New Clause 17 — Environmental principles for purposes of Part 1

Energy Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 13th July 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

'(1) Part 1 of this Act is based upon general environmental principles which must be followed by any person or body in carrying out any of its functions under this Part of this Act.

(2) These general principles are—

(a) that the health and safety of people and the environment must be protected from the harmful effects of nuclear wastes;

(b) that the costs of pollution must be borne by the person or body responsible for causing the pollution; and

(c) that international best practice in radiation protection should be implemented.

(3) In addition to the above principles, the NDA should also seek to ensure—

(a) that the creation of nuclear waste should be avoided or minimised;

(b) that nuclear wastes should be concentrated and contained rather than diluted and dispersed throughout the environment;

(c) that the most hazardous wastes are prioritised for conditioning to put them into a passively safe state; and

(d) that there are no unnecessary transports of waste.'.—[Norman Baker.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 26, in page 3, line 31 [Clause 3], leave out subsection (4) and insert—

'(4) The Secretary of State must satisfy himself on an annual basis that any person with control of a nuclear installation who is not—

(a) a Crown appointee;

(b) the UKAEA;

(c) a wholly-owned subsidiary of the UKAEA;

(d) any other publicly owned company which was so owned on 4th July 2002;

(e) a wholly owned subsidiary of such a company; or

(f) the NDA itself, is taking the necessary steps to ensure that decommissioning work and liabilities will be fully funded through the establishment and maintenance of a fully segregated fund for that purpose and that an appropriate contribution is made to the funding of the designated long-term nuclear waste management body.'.

Amendment No. 41, in page 3, line 38, at end insert—

'(4A) The provisions of subsection (4)(e) above shall only be exercised in respect of British Energy following bankruptcy of that company.'.

Amendment No. 37, in page 4, line 21, at end insert—

'(10) No powers allocated to the NDA shall be taken to affect the powers and duties of NIREX.'.

Amendment No. 42, in page 5, line 29 [Clause 5], at end insert—

'(5A) The provisions of subsection (5)(e) above shall only be exercised in respect of British Energy following bankruptcy of that company.'.

Amendment No. 38, in page 7, line 10 [Clause 7], at end insert—

'(1A) The NDA shall undertake no activities that will lead to an increase in the generation of nuclear waste except pursuant to the safe operation of nuclear plants for power generation.'.

Amendment No. 39, in page 7, line 18, at end insert—

'(2A) The NDA shall not allow considerations relating to the potential generation of income to result in additional production of nuclear wastes.'.

Amendment No. 29, in page 8, line 33 [Clause 9], leave out

'need to safeguard the environment' and insert

'environmental principles set out in section [Environmental principles for purposes of Part 1] and'.

Amendment No. 30, in page 8, line 34, leave out paragraph (c).

Amendment No. 31, in page 8, line 39, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

'(a) to ensure that the health and safety of people and the environment must be protected from the harmful effects of nuclear wastes;'.

Amendment No. 32, in page 8, line 42, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

'(b) to ensure that the costs of pollution must be borne by the person or body responsible for causing the pollution; and'.

Amendment No. 33, in page 9, line 1, leave out paragraph (c).

Amendment No. 34, in page 9, line 4, after first 'to', insert

'section [Environmental principles for purposes of Part 1](1),'.

Amendment No. 40, in page 9, line 4, after first 'to', insert 'section 7(2A),'.

Amendment No. 35, in page 9, line 4, leave out 'to (c)' and insert 'and (b)'.

Government amendments Nos. 11 and 12, and 15 to 17.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I am sorry that we have just 21 minutes left of the Report stage. Members of all parties have been brief and to the point this afternoon, but we are still running out of time. Other important amendments have still to be discussed; I guess that they will be picked up on Third Reading, if at all.

I was complimenting the Minister earlier for having taken on board certain points that had been raised in Committee. That was true, but none of them relate to the nuclear industry. There has been a studious refusal by the Government to take on board the points that were made properly and convincingly on that issue by several Members in Committee. The Bill will make £48 billion of public money available to decommission the nuclear industry, which is £8,000 for every man, woman and child in this country. That is one reason why the uncharacteristically glib suggestion by Mr. Key that we should have a new season of nuclear power stations needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, given the massive cost to the taxpayer. The second reason is, of course, the amount of nuclear waste that is mounting across the country as we speak.

The proposal for a nuclear decommissioning authority is a sensible one. My colleagues and I have always welcomed the idea that such an authority should be set up to deal with this problem, which has been allowed to fester for far too long. Unfortunately, however, the way in which the Government proposes to set up the NDA has worrying aspects. They were raised in Committee, and I am bound to say that we did not receive satisfactory answers from the Minister to some of the salient points that we made.

The NDA has no overarching environmental responsibility, which seems extraordinary for a body that is to deal with nuclear waste. I draw the Minister's attention to new clause 17, which seeks to instil some environmental principles into the NDA. The general principles set out in subsection (2) are:

"(a) that the health and safety of people and the environment must be protected from the harmful effects of nuclear wastes;

(b) that the costs of pollution must be borne by the person or body responsible for causing the pollution; and

(c) that international best practice in radiation protection should be implemented."

Subsection (3) states:

"In addition to the above principles, the NDA should also seek to ensure—

(a) that the creation of nuclear waste should be avoided or minimised;

(b) that nuclear wastes should be concentrated and contained rather than diluted and dispersed throughout the environment;

(c) that the most hazardous wastes are prioritised for conditioning to put them into a passively safe state; and

(d) that there are no unnecessary transports of waste."

Those are completely uncontroversial, commonsense principles, and I fail to see why the Government do not want to adopt them. Perhaps the answer is that the NDA will not simply be a body that is set up to decommission the nuclear industry and to deal belatedly with some of the environmental mess that it has caused, as some of us wish it to be. Perhaps it will have the further function of providing an income stream for the Treasury. Members on both sides of the House have made the point that there has been a refusal to allow segregated funds to be established. That would be dealt with by amendment No. 26, which was tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Stunell and me.

We believe that the NDA is going to continue to be allowed to operate plants ad infinitum. That is on the record from the Minister in Committee. There is no absolute cut-off point; it will be able to continue to operate those plants. Indeed, if the hon. Member for Salisbury is correct in his assertion that there is going to be a big gap in our energy supply, the NDA could suddenly be called on to carry on operating those plants indefinitely. That is not what is intended for the NDA, but it is allowed for in the Bill. That should not be the case, and the amendments would prevent that from occurring.

Let us be clear about this. There is a nuclear generation industry, for better or worse, and there should be a decommissioning industry as well. We should not mix the two up, which is what the Government are doing as a result of the way in which they have structured the NDA in the Bill. I detect the hand of the Treasury here. It wants money back from the nuclear industry. It is baulking, understandably, at the £48 bill that has landed on Gordon Brown's doormat, and it wants some money back. The way to do that is to get an income stream from the NDA, which would get the money from generating electricity and otherwise using the existing plant. So the irony is that the NDA, which is being set up to decommission the industry, is actually going to be given the power to generate further waste. That is what the Government have set out in the Bill, but amendments Nos. 38 and 39 would explicitly prevent that from happening.

Amendment No. 38 states:

"The NDA shall undertake no activities that will lead to an increase in the generation of nuclear waste except pursuant to the safe operation of nuclear plants for power generation."

That would prevent any reprocessing, which the Minister is apparently also happy for the NDA to be involved in. Amendment No. 39 states:

"The NDA shall not allow considerations relating to the potential generation of income to result in additional production of nuclear wastes."

That should be the position of the NDA. We should separate the generation capacity from the decommissioning capacity, but as a result of the way in which the Government have structured the Bill, that has not been done. The NDA will even be enabled to hand over money, and power, to British Energy, a private sector company. That is what is allowed for in the Bill.

The Minister said that of course there must be a backstop, in case nuclear waste is arising and a private company cannot handle it. Yes, but does not that allow a nice let-out for British Energy, which already has a pretty nice credit line from the DTI? That money could be used for other purposes. Our amendment suggests that that option should only be exercised if British Energy goes bankrupt. It is then a matter for the public purse to deal with, for the sake of the environment. Of course we must deal with it in that situation, but Parliament's role, and the DTI's role, is not to bail out private companies. The Minister should therefore accept that amendment too.

I am conscious of time, and other Members want to speak. I suggest to the Minister, however, that he has convinced neither the Committee, nor, I suspect, the House, on the nuclear aspects of the Bill. As I said to the Minister in Committee, the Government's nuclear policy is not bad, but it is not reflected in the Bill that has been written for him.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness) 5:45 pm, 13th July 2004

As the House will know, the spending review announced yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor included a good settlement for the NDA, with a budget of some £2 billion a year for the three years of the spending review period. The NDA will therefore be well placed to achieve the targets that we have set for safe, secure, cost-effective and environmentally friendly nuclear clean-up.

New clause 17 and amendments Nos. 29 to 35 would establish general, overarching environmental principles that should govern the operation and behaviour of the NDA. Our position is clear: the protection of the environment and the safety of people are central to the objectives and activities of the NDA and of its site operators. Ensuring the observance of the high standards that we have in the UK is the responsibility of the nuclear regulators. Nothing in the Bill alters the regulatory framework, and potentially, it would be seriously damaging to cut across that well-established regulatory framework by giving the NDA, as this proposal would, a principal objective of ensuring the delivery of what are regulatory requirements. We must not do anything to undermine the successful work of the regulators.

Amendments Nos. 38 to 40 would constrain the NDA's activities by ruling out the generation of additional nuclear waste. That is an admirable objective but could impose damaging constraints on the work of the NDA in managing nuclear clean-up effectively. That is a decision for the NDA properly to make within the framework of its duties and responsibilities.

Amendment No. 37 would delineate the roles and responsibilities of the NDA and Nirex. The Government have established the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management to advise on long-term policy for the management of higher-activity wastes. The future roles and responsibilities of the bodies involved will be decided in the light of that advice.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

How is it that the Minister can announce the chair of the NDA before the Bill is even passed, but cannot announce the separation of roles between Nirex and the NDA when the Bill is almost complete?

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

The hon. Gentleman will recall that we had extensive discussion in Committee about the position on the NDA and Nirex, and I set out the arrangements by which we had been able to appoint a chair designate, because of the importance of the NDA and of having the authority in place by April next year.

On amendment No. 26 on financing, it is already the Government's policy to require the establishment of segregated funds for privatised parts of the nuclear industry—for example, in the case of British Energy. We do not consider it necessary to extend that to all private sector companies with nuclear facilities. We will take decisions on whether to establish a long-term nuclear waste management body once we have received advice from the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management.

Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 would prevent the Government from exercising effectively an important option in respect of restructuring agreements to protect taxpayers' interests. We have taken an option to buy each of British Energy's nuclear power stations for £1 at the time that British Energy plans to shut them, either to decommission them or to continue to operate them beyond that date. It may be possible to decommission them more cost-effectively in the public sector, using expertise gained by the NDA on public sector nuclear sites. It might also be possible to defer decommissioning costs, which would fall on the nuclear liabilities fund, which is underwritten by Government, by operating the stations and generating income beyond the date when British Energy would shut them. Those benefits, and the protection that they offer the taxpayer, would be lost if we were prevented from passing British Energy sites to the NDA to decommission only if British Energy was bankrupt. I do not think that the proposed change is sensible.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson Labour, Cunninghame North

It does not look as though we shall have time to discuss the final group of amendments. Will the Minister confirm that British Energy had to be bailed out because of the market-driven ideological zeal of Ofgem? Would it not be a pity if the same approach were applied to renewable energy and transmission systems? That too would fly in the face of Government energy policy and ultimately Ofgem would make a decision against the national interest, the energy interest and the public interest.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (e-Commerce & Competitiveness)

I think that my right hon. Friend is stretching a point by trying to bring in the last group of amendments at this stage—and I do not think that he is being fair in saying that what happened to British Energy was entirely down to Ofgem. No doubt we shall still be able to have some exchanges about that last group.

Amendment No. 32 places a duty on the NDA to ensure that the polluter pays for nuclear clean-up. The NDA is not the appropriate body to determine who pays for clean-up. The Government's position is clear. We support the polluter pays principle, but when that proves impossible it is right for Government to determine the appropriate arrangements for financing clean-up. The Bill allows the NDA to be made responsible for securing the clean-up, and for the levying of appropriate charges.

I undertook in Committee to consider what could be done to respond to suggestions from Mr. Robertson about increasing parliamentary oversight of the NDA's activities. I hope that he will welcome amendments Nos. 11 and 12, which require the NDA's strategy and annual plan to be laid before Parliament, and provide for parallel provisions for the Scottish Parliament that have been agreed with the Scottish Executive. Amendments Nos. 15 to 17 make three minor drafting changes arising from the last detailed check of the Bill.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It is regrettable that we must rush through 20 new clauses and amendments, with two more groups to debate in the remaining eight minutes. I will not go into as much detail as I would otherwise. It is also regrettable that Norman Baker took such an anti-nuclear stance when raising important points. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the relationship between Nirex and the NDA should have been determined long before the Bill was even introduced but, mindful of the time, I will not go into that.

I welcome amendments Nos. 11 and 12. As expected, the Minister has been as good as his word. They are important amendments that allow the House sight of the financial plan and the NDA's strategy. Given the amount of money to be allocated to and deployed by the NDA, and given that it will do so much work, it is vital for Parliament to have sight of the reports. We pressed for that in Committee, and I am grateful to the Minister for tabling the amendments.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Liberal Democrat, Lewes

I am not convinced by what the Minister said. He has failed to grasp the nuclear nettle. There are numerous outstanding issues relating to finance, the construction of the NDA and its relationship with Nirex. As there is very little time anyway, I intend to press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 39, Noes 273.

Division number 223

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly negatived.

It being after Six o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour, pursuant to Order [10 May].

Amendment proposed: No. 5, in clause 100, page 79, line 23, at end insert—

'36B Duties in relation to navigation

(1) Neither the Secretary of State nor the Scottish Ministers may grant a consent in relation to any particular offshore generating activities if he considers, or (as the case may be) they consider, that interference with the use of recognised sea lanes essential to international navigation—

(a) is likely to be caused by the carrying on of those activities; or

(b) is likely to result from their having been carried on.

(2) It shall be the duty both of the Secretary of State and of the Scottish Ministers, in determining—

(a) whether to give a consent for any particular offshore generating activities, and

(b) what conditions to include in such a consent,

to have regard to the extent and nature of any obstruction of or danger to navigation which (without amounting to interference with the use of such sea lanes) is likely to be caused by the carrying on of the activities, or is likely to result from their having been carried on.

(3) In determining for the purposes of this section what interference, obstruction or danger is likely and its extent and nature, the Secretary of State or (as the case may be) the Scottish Ministers must have regard to the likely overall effect (both while being carried on and subsequently) of—

(a) the activities in question; and

(b) such other offshore generating activities as are either already the subject of consents or are activities in respect of which it appears likely that consents will be granted.

(4) For the purposes of this section the effects of offshore generating activities include—

(a) how, in relation to those activities, the Secretary of State and the Scottish Ministers have exercised or will exercise their powers under section 36A above and section 101 of the Energy Act 2004 (extinguishment of public rights of navigation); and

(b) how, in relation to those activities, the Secretary of State has exercised or will exercise his powers under sections 94 and 95 and Chapter 3 of Part 2 of that Act (safety zones and decommissioning).

(5) If the person who has granted a consent in relation to any offshore generating activities thinks it appropriate to do so in the interests of the safety of navigation, he may at any time vary conditions of the consent so as to modify in relation to any of the following matters the obligations imposed by those conditions—

(a) the provision of aids to navigation (including, in particular, lights and signals);

(b) the stationing of guard ships in the vicinity of the place where the activities are being or are to be carried on; or

(c) the taking of other measures for the purposes of, or in connection with, the control of the movement of vessels in that vicinity.

(6) A modification in exercise of the power under subsection (5) must be set out in a notice given by the person who granted the consent to the person whose obligations are modified.

(7) In this section—

'consent' means a consent under section 36 above;

'offshore generating activities' means—

(a) the construction or operation of a generating station that is to comprise or comprises (in whole or in part) renewable energy installations; or

(b) an extension of a generating station that is to comprise (in whole or in part) renewable energy installations or an extension of such an installation;

'the use of recognised sea lanes essential to international navigation' has the same meaning as in Article 60(7) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (Cmnd 8941).

(8) In subsection (7) 'extension', in relation to a renewable energy installation, has the same meaning as in Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Energy Act 2004.".'.—[Mr. Timms.]

Amendment made to the proposed amendment: (b), in proposed subsection (7)(b), leave out from 'navigation' to '(Cmnd 8941)' and insert

'means—

(a) anything that constitutes the use of such a sea lane for the purposes of Article 60(7) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (Cmnd 8941); or

(b) any use of waters in the territorial sea adjacent to Great Britain that would fall within paragraph (a) if the waters were in a Renewable Energy Zone.'.—[Mrs. Dunwoody.]

Amendment, as amended, agreed to.