, of which I am a vice-chair. Having the RAB model in place will be a huge step forward for the industry and is the key that will unlock nuclear new builds. The Government need to consider some more enabling steps within this model to ensure the market is able to provide the required capital and move these critical projects for our future energy system forward.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and Amendment 12, which is also in my name. It has been a pleasure to work with him again. I will be brief but, I hope, compelling.
One month has changed the world, and we have found ourselves in an unparalleled period of energy price volatility. The West has realised the dangers of relying on Russia for energy. Energy security is now an even greater priority. This is a sad but welcome change. Energy security has been a major concern of mine since I served as an Energy Minister in 2016 and appreciated the risks inherent in our energy policies of that time, both in terms of keeping the lights on and of inflation when things go wrong. I ploughed a lonely furrow at that time.
We need nuclear investment to replace our ageing fleet and to deal with the ups and downs of solar and wind power, as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, mentioned in relation to Amendment 1. I was also delighted and amused to listen to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride, on the Prime Minister —we often agree across the divide. We need this investment fast, and we need several investments in large reactors and in small modular reactors. Nuclear power stations are long-lasting and, like renewables, have very low carbon emissions, and are therefore helpful in reaching net zero.
This welcome Bill edges things forward, but there is a problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, has highlighted. We need to find investors in new British nuclear installations, to replace the Chinese investment planned at Sizewell, and to attract investment from elsewhere. However—and here is the rub—the conventions on ESG and climate-friendly investments do not allow nuclear to count as green. With so much investment from the City and elsewhere now being directed at green options, this is a real risk to our nuclear ambitions. The rules ought to be changed and we must change them today.
Amendment 12 is a modest but important one. I look forward to a firm promise on green taxonomy from my noble friend the Minister, who is doing so much to make the nuclear revival a reality.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly to Amendments 11 and 12, and chiefly to Amendments 13 and 14 in my name.
On Amendment 11, the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, perhaps predictably, stole the line I was going to use, so I will just note how this amendment demonstrates the practical reality that the state always ends up the last guarantor—the structure having to pick up the pieces. In so many areas of our economy we have privatised the profits and socialised the costs. This is a reminder that that is ultimately what always has to happen, but it is important that it is in the Bill.
On Amendment 12, it is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and I can agree on this. The whole question of whether nuclear can be included in the UK green taxonomy is something that I am sure we will continue to debate on another day, just as I will continue to debate with the Minister about intermittency. However, being aware of the time on a Thursday afternoon, I will spare everyone by not venturing in that direction.
My Amendments 13 and 14 would prevent financing being made available to nuclear companies until a plan exists for the safe treatment and disposal of the nuclear waste generated. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, suggested that this was a “wrecking amendment”. I would say that it is a precautionary amendment. You do not start something until you know how you will finish it off. That is how we think about our existing and previous nuclear plants: given the huge decommissioning costs that our society is bearing today, we wish that people in the past had applied that principle, but they did not. They did not think about what would happen with decommissioning, and now we bear the costs.
In Committee, the Minister referred to the Energy Act 2008 and its legal requirement that all proposed new nuclear power stations have in place a decommissioning plan, approved by the Secretary of State, before any nuclear-related construction can commence on site. I put it to the Minister—whose comments I am interested to hear—that decommissioning surely must include dealing with the waste. This includes higher-level waste which, as the Minister said in Committee, is the waste which has to be “treated and stored safely” until there is a geological disposal facility available.
We had a considerable discussion about geological disposal facilities in Committee. There, the Minister spoke—and then wrote to me—about the three proposed sites in Cumbria and the one in Lincolnshire. I said extensively in Committee, and I will not repeat it now, just how resistant Cumbria was the last time there was an attempt to put a geological disposal facility there. I have seen no reason to think that there will not be the same reaction this time as there was last time.
It is interesting to look at what has happened at Theddlethorpe, in Lincolnshire. There is a really valuable local report from Lincolnshire Live, which reminds us of the importance of local media in helping people to know what is happening—as an aside, it is tragic that so much of that has been lost. The report, apparently quoting the Nuclear Waste Services, says that
“people would have the final say … in a binding referendum”
before a geological disposal facility goes ahead. So it appears that the people will be given the right to decide.
What timeframe do we have here? The Nuclear Waste Services people say that the feasibility studies which have just started now will take two to three years to complete. After that, if it passes that two or three-year process, we will start drilling more holes to seriously look at the geology. The Nuclear Waste Services is attributed as saying that the “first trainloads of waste” would not roll out
“until the 2040s at the earliest”.
I come back to the requirement under the Energy Act 2008. If we do not have a plan for decommissioning, which must involve geological disposal facilities, and if this is something which is going to take a decade or more, how can we possibly go forward? What we are talking about here is putting the money in. How can we do that without, as it would appear, a legal route forward?
I feel that I should probably say at this point that I am aware of the time on a Thursday afternoon. For anyone who is thinking about their train, I have no intention of moving these amendments this afternoon—for the avoidance of doubt. I am well aware of the position of the largest opposition party, so I know where that vote would end up. However, this is an issue which needs a great deal more exploration and discussion, very clear timelines and an understanding that, if we must have a binding referendum before we have a geological disposal facility, this will be a pretty remote prospect.
My Lords, I support Amendment 12 from the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, because I am really quite keen to know what the Government’s thinking is on this fascinating and key issue.
First, can they tell us what is going on in Brussels, in the European Commission, where there is a great debate about this very subject? Furthermore, can we get some good information about where German official minds are turning on this issue? As we know, there is a thought going around that Germany, and indeed Switzerland as well—I have been talking to the Swiss and they have confirmed this—are going to delay further closure of their nuclear power which they had turned against. Austria is also following them. Now, as members of the EU, they are all discussing whether in fact the status of investment in future nuclear should be changed in this—to me—desirable way: ESG qualified. There is a very interesting and important matter to be clarified here, and it would be good to hear what the Government are thinking.
Secondly, the whole situation reminds us that the gigantic energy transformation which is being attempted across the planet—to decarbonise energy completely—is an entirely international and global issue. It is a vast undertaking. In fact, it is much bigger than the scale of the Industrial Revolution. It is the biggest change, after 200 years of embedded fossil fuels, not only in the energy industry but in the entire social and industrial structure of countless countries. We are moving on to an entirely new situation, and clearly the status of investment, and the taxonomy concerned in investing huge sums of money through the capitalist system, is absolutely central to this.
Thirdly, I see the worries of the past; the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, put them graphically. There was terrible negligence and things were overlooked—things were just not understood—but now we are on the verge of an entirely new generation of technology in the nuclear industry. We are on the verge of entirely new approaches to the size of the machines, equipment and investment undertaken. We are on the verge of a wholly new approach to the handling of radioactive substances, minimising it, if possible, to the point of near-total safety. We are on the verge of an entirely new pattern of operations in the production and development of this industry. After years of lagging behind, we in this country, on this island, must move back to the forefront in this new area.
To my mind, the questions of the taxonomy, qualification for ESG and whether we regard the new nuclear generation as part of the green transformation are completely central. In fact, they will determine whether that green transformation happens at all.
My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendment 12 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. I will not detain the House for too long.
The question of whether nuclear should be classed as a green investment and therefore within the taxonomy should not be in doubt in any way. The reason it is even discussed is that the European Union turned it into a highly political question and ignored the advice of its own research agency, the Joint Research Centre, which was commissioned to assess whether nuclear should be considered sustainable and therefore be included. It unequivocally found that it should but, for political reasons—mostly centring on Austria’s vehement objection and the politics of Germany—this issue has been dragged out and treated separately, alongside another controversial aspect of the EU taxonomy: whether natural gas should be considered a green investment. To my mind, this was entirely regrettable and could have been avoided.
Since we have left the European Union, we have the good fortune of being able to set the record straight and make it absolutely clear that nuclear should be considered sustainable and green, and should therefore be included in our green finance definitions and the taxonomy. I look forward to the Government and the Treasury confirming as such, because to do anything else would be a great shame and would fly in the face of science. If anyone has had the pleasure of going through a pension screening survey to assess the greenness of their investments, they will note that, in many cases, nuclear is still listed alongside arms trading and pornography; this is a hangover from a different era and needs updating. I look forward to the UK setting the record straight and therefore sending a strong signal to other countries and the European Union.
I will not go into Amendment 14; my view on whether it is the right way to approach the waste issue was clear in Committee. It is a serious issue but we should not overexaggerate it in any way just to achieve the slowing down of this investment.
My Lords, I wish to speak in support of Amendment 12, ably proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. I tried to put my name to it on Tuesday but, because the Marshalled List was printed on Tuesday, it does not appear.
I do not think I need to repeat the arguments that have already been explained, but I want to ask the Minister how quickly the Government can take action to correct the situation in which nuclear projects are excluded from green financing. It was surprising and deeply disappointing that when the Treasury published the UK Government Green Financing Framework in June last year, nuclear projects were specifically excluded. Page 18 of the document states:
“Recognising that many sustainable investors have exclusionary criteria in place around nuclear energy, the UK Government will not finance any nuclear energy-related expenditures under the Framework.”
Does my noble friend not agree that this exclusion sent entirely the wrong signal to the market? The whole point is that “sustainable investors”, as the paper describes them, take their lead from the Government, which influences their ESG policies. Is it not now a matter of some urgency to withdraw this framework and replace it with one that rightly includes nuclear so that this damaging market distortion is removed?
Even the EU, despite continuing opposition from Germany, introduced a Complementary Climate Delegated Act on 2 February. The objective of the EU taxonomy is to step up the transition away from fossil fuels by drawing on all possible solutions to help the union reach its climate goals. The Commission has acknowledged that there is a role for private investment in gas and nuclear activities in the transition. It still does not acknowledge a continuing significant role for nuclear in a climate-neutral future, which it still maintains will be mostly based on renewable energy sources. The technical screening criteria contained in the EU delegated Act and the equivalent regulation referred to in the amendment are still concerned with transition to net zero rather than what is at least as important: to secure the continued supply of energy and electricity that rely on reliable sources of firm baseload power, such as nuclear, which are not dependent on whether the sun shines or the wind blows.
As for Amendments 13 and 14, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, exaggerates the nuclear waste issue. My noble friend Lady Bloomfield explained in Committee that the Energy Act 2008 already requires nuclear projects to have in place a funded decommissioning programme. Besides this, as your Lordships are aware, progress is being made in identifying suitable sites for geological disposal facilities.
I remind the noble Baroness that all the used nuclear fuel ever produced in the world since the 1950s would fit into one football pitch to the height of approximately 10 yards, so I do not think the trains she talked about will have very many wagons. Has she ever expressed any concern about the massive costs and energy requirement that will be incurred in disposing of millions of wind turbines and solar panels when they reach the end of their operational lives? Furthermore, France and some other countries reprocess and recycle nuclear fuel, which can make it even more productive. Some advanced reactor technologies are designed to run on used fuel. Happily, the noble Baroness has said she will not move her Amendments 13 and 14, which is good news, but if she had I would have voted against them.
My Lords, I am happy to give Amendment 11, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, the support of these Benches. It is particularly important given the failures of the early cost recovery model in the United States. Whatever one’s view of nuclear energy, we really do not want to end up spending more than $20 billion, like they did, and getting no new nuclear plants at all. South Carolina in particular spent $9 billion before Westinghouse went bankrupt. If we are to go ahead with this, we certainly need to ensure that it delivers something at the end of it.
On Amendment 12, I will not go into the detailed debate about the taxonomy issue. The one thing I will say, in the context of the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, is that whether or not nuclear is regarded as a sustainable means of producing energy, it is certainly not clean. It produces significant amounts of waste that have to be dealt with. Nearly 70 years after our first nuclear plant came online, there has been a scandalous failure to provide a permanent solution. We heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that discussions are ongoing about the geological disposal facility. I am sure we will hear more from the Minister on that. This has been going on for years and years and there is no permanent solution.
I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, is not going to move her amendments. We certainly discussed this in some detail in Committee so I will not dwell on it further, but the nuclear industry’s failure to take its responsibilities seriously in this way is notable. Indeed, until the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority was set up there was no national plan to deal with waste at all. It has done a great job trying to quantify the level of the situation—of course, we have seen bills and disposal costs go up and up year on year—but it is a really important point and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing her amendments to the attention of the House.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to what will hopefully be the final grouping on this Bill. I thank all the hardy souls who have lasted throughout the Committee and Report stages to get to this final stage.
Let me start with Amendment Neville—you can tell it is the final stage; the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, is what I should have said. Why did I say that? In my mind, they sounded the same: Lord McNicol and Amendment 11.
Let me state to the noble Lord that I share his ambition to maximise the chances that a nuclear RAB project will commence or continue generation in the unlikely event of an insolvency, therefore preventing sunk consumer costs. It is for this very reason that we have introduced a special administration regime for nuclear RAB projects, with the aim of ensuring that consumers reap the benefits of the low-carbon electricity generated from a nuclear power station which they helped to build. In light of Amendment 11, I consider that it would be helpful to provide the noble Lord with a clear explanation as to the exit routes available to a special administrator under this legislation, and how these would not impinge on the ability to bring a nuclear power station under public control, if that is in the best interests of consumers and taxpayers.
Let me first reaffirm that special administration is a court-administered process and a nuclear administrator would be an officer of the court. It is the nuclear administrator, under the supervision of the court, who would be tasked with exploring all viable options for ensuring that the objectives of the administration are met. This is supported by the Secretary of State, who is able to provide funding and does have options for bringing the administration to an end in certain circumstances, as I will now explain.
The first route available to the administrator is that the company is rescued as a going concern. This is the preferred option for achieving the objective, save in certain circumstances, and would ensure that normal service was resumed and the plant would continue construction or generation. If this is the case and the objective can be achieved, then the Secretary of State, Ofgem or the administrator may then apply to the courts to end the special administration order.
Should this not be feasible, the administrator’s second option would be to seek to transfer the company’s assets and liabilities to a privately or publicly owned company or companies. This is called an energy transfer scheme and is provided for by Schedule 21 to the Energy Act 2004, as applied by Clause 33 of the Bill. While the Secretary of State must approve an energy transfer scheme, the court retains overall responsibility for the process as it appoints the time from which a scheme would take effect.
It is considered that, as the nuclear administrator will need to achieve the objective of the administration order as quickly and efficiently as possible, in practice this may mean that an energy transfer scheme is explored immediately if this is the most viable means to achieve the objective of the administration. This may be supported by the Secretary of State where, amongst other matters, it is in the public interest.
Should neither of the options I mentioned be possible or in the best interests of taxpayers or consumers, Section 40 of the Energy Act 2004 would establish the option of a nuclear transfer scheme. This is subject to approval from Her Majesty’s Treasury and is intended to deal with circumstances where, for example, during the plant’s operational phase, for reasons of public safety or to minimise the costs to the taxpayer, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is given responsibility for decommissioning the plant.
I hope that that has satisfied the noble Lord, that he has found the explanation useful and, most importantly, that it has reassured him that Part 3 of the Bill does nothing to prevent the Secretary of State bringing a nuclear power station under the control of a government-owned company, if this is considered to be in the best interests of consumers and taxpayers. The flexibility afforded to the special administrator ensures that the best option should always be taken, and this includes bringing the plant under government control, if that is in the best interests of consumers and taxpayers.
Amendments 13 and 14 were tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. As I said in previous debates, there is already a robust and effective statutory regime in place under the Energy Act 2008, which addresses the decommissioning costs of new nuclear power stations. I am therefore happy to reassure the noble Baroness that it is a legal requirement for the prospective operators of all new nuclear power stations to have an approved funded decommissioning programme in place before nuclear-related construction can begin on site. I share the view of the noble Baroness that making provision for the costs of decommissioning should be a transparent process. It is therefore the intention, as was done for the Hinkley Point C project, that any approved FDPs for nuclear RAB projects will be published on the GOV.UK website, save for any material of a sensitive nature.
Amendment 12 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and I also thank my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for her contribution. Let me make it clear that, as the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, helpfully reminded us, the Government think that nuclear should play a crucial part in decarbonising the UK’s energy sector and supporting a resilient system, as I said in reply to my noble friend Lord Howell.
The Government have stated our commitment to new nuclear in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, the nuclear energy White Paper and, more recently, the Government’s net-zero strategy. I am particularly grateful—although it is obviously late on a Thursday afternoon—to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for approvingly quoting the Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister did state, in November 2021, the Government’s intention to consult on classifying nuclear energy as a green investment under the UK’s green taxonomy, which is designed to drive investment into key low-carbon companies and industries.
My noble friend Lord Trenchard talked about the green financing framework. Eligibility under the framework is not a determinant of what the Government consider to be green. That is the role of the UK taxonomy. Nuclear energy is a proven energy-dense technology, which can complement intermittent renewables by providing large volumes of firm power, while using very little land. Nuclear energy has a clear basis for making a sustainable contribution to the taxonomy’s objective of climate change mitigation. Classifying nuclear as a green investment would allow billions to flow into this essential technology. This consultation will be published in the coming months, ahead of the aim to legislate by the end of the year. I hope noble Lords accept that I cannot pre-empt the outcome of that consultation process. As such, it would not be appropriate to require taxonomy alignment under this Act.
Once again, I thank noble Lords and Baronesses for their scrutiny and engagement with these critical elements of the Bill and on nuclear’s broader role in meeting our decarbonisation targets. However, I hope I have alleviated their concerns and that they will therefore not press Amendments 11 to 14.
My Lords, I am really looking forward to reading Hansard tomorrow and I compliment the Minister on hiccuping his way through the whole of his response, as with his introduction.
I thank the Minister for his detailed explanation and response to my Amendment 11 and for committing those words to your Lordships’ House. I also thank all other noble Lords for their participation in the debate, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, on the next steps. Hinkley has been a good start; RAB, if this measure makes it through both Houses, is a vast improvement on CfDs; and, hopefully, Sizewell will be another step forward. But there is still more to do. The noble Baroness’s mention of SMRs and future large-scale civil nuclear developments is important. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
Amendment 12 not moved.
Clause 44: Commencement
Amendments 13 and 14 not moved.