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[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Public Accounts Committee on
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is straightforward. It ensures that when the United Kingdom is no longer a member of the European Atomic Energy Community—Euratom—we will have in place a legal framework that meets our future international obligations on nuclear safeguarding. Nuclear safeguards demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military or weapons programmes. It is important to be clear about the definitions in and scope of the Bill, because nuclear safeguards are distinct from nuclear safety, which is about the prevention of nuclear accidents, and from nuclear security, which relates to the physical protection of nuclear material. Those topics are subject to different regulatory regimes.
Our current nuclear safeguards obligations arise from our voluntary offer agreement—an additional protocol—with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA is the UN-associated body responsible for the oversight of the global non-proliferation regime. The first requirement flowing from the UK’s commitments on safeguards is to have a domestic system that allows the state to know what civil nuclear material it has, where it is and whether any has been withdrawn from civil activities.
My hon. Friend, who has a close connection with his constituents who work at Culham, is absolutely right. He knows that we are keen to agree the greatest possible continuity for the arrangements for research at Culham as soon as possible.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is nothing in the Bill that will prevent us from seeking associate membership or arrangements with Euratom under article 206 of the existing Euratom treaty, and that it remains Government policy to seek to do so?
I can confirm that the Bill has been prepared on a contingency basis. The discussions around our continued arrangements with Euratom and with the rest of the European Union have not been concluded, but it is right to put in place in good time any commitments that are needed in primary legislation. Euratom has served the United Kingdom and our nuclear industries well, so we want to see maximum continuity of those arrangements.
My right hon. Friend has just confirmed that the Bill is necessary only because the Government have announced their intention to leave Euratom. I voted against the proposal when it was put to the House before the last general election, and I have yet to hear a rational reason for our leaving Euratom. As all our previously satisfactory arrangements for nuclear safeguarding are set aside, all our existing agreements with the IAEA are put in difficulty. Safeguarding is necessary to comply with the non-proliferation treaties, to which we apply a great deal of importance.
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may be the Father of the House, but that does not allow him to make a speech when everybody else is waiting. He has more experience of this House than I will ever have, and he ought to use it.
It might have been helpful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had asked that question to begin with, rather than giving a speech.
Triggering article 50 of the treaty on European Union also requires triggering article 50 on membership of Euratom. That is not just the Government’s view; it is the European Commission’s view, too. The Commission clearly stated to the European Parliament that,
That is the basis on which we are considering these safeguards.
Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that, as we leave the EU, the Bill will enable us to develop our own watertight system for complying with nuclear safeguards? As he says, that means introducing reporting and transparency to make it obvious that no nuclear material is going where it should not be going. We want assurances that all these boxes will be ticked, even if we leave Euratom.
That is precisely the point of the Bill, and I will explain, perhaps at some length, the ways in which it might be done. I hope my hon. Friend will stay for that.
The Secretary of State is being generous in giving way. We heard clearly enough that this is a contingency Bill. What I did not hear clearly is the Government’s policy on staying in Euratom. He says that the treaty requires us to come out, which is debatable. If it is the Government’s policy that we want associate membership status, will he make that clear now? Maximum continuity is a rather vague concept.
It is very clear that membership of Euratom requires membership of the European Union, which is why we have this Bill. We have been satisfied with the arrangements we have, and part of the negotiation will be to ensure the greatest possible continuity, but that is to be negotiated with Euratom and the partners involved.
I have mentioned that the first requirement flowing from our commitments on safeguards is to have a domestic system that allows the state to know what civil nuclear material there is and where it is located, but the second fundamental principle of the global non-proliferation and safeguards regime is that there is some oversight of the system independent of the country itself. That provides obvious and necessary reassurance to the international community that material from civil nuclear programmes is not used other than for civil activities.
The UK has been a member of Euratom since
Many professionals in the nuclear industry and outside academics are seriously concerned about the ongoing problem of what to do with nuclear waste from the civil programmes. Will the new arrangements simply parallel exactly what Euratom is doing or will they be stronger? Is the Minister not concerned that we still have to deal with the serious problem of long-term storage of civil nuclear waste?
Let me say two things. First, we want to see maximum continuity of the standards—we do not want any reduction in them, as they have served us well and they give confidence to the industry. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman knows, from his many years in this House, that successive Governments have taken forward our long-term disposal of nuclear waste, and work on a long-term repository is being conducted, but that is a domestic responsibility, as it always has been.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I say, I do not think anyone regards the arrangements that have prevailed as deficient, so it makes sense to replicate them as we can. We are being orderly in making sure that we have the right domestic framework in place in good time.
My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke referred to the fact that we have to make all these international agreements which have previously been reflected in agreements between the EU and international bodies and other countries. Is any other country outside the EU objecting to the likelihood that we will be seeking to make these arrangements, or to be a full member of the IAEA in our own right, with a voluntary agreement that it proposes?
My hon. Friend will doubtless be aware that across the international community there is great recognition that there is little contention in this area. It is obviously in the global interest to have robust arrangements in place, and the discussions are taking place smoothly and without any contention.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on pursuing this issue with calm and decency. Will he take the opportunity to reflect on some of the scare nonsense that we heard earlier, particularly with regards to medical radioisotopes? That was front page—it was said that people would not be able to get their treatment—but nothing at all in our decision would ever stop the export of any of those medical radioisotopes to non-EU countries.
My right hon. Friend is right; there is nothing in that at all.
Let me state it another way: the Bill enables the United Kingdom to set up a domestic safeguards regime to enable us to meet international safeguards and nuclear non- proliferation standards after we withdraw from Euratom, no matter what the outcome of the negotiations. So we are being prudent and prepared, taking these steps now, in very good time. The ONR does not currently have this role because, under the Euratom treaty, all members, including the UK, subject their civil nuclear material and facilities to nuclear safeguards inspections and assurance carried out by Euratom. Euratom then provides reporting on member states’ safeguards to the IAEA, which conducts nuclear safeguards globally. The United Kingdom's new regime, established under this Bill, will ensure that the UK has the right regime in place to enable the ONR to regulate nuclear safeguards following withdrawal from Euratom—it could not be more simple. That will ensure that the UK continues to maintain its position as a responsible nuclear state following withdrawal from Euratom.
Will the Secretary of State assure me that interested parties in the industry, principally the Nuclear Industry Association and Prospect, the trade union, which represents most workers in the industry, will continue to be consulted, as at the moment neither is convinced that the Bill is better than Euratom?
I will certainly make that commitment. One feature of the nuclear industry is that it is, appropriately, highly consultative. People from across the sector talk to each other. It is a community of experts and they take advice. We will certainly continue to do that.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Nuclear Industry Association, with which I have meetings and with which the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend Richard Harrington meets regularly. The NIA has said clearly that the publication of the Bill
“is a necessary legislative step in giving responsibility for safeguards inspections to the UK regulator”.
I have been clear with the House that the Bill is a prudent and timely set of measures that does not prejudge the discussions we will have with Euratom. I regard it as a model of good order.
The hon. Lady justifies what I said at the outset. The arrangements we have had with Euratom have been perfectly satisfactory, and we want to see maximum continuity. I hope she would agree, though, that it is necessary and prudent to take legislative steps so that if we are not able to conclude a satisfactory agreement—I do not expect that—we nevertheless have a world-class nuclear safeguarding regime. I would have thought she would welcome our doing that in good time and sensibly.
The decommissioning of the UK’s ageing nuclear estate is a critical aspect of Euratom’s work, yet there is not a single mention in the Bill of decommissioning. Will the Secretary of State explain how the 17 nuclear sites that are currently in the process of decommissioning, including Trawsfynydd in my constituency, will be regulated and properly staffed and have the necessary expertise if the UK leaves Euratom?
There is no difference in the arrangements. As I say, the Bill makes provisions for a safeguarding regime. It is not about safety or security; it is about making sure it can be verified that nuclear material that is used in the civil sector does not cross to other uses. The robust arrangements supervised by the ONR that we have in place for decommissioning continue.
In response to my hon. Friend Dr Drew, the Secretary of State said that Ministers regularly meet various industry experts and bodies. Will he go further and say that by the time the Bill is enacted it will contain a clause that says it is necessary to consult the industry as widely as possible? The trade unions and the trade bodies currently feel left out.
Such consultation is the universal practice in the nuclear sector. The hon. Gentleman might serve on the Bill Committee, so perhaps he will be able to interrogate the issues he raises, but at every point the nuclear sector proceeds not through the unilateral fiat of Governments but appropriately, on the basis of expert advice. That is the culture of the nuclear industry and it will continue.
As I set out for the House in my written statement in September, our intention is for the new domestic regime to exceed the standard that the international community would expect from the UK as a member of the IAEA. The objective is for it to be as robust and comprehensive as that currently provided by Euratom. We are perfectly satisfied with the high standards that have prevailed under Euratom, so we do not want to take the opportunity to weaken them. As I have mentioned, we will also be agreeing new safeguards agreements with the IAEA. My officials have had meetings with officials from the IAEA at their headquarters in Vienna to take the discussions forward, and I am pleased to report that they are progressing extremely well.
On other aspects of the Euratom relationship, we have made it clear that we want to continue the successful co-operation. In June, I announced the Government’s commitment to underwrite the UK’s fair share of the costs for the Joint European Torus—the leading nuclear fusion facility in Oxfordshire—which supports 1,300 jobs, and we will continue to do that.
Let me briefly take the House through the clauses of the Bill. It is not a long Bill, as the House knows. Clause 1 amends the Energy Act 2013 to replace the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s existing nuclear safeguards purposes with a new definition. The ONR will regulate the new nuclear safeguards regime using its existing relevant functions and powers, so the measure is about clarifying its purposes. Clause 1 will also amend the Act by creating new powers so that we can set out in regulations the detail of the domestic safeguards regime, such as on accounting, reporting, and control and inspection arrangements.
The Nuclear Industry Association has made it absolutely clear that this legislation is necessary, but it has also spelled out that the best outcome would be for the UK to continue with some form of membership of Euratom. Will my right hon. Friend give the House an idea of whether he feels that the discussions so far with Euratom make it likely that we will be able to achieve some form of continuation of the existing arrangement?
As I have made it repeatedly clear, we regard the arrangements with Euratom as having served this country well and we want to see maximum continuity. As far as I can see, all members of the nuclear industry regard that as being the case. This is a good example of where I hope it will be possible to agree quickly and with a maximum of consensus a regime that continues the high standards that we have observed.
As the Secretary of State is of course aware, there is an extended search to find a new investor in the NuGen site. Potential buyers are looking on that with great interest. In his closest possible working with Euratom—or whatever his phrase was—is there a scenario in which there will not need to be new nuclear co-operation agreements, which could make the sale much more complicated and problematic?
The fact of this legislation should send a signal to the world that we are absolutely determined to be forward facing and to make sure that we have a regime in place that can continue the high standards that we enjoy while pursuing, in negotiation with Euratom and with other countries, the same continuity of arrangements that we have enjoyed. I see absolutely no obstacle to that.
Clause 2 will create a limited power, enabling regulations to amend the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Act 1978; the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000; and the Nuclear Safeguards (Notification) Regulations 2004. This narrow power will mean that cross references in that legislation to existing agreements with the IAEA can be updated once new international agreements have been reached.
Let me summarise the four key points. We are totally committed to the current and future prosperity of the nuclear industry. It is an important part of our energy future, our security as a nation and our commitment to clean energy. We are committed to meeting all our international obligations and to retaining our world-leading status on nuclear research and development. We need the powers in the Bill to give the existing independent nuclear regulator—the ONR—a new role to regulate nuclear safeguards, alongside its existing role regulating the UK’s nuclear safety and security.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way one more time. I am not sure whether he is coming to an end, but he has not yet responded to the intervention on radioisotopes of Mr Duncan Smith. Does that mean that the Nuclear Industry Association, Dame Sue Ion, the honorary president of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear, and the Royal College of Radiologists are right to express concerns about the future possible supply of radioisotopes, especially given that, in the past, there have been global shortages? The Euratom supply chain was prominent in managing those shortages of supplies.
Radioisotopes are not in scope of the measures before us today; this is about safeguards; and I replied perfectly adequately to my right hon. Friend.
The Bill sits alongside other work streams around our future relationship with Euratom, with the International Atomic Energy Agency and with third countries, and as such has been drafted to cater for a variety of possible outcomes to these talks. I want to reiterate our commitment to maximum continuity of these arrangements. The reason why we are leaving Euratom is the decision to leave the European Union. The two treaties are uniquely legally joined. We continue to support Euratom and want to see a continuity of co-operation and standards and a close future partnership with it.
We do not know what the final arrangements will be, so we are doing what any responsible Government would do by putting in place now a civil nuclear safeguards regime for the United Kingdom through this Bill so that we will be fully prepared whatever the outcome of negotiations. I commend this Bill to the House.
As the Secretary of State has outlined, this Bill will provide the legal framework for establishing a domestic nuclear safeguards regime. Nuclear safeguards are essential obligations to ensure that work and materials for civil nuclear do not get transposed into work or preparations for military nuclear, and that is done under the umbrella of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Arguably, the UK already has a perfectly good set of nuclear safeguards through its membership of Euratom, so why is the Bill needed?
The Bill is a contingency measure, as the Secretary of State has helpfully illustrated. If we are to leave Euratom, and if there is no associate membership that gives us continued nuclear safeguarding provisions, we will need to put in place a new system of safeguarding, and that needs to be to the satisfaction of the International Atomic Energy Authority. Now that takes us into rather strange territory: we have not yet left Euratom; it is not clear whether we have to leave Euratom; the House has not agreed that we should leave Euratom; and we have not put in place any parliamentary procedure for agreeing that we should leave Euratom. In effect, the Bill is based wholly on the declaration that the Prime Minister made in her letter to the EU informing it that we were going to invoke article 50—
Is the hon. Lady saying that it is wrong for this House and this Government to prepare, in a prudent and orderly way, to maintain the excellent safeguards that we have? Is she somehow criticising that preparedness?
Clearly, the Secretary of State was not listening to what I was saying. If he displays some patience, he will hear a bit more about my thoughts on the Bill’s contents.
Euratom was agreed to as a body and a treaty before the EU treaty came about, and to that extent it is, arguably, separate from the actual formation and operation of the EU. That of course is the subject of fierce legal debate. It is true that its disputes mechanism does involve the European Court of Justice, and its terms include the free movement of scientists but those are specifically applied to civil nuclear activities and do not stray on to a wider canvas. Subject to legal debate, it certainly may have been possible—
My hon. Friend is right that it is debateable whether, legally, we have to leave Euratom. Would it not be helpful if the Secretary of State published the legal advice that he has obtained? As a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, I have heard a number of experts saying a number of things about this very matter.
It certainly would be helpful for the House to hear about the discussions that have been taking place between the Government’s legal advisers and the Government. The Library has helpfully provided a number of solicitors who have disputed the point that the Secretary of State puts forward. There is legal discourse going on that disputes the fact that Euratom and the EU are intrinsically linked.
Does the hon. Lady remember the long debates on the article 50 letter and the legislation to approve it? It was made very clear in those debates that we would probably have to leave Euratom at the same time and that we would therefore plan on that basis. She and many of her right hon. and hon. Friends voted for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill knowing that.
Subject to legal debate, it certainly may have been possible—had the Prime Minister not taken the unnecessary step of specifically including Euratom in her letter to the Commission—to retain the UK’s membership of Euratom. At worst, we could have secured a close association with Euratom that was good enough to allow the continuation of nuclear safeguarding within that amended framework.
The Opposition believe that continued membership of Euratom or a close associated status with it is possible and necessary for the efficient, continued working of a whole raft of procedures relating to the nuclear industry, not just safeguarding. We see this procedure of starting to set up identical but separate processes, instead of a relationship with Euratom, very much as a last resort or a back-up measure. We are frankly disappointed that the Government seem to be putting rather more effort into this than into seeking to maintain an arrangement with a body that does all this perfectly well, although the effort put into this Bill is also questionable. I will come to that in due course.
The hon. Gentleman would do well to keep up. I have mentioned several times that there is a current legal discourse regarding this very issue. Perhaps he should refer to that.
I will just make some progress, if I may.
We have to be clear that the measures set out in the Bill are just a part of the process of disentangling ourselves from Euratom and replacing its provisions with satisfactory alternatives that allow the UK’s nuclear industry to continue working smoothly in conjunction with its international partners and not to face a cliff edge of uncertainty. Indeed, the position paper on the nuclear industry issued by the UK Government in the spring of this year lists a number of key activities of Euratom that are not covered by the nuclear safeguarding issue, but which are essential to place into a UK legislative framework if a tenable regime for nuclear power in the UK is to be created before Brexit.
One example is that we will need to reach an agreement on the international supply chain for nuclear reactors. Without such an arrangement in place, it is possible that the existing nuclear power stations such a Sizewell B will be forced to close until such time as the agreement is sorted out. The UK will need to conclude individual and separate nuclear co-operation agreements with non-EU countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, South Africa, Kazakhstan, the United States of America and others. We will need to agree new inspections with the IAEA. The status of supply chains such as nuclear isotopes for medical treatment will need to be maintained, supplied by reactors in EU countries. There is the issue of research in nuclear technology including, importantly, the fusion research carried out at the Joint European Torus facility in Culham, which the Secretary of State has already mentioned. These are all at serious risk if a fully worked-out series of agreements is not in place to allow these activities continuous operation. Working out a way to honour our safeguarding commitments under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is only the start of the process and we should not delude ourselves that achievement of that solves the Euratom issue. It does not.
The hon. Lady’s position seems to be that there is legal uncertainty about whether it is necessary for the UK to leave Euratom and that we should have left the issue until further in the negotiations, finding out whether we were leaving later on in the process. Would that not have just left rather less time to prepare if we did have to leave?
The point I am making is that there is legal uncertainty. Sadly, the Prime Minister firmly closed the door on the Euratom position, when it could have been left open. We could have passed this Bill through Parliament while questioning whether the legal position on Euratom membership was as the Commission states.
I will make some progress, if I may.
The Government stated in their notes on the Queen’s Speech that the Bill to be introduced on the future of safeguarding would also
“protect UK electricity supplied by nuclear power”.
This Bill clearly does not do that, which is perhaps why that claim has been dropped from the description of the Bill. But the challenge centrally remains, and it is likely that another Bill will be necessary to protect that electricity in its entirety. Will the Minister confirm when that legislation will be introduced?
Let us assume for the time being that maintaining membership of Euratom is not possible—by far the worst case scenario. How have the Government chosen to implement their limited stab at replacing the nuclear safeguarding regime? Well, they have chosen to do so by giving the Secretary of State all the power to make the changes. The Bill contains powers for the Secretary of State, by order, to provide all the detail and fill in the dots of the legislative changes without further meaningful recourse to the Floor of the House.
Clause 1 will give the Secretary of State powers to introduce substantial amendments to the UK’s safeguarding procedures and give effect to international agreements that are yet even to begin being negotiated without any further primary legislation. Furthermore, the Secretary of State will be given the power—also by order—to amend retrospectively, and without further meaningful recourse to the Floor of the House, no fewer than three pieces of existing legislation. Not only that, but he will have the power to amend those pieces of legislation, as the Government acknowledge in their explanatory notes accompanying the Bill, based on the outcome of negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency that the Government accept are not complete.
We have to take on trust that the negotiation with the IAEA to which Parliament will not be a party will proceed satisfactorily, and that the Secretary of State, in his infinite wisdom, will table the necessary amendments to primary and secondary legislation that will give effect to those agreements, whatever they are. While I am on this point, will the Secretary of State confirm the progress of such agreements and negotiations, and provide details?
I hope the hon. Lady will be reassured if she actually reads the Bill. It is clear that the power to amend the legislation that she pointed out—I hope that she can see what I am pointing out—is limited to
“consequential, supplementary or incidental provision…transitional, transitory or saving provision.”
It is not a general power. It is intended to ensure that the transposition of one set of regulations to another can be made efficiently.
Let me take the Secretary of State on a little journey. If he listens carefully, he might see how dangerous the scope of certain parts of the Bill might be. The explanatory notes indicate that regulations under clause 1 will be subject to the affirmative procedure only “on first use”. It would be helpful if he confirmed that that wording is actually a terrible mistake, that he does not actually mean it and that, at the very least, all legislation on the domestic safeguarding regime will be subject to the affirmative procedure.
I would never cast aspersions on the Secretary of State, but, unfortunately, his ministerial colleagues have shown that they are prepared to use their delegated powers not just to avoid parliamentary scrutiny, but arguably to legislate in open defiance of the House. In particular, I refer to the recent rise in university tuition fees. The original Act allowed any statutory instrument raising the limit to be annulled by either House. Unfortunately, the Government first prevented any vote whatever, and then refused to accept the vote of the House against the regulations. In effect, they used secondary legislation to rule by ministerial decree. They tabled the regulations the day before Christmas recess and the Opposition tabled a prayer against them on the first sitting day after that. But, despite the conventions of the House, the Government dragged their feet for months until eventually conceding the point and scheduling a debate on
“I had thought there was an expectation of a debate and a vote, and that the Opposition had done what was necessary”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 627, c. 895-6.]
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but we are talking about very important arguments regarding the machinery of this House. If he will let me conclude my remarks, he might learn something very important.
Eventually, we had to use an Opposition day motion to revoke the regulations. The House agreed to it, only for the Government to refuse to accept the result after telling their Members to boycott the vote. When the Government say that Parliament still has a say on delegated legislation, there is a catch, and it is a Catch-22: they can refuse time for a vote within the 40 days and then say that it is too late for any vote to count once that deadline has passed. The Bill includes a power to amend primary legislation. The Government want us to trust them with the powers of Henry VIII when, to be frank, they behave like Charles I.
On the Brexit process, we have had long lectures from Government Members about parliamentary sovereignty, but Ministers have shown in practice that they will deny and defy this House. It is ironic that, just weeks ago, the Brexit Secretary was keen to assure us that no such thing could happen in legislation such as that under discussion. He told the House:
“Secondary legislation is still subject to parliamentary oversight and well established procedures. In no way does it provide unchecked unilateral powers to the Government.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 628, c. 357.]
Even as he was saying that, his colleagues were refusing to follow those procedures, rejecting parliamentary oversight and using exactly those unchecked, unilateral powers to force higher fees on students.
The Bill will give the Government similar powers. We know that they will use secondary legislation not just for technical details, but to make controversial and important policy decisions by the stroke of a ministerial pen.
The hon. Lady is going on and on, as is her wont, about the Government not giving the Opposition enough time or opportunities to vote against their proposals. There will, however, be a vote tonight on this Bill, so will the Opposition vote for or against it?
I am sorry that I am boring the right hon. Gentleman, but if he listens to the rest of my contribution perhaps his question will be answered at the end. Perhaps that will keep his attention.
The job of a legislature is to legislate. The Bill is effectively a blank cheque handing that job over to Ministers. I hope that the Minister will give an iron-clad guarantee that the Government will not use those powers in that way and an ultimate guarantee to change the Bill itself. Safeguards are vital for our nuclear industry, but they are needed for our parliamentary democracy as well.
The Bill’s Henry VIII clauses are particularly worrying, for the simple reason that if the Secretary of State does not use the powers effectively, the UK will simply not have a nuclear safeguarding regime. Our legislation book is scattered with such clauses that have never been enacted, so either the status quo ante prevails or some new primary legislation renders the power irrelevant. That is not the case, however, with the Bill, because if the regime is not fully established into UK law on exit day, it will not work.
The point is not only that the Secretary of State “may” introduce such legislation, but that they have to introduce it; otherwise the regime will not work. The Government are, in effect, asking us to trust that they will do the decent thing and make it work, while conceding that the Secretary of State may not, if he or she wishes, actually do it. That certainly does not look very good from the outside looking in, because there is no status quo ante to go back on in the event that the legislation is not properly translated into UK law. We will just fall of a cliff, as we depart from our membership of Euratom.
For all those reasons, it is evident that this barely fit for purpose Bill will, at the very least, need substantial amendment even to make it work on its own terms. Indeed, we also need a wider consideration of how the UK’s advantages and protections under Euratom can successfully be replaced in a national context.
We are clear, however, that, should all else fail, of course we need a nuclear safeguarding regime for the UK post Brexit—[Interruption.] I am pleased to get cheers from Government Members. But let me add a caveat: we will need to see evidence of substantial amendment to the procedure set out in the Bill, as well as evidence that the Government are really thinking about the best post-Brexit Euratom formulation, before we can wholeheartedly commit to agreeing to the passage of this Bill on Report and Third Reading.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about this important Bill, which is the first step to picking up the pieces from our withdrawal from Euratom. I am also grateful for the numerous briefings I have received from the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend Richard Harrington. He is an extremely assiduous Minister and I cannot go anywhere, least of all the Tea Room, without being stopped by him to be briefed on clause 3(3)(b).
The Secretary of State has already outlined the Bill’s purpose and the benefits we have gained from being members of Euratom, which is, in effect, the single market for the nuclear power industry. It allows us to move nuclear material between member states and, importantly, to move nuclear scientists, many of whom have moved to Culham, live in my constituency and contribute to the leading role that Britain continues to play in nuclear research.
Everyone in this House knows that the Government do not want to leave Euratom. The decision to leave is a case of, “It’s not you, it’s me.” Euratom is collateral damage from Brexit. Clever lawyers—we have not seen the legal advice—have decided that we have to leave Euratom because of the article 50 notice and it is extremely unhelpful, unfortunately, that the European Commission agrees with them; otherwise we might have had a fighting chance of persuading the Government to reverse their decision to withdraw from Euratom. I cannot help thinking that some such decisions are made slightly on the hoof. I only knew that we were withdrawing from Euratom on the day on which the article 50 Bill was published. It is quite hard to keep up with Government decisions on the issue, so I hope that from now on they will give us a heads up in plenty of time with regard to their decisions as we withdraw.
It is clear that the Bill deserves the House’s support, because it will transfer the safeguarding regime currently undertaken by Euratom to the Office for Nuclear Regulation, in preparation for our withdrawal. It will allow the ONR to monitor fissile material in the UK, to make sure that it is in the right place and being used for the right purpose.
Of course, that is just a small part of Euratom’s work. As Members’ interventions and, indeed, speeches have already highlighted, we need clarity on numerous other areas. The Secretary of State mentioned the very important nuclear co-operation agreements between Euratom and other countries around the world. The agreements allow us to trade in those nuclear markets outside Europe, including Australia, USA, Ukraine and numerous others. Clearly, we will have to replace those nuclear co-operation agreements with those individual states. Indeed, in some of those states, in particular the United States, it is a matter of law that they cannot trade with a country that does not have a nuclear co-operation agreement with them. Clearly, that issue is of the essence.
Secondly, we need—this phrase has been used in many cases with regard to Brexit—to replicate what we already have. In this instance, we need to replicate the common nuclear market that already exists because of our membership of Euratom. That is absolutely vital. Given the transfer of knowledge between highly skilled individuals, I do not think that anyone would object to nuclear specialists being able to move freely between countries and, indeed, to settle in countries where high-powered nuclear research—no pun intended—is being undertaken.
Thirdly, what comes out of our membership of Euratom is our leadership in nuclear research. Culham is a very serious project that has attracted hundreds of millions of pounds of investment through the Joint European Torus project. We were successful in ensuring that the next phase of JET, ITER—the international thermonuclear experimental reactor—will be based in France, despite talk of its being moved to Japan at one point. It is clear that Europe, partly because of the UK’s expertise, maintains its leadership in this regard. Following ITER, there will come another project, DEMO, which will be the first working nuclear fusion power plant: a demonstration plant—the clue is in the name. We were in pole position to get that in the UK, but I very much doubt, regrettably, that that will happen now.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has referred to numerous trips to Vienna—a beautiful city—to talk to the International Atomic Energy Authority. He has hinted that progress has been made on the voluntary offer safeguards agreements—an additional protocol that we will need with the IAEA in future. I look forward to further discussions with him on that. I have already talked about the need for new co-operation agreements with the United States, Australia, Ukraine and others.
The issue of isotopes has been raised. The Government have made it clear that they do not regard isotopes as fissile material that is therefore within the scope of Euratom. However, I remind my right hon. Friend that there was in the past a crisis in isotope supply. We must remember that we do not create our own isotopes in this country because we do not have the right nuclear reactors, so we have to get them from our European partners. In fact, Euratom was there to step in when that crisis arose. In 2012, when the supply crisis happened, the Euratom Supply Agency specifically extended its remit to cover the supply of isotopes. It would be interesting to know what our relationship with the Euratom Supply Agency will be as we move forward.
I return to Culham and the fusion budget. I am pleased that the Government have made it clear that they will continue to fund Culham until 2020 regardless of whether that money is part of Euratom or otherwise. However, it is again worth pointing out what enormous benefits membership of Euratom has brought to British industry. Some 40 British companies are working on the next project, ITER, with £500 million-worth of contracts. I am sure that they will be maintained, but it would be good to hear reassurances that they will be. I stress that British scientists played a really key role in ensuring that ITER happened in France and not in Japan.
Then there is the question of whether the Office for Nuclear Regulation has the capacity to undertake the responsibilities it will be given in the Bill. As I understand it, eight members of staff at the ONR currently work on safeguarding, and about 40 Euratom staff do so. Incidentally, for those of us in this House who routinely refer to bloated European bureaucracy, I was interested to note that Euratom has only 160 staff, about 25% of whom work on safeguarding. Clearly, some financial support will be needed. The grant from the Government to the ONR is actually going down. Understandably, emphasis has been put on the nuclear industry funding the ONR, but it is a pity that the grant—admittedly it is very small, in the single millions—is being halved at precisely the time when new responsibilities are being put through in statute.
We now understand that the Government’s position on Brexit as a whole is to see a transition period. I cannot keep track of how long it will be, and who is in favour of it and who is not. I am in favour of the longest possible transition period—perhaps a couple of hundred years. [Laughter.] It would be delightful if we could get from the Minister some indication of whether the Government are thinking about a potential transition period as we leave Euratom so that we can remain members for a couple of years after we formally leave.
We will clearly have to look at associate membership of Euratom. However, nobody should be under any illusions that associate membership is something that we can take off the shelf. Switzerland and Ukraine are already associate members, but for very specific issues, mainly to do with nuclear research; they do not have nearly the same benefits that full Euratom membership brings. Therefore, yet again, we will be seeking a bespoke, special and close relationship with the single nuclear community otherwise known as Euratom.
It is woefully typical of the approach of this Government that despite their intention to abandon Euratom, this Bill falls significantly short of dealing with vital issues for the UK’s nuclear future. Without any confirmation of a transitionary deal, Ministers have left a host of unanswered questions around nuclear safety. The nuclear industry, the medical profession, our research sector and universities—virtually everyone associated with nuclear power or related supply chain industries—have asked for the answers to those questions. Breaking the news to Parliament that we will leave Euratom in a line of the Bill’s explanatory notes shows wilful disrespect to them.
It also betrays an all-too-common disregard for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, because while safety is reserved, areas of regulation are devolved. That regulatory role is just part of why the Scottish Government must be involved in discussions over Euratom as things move forward.
Do we not have to be very careful about our terminology? The Bill has absolutely nothing to do with safety standards as in the prevention of nuclear accidents—it is about safeguarding, which has an altogether different legal meaning. Is it not very important that we do not scaremonger about this?
It is very important that the unanswered questions are dealt with in this insufficient Bill—[Interruption.] Well, a lot of people will be concerned about the implications of what is not covered in this discussion, some of which I intend to cover.
With regard to nuclear safety, it is critical that we continue membership—or, at the very least, associate membership—of Euratom. Falling back on WTO rules could risk the UK breaking international law. It will come as no surprise that we in the SNP believe that the safest nuclear power policy is no nuclear power. We are determined to deliver just that.
I am going to make some headway.
In Scotland, we are already showing what can be achieved by renewable energy. New storage solutions for renewables are developing further access to the vast potential from offshore wind and tidal, meaning that an abundance of low-cost, clean energy will be generated. In contrast, this Government continue to chase the folly of new nuclear such as the white elephant that is Hinkley C, leading to exorbitant costs for consumers and leaving yet another burden for future generations to clean up—and that is if there is no more immediate crisis caused by failure or deliberate act leading to nuclear incident. I also wonder what care and attention has been given to people in Wales, as only days ago it came to light that about 300,000 tonnes of “radioactive mud”—a by-product of this Government’s nuclear obsession—is to be dredged and moved to Wales. I will leave that to hon. Members from Wales to debate further.
My constituency is in the highlands, which is not only the natural home of much of our renewable generation and its potential, but home to Dounreay. It is a place where the impact and long-term costs, both financial and environmental, of nuclear are well known. Those costs should not be repeated. The Minister pointed out that the responsibility for domestic nuclear safety resides in the UK, but that does not mean that the UK has a good record, especially prior to EU membership. Indeed, most of us living in the area can recall the various worrying nuclear material scares, and we are well versed on the dangerous radioactive levels recorded on Caithness beaches.
Each scare should remind us of why our membership of Euratom is so important—because while they can never be perfect, agreed EU directives over safety have been essential in ending some of the hair-raising practices in the UK nuclear industry. Who could forget that in 2006 the remains of actual plutonium rods were found on the beach at Sandside, in Caithness? Hon. Members earlier mentioned watertight provisions, but one retired Dounreay worker who was interviewed at the time spoke of a catalogue of errors, accidents and bad procedure, including claims that workers commonly disposed of radioactive material in the sea at night to avoid it having to appear on official documents. He told a reporter that he once saw a man
“using a Wellington boot tied to a piece of string” to take test samples
“because the proper equipment had rusted” beyond use. Mr Lyall, the retired worker who spoke out, had been a plant supervisor for many years.
Although the UK Atomic Energy Authority—as it would—denied that Mr Lyall’s claims were true, it did admit:
“There were practices from the 1950s to the 1960s that we would not repeat today.”
Those practices occurred before we were members of Euratom. In the same statement, the UKAEA told reporters:
“Standards have risen in health and safety and environmental protection, and government legislation has also been tightened considerably.”
Our membership of the EU, and especially of Euratom, has had a positive impact on the improvement of the standards that the UKAEA spoke of. In Scotland, although we are working towards a nuclear-free future, we have to maintain safety at existing facilities during that process, and we must plan for a future of decommissioning.
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but is not this the rub? He and I would both prefer to remain in Euratom if we could, but since the legal opinion, not just on this side of the channel but in the Commission, is that we cannot—that has not been challenged by any third party—we need this Bill to achieve exactly the laudable and objectives that he and I share.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, but he highlights the fact that we have not seen that legal opinion or any indication that it is watertight. We should have the opportunity to see it; perhaps it will be forthcoming as a result of this debate.
No, I am going to make some progress.
As I was saying, in Scotland, although we are working towards a nuclear-free future, we have to maintain safety at existing facilities. The current challenges exist in the other nations of the UK; indeed, they are multiplied by this Government’s obsession with pursuing costly and dangerous new nuclear. That obsession has put nuclear at the heart of energy strategy, while the Government’s other obsession with hard Brexit would see them leave the very agency that oversees the security of markets, businesses and workers in the sector. To most people looking on, that is baffling and dangerous. To us, it is yet another day in the growing chaos of this Tory Government.
Leaving Euratom serves no purpose other than to put at risk standards that have been in place for many years. Hon. Members do not even need to take my word for it. The Nuclear Industry Association has said:
“The nuclear industry has been clear that our preferred option is to seek to remain part of EURATOM, and that the UK government should negotiate this with the European Commission. The industry in both the UK and Europe want to maintain the same standards as apply now, and have worked well for more than 40 years. Without access to Euratom’s NCAs and common market, the nuclear new build programme, nuclear operations and the decommissioning mission could be seriously affected.”
Everything that can be done must be done to mitigate the risk of any incident, the effects of which would be measured in millennia. Failures in nuclear safety and decommissioning carry a potential catastrophic impact so great that our closest eye and the very best and most up-to-date research are required to avoid such outcomes.
What we would support is a sensible approach to maintaining either full or associate membership of Euratom.
The European regulator oversees nuclear matters as diverse as plutonium storage and medically vital radiotherapy supplies. For example, our membership of the Fusion for Energy programme allows the UK to receive contracts. So far, the UK supply chain has been awarded contracts worth €500 million, and that would have been expected to rise to at least €1 billion. Leaving Euratom seems to serve no purpose other than to satisfy this Government’s hard Brexit mantra.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there seems to be a rigid consensus among Conservative Members that we cannot stay in Euratom if we leave the EU, and that they refuse to accept that legal opinion on the matter is divided? Does he agree that it is utterly incumbent on the Secretary of State to explore this divided legal opinion to see whether the UK can, indeed, stay in Euratom?
I agree that there are clearly unanswered questions about the legal position, which has not been challenged, exercised fully or even debated to any degree. Not only are our safety standards, research opportunities and business at risk, but we may see the most dramatic and negative effects of any withdrawal in the medical field.
No, I am going to make a bit of progress.
In its paper on radioisotopes and Brexit, the Royal College of Radiologists outlines the crucial role that radioisotopes play in medical advances. The majority of the UK’s supply of radioisotopes, used in scanning and the systemic and internal treatment of a wide range of cancers, is imported from Europe and further afield. The most commonly used radioisotope is used in 700,000 medical procedures each year, and global demand is growing by 0.5% a year. Radioisotopes are used for the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases, including cancers, cardiovascular conditions and brain disorders. The UK does not have any reactors capable of producing those isotopes, and because they decay rapidly—often within a matter of hours or days—hospitals in the UK cannot stockpile them and must rely on a continuous supply from reactors in the EU.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the isotopes he refers to are not special fissile nuclear material, and so they are not regulated by international safeguards such as these and would not be affected if we left Euratom?
It is telling that Conservative Members are willing to ignore all advice from experts in the nuclear industry in order to uphold their position that we must have the hardest possible Brexit.
No, I am going to make some progress.
As I have said, the UK does not currently have any reactors capable of producing such isotopes.
Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. Euratom places no restrictions whatsoever on the export of medical isotopes, and so there are no further protections needed. It is irrelevant.
I do not think that the Minister is reflecting the view of the experts in the industry who are affected, and I will come on to underline that with some quotes.
Euratom supports the secure and safe supply and use of medical radioisotopes. If and when the UK withdraws, it will no longer—this is the critical point—have access to Euratom’s support, ending the certainty of a seamless and continuing supply. The Royal College of Radiologists points out that the supply of radioisotopes would be disrupted by leaving the single market, because transport delays will reduce the amount of useful radioisotopes that can be successfully transported to their destination.
No, I am going to make some progress. As I pointed out, radioisotopes decay within hours or days of production. The most common isotope has a half-life of just 66 hours. The consequences of a disrupted radioisotope supply was made clear not only during the incident that Mr Vaizey mentioned, but during the channel tunnel fire in 2008. That led to a reduction of the availability of radioisotopes, and to cancelled procedures. So, for patients, there can be no “no deal” scenario. Such a scenario is a ludicrous proposition with regard to leaving the EU; as practitioners point out, however, in relation to medical isotopes it is a matter of people’s very lives.
Leaving Euratom will increase the difficulty of maintaining nuclear fuel in the longer term and threaten research funding into medical isotopes.
No, because I am going to conclude.
Most concerning of all is that leaving Euratom has the potential to reduce standards of protection for workers and the public. Since the UK Government have committed to a nuclear future, it would be pushing their irresponsible actions to critical levels if they were to forsake membership or, at the very least, associate membership of Euratom. Until there is no nuclear in Scotland—on our land, or in our waters—we should have the right to remain a member of it.
It is abundantly clear, especially from the Westminster Hall debate secured by Albert Owen, that Euratom is intrinsically entwined with our membership of the European Union. Legal advice says that, as does the Commission itself. That has been abundantly expressed during this debate, and no doubt it will be expressed again on many other occasions.
The tone of the Westminster Hall debate, and the contribution it made, was fantastic. Unfortunately, some aspects of the issue, as we have heard today, are actually a little more disturbing. The way the debate is going on medical isotopes—radioactive isotopes for cancer and other medical treatments—has been extraordinary, given that it is absolutely clear that this does not form part of the Bill. The impact of leaving Euratom will not be to stop people receiving such cancer treatments.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for referring to the debate I led on
I appreciate the broad consensus in the Grand Committee Room, but not everyone had an opportunity to speak in that debate. No doubt there will be a transition period of some sort, but whether we have an associate membership or just a very close association at the end of it—like the association we will have with the European Union—we will look at what the EU does and how it goes about things, and we of course want similar standards. We are not looking to leave the European Union and then to reduce and cut all kinds of standards.
The extraordinary aspect of this debate is that some people are saying we will go off a cliff edge and valuable radioactive isotopes will no longer be available. What does that suggest about our friends in the European Union—that they will no longer sell these products, or that they will choose not to allow those products to be sent over to the United Kingdom? It is extraordinary to suggest that such sales will cease.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that is not about the EU wanting to give us radioisotopes, but about half-lives? The radioisotopes we are talking about have extremely short half-lives, so any delay at all at the border means fewer patients will be able to benefit from them.
Yes, I understand that some half-lives can be as short as six hours, so the efficacy of the isotopes will diminish in an incredibly short period. However, to say that the European Union and the British Government are not fully aware of that and that getting such materials from Europe over to the United Kingdom cannot or will not happen is extraordinary.
I have already given way on this issue.
It is absolutely extraordinary to suggest that these materials will dry up overnight. Clearly, we are going to have a good relationship with the European Union and there are going to be sales of these products.
Does my hon. Friend agree that implying that the Bill will have an impact on the supply of medical isotopes is shameful scaremongering that could deeply upset and distress seriously ill people in this country?
Absolutely. I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. As has been highlighted, 500 medical procedures a year, involving 10,000 people in the United Kingdom, depend on these products, yet we hear that they are going to be withdrawn and taken away, or that they will be held at the ports.
No. I am going to make some progress.
As we leave the European Union, we want to continue research relationships with it on many projects. We will see through Horizon 2020 to the end, and we must consider what kind of relationship we will have on the successor programme—framework programme 9. We need a close relationship with the European Union on Horizon 2020, but we must also consider what relationship we need or want on framework programme 9, and we must be mindful of the direction of travel with the European Union.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about the period beyond 2020. All things being equal, this Parliament, being a fixed-term Parliament, will last until 2022. Should the Government not already be signalling how much money they will put towards future funding?
There will be an ongoing consultation on the relationship the university and scientific sector in the United Kingdom wants on the successor programme. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know, Horizon 2020 really focuses on top-end research—the things that we often do very well in the United Kingdom—which is why this country has a disproportionately large share of the Horizon 2020 money. On the successor programme, however, the moneys may be directed towards capacity building, which would favour other regions of the European Union more and the United Kingdom less. We must look into that and watch the direction of travel in the European Union. This is not set in stone, and we should not think that the successor programme to Horizon 2020 will merely “cut and paste” what we have today.
My big concern about where we go from here, post-Brexit, is the migration to the United Kingdom of European Union citizens and people from across the world who want to take up jobs in the nuclear industry. There is a huge opportunity in this, post-Brexit, for trained and qualified staff who currently work in Euratom to come across and work in the United Kingdom or for us to recruit and bring in people from across the world. Once we leave the European Union, we will have an opportunity to set the skill requirements we need in this country.
The hon. Gentleman is making some interesting points. I have consulted the powers that be in my constituency, where I have two universities, and there is concern about the consequences for science of ending the free movement of labour, certainly in relation to the specialists who come in to help train people. Experts very often come from Europe to teach science and technology, and there is concern because if we do not get this right, those people may well not be available for those universities.
That is a fair point, and why we have to ensure that we have as close a relationship as possible, consistent with having left, with the European Union post Brexit. Universities will be one of the prime sectors that the Government look to to ensure that we have that co-operation. It is such an important sector for the UK.
When thinking about who we need in the UK, people often focus on the highly qualified—professors, lecturers and so on—and the technicians that universities need can be overlooked. They are often paid significantly less, but we need them to come over, too.
I do not think that anybody debated or considered leaving Euratom, or voted to leave it on
Except the hon. Gentleman. However, we are where we are, and the Government have made their decision. I urge them not to abandon what I and many hon. Members regard as a sensible approach: to pursue a transition period during which we stay under Euratom’s auspices, and then seek some sort of associate membership so that we do not have to recreate everything that the Minister and others have said that we value from our membership.
I understand the need for the Bill. There is a risk that we could crash out of the EU and Euratom, and we need a back-up, given that the Office for Nuclear Regulation will take on the responsibilities that Euratom has today. Unlike trade, there is no fall-back option for nuclear. With trade, we have the World Trade Organisation, but with nuclear, if we do not have an arrangement with the IAEA, we will not be able to trade or move nuclear materials around the EU. The Bill is an important belt-and-braces measure in case we crash out, which I hope does not happen, but is a risk.
The Bill does part of one thing—pass the remit for safeguarding inspections from Euratom to our regulator, the ONR. As hon. Members know, the ONR is not new, but there are serious pressures on its capacity. It is currently recruiting a new chief nuclear inspector, and only last week the Government had to put aside more money for it as part of the clean growth strategy. We therefore know that the ONR is under pressure even before taking on the new responsibilities that the Government may pass on to it. As a senior ONR official was forced to admit to a Select Committee in the other place, the timescale for adding safeguarding responsibilities is “very challenging”.
My hon. Friend speaks with great knowledge. He led the Westminster Hall debate and has a constituency interest. He is absolutely right, and some of the questions I will pose later are about how we can be sure that the ONR has the capacity and the capability to take on the responsibility that the Government will pass on to it.
The Bill does not resolve all the safeguarding issues. It does not solve the difficulties associated with the common nuclear market that exists as part of the Euratom framework, and it does not put in place the nuclear co-operation agreements with other countries that we would require to enable trading and even the exchange of information between nuclear states. It does nothing to resolve the arrangements to continue the world-leading fusion research, funded by Euratom but located in Oxfordshire, as Mr Vaizey pointed out. I know that Members who represent those communities have real concerns about the impact. When I visited Culham a couple of weeks ago, it was made clear to me that those working there would prefer to stay in Euratom and had serious concerns about our exit.
Despite what some hon. Members think and say, the Bill does not provide the assurance that radiographers and others have sought for months from the Government that medical radioisotopes, again not made here, can be seamlessly transported to the UK for diagnostics and treatment. No one in this Chamber can say with certainty what will happen in March 2019, and whether agreements will be put in place for the frictionless movement of goods and services. Without that, we cannot be certain that those radioisotopes can come into this country easily and without hindrance.
Given that list, it should not be a surprise to Ministers or the House that my Committee—the Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—has launched an inquiry into the impact of the Government’s decision to leave Euratom. The House will also not be surprised to learn that a lot of detailed and concerning evidence has been submitted to us. As well as my visit to Culham and the Joint European Torus—JET—I was at Hinkley Point today, meeting representatives from Hinkley Point C. Again, concerns were expressed to us about ensuring that nuclear fuel can get into the country once we have left Euratom. Ministers should be mindful of that.
Let us be clear: the process of ceasing to be part of Euratom, if that is what we end up doing, is complex, time consuming, and relies on good will, negotiation and agreement with third parties. Ministers cannot simply say that we will get those arrangements—they are up for negotiation. The Bill is just one small part of that complex picture, and as Ministers know, there is a very limited timeframe to get a series of agreements with a range of third party states to replicate what already exists as part of the Euratom framework.
My biggest concern about the Bill as it stands is that although it provides for permission to transfer the responsibility for safeguarding, it leaves to a later date all the arrangements that need to be made to ensure that the ONR can carry out those new functions. It leaves it to Ministers to determine them, at an undetermined time—increasingly a feature of the Government’s attitude to this as well as other aspects of the process of disentangling the UK from the EU. That is worrying, and should concern every Member of this House. Parliament should be involved because the decisions made here will affect all our constituents.
If we consent to the Bill as it stands, and transfer authority from Euratom to the ONR, it is important that we are confident in the arrangements to effect that change. We must be confident that, as my hon. Friend Albert Owen said, the ONR has enough qualified and relevantly experienced personnel, because this is a specialist and skilled task, to do the job. Given that it is currently done and has been done for decades by another organisation, we must be confident that those people have had the right training, that the equipment required for monitoring special fissile material—by inspection in person and remotely—is in place, and that we know that the IAEA, the international body responsible for safeguarding standards, is satisfied and confident that this can be done effectively.
However collegiate or conciliatory Ministers are during Bill’s passage, and I know that they will be, they cannot provide those assurances to Parliament today, or any time soon, and they have no way of knowing whether the conditions will be met. It is a very big gamble, and frankly, it is unacceptable to say, “Don’t worry, it will all happen through regulation and we will deal with it later; we have a very good relationship”. It is Ministers’ and the Government’s responsibility to provide Parliament with the assurances, detailed information and confidence on this matter, and all those aspects of replicating what we currently benefit from as part of Euratom.
In the context of the Bill and what needs to happen in addition to it, there are several questions that need answers before Members can be convinced that the Government’s course of action—their choice that we go our own way rather than negotiate for a transition period and associate membership—is correct. When can Ministers tell the House more about the terms of any agreement with the IAEA? It has been suggested that standards will be broadly equivalent to those from which we benefit now. What does “broadly equivalent” mean? What is the difference between what we currently have and what the Government are seeking to get from the IAEA? When will the voluntary offer be agreed, ratified and confirmed by the IAEA? What measures do the Government have in mind to ensure that the Office for Nuclear Regulation has the right skills and resources in place, given how long it takes to train a nuclear safeguards inspector and the skills shortages that already exist in the sector?
The Minister knows well that many experts in the field are concerned about the decision to leave Euratom. Since its inception, Euratom has helped to facilitate trade, promoted key research and development programmes, allowed for the movement of skills and maintained high safeguarding standards. While nobody in this House would demur from the absolute requirement that safeguarding inspections happen, or from the need for the ONR to have powers from this House if it is to undertake that role, the Minister must realise too that, notwithstanding that position, many questions remain unanswered. I hope a better way forward can be found—transition and associate membership, not a risky and costly process of transferring powers to the ONR for something that by its very nature relies on international co-operation, agreement and trust.
I am grateful and very pleased to be here as the first brick is placed into the strong foundation that we will be building for a post-Brexit Britain. This is the first real piece of legislation enabling us to see what it will look like. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill’s brevity and concision. Hopefully that pattern will be repeated.
I welcome the Bill and indeed our leaving Euratom, as I said earlier, although I recognise that many will not. Warm has been the embrace of Euratom for the past 40-odd years. Much has been achieved, in both research and safeguarding standards, but in truth the mourning bell has been tolling for Euratom for some time, because it is clear that the EU is turning its face against civil nuclear power. Germany is phasing it out by 2020, in a decision taken a couple of years ago, while Belgium, in a decision taken by our friend Mr Verhofstadt when he was Prime Minister, has decided to phase it out by 2025. Italy and Denmark have already made nuclear power generation illegal. Greece and Spain are phasing it out. Austria—ironically, as the home of the IAEA—has made it illegal even to transport nuclear material across its territory, such is its antipathy to it.
Given that the aggressively anti-nuclear Green party peppers Parliaments across the continent and has 51 seats in the European Parliament, serious questions need to be asked about the future of Euratom and its funding. When we recognise that much of the Horizon 2020 funding, which will go towards nuclear research, is generated by Germany, which will not be using the technology invented under that programme, we have to ask how long Germany will tolerate the notion that it should be pouring hundreds of millions of euros into nuclear research.
My hon. Friend clearly knows a lot about this subject, so on a point of information to illuminate the House, what does he think about the French attitude to nuclear power?
As I was about to say, in truth, Euratom is the French. It is anchored around France, with its 58 reactors, and they are the only serious nuclear player among the EU 27. The UK is second and Ukraine, although not a member—as my right hon. Friend Mr Vaizey pointed out, it is now a special associate of Euratom, as it were—is third. Nevertheless, we now have the opportunity to look strategically at where our civil nuclear is going, what global alliances we should have, the direction of Euratom and EU nuclear research, and whether there is a better way.
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the future of nuclear is still very uncertain? If the Romans had invented nuclear power, we would still be guarding our nuclear waste sites.
I absolutely think that nuclear waste is important, particularly to us in this country. That is why we should have total control of it ourselves and not be reliant on a series of countries that will perhaps not even be willing to put money into researching how to dispose of, or reprocess or otherwise use nuclear waste.
We have been members of the IAEA since 1957. We have the capability to make the change; indeed, there is a strategic argument that the Office for Nuclear Regulation would be much better served if it had responsibility for all three of the civil nuclear strands—safety, security, and regulation and safeguarding. We lead the world in safety regulation; we can lead the world in the other two.
I am immensely enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech, not least as I have discovered that the one person in the country who went to the polls on
No, I completely disagree with my right hon. Friend. This is not the wrong time; it is exactly the right time for us to recognise that there is a world beyond the EU in terms of nuclear research. There has been much angst in the House already about nuclear scientists being able to travel freely, but I would point out that they do actually exist outside the European Union. There are lots of them in Japan, Korea, China and elsewhere. Indeed, the leading edge of nuclear research and the development of civil nuclear power is elsewhere. As I have said, we are dealing with a community of countries that are turning their back on this technology. Even if we get to the holy grail of fission, and we manage to get fusion going from the great reactor in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, the Germans will not use it. They have said already that it is of no use to them. The idea that they will continue to fund it into the future is fallacious.
I am always further intrigued by the arguments of people such as my hon. Friend, who imply that we could do nothing outside Europe when we were members of Euratom. However, we got the Chinese to invest in Hinkley while remaining members. How did our membership prevent us from co-operating with other nuclear states?
It has not prevented us, but we now have the opportunity to recognise that the nuclear community is global. While Euratom has served its purpose thus far, the point I am trying to make is that the trend of European opinion is very much against nuclear, so those countries are unlikely to continue pumping the money into Euratom that it has hitherto enjoyed. That is why we need to look elsewhere. It is perfectly possible for us to have a bilateral relationship with France. We have one on nuclear defence at the moment, which was signed in 2010; we can do the same on power. There is absolutely no threat to our participation in some of the global research programmes, such as the one at Culham and the ITER in the south of France, which currently includes Korea, China, Japan and Russia. There are lots of ways in which we can be involved.
My message today, I guess, is that people have to learn that Euratom cannot be part of project fear. It must not be part of project fear; it is far too strategically important to us not to reach out to the rest of the world. I am quite happy for us to have an associate membership, if that is what is required, but there is a world beyond the EU, and we have seen that in medical isotopes. As my hon. Friend Chris Green said, no one is pretending that we will not be sent medical isotopes when we come out, but that points to a strategic problem because of our membership of Euratom: we should be manufacturing those isotopes here. Why have we not got a reactor that will create them? We have the largest agglomeration of life sciences research on the planet, yet we do not have this feather in our cap—this piece of the jigsaw. Notwithstanding the SNP’s antipathy to nuclear, perhaps we should build that kind of reactor in Scotland, given that thousands and thousands of Scots benefit from medical isotopes every year.
The argument about Euratom has exposed the strategic nature of nuclear to us, in defence, civil nuclear and medical, and allows us now to think more coherently about which way we go. Civil nuclear is an international effort. Regulation should be at international level, as should partnership, so that we can finally find the holy grail of fusion power, which will solve our power generation problems well into the next century.
It is a pleasure to follow Kit Malthouse—[Hon. Members: “Why?”]—because he at least made an argument, unlike some previous Conservative Members, whose speeches were filled with vapid nonsense about how everything would be wonderful. His argument, however, was essentially: the Germans are coming and we need to pull up the nuclear drawbridge.
My hon. Friend’s precise point was that the Germans had retreated and left the field of civil nuclear energy. So the hon. Gentleman has drawn exactly the wrong conclusion.
I tried to listen carefully.
I have some sympathy with Ministers. I am reminded of Dora Gaitskell in 1961 when she turned to her husband Hugh, that great leader of the Labour party—
Don’t tempt me!
Hugh Gaitskell had just turned on its head his previously strong support for the EU by saying that joining Euratom would be like reversing 1,000 years of Britain as an independent state, and Dora said to her husband, “All the wrong people are cheering”. The Minister has had enthusiastic endorsements not only from the hon. Member for North West Hampshire, who belongs to the new generation of hard Brexiteer, but from Mr Duncan Smith, who I saw leaping to his feet enthusiastically, and others. He needs to look around at who is friends are on this and push much harder for the view that we might speculate is his own personal view—that the course the Government have set is potentially deeply damaging for the nation, for civil nuclear power and, as I will come to, for many workers in my constituency and far more in that of Trudy Harrison.
The Bill is a hastily constructed life raft. Labour Members are not against life rafts—some of us have of late considered them in other circumstances. They might sometimes be necessary, and we will engage constructively in Committee to improve this hastily and poorly constructed life raft, but we should not be seeking to bail from the nuclear ship at all, as is currently the Government’s policy. I asked the Secretary of State two important questions—he was generous in allowing me to intervene on him twice—but to my mind he answered neither. The Minister might do so now or in his summing up if he wishes. First, is it the Government’s policy to negotiate a transition agreement beyond 2019, so that the cliff edge we are currently facing recedes at least by a few years? Secondly, are the Government seeking associate membership, which would negate the need for a whole new set of nuclear co-operation agreements?
I know that Ministers are inclined to put on a brave face, but still I must note the level of optimism coming from the Dispatch Box. The Minister will know better than me that the civil service is bursting at the seams trying to deliver the panoply of new treaties and arrangements that Brexit is forcing on the country. It is at best highly doubtful that there will be the capacity in the system at our end to put together a whole new set of comprehensive NCAs to alleviate the problem by 2019, and that puts at risk not only the current generation of civil nuclear power stations but the future generation.
Since the Minister took up his job, he has been engaged privately, like his predecessors, in trying to rescue the NuGen deal, which, if it goes ahead, will create up to 20,000 jobs in Copeland’s local economy. Several hundred of my constituents already go up the road and coast every day to work at Sellafield. We are talking about thousands more jobs, but that deal has potentially been damaged by the uncertainty around the post-Brexit arrangements—not only the final outcome but the Government’s intentions now. That uncertainty might deter this vital new investor, which can keep those 20,000 jobs on track in our local economy and help the UK to keep the lights on.
The situation is deeply worrying. I realise that many current and future Ministers will not have wanted to be in this situation, but they have some agency and could be clearer with the nuclear industry and other nations watching about where exactly they want to end up. That is the responsible way to safeguard jobs in our local area.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in an important debate that is crucial for my constituency. Fellow Members will have heard me speak previously of the world-class nuclear skills in my constituency, of its internationally celebrated safe ways of working and of the challenges my community is overcoming in dealing with the world’s most complex nuclear legacy clean-up. Sellafield and the supply chain are world leading in this field. Sellafield is Europe’s biggest and most complex nuclear site and has been central to the UK’s nuclear development right from the beginning.
The UK established the world’s first civil nuclear programme, with the opening the first nuclear power station in my constituency at Calder Hall, which was first connected to the grid in 1956 and officially opened by the Queen. It was the world’s first power station to generate electricity on a commercial scale and operated for 47 years until it closed in 2003. The International Atomic Energy Agency was formed in March 1957 to support civil nuclear collaboration across the globe, and again we were world leaders in its formation. It is critical that we continue to benefit from being part of the IAEA and Euratom after we leave the EU.
Since being elected in February, I have visited both of Copeland’s nuclear licensed sites, Sellafield and the Low Level Waste Repository, to see for myself the incredible work done there by humble but highly skilled workers—scientists, engineers, tradespeople, those working in quality assurance and the enormous support operations. Sellafield has changed considerably since I worked there 20 years ago. I should declare an interest, as my husband, father and brother all work at Sellafield or in the nuclear industry—but then so do more than half my constituents, either directly or indirectly.
I have visited over 70 of the nuclear supply chain companies operating in my constituency. From global household names such AECOM, Arup, Atkins and Ansaldo NES to the more bespoke, locally grown, niche businesses of Delkia and REACT Engineering. We have an incredible wealth of talent and capability, matched by enormous opportunity, but each of these businesses is wholly dependent on the Government getting this right. Even to make a phone call between countries depends on getting this right. For an engineer in Copeland to speak with a supplier in Savannah River requires bilateral agreements. With Hinkley Point C in mid-construction and a raft of nuclear new build on the horizon, including Moorside adjacent to Sellafield, all the more urgency and precision is required in maintaining the benefits we currently enjoy through our membership of Euratom.
As we leave the European Union, the Bill is a much-needed step that will potentially give the Office for Nuclear Regulation the necessary powers to take up and continue the role that about 40 Euratom officials currently undertake, if that is required. I understand that there may well be a potential for the United Kingdom to remain part of Euratom, or to become an associate member if an agreement can be reached that is mutually beneficial and suits the UK. Switzerland and the UK show that there is a precedent, but a deal of this kind must be right for the UK’s interests. However, it is essential to have a plan B, which is what the Bill provides.
The Bill seeks to transfer the responsibility for safeguarding inspections from Euratom to the ONR. It is important to note that Euratom currently has no impact on the management and safety of the UK’s many nuclear sites, which are solely the responsibility of the ONR, guided by UK policy. Of course, our policies reflect agreed international standards, and our standards are extremely high. There is no reason, in my opinion, that a similar set-up could not exist in respect of Euratom. The UK has a robust and well-established civil nuclear safety regime, which will not change if all the necessary steps are taken to ensure confidence and continuity throughout the transition stage.
The Government’s decision to withdraw from Euratom is a key concern for many businesses in my constituency and for those working in the nuclear industry throughout the UK. We need to ensure that, if we must leave Euratom, we have bilateral agreements beyond the EU. Foreign investment and knowledge are fundamental to the continued use and development of modern nuclear power plants. We need only look at Hinkley Point C to see an example of international knowledge and skill-sharing and, of course, an example of foreign investment. Any investor or developer requires confidence and continuity, particularly when the stakes are high. As a member of Euratom, the UK enjoys the benefits of several nuclear co-operation agreements, negotiated by Euratom on behalf of its member states. Trade agreements with many countries including Japan, South Africa and the USA allow the sharing of knowledge, personnel and components. We must not allow ourselves to lose that international co-operation.
Although the Bill is a good and necessary first step, even as a precautionary measure, more needs to be done to address and replicate the other aspects of Euratom, and to determine how we can ensure continuity in all the areas for which Euratom membership currently provides. While the transfer of responsibility from Euratom to the ONR seems logical, it is essential to ensure that the ONR has the necessary budget and is able to recruit appropriately skilled staff within the required timescales. I remain concerned about the Government’s intention to reduce the grant for the ONR. I fear that that would have a serious impact on the organisation’s ability to complete its current tasks, let alone perform its increased duties after Euratom withdrawal. That needs to be addressed.
I commend the work of the Minister and his Department. They have been very generous with their time when dealing with concerned Members such as me. The Department has obviously noted the difficulty, and the importance, of ensuring that there is a smooth transition if membership, or associate membership, of Euratom is not possible. Let me also recognise the work of the Prospect union and the Nuclear Industry Association in helping their members, and me, to understand the needs of the industry, and that of the many businesses who have contributed their concerns and suggestions in their efforts to get this right.
I must make clear that not getting this transition right—not putting the right arrangements in place and doing so in time—would be catastrophic, in many ways, for my constituency, for the nuclear sector, for research and development, for science, industry and advanced manufacturing, for apprenticeships and our legacy of world-class skills, for jobs, for growth and for keeping our country powered up. It would be catastrophic for our country and for other countries, too. I know—this is just one example—that the skills, experience and innovative equipment of Copeland’s businesses are a vital part of the clean-up operation at Fukushima in Japan.
For decades, the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield has processed waste from other countries, safely and efficiently. THORP is generating about £1 billion annually for the UK. The processes of separation, encapsulation, vitrification and compaction to deal with complex decommissioning challenges have been perfected at Sellafield, at the Low Level Waste Repository and throughout our supply chain, and the time is right for exporting more of those skills, the knowledge of processes and the innovation of equipment. Our future is and should be bright if we get this right, but everything depends on appropriate and timely arrangements.
Let me end on a note of caution. Like other Members who appreciate the importance of this industry to our country, I will not accept being pushed off our pedestal of internationally respected nuclear excellence. Without the replacement provisions in place, if we have to leave Euratom, we will fall not only from that pedestal, but right off the cliff in March 2019. The Bill is therefore vital, if only as a plan B. I am pleased to have been able to speak in the debate and to commend the beginning of the process. Negotiations and agreements must be made swiftly, with rigour and robustness, and with the support and agreement of Members on both sides of the House.
As many Members have already pointed out, the Bill should not be needed at all. The most sensible approach to nuclear safeguarding would be for the United Kingdom to remain a member of Euratom, rather than wasting vast amounts of time and money in setting up an alternative regime that the Government admit will be as much a replica of the original as possible. The Government have created a rod for their own back by insisting that the European Court of Justice and freedom of movement are red lines. I wish they would just admit that that is the problem, rather than hiding behind legalese and unpublished, disputed advice.
As was pointed out by Rachel Reeves, when most people voted on
We are told that the Government will seek a new treaty to replace Euratom, so the Bill is applicable only in the event of Britain’s crashing out of the EU and Euratom with no deal. No deal would be deeply disastrous for Britain, and the Government should not even be considering that option; yet here we are, about to pass a Bill to authorise spending on just that eventuality. Let us give credit where it is due. Given the importance of this issue and the Government’s own lack of confidence in themselves, the Department is doing absolutely the right thing in preparing for the worst—and yes, the Liberal Democrats would vote for the Bill on Second Reading. However, the fact that the Government have produced the Bill so early in the Brexit process shows that they must be genuinely concerned by the complexity of the task ahead and the possibility that the negotiations will fail.
By the way, as we all know, we have not even started those negotiations, and industry experts tell us that it could take up to seven years to negotiate a treaty as wide-ranging as Euratom. Although I have enjoyed listening to the jolly assurances of some Conservative Members—I, too, am an optimist by nature—I fail to see how we are going to do this in time.
Like many other Members who have spoken today, I am gravely concerned about the limited scope of the Bill and the fact that it does not cover the full range of Euratom functions. In particular, I am worried for my constituents. At one time, Abingdon had the highest number of PhDs per square kilometre in Europe, and many of the scientists still work on the Joint European Torus—JET—in Culham. The United Kingdom is world-leading in that area. Fusion technology, if achieved at scale, would be tantamount in technological terms to putting a man on a the moon—it is that revolutionary—and it would be a criminal act to put that position in jeopardy, but that is exactly what we are doing. To ensure its future, we need guarantees about the next phase of the work programme by the middle of next year, months before the Brexit negotiations are completed. This is very urgent.
This is not just about money, as we will, I am sure, be told: to fully participate, we must ensure that these scientists can move freely and collaborate fully and, furthermore, that those already here are enticed to stay. These are the best minds in the world, and I need not remind the Government how rare they are. It is all very well saying that we want them to stay, but we need to give them more certainty than that; they are already leaving.
My constituents, alongside others in the industry, are extremely concerned about the implications of Government decisions on their futures. What kind of associate membership do we want? Will the Minister publish, and consult on, proposals for dispute resolution? Will he guarantee freedom of movement of specialist and technical staff in the nuclear industry? There is far more information that we need from the Minister about these and other areas, and it is worrying that this Bill is so limited in scope.
Is the hon. Lady seriously suggesting that there would be any circumstances in which well-qualified nuclear professionals would be prevented from coming into this country? Does she think, plausibly, that that is an outcome we might get to?
I absolutely do, because we have not had that absolute cast-iron guarantee. I should add that this is not just about the nuclear scientists; it is also about all the support staff who are needed.
My concern is that, as we know, world-class nuclear scientists are a rare and valued commodity, and some nations might not see it as in their interests to open the doors and allow greater exits of people whom they want to keep. It suggests a potentially slightly naive view of the world to think that everyone will just say, “Yes, go to Britain; it will all be fine.”
I will be brief about this, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I forgot in my speech to ask for the leave of the House: unfortunately, a family illness means that I am not going to be present for the wind-ups—but in any case Labour does not seem to be voting against.
I let the hon. Gentleman make a long intervention when I realised that there was a point that he wanted to make. I just want to make the point that this does not create a precedent for long interventions, as it was a special case.
On funding, the haste with which the Bill has been introduced suggests the Minister wishes to move forward quickly with recruiting and training the nuclear specialists who will be absolutely crucial in the case of no deal, and rightly so for the reasons I have just described, but can he confirm how much he anticipates being spent on implementing these measures and exactly when this spending will begin? Also, how do we know it will be a sufficient sum? The explanatory notes talk about a new IT system; I look forward to scrutinising that in the Public Accounts Committee.
Another concern is the extent to which specifics are being left to regulations, as has been said, rather than written into the Bill. We are starting to get used to that in this House, but that does not mean it is right: it reduces the level of scrutiny over Government decisions and it erodes public trust.
Given that the Minister has said that he wants associate membership of Euratom, but that formal negotiations might currently not take place, will he publish a policy statement on associate status to enable the industry to start to work around such arrangements as they might progress? Also, will these be Ukraine-style, or Switzerland-style—or, as we have heard from the Minister before, will they be even better? Without oversight of the European Court of Justice and with no freedom of movement, I am not sure we are going to achieve even that. I want to share the Minister’s degree of optimism, but I learned in my physics degree that scepticism is also a valuable approach to life.
What about transition? Have the Government given up on that idea, or will transition include continued membership of Euratom? We have heard already how wide-ranging the Euratom treaty is; I suggest that we must decouple the Euratom issue from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill completely and stop any talk of a cliff-edge on Euratom issues once and for all.
What if this does go all wrong, however? Are the Government even considering that? If Government negotiations fail and we crash out of the EU without negotiating a new agreement with Euratom, we will need this legislation, but we will also need so much more. We keep hearing that it is going to be fine. I feel ever more that this House is being drawn into a scene from “Dr Strangelove”: “How Parliament learned to stop worrying and love Brexit.” Our relationship with Euratom is far too important to take a risk like that.
It is a pleasure to follow Layla Moran, who confirmed that the Liberal Democrats will support the Bill tonight. Indeed, all Members worried about the possibility of the UK falling off a cliff-edge without future arrangements as a result of leaving the EU should support this Bill. It is an important step to avoiding that situation, and this plan B is precisely why the Nuclear Industry Association has described it as “a necessary legislative step.”
It is therefore not a little ironic that the party that wants to have nothing to do with nuclear power, is presumably worried about safeguards, and cannot make a speech without chanting the words “Hard Tory Brexit” appears to be against a contingency plan to prevent precisely that wild accusation from coming true for the nuclear sector. The points made against this Bill by the SNP spokesman, Drew Hendry, and, indeed, by the Labour party spokesman, Rebecca Long Bailey, cannot therefore be about a lack of preparation for any possibility of disagreement about sensible third-party status with Euratom being secured by negotiation, and it must be clear that anyone voting against the Bill tonight will, indeed, be voting for a very hard Brexit for nuclear energy.
The truth is that we must leave to one side the bizarre positions adopted by the formal two leading Opposition parties, and focus on the Bill itself and the comments of individual Members of Parliament, including the hon. Members for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) and for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), and my party colleagues, notably my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison, who has worked in the nuclear industry.
This is a contingency Bill. We all want a form of associative membership with Euratom that replicates existing arrangements. That is the clear position of the entire sector, represented either by the NIA or EDF Energy, the operator of all our existing nuclear power stations, with its operational headquarters in Barnwood in my constituency. It is telling that EDF Energy has said, first, that it appreciates the Government’s “early and constructive engagement on this issue with us”, and, secondly—to deal with some elements of scaremongering —that the UK has extremely “robust” arrangements for safety and security, and, “whatever the status of our membership of Euratom, there is no question but that this will continue to be the case.”
The NIA calls this Bill a welcome first step, but it does raise some questions, and I would be grateful if the Minister could in winding up respond to some of the following questions. First, will he confirm that a bilateral US-UK nuclear co-operation agreement would be put in place to secure US components for Sizewell B in the event of Euratom’s NCAs and common market not being available to us, presumably through a voluntary offer safeguards agreement with the IAEA? Secondly, will he confirm that our funding for the Joint European Torus—or JET—project, which continues to 2020, will be extended, assuming there is a new relationship with Euratom? Thirdly, will he clarify the contingency process for the movement of nuclear material, goods, people, information and services to be agreed with the Euratom Supply Agency? Finally, will he confirm that our preferred arrangement for the period of transition is as close as possible to the current status quo?
Two other points are worth mentioning. They are about matters that the Bill does not cover. First, the NIA has spelt out clearly that Euratom does not manage the safety of the UK’s nuclear sites, which is, and always has been, determined by the UK, overseen by the Office for Nuclear Regulation; it is important that all our constituents understand that. Secondly, as the Secretary of State spelt out earlier, the radioisotopes are not special fissile nuclear material and their availability will absolutely not be impacted by our leaving Euratom. That is incredibly important for anyone who is worried about the impact of this on our health service.
This is a contingency Bill. The Government recognise our clear goal of securing third-party status with Euratom so that we can have the continuity that is clearly being sought by the entire civil nuclear sector, but they are also putting in place legislative arrangements for the Office for Nuclear Regulation to carry out the nuclear safeguarding work currently done by Euratom if, for whatever reason, that does not happen. The arguments—that is a flattering word to use—put up by Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition were riddled with inconsistencies, as their own Members have shown. However, I would not disagree with anything said by the hon. Member for Leeds West, especially on transition and associate membership. I hope that, recognising the importance of contingency planning as she does, she and indeed all Members of this House will, like me, vote for the Bill tonight.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Chair. I am pleased to be speaking in the debate on the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, but what I have found, Madam Chair, I mean Madam Deputy Speaker—
Order. There is no need for hon. Members to contradict the hon. Lady, although I know that they are trying to be helpful. She made a slip of the tongue in referring to me as a Chair rather than as a Deputy Speaker, but I know what she meant.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am pleased to be speaking in this debate. Once again, we are in a debate where we are all promised a post-Brexit world that is shinier, better and newer than anything we have witnessed up to this point. Whether we are talking about nuclear safeguards, food safety standards, consumer rights, trade with the EU, the strength of the pound, UK nationals living abroad, EU nationals living in the UK, or 30% being wiped off the bond yields leaving a £1.8 trillion black hole in our public sector pensions bill, we are told that it will be all right on the night and that everything will be wonderful.
The fact is that no state has ever left Euratom before. Despite what we have heard in the Chamber today, some legal experts—I know that we do not always like listening to experts—believe that it would be perfectly possible for the United Kingdom to leave the EU and remain a member of Euratom because, despite sharing the institutions, the two treaties are distinct and have separate legal instruments. I urge the Minister to explore that. The nuclear industry certainly believes that the UK should pursue some form of continuing membership of Euratom. We do not know what form that will take. We have no details or certainty. I think I probably speak for a large chunk of the public across the United Kingdom when I say that the UK Government’s negotiating skills have not inspired confidence.
I remember sitting in a Committee and being told by Andrea Leadsom, who is now the Leader of the House, that it was necessary and, indeed, essential for us to fly nuclear materials across UK skies so that they could be used in a range of medical treatments at the height of their efficacy. Experts now tell us that leaving Europe’s nuclear regulator will put patients in the UK at risk of losing access to vital medical treatments, but those concerns have been dismissed by Conservative Members,. Despite what we have heard tonight, withdrawal from Euratom as part of Brexit would make it harder for the UK to access the nuclear isotopes used in cancer treatments and medical imaging. It is not me who is saying this—I confess that I do not have the medical or scientific expertise to do so—but the Royal College of Radiologists has told us that this is the case, as has Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
I could give the House 20 other examples of people at the top of their game who have told us this, but I fear that I lack the time to do so. Despite all that, those concerns were utterly dismissed by Mr Duncan Smith, who is no longer in his place, and the Secretary of State told us that these matters are not within the scope of the Bill. I fear that such a response is not reassuring. I am also alarmed, as I am sure many others will be, that someone who is qualified as an economist sees fit to contradict medical experts.
Euratom is responsible for co-ordinating and regulating the transport, use and disposal of nuclear materials in Europe, including many of the isotopes used in radiotherapy and some kinds of body scans. It seems that some of the most widely used medical isotopes can be produced only in specialised reactors, none of which is located in the United Kingdom. The materials currently used in Britain are mostly manufactured in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Experts have told us that there is “no excuse” for Government Ministers failing to foresee the problems that leaving Euratom would cause. They have also indicated, given that all these matters are subject to negotiation, that although it might be possible for the UK to remain within the existing arrangements, it would be “exceptionally complicated” and that the UK’s position would “inevitably be weakened”. Those are the words of medical experts at the top of their field. Crucially, no real clarity on how any agreement might be achieved by the UK Government has been forthcoming. The Government’s position paper on Euratom published in July contained little detail even on nuclear power and it did not mention medical isotopes. Perhaps the Minister would care to mention them today. Can he also tell us whether the Secretary of State for Health has been consulted on this matter?
Ministers have absolutely no excuse for failing to anticipate this controversy. The problems were clearly highlighted in an article in the Financial Times way back in February and in briefings by nuclear industry experts. I know that we do not like experts, but occasionally it is useful to listen to them. As with all aspects of Brexit, there is little evidence of any serious planning.
We have heard repeatedly from those on the Conservative Benches about transitional arrangements and avoiding a cliff edge, but everything is subject to negotiation. As I said earlier, the negotiating and diplomatic skills of the UK Government are deeply suspect, and at worst alarming, when it comes to dealing with Europe.
Dame Sue Ion, the honorary president of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear and a former chair of the Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board, has pointed out that
“if suitable and robust alternatives to leaving Euratom are not in place, the potential impact”— may mean that we—
“cannot move material or intellectual property or services or components or medical isotopes.”
That view was echoed by Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer, who has been critical of Government officials, whom he called “ignorant” of the impact of leaving Euratom because they
“think it’ll be all right on the night. It won’t.”
If he is tired of hearing that it will be all right on the night with regard to Euratom, imagine what he would make of the list at the start of my speech.
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I crave the indulgence of the Chamber for a few more minutes? I cannot let this debate pass without mentioning something that is not strictly within the scope of the Bill. I fear that we cannot talk about nuclear safety and regulation without pointing to another threat that looms large.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is making a point about a legalistic separation, but when I speak to constituents about nuclear safeguards and nuclear safety—his experience may be different—the two things are entwined. To separate regulation and safety legally may be one thing, but to separate them when discussing them with constituents is another.
My hon. Friend has already made her point perfectly, but for absolute clarity about the overlap between nuclear safeguards and nuclear safety, the House of Commons Library briefing on Euratom states that delays in making reciprocal arrangements
“would have consequences for current operation, waste and decommissioning, and to new builds such as Hinkley Point.”
If there will be an impact on nuclear decommissioning, does my hon. Friend agree that involves safety risks?
My hon. Friend makes that point with his usual succinct articulation of the facts.
Before I conclude, it would be remiss of me not to mention something that is outside the scope of the Bill, but very much at home in any debate about nuclear safeguards, nuclear regulation or nuclear safety. Last week, I met the Civil Nuclear Police Federation and was appalled to hear of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary’s concerns. In partnership with the civil nuclear industry, national security agencies and regulatory bodies, the force works to deter any attacker whose intent is the theft or sabotage of nuclear material, whether static or in transit. Should such an attack be made, the CNC will defend that material and access to it. If such material is seized or if high-consequence facilities are compromised, the CNC will recover control of the facility and regain custody of the material. Its officers are therefore heavily armed and have high levels of physical fitness. Their retirement age has been increased to 67 or 68, and I was deeply disappointed that the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Richard Harrington, has not met those officers, who do such an important job in guarding our safety and often work in harm’s way. I urge him to make the time to meet them.
I also urge the Minister to explore fully all legal avenues and opinions for the UK to remain a member of Euratom, which provides a framework for international nuclear safeguarding compliance and undertakes safeguards, inspections and reporting. Indeed, dispensing with the UK’s international treaty obligations on issues such as non-proliferation that are managed through Euratom will undoubtedly damage the UK’s nuclear industry, jeopardise high-quality jobs in engineering and chemistry and do much to undermine confidence in the UK’s already significantly diminishing international influence.
My hon. Friend makes a key point about the breadth of issues that are not covered by the Bill’s narrow focus. Government Members would like to separate safety issues and the unanswered questions that are legion here tonight, but that is the real problem.
I think all Opposition Members sense the unease with which Government Members are unwilling to talk about the Bill’s narrow scope, which leaves so many uncertainties and questions. We are all rightly concerned about nuclear safety, but in our discussions let us remember to give a break to the brave officers of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, who work day in, day out to maintain nuclear safety across the UK.
Realising the risk that I take by making this comparison, may I say that it is a pleasure to follow Patricia Gibson? She and I served on the Procedure Committee together for some time. I listened to her speech with great attention, but I have to say in all good humour that she did a very good caricature of the P. G. Wodehouse quote that it is not very hard to distinguish between a Scotsman or Scotswoman and a ray of sunshine. Her speech was the Don Quixote speech of this debate: there is nothing good in the Bill; we are all going to go to hell in a handcart and—[Interruption.]
And we’re all doomed, as I hear my hon. Friend say from a sedentary position.
Let me start by saying what this important Bill is not about. I do not believe that it is a Brexit virility test. I happen to believe that voters on both sides in the referendum will want to see the Bill delivered and landed safely through our proper procedures. I gave my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse prior warning that I would challenge his assertion that one of the core reasons that motivated him to vote to leave the EU was that we would leave Euratom. I simply do not believe my hon. Friend—despite his cerebral dexterity—when he says that millions of people tootled off to the polling station in their droves to vote leave because it provided the opportunity to leave Euratom. In exactly the same way, I did not vote to remain because I thought that our membership of Euratom might be in jeopardy. I must confess to the House that I am part of probably 98% of the nation that had no clue what Euratom was or did, who was a member, that we were a member or about the excellent work that we did.
I still remain to be convinced, but I will not push that particular proposition to a Division this evening.
It strikes me that the position of most speakers in this debate rather echoes what my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke said in an intervention on the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. If I heard him correctly, he said that Euratom has done nothing wrong, we are not annoyed with it, and it has not offended us in any way, but lawyers on this side of the Channel and lawyers for the European Union have said that triggering article 50 means that we will de facto leave Euratom, which requires a further and separate discussion. I say with the utmost respect to colleagues on both sides on the House who have had a legal calling in the past—[Interruption.] My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Oliver Heald chunters from a sedentary position. No doubt there will be an invoice for me in the post for that chuntering.
Does my hon. Friend accept that it is a great pleasure for a lawyer to hear some pleasant congratulatory words from a colleague in the House? I just could not resist saying, “Hear, hear!” which I think is in order.
It is indeed, and who in their right mind would ever criticise a lawyer?
If we and the EU do not like the legal advice, and if we want somehow to disaggregate membership of the EU and of Euratom, we could possibly get some different lawyers to say something different. I must say that I am about to dash out and get myself the stiffest of stiff drinks, because I am going to do something that I never thought I would do—[Interruption.] It is interesting that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend Mr Baker, arrives in the Chamber just at this moment—his stage timing is exemplary—because I am going to pray in aid one Mr Dominic Cummings, a man I have not joined on a campaigning platform before. If even Mr Cummings, getting terribly hot under the collar, does not believe that leaving Euratom is some sort of demonstration of Brexit adherence or virility or some test to be passed, that should give us pause for thought. Because Euratom has not done anything wrong, and because it has not offended against the principles of this House or the country, I fully commend the strategy adopted by Her Majesty’s Government. We need to be pragmatic and sensible in laying the foundations for this important part of our economic life in case, at the end of the process, we find ourselves having to leave. I do not know whether we will end up like Switzerland, which has special status and is seen as an equal partner, or whether we will end up like the United States of America or Australia, which have looser agreements but are not seen as equal partners. Let us see.
Whatever we do and however we do it, I hope it will always be underpinned by the guiding principle that our decisions benefit our constituents and the country at large.
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of engineering, research and innovation in this place and in her constituency, and she makes an apposite point. Anyone who wants to see Brexit a success needs to understand that we will have political processes but that the regulatory and business communities want clarity and certainty at the earliest possible point. I agree with her entirely that the Bill provides that bridge, for want of a better analogy, between membership now and a regulatory regime in the future.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way once again. Is it not particularly significant that this is part of a contingency plan, in the light of the objections that we will somehow have a so-called hard Brexit?
I agree very much with my hon. Friend. It certainly shoots the fox that we will have a bonfire of regulations and a race to the bottom. I find it strange that those who have spoken against the Bill this evening have, in one breath, accused the Government of presiding over a chaotic, shambolic and uncontrolled, if not incontinent, Brexit process and have then chastised the Government for trying to ensure continuity at an early stage, as my hon. Friend and others have said. Such continuity is welcome, and we would be right to chastise the Government were we not to have it.
If the Bill is not a debate about Brexit virility, it is also certainly not about access to isotopes, and I absolutely deplore those who have tried to wave that shroud. One of my hon. Friends—I was going to say it was my hon. Friend Mims Davies, but I do not think it was her—said that access to isotopes is important for a large number of our constituents who need them for medical treatment when they are unwell, and it is the worst kind of shroud waving to say that they will not have that access.
The hon. Gentleman criticises those who have raised concerns about access to medical isotopes, who were echoing the medical experts in the field. Is he dismissing the legitimate concerns raised by those working in the medical field?
The hon. Lady falls into a classic trap. I am not one who seeks to dismiss experts—as a non-expert, I always turn to experts for advice—but a concern that is wrong in fact does not become legitimate if it is raised by an expert. A person could be concerned about all sorts of things, and they could have as many letters after their name as they like, but they are not always correct. Some Opposition Members started to fan the embers of this flame about three or four months ago, and it does not appear to have caught.
I have received a briefing note, as I am sure have other colleagues, entitled “What about medical radioisotopes?” The import or export of medical radioisotopes is not subject to any Euratom licensing requirements. Let us seek to assure the experts who have concerns—their concerns are legitimate, and the House must address them—that Euratom places no restrictions on the export of medical isotopes to countries outside the EU. These isotopes are not subject to Euratom supply agency contracts or to Euratom safeguards, which means no special arrangements need to be put in place ahead of withdrawal.
Withdrawal from Euratom will have no effect on the UK’s ability to import medical isotopes from Europe and the rest of the world. It is in everyone’s interest not to disrupt patients’ timely access to treatment, and it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that cross-border trade with the EU is as frictionless as possible. I entirely take the point raised by several hon. Members, including Drew Hendry, that some of these products have a short shelf life, and clearly we cannot have these products sitting in an overheated metal container at the port of Dover or Calais.
Out of common sense I have to ask which country on God’s earth will set a tariff barrier regime and seek to take beyond its useful lifespan a vital component in the delivery of medical care. In the French Government, the German Government and the Belgian Government, we are not dealing with countries that have no interest in public health and healthcare, because of course they do, as do our Government. The idea that those countries will deliberately set up barriers that cause these products to pass their sell-by date, like a piece of chicken that has been sat too long on a supermarket shelf, is fanciful and compounds the allegation that I and several of my hon. Friends have made, that the Bill can be criticised for other reasons, but it is cruel, callous and unnecessary to criticise it at the expense of unsettling people who require medical interventions.
I thank my hon. Friend for largely making my point for me. He knows my deep interest in this area, and I draw to his attention the fact that not only has the Secretary of State reiterated those points today but that the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation firmly made them back in June.
Are the expert opinions that my hon. Friend is addressing recent, or are they historical?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. These debates often get stuck in a groove on the gramophone, the needle gets stuck and we do not knock it forward. I think it was John Maynard Keynes who said, “When the facts change, I change my mind.” A concern is raised, it is addressed, it ceases to be a concern and we move on to something else. I am not saying there will be no other concerns.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us when the Royal College of Radiologists, Dame Sue Ion or the Nuclear Industry Association changed their mind? The Nuclear Industry Association’s latest briefing came out today, and it still expresses the same concerns. Who are all these people who have suddenly changed their mind?
I apologise for seeking to remake this point for the convenience of the hon. Gentleman, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am simply saying this: irrespective of how we might have campaigned and voted in the referendum, this is a time when we have a responsibility, as parliamentarians, to make sure that on certain key things—something as sensitive as this is a key thing—we set aside our personal beefs on whether it is a good or bad idea, in order to make sure our constituents are not alarmed. We have heard from the Secretary of State, read the briefing papers and heard from the universities Minister, as my hon. Friend Jo Churchill has pointed out, and that should now shoot that fox well and truly. What has been suggested is not going to be a by-product of coming out of Euratom.
I just want to clarify this point, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will not try to intervene again, because I am sure he will answer it well, and I hope he understands that I have enormous respect for him. I understand that he has a background in public relations, so given his background and level of expertise in his field, is he comfortable with contradicting and dismissing as “scaremongering”, “overreacting” or whatever word he wants to use, the legitimate concerns raised by the Royal College of Radiologists?
No, this is not dismissing them either. Are Members honestly saying that when a question is asked and someone answers it, weight can only be given to that answer if it compounds the premise of the question that was raised? [Interruption.] That might be how the Scottish National party goes about doing its politics and its business, but it is not a particularly good way of doing it. People have raised a concern that leaving Euratom may well have an impact on access to this vital ingredient. As this vital ingredient is not covered by Euratom now, it goes beyond eccentricity to suggest that by coming out of this organisation some sort of control is going to be placed on this ingredient, as the organisation we are potentially leaving does not have control of its trade in the first place. I say to Opposition Members that that is a non sequitur. We have been trying to answer calmly and rationally a concern raised by serious and sensible medical practitioners, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds mentioned, we have heard from our science Minister, who is held in high regard by those in the scientific and medical research community, irrespective of any of their political affiliations. Save for slashing our wrists and writing it in our life’s blood on the wall here in the House of Commons, I am not sure what assurance SNP Members are going to accept.
Does my hon. Friend think SNP Members will accept that it is ludicrous to imply that medical isotopes would not be able to be imported should we leave Euratom, given that countries currently not in that organisation are importing those medical isotopes at the moment?
Once again, my hon. Friend makes the point in the most telling way. If we are providing no illumination to Patricia Gibson, we are obviously providing a vast amount of humorous entertainment; I am glad she sees this issue as being so hysterically funny. I do not think setting a regulatory regime to allow all of our constituents to have ready access to a medical treatment is anything particularly to laugh about. People can accuse me of being po-faced and a prig if they so wish, and I could almost hear the Twittersphere doing just that as the words left my mouth, but I do not see this as a particularly funny point. My hon. Friend has made the point tellingly: countries that are not part of Euratom are importing isotopes in due time so that their shelf life does not expire. Unless we have some peculiar, Machiavellian, under-the-counter sort of plan to deny people medical treatment by putting the largest possible tariff barriers on these things and making sure that the inventor carries them across the channel in some sort of purpose-made velvet case that has been hand-sewn by his ancient grandmother, I really do not think this is going to be the situation. Therefore, the concern raised by medics can now be set aside.
Does my hon. Friend accept that medical isotopes and some associated equipment are also very high value, so it is not in the interests of those who manufacture and seek to export to us to put obstacles in the way of selling high-value, highly profitable pieces of equipment or machinery, be they the isotopes or anything related to them?
My hon. Friend gets the point, because he takes a Conservative approach to the operation of the economy. People in Britain want to buy something. We do not make it, but some countries overseas do. But we have also heard this, “We make too much for our domestic market and we want to sell it overseas. We have been doing this for years, but, do you know what? Just to bite off our nose to spite our face, we’ll stop doing it.” That is the crux of the argument we have heard from the hon. Members for North Ayrshire and Arran and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown). I would say it was bizarre if it were not so careless.
Let me conclude my remarks by returning to the point about the value—soft as well as hard—to UK plc of the collaborative opportunities for research that membership of an organisation such as Euratom presents. We have heard from my right hon. Friend Mr Vaizey, my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison and John Woodcock about the supply chain, the jobs and the offshoots of economy activity that flow from this. If we are talking about background research, I understand that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran has a nuclear facility in her constituency. One can only presume that she has constituents who work in it, but she said precious little about them in her speech—
Well, that did not stop the hon. Lady dilating on lots of other things that were not in the Bill. This sudden stricture of rectitude and probity that she cloaks herself in as the winter months approach is a little hard to take. We should never underestimate what that collaborative research does to advance the sum of human knowledge, and to benefit our country in hard currency terms and profile terms as a centre of excellence, expertise, professionalism and world leadership. I see this Bill as very much taking a belt-and-braces approach. I just hope that if we have to default to this, because we find that the lawyers are right or we are not allowed to remain part of Euratom as there is some conflict with the European Court of Justice or whatever, the regimes we put in place and the culture we create tell the rest of the world interested in this sector that we, too, are open for business and committed to research, and we are not turning our back on academic and, yes, medical collaboration.
What a pleasure it is to follow my hon. Friend Simon Hoare.
I support the Bill. The introduction of a Bill on nuclear safeguards is an entirely sensible contingency measure. It is sensible to cater for the possibility that no associate membership of Euratom can be agreed; indeed, given the importance of the matters covered by our current membership, it would be extraordinary were the Government not to do so. I have listened with interest to the Opposition speeches but, ultimately, they resulted in sound and fury signifying nothing, because it appears that no one is going to vote against the Bill’s Second Reading.
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether the Bill is a contingency and a back-up or the bright, shining new way forward? Mixed messages are coming from Government Members.
It is a sensible contingency to deal with safeguarding. We will no doubt be able to consider other aspects in due course.
Were the Government not to introduce the Bill, they would be in complete dereliction of their duty. The background is as follows: the UK has a strong and developed nuclear sector, with 15 nuclear reactors generating 21% of our electricity; there is something in the order of 30 licensed nuclear sites; and our nuclear industry serves important civilian purposes, including medicine, transport, farming and industrial processes.
It is worth my taking a moment to reflect on the Bill’s key purpose, which is to give the Office for Nuclear Regulation—a UK body—powers to take on the roles and responsibilities required for us to meet our international safeguarding and nuclear non-proliferation obligations. What does that mean? In other words, it is to demonstrate and ensure that civil nuclear material is used only for civil purposes, not military ones.
It is also worth reflecting on what the Bill is not about. First, notwithstanding the points made by the Scottish National party spokesman, Drew Hendry, it is not about security standards in the UK. The security standards relate to the physical protection measures. The UK already follows the convention on the physical protection of nuclear material, which is outwith the scope of the Bill. Indeed, the related responsibilities are already within the ambit of the ONR.
Secondly, the Bill is not about safety standards for the prevention of nuclear accidents. We will continue to observe the standards imposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, overseen by the ONR. We have heard a bit about medical isotopes, which are not special fissile material, so I do not propose to traverse the ground that has already been ably ventilated by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset.
It is clear, though, that our membership of Euratom covers far more than safeguarding. I wish to develop a little the points that were helpfully set out by my right hon. Friend Mr Vaizey. First, on research and development such as that on fusion technologies, we need to continue our collaborations. We heard a little about the JET scheme, which ends in 2018, although the Government have rightly committed funding for it in case it is extended to 2020. We want that co-operation to continue.
Secondly, there is the international thermonuclear experimental reactor project to build the world’s largest tokamak—at that point, my expertise starts to evaporate, but it is important.
Thirdly, the Government have already committed to funding the Horizon 2020 projects that were entered into before March 2019—the date of our departure—even if they continue after our departure. That is absolutely the right thing to do. All that underscores the importance of such projects to our economy and the European economy more widely.
After research and development, the second area that the Bill does not cover but in the perpetuation of which we have a strong national interest is nuclear co-operation arrangements, and we have heard a little about Australia, Japan, the United States and Canada. Those agreements matter because the United States cannot enter into trade agreements with the UK unless NCAs are in place. That is vital.
The third point that bears re-emphasis is the free movement of highly expert scientists. All three things must be secured, and the easiest and most sensible way to do so would be through associate membership of Euratom. It is worth making the point that there is no off-the-shelf solution: the Swiss associate membership relates only to scientific and technological co-operation and the Ukrainian model is even more limited.
The Bill is entirely necessary and entirely sensible, but in a way it is just the easy bit. Just as vital is that we secure co-operation in all the other areas, too. I have already said a little about associate membership, which I suspect is the most straightforward way to deliver that co-operation, but there might be others. I have every confidence that once this sensible contingency legislation on safeguarding is securely enacted, moving on to other matters is precisely what the Government will go on to do.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Alex Chalk, and before him my hon. Friend Simon Hoare, who looks like he is about to leave the Chamber. It is always a pleasure to follow the latter, but although he has many qualities, brevity is perhaps not one of them.
The Bill is important, and I very much hope that its Second Reading will be unopposed. It is a crucial part of the Brexit process and I believe it will be able to operate with or without an EU deal. That flexibility is provided in the middle section of the Bill. Despite what was said by some of the Labour Back Benchers who were present earlier, it is absolutely clear that a country cannot remain a member of Euratom if it is outside the EU. It is not just the UK Government who make that point; the EU Commission makes that point. If someone says to the Government, “Let’s see your legal advice, because we don’t believe you. We have no faith in that opinion”, they should also say that to the EU Commission and ask it why it is putting out that opinion and saying that it is absolutely correct that a country cannot be in Euratom if it is outside the EU. Nevertheless, our current safeguards relate to our being members of Euratom, so it is right that we have a Bill that will enable those safeguards to be replaced when we leave the EU.
It seems to me that the Bill is not only a contingency plan but a crucial building block for our negotiation. Our negotiation requires legislation such as this Bill, so that we can get everything else sorted and get a decent agreement with Euratom.
The Government have been absolutely clear that they must prepare for all eventualities, and that is precisely what is currently happening.
I congratulate the Minister on putting resources into the country’s nuclear industry. It is essential to ensure that British nuclear fusion research continues when we leave Euratom. We have invested a huge amount of time, resources and effort in becoming a world leader in this field, and we must not allow our status to diminish. The Culham Centre has been mentioned a few times. It is not the only centre that specialises in such work, but it is crucial and it employs many people. It is essential that the Government do all they can to protect its valuable work and keep its workers in place.
I am pleased that the Minister has found some funding for the JET project, which has massive potential in the nuclear fusion industry. It is hard to overstate just what advances can be achieved if we ensure that the investment in that project continues not just in the UK, but across the world.
All too often we are a little too apologetic about our work in this industry when, in fact, successive Governments can be incredibly proud of our work on nuclear safeguards. We have a proven track record as a nuclear weapon state; we have signed the non-proliferation treaty; we have worked at the heart of the IAEA since its inception and we will continue to work with it and uphold our international obligations. That is something about which we can hold our head high. We can be very proud of the fact that, right from the beginning, we have been one of the few countries that has said that non-nuclear countries should remain so without any assistance from nuclear countries. That is vital.
We have also worked very well with the EU over safeguarding, and can continue to do so in the future, but we will need this Bill to enable that to happen. The Bill will ensure that safeguards can continue uninterrupted and that collaboration with the EU can continue. The expertise that we have heard a lot about from both sides of the Chamber today can be shared between nations and with the EU and around the world. It is clear that the European Union and the UK have a strong mutual interest in ensuring that this close co-operation continues in the future. That was set out very clearly in the position paper of the Department for Exiting the European Union—the Government’s nuclear materials and safeguards paper—that was published in July. We have been very open in our positioning papers about our stance in negotiations, and in July we gave a clear indication of where we wanted to go with this particular issue.
There is no reason why we cannot have a safe, pioneering, co-operative and responsible nuclear industry after Brexit. Yes, decisions will have to be made and agreements reached on issues such as the ownership of property at Culham. My understanding is that Euratom owns some of the property at our centres and that there will have to be some negotiations over who should continue to own that property once Brexit takes place, but, like so many other things involving Brexit, that can be resolved through negotiation.
In conclusion, this Bill will provide continuity, reassurance, protections and safeguards for the whole of this country and the whole of the industry and therefore should be given its Second Reading today.
Order. It will be obvious to the House that a great many Members wish to take part in this important debate and that, although all speakers from the Opposition Benches have completed their speeches, a great many Members on the Government Benches wish to speak. I am afraid that I will have to impose a time limit from now on of six minutes. I am sorry that that may come as a surprise to Mr Mark Menzies, but I am sure that he will be able to deal with the matter.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am devastated by the news that I have been cut down to a mere six minutes, but I will do what I can.
This nuclear safeguard Bill is of real importance not just to me and to my constituency, but to the 1,200 people who work at Springfields nuclear fuels in my constituency. Springfields is at the heart of the British nuclear industry. We are the only site in the UK to manufacture nuclear fuel. As we have already heard this evening, 21% of the UK’s electricity production is produced from nuclear energy, and a great swathe of that is from nuclear fuel manufactured in Fylde.
Whenever I hear the phrase “northern powerhouse”, I think not just of the nuclear industry in the north-west, but of the nuclear fuel that is manufactured in my Fylde constituency. I have met both the workforce and the management in recent months. Initially, there were some real concerns over the UK’s possible exit from Euratom and what that would mean for the continuity of supply. However, in conversations with the Minister, I have been deeply reassured by the fact that this is a Government who are working towards the possibility of remaining a member of Euratom and, if we cannot do that, of ensuring that we are safeguarding Britain’s civil nuclear interests by having these measures firmly in place in this Bill.
This is not just about dealing with trade between the UK and Europe, important though that is. Springfields Fuels is owned by Westinghouse, a company with quite complex ownership—both Japanese and American footprints. Therefore, any deal or legislation must be compliant with what our Japanese and American partners have in place. I am reassured by the Minister’s words in our meeting last week and in the debate this evening that this Bill will, indeed, cover that.
The nuclear industry must be able to trade from the first post-Brexit moment. Without implementation of the safeguards in the Bill, the UK would be unable to put the nuclear co-operation agreements in place in the future. Those are currently provided under the Euratom regime and they are vital because this is about not just dealing with Europe, but all our international partnerships. We are not just talking about nuclear fuel in its completed form, but oxides, pellets and the various added-value products that a company such as Springfields Fuels puts into the nuclear supply chain. If we do not get this right, the jobs of British people could ultimately be at risk and moved elsewhere. It is not about keeping lawyers busy. I am delighted that the Minister understands that has looked at all aspects of the UK civil nuclear industry and has made sure that the measures will protect not just the nuclear industry in the abstract sense, but real people and real jobs now and in the future. That is something for which we should be grateful.
Time is working against me, so I will move on to my final point. I ask the Minister to ensure that the measures in the Bill protect future programmes, one of the most important of which is that of small modular reactors. If the United Kingdom gets it right, we could be world leaders in this technology. That would be a game-changer for the nuclear supply chain. Fuel would be manufactured in the UK. In fact, huge proportions of everything—from research and development through to manufacture—could be done in the UK. That would become a highly exportable technology. Rather than importing much of the new nuclear technology from overseas, the United Kingdom can own it and, surely, emerging new nuclear technology must be at the forefront of shaping our post-Brexit destiny. I hope that the Minister can assure me that the Government will think about and protect SMRs in the detail of the legislation. That is also important for Moorside. My hon. Friend Trudy Harrison, who is not currently in her place, is a passionate campaigner for Moorside, and such technology would bring jobs to Cumbria. The fuel from Moorside would also be manufactured at Springfields Fuels nuclear plant. Therefore, the measures in the Bill really are important to ensuring jobs and the futures of all our economies, particularly those in the north-west.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mark Menzies. I join in this debate not as a Member who has a particularly close partnership with the nuclear industry, nor as someone with specific knowledge of Euratom. My hon. Friend Kit Malthouse says that he voted to leave because of Euratom, but, a little like my hon. Friend Simon Hoare, I cannot possible say that I voted to remain because of it. However, the nuclear industry and our nuclear future in all its guises is extremely important to us all. To that end, the Bill is a necessary measure in response to the decisions taken after the referendum—a plan B, as some have referred to it. I urge everyone to join me in giving the Bill an unopposed passage through the House this evening.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, while membership of Euratom has served the UK well, it is only prudent and simply good governance that we are prepared for every eventuality? It is common sense, which is perhaps why there are so few Opposition Members participating in and listening to this debate.
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend that this is common sense. The Opposition argue that we are being presumptive, but we are just being thoughtful in ensuring that things are in place to ensure a smooth passage.
As has been said, this is about soft collaboration. It is an important opportunity to reiterate that the Government’s aim is to ensure that collaborative research and development continues, with close working relationships between universities, both in Europe and across the world, and other organisations.
It is clear that nuclear is a global industry, given the foreign investment in the UK nuclear industry from France and China. The issue is particularly pertinent in Suffolk, with EDF and Sizewell C due to come on stream. It is for that reason that our future relationship with the European Union is so important to understanding the future of the sector in the UK, as well as what it will mean for jobs, skills and businesses.
I am reassured by the Bill’s commitment to maintaining our current safeguards and standards under Euratom. By leaving those unchanged, the UK can guarantee a close working relationship with the Euratom community and those further afield. That is a wise decision to ensure close working with our natural partners, as my hon. Friend Alex Chalk and others have said.
Closer to home, Sizewell C on the Suffolk coast is under consideration, having completed stage 2 of the consultation process. Its potential is huge: it could power 6 million homes with clean, affordable nuclear energy and create 26,000 jobs and apprenticeships in the region. It would be at the cutting edge of the UK nuclear industry and receive significant international investment. That point was ably made by my hon. Friends the Members for Fylde and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who stated that the nuclear industry gives nearly £1 billion to the UK economy. It is important that we acknowledge its monetary significance.
West Suffolk College in my constituency is a national centre for nuclear and it is preparing for Sizewell C. East Anglia is fast proving its worth as a crucial region for skills, research and innovation, with Cambridge sitting at its heart.
I appreciate that the Bill does not cover EU research funding, but given that we are discussing the UK’s nuclear industry, it would not be amiss to remind the House that the UK is a world leader in the most promising nuclear fusion technologies, which is not something on which we intend to compromise on Brexit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde has said, we could be a world leader and it is important that we have the appropriate safeguards in place. That is why a smooth transition, which is contingent on continuity for the sector, is so vital.
The UK wants to explore ways in which continued collaboration, including in nuclear research and training, can be taken forward. For a vibrant region such as East Anglia, that is crucial not just for the possibility of major nuclear investment on our coast, but so that any investment opportunities are not lost on Brexit. Part of that understanding is that all our obligations on safeguards are met. We need to ensure that all systems are transparent and accountable with regard to material and how it is kept.
I will close my speech with two wider points thrown up by the Bill, and I hope the Minister will respond to them when he sums up the debate. On nuclear safeguarding in our communities, what assessment has he made of the role that my outstanding West Suffolk College and other colleges could play as centres of learning for any nuclear engineering apprentices working on my coastline and others, including Hinkley and the north-west? How will safeguards be built into that training? How will we future proof those people whom we will employ in the industry? How does the ONR cascade information through this system? Hinkley Point is a crucial model to learn from for future nuclear projects in the UK, especially in relation to its funding models.
As we leave the European Union, the need to draw skills and jobs to keep our nuclear sector vibrant becomes arguably more urgent, as my hon. Friend Chris Green said. That includes those whose skills lie in repositories. We must ensure that we are scoping for the skills needed as we withdraw from Euratom so that we have, as this Bill states, a seamless continuation of the high standards of this industry, and the UK maximises and, as the Secretary of State said, even raises the standards within the IAEA.
I am genuinely pleased that this issue has been given such importance. That is not because, as some might have suggested, it is a sort of remoaner ambush, but because it reflects the importance of our nuclear industry, which in turn reflects the importance that the Government have attached to nuclear technologies in the UK as part of our industrial strategy. The valued engagement of the industry is most welcome. It is great to hear its very legitimate concerns over Euratom. The industry would obviously want no change whatsoever: of course not; nobody can blame it for seeking certainly and therefore advocating the status quo.
Let us be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with Euratom. It has proven very effective at regulating the nuclear industry. If the treaty did not require us to leave after triggering article 50, I am pretty sure that we would not do so, but as it does require it, a new arrangement must be sought. I genuinely have no doubt that this new arrangement will be characterised by keen agreement and co-operation between the UK and our EU partners. The nuclear industry is, after all, international and interdependent. We have significant French ownership of our nuclear power stations, and further international ownership is promised with the remainder of the new nuclear fleet. Similarly, Germany has a great deal of nuclear waste being processed in Sellafield. With the UK, France and Germany so interdependent on one another on matters nuclear, one might expect the wind to be on our backs, not in our faces, when seeking a deal on our future relationship on nuclear matters.
An associate membership is probable—highly probable, even. For the more ardent Brexiteers among us, that should not bother us either. Euratom has been a remarkably consensual organisation—I do not believe there have been any votes—and therefore the jurisdiction of the EU Court should not be a concern for us in this case. However, regardless of that probable outcome, we need something else in case good sense deserts our EU partners and nuclear safeguarding becomes part of the wider wrangling over Brexit. That is why the Government are to be congratulated on introducing the Bill so soon. This regulation will give the nuclear industry the certainty that it so reasonably demands. Nuclear safeguarding is not something on which we take risks. Pursuing a favourable post-Brexit relationship with Euratom is important and should obviously be our preference, but legislating for increased powers in the Office for Nuclear Regulation so that Euratom’s capabilities are duplicated as being sovereign within the United Kingdom seems very prudent at this early stage.
After this debate, it is important to pause and reflect on what neither the Bill nor Euratom does. Euratom does not do nuclear safety—that is already regulated in the United Kingdom by the ONR. My constituents who live as neighbours to Hinkley Point know that the safety regulations that govern the operation of that site are entirely unaffected by the Euratom issue. Nor does the Bill affect isotopes used in medicine. The scaremongering on this has been unfortunate, and I hope that it will not continue as the Bill progresses.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Does he, then, disagree with the Nuclear Industry Association? It has said:
“Leaving the Euratom Treaty without alternative arrangements in place would have a dramatic impact on the nuclear industry including the UK’s new build plans, existing operations and the waste and decommissioning sector which all depend, to some extent, on cooperation with nuclear states.”
I am absolutely at a lost to understand the SNP’s position on this. We have an excellent relationship with Euratom, which we want, ideally, to continue as an associate member. But, as the hon. Gentleman quite rightly points out, the nuclear industry is very concerned that, if that arrangement turns out not to be possible, we should have some sort of contingency in place to ensure that the industry can continue to operate safely and co-operate internationally. That is exactly what the Bill will do, so I do not understand why he is not welcoming it with open arms.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to clarify. The key is in the final part of the quote, which talks about the impact on existing operations and the waste and decommissioning sectors. That cannot be carried forward by the Bill in isolation, and there are many unanswered questions.
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman adds anything to his earlier intervention. There is a system in place through Euratom for the regulation and safeguarding of the movement of fissile materials and other issues connected to nuclear regulation. We would ideally stay within Euratom as an associate member, but if that is not possible, we seek to legislate for a contingency, so that we have those powers sovereign. One would assume that the Government—I think that this has been made very clear in the Secretary of State’s opening remarks and all the Government’s commentary on the matter thus far—expect to continue everything exactly as it is, so that we can continue to operate seamlessly internationally. The Bill will provide a contingency plan to avoid the hard exit or cliff edge that so many in this place and in the media seem so vexed about. I just do not understand why the SNP does not welcome the Bill, when it appears to give the party exactly what it wants by delivering certainty post Brexit.
There are two issues that the Bill does not cover, quite understandably, but that are worth discussing. First, nuclear technology, materials and engineers need to be able to move freely, so we must achieve a quick and lasting agreement with other countries. Our nuclear programme is international, and we must recognise that in the arrangements that we make. I have every confidence that we will, and that the countries with which we seek to work will warmly welcome our approaches.
Secondly, there is the matter of funding for research and development. As we decarbonise our heating and transport systems, our demand for electricity will rise sharply. Renewables and our new nuclear programme are the answer for now, but the prize that we have all been looking for, for half a century, is fusion power. That has been eight to 15 years away for a very long time, and quite possibly it is still eight to 15 years away. When the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change went to the United States last year, however, it was clear that progress is starting to be made quickly on that side of the Atlantic. When we returned home, we were pleased to find after further inquiries that progress on this side of the Atlantic has been even quicker still. The UK, with our European partners, is ahead on the matter. It is absolutely vital that the Government commit, as they have done, to continuing to fund the research and development of fusion power. The opportunities are huge, and it is a prize on which the Government should keep their eyes.
In conclusion, I absolutely understand the concerns that nuclear industry representatives have raised with me, and I understand why they want certainty. They work in an industry in which there is absolutely no appetite or tolerance for risk, so it is entirely understandable that they seek the certainty of continued membership of Euratom. They should be reassured that the Government’s first preference is associate membership of Euratom, as a result of which nothing would change. If that is not possible, how prudent it is for the Government to seek, at the very first opportunity, to legislate to provide a contingency to assure the UK nuclear industry that safeguarding regulations are firmly in hand. Those regulations will be familiar to the industry, because they will look remarkably similar to the ones that we have now.
I rise to support the Bill, unsurprisingly, because as colleagues well know, the decision to leave the European Union also meant, by extension, a decision to leave Euratom. This issue has been debated on the Floor of the House, but that is the position of both the UK Government and the EU27. The Government have therefore made it clear that they intend to honour their commitment to the International Atomic Energy Agency by setting up a domestic safeguarding regime. The regime will ensure that there is no interruption to the British civil nuclear industry and, indeed, that the production of nuclear energy and the various other workings enabled by Euratom will continue without pause.
It would be unacceptable for the UK not to have a safeguarding regime in place on its exit from the European Union. Although it is absolutely appropriate for colleagues and Opposition Members to scrutinise and perhaps amend the Bill during its passage, it would be foolhardy in the extreme—in fact, deeply inappropriate—to try in any way to prevent it from ultimately making its way through the House. That is why I am very pleased that the Labour party made it clear, after what I must say was an elegant period of anticipation-building delay by Rebecca Long Bailey—she teased us about the position of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition until the ultimate line of her speech—will let the Bill progress, so that any such concerns are alleviated.
I have listened with interest to a number of speeches—no, to them all—and I was particularly exercised by some of the points made in interventions by SNP Members. As I said in an intervention and will now repeat—this has been highlighted by the Nuclear Industry Association, on its Twitter feed during the debate—there is not just a semantic difference but a fundamental difference between nuclear safeguarding and nuclear safety. I will give SNP Members the benefit of the doubt and say that the subtlety of that difference was perhaps lost on them, because the alternative assumption I would have to make is that they intentionally blurred the distinction between the two to scare the British people on what this is about, and I am certain that they would not do so intentionally.
SNP Members also placed great store on the supposed risks to medical radioisotopes. Again, I took the time, while keeping one ear on the speeches, to look at the briefing paper from the Nuclear Industry Association that they mentioned. It makes reference to concerns about radioisotopes, but when I followed the links I found a circuit of links using basically the same phrase on the concern about five radioisotopes. I finally got to what I think was the end of the chain, and I discovered that, in response to the squeezing of the supply of medical radioisotopes, Euratom and other agencies had set up the European Observatory on the Supply of Medical Radioisotopes. That body has worked in the intervening years to ensure that there is a timely supply of medical radioisotopes. That goes to the heart of showing that the concerns raised—again, inadvertently, I suspect—by SNP Members and others about the diagnostic ability of the NHS somehow being compromised by a lack of radioisotopes is in fact a fallacy.
No, I will not give way, because a number of Members still wish to speak. I apologise; I would normally give way, but I am about to conclude because I know we are short of time.
The Bill will give the Office for Nuclear Regulation additional powers. It will give the Government the opportunity to use limited powers to amend the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Act 1978, the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000 and the Nuclear Safeguards (Notification) Regulations 2004, so that references in legislation to existing international agreements can be updated. I appreciate that Opposition Front Benchers have concerns about that, but it strikes me as a remarkably pragmatic attempt to get important business through the House in a timely manner, so that our important nuclear industries are not compromised. I commend the measure to the House.
My only regret in speaking is that, given the constraints on our time, you have imposed a six-minute limit on our speeches, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I feel that I could speak for a long time on the important subject of our debate.
The Bill is precisely the sort of responsible measure that a good, decent, forward-looking Government would introduce to avoid the cliff edge that we are told is a problem with so-called hard Brexit. The debate is serious, but the Opposition are clearly not taking it seriously. I am disappointed that so few of our Opposition colleagues participated. I am surprised that we have had a string of Conservative speakers, without even a bat squeak from the Opposition in response.
From the speeches of members of the Opposition parties, one would think that we faced disaster if we left Euratom. We will not face disaster precisely because of the Bill. Drew Hendry quoted a nuclear expert and used the phrase, to which he did not return, “without alternative arrangements”. That is key. The expert said that, if we left Euratom “without alternative arrangements”, there would be a problem, but the whole point of the Bill is to set up those alternative arrangements, without which we would face a more difficult situation. The hon. Gentleman could not have made a more ridiculous point.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to respond. Does he accept that the industry would prefer to stay in Euratom or have an associate membership to “alternative arrangements”?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has been listening to the debate with rapt attention, and he will have noticed in the course of several hours of discussion that we are leaving Euratom because, if he remembers, we voted to leave the EU last year. It was not the British Government who said we had to leave Euratom, but the Commission. The EU itself said that, as a consequence of voting to leave the EU, we had to leave Euratom, and we have taken it at its word. Perhaps we should not have done; perhaps the hon. Gentleman has intelligence that we do not possess, but we took it at its word and, consequently, it is quite proper to seek, through the Bill, to provide the “alternative arrangements” that industry experts have suggested are necessary to smooth the transition process.
I also wish to point out how depressingly gloomy a lot of the SNP’s language has been. We have been told that we are useless negotiators and that the state of Britain’s diplomacy is woefully inadequate. We have been told all sorts of things about how bad things are going, and of course nothing could be further from the truth. It is a complete fantasy. In fact, our diplomacy is widely respected throughout the world. We have a highly effective, well trained force and a disciplined, professional cadre of people. It is nauseating to hear SNP Members decry and denigrate our civil service in that way, and it is indicative of their lack of seriousness that only two Members from that particular party are gracing us with their presence in the Chamber.
With a couple of minutes to spare, I want to talk briefly about Britain’s traditions in nuclear power. I know it was uncomfortable to hear, but my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse was right that we are leaving Euratom at a moment when the countries of Europe, such as Germany, Italy and even Austria, are retreating from civil nuclear power. It is not something they want in their energy mix. The response of the German Chancellor to the Fukushima disaster in 2011 was to suggest that Germany would not pursue nuclear power and would shut down its nuclear power plants. Indeed, it is revealing that Frau Merkel is now in conversation with the Green party in Germany. Her coalition is dependent on Green party co-operation, and those of us who follow these things will know that the Green party is singularly opposed to nuclear power. It is the one thing that will not happen if it enters the Government in Germany, once the Government have been constituted, so there is no way that the Germans will develop this line of research. Similarly, we understand that Austria has banned the transfer of nuclear material.
The hon. Gentleman rightly points out where he disagrees with politicians of other places or has criticisms of them, but will he withdraw his earlier remark about the SNP criticising civil servants, which we have never done? All we have done is criticise the failure of this Government.
Forgive me, but one of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues mentioned—we can all look at Hansard tomorrow—that our diplomacy was being ridiculed and was somehow deficient. If someone says that diplomacy is deficient, they are criticising the diplomats who are conducting that diplomacy, and I am afraid that most of those diplomats are indeed civil servants, so that was criticism of our civil servants, with no cause whatever—it was just a form of abuse. I know that SNP Members get caught up in their rhetorical exercises and like to make a big splash in the House of Commons, but I thought that was completely unnecessary.
Lastly, when it comes to freedom of access and foreign scientists and nuclear power experts coming to Britain, there is no country that is more open, from the academic point of view, to foreign talent and ingenuity than Great Britain. We have dozens of Nobel prize winners, many of whom came from outside the United Kingdom. We also have a great record in practical science and in businesses that have developed from the fruits of that practical science, so again this scaremongering and project fear is completely misplaced. I suggest to those hon. Members that they just move on.
It is a pleasure to follow the many thoughtful and informed speeches we have heard this evening, and it is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng, who speaks with great passion on these matters—and always manages to do so without many notes, which I for one find very impressive.
I am regularly asked by constituents what progress is being made on Brexit, and tonight’s Bill represents perhaps our first substantive policy debate at Second Reading on an issue that matters to our constituents on a day-to-day basis as we chart our exit from the EU. It is disappointing, therefore, after all the bluster at the start of the debate, when Labour Members had a lot to say for themselves, that we have such barren Benches opposite now. I would be happy to take an intervention from one of them on this important issue, but unfortunately they are not here.
This issue affects all our constituents. The civil nuclear industry is very important and affects every person in the country. It is relevant to keeping the lights on and to the jobs of thousands of people directly employed in the nuclear sector. My hon. Friend Mark Menzies was right to highlight how this was not just an abstract issue but one that affected people’s lives and livelihoods. It is also relevant, however, in the context of supply chains—tons of steel is used in nuclear projects, for example. We should not forget, therefore, that this affects not only jobs directly involved in the industry but many jobs throughout the supply chain.
I listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said during his remarks. I thought he put his case eloquently and set out his rationale brilliantly. I noted down a few of the key points he raised. The first was that we had to go down this route because of the article 50 requirements. That is very simple. Opposition Members are often keen to cosy up to the European Commission, and often think the Commission is absolutely right, so I have to ask myself why they do not believe it on this occasion. The position has been made very clear, by both the UK Government and the Commission, so perhaps Opposition Members need to go away and have a look at that.
I was also pleased to hear that we must and will live up to our obligations, as we would all expect. Of course, businesses and the sector want as much certainty and continuity as possible, and that is exactly what the Bill seeks to achieve. It is also possible to deliver the benefits of Euratom membership through other means. We want to continue to adhere to the standards set down and therefore we fully support their replication. My constituents would expect us to replicate them. We hear about lots of different policy areas in the House—international trade, for example. What point would there be in our watering down the standards we adhere to at present? I have heard no logical argument for why we as a country would want to do that. It just is not in our interests as we look to go out into the world and make a success of Brexit. It is also in our national interest to have sensible strategic co-operation into the future. It is the responsible, right and logical thing to do. That good will was demonstrated by the commitment to underwrite the UK’s share of the EU joint European torus project.
The Bill will ensure that the UK continues to meet its international obligations on nuclear safeguards as they apply to civil nuclear material through the International Atomic Energy Agency; to maintain the UK’s reputation as a responsible nuclear state that supports international nuclear non-proliferation; and to protect UK electricity supplied by nuclear power. Who could argue with any of that? The Bill is one of contingency, certainty and reassurance, so I am surprised that the Opposition are not more enthusiastic, not least because we so frequently hear from them about how we are not making sufficient progress. When we try to make progress, they criticise us for it. It makes no sense. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot continue using such issues—important technical issues—as a proxy for something else.
It was very disappointing to hear the reckless scaremongering about isotopes for medical uses. People will have heard those claims and been concerned. We should not do that. The House has a responsibility to be honest. We need to be truthful about the issue, and I am very pleased that the Secretary of State was able to provide the reassurance that people sought.
Let us not forget that there is still a very long way to go in the negotiations that lie ahead of us. I believe that we have a great deal to offer as a country in relation to nuclear. We lead on research, we lead on innovation and we lead on science, so we bring a lot to the table. As I have said, there is a long way to go in the negotiations; let us see what can be agreed.
It is, perhaps, less pleasurable than it should be to follow so many of my colleagues, because it means that no one on the Opposition Benches is bothering to speak, which is very disappointing. [Hon. Members: “There are some Scottish National party Members here.”] You guys are very committed: well done.
It is absolutely understandable that there is concern about the approach that the United Kingdom will take to nuclear safeguarding when we leave the European Union and Euratom in 2019. That is why the Bill is so important. It is about ensuring that we maintain our current high standard of safeguarding, and ensuring that the Government are able to develop any future obligations that are placed on the UK by the international community.
The hysteria with which the Bill has been met by Opposition Members is bemusing. They seem adamant and convinced that the Government plan to rip up all their international obligations post-Brexit, although what is on paper in the Bill is the exact opposite: it represents a commitment to continuity, and is vital to our wider negotiating position in Europe. As for the concerns raised about the industry itself, there is absolutely no reason why new and possibly more favourable trade agreements cannot be struck with the countries that supply the UK once we leave the EU. In talks with the Government, many of those nations have been effusive about establishing post-Brexit trade deals. This summer the Prime Minister secured a pledge from Japan, which currently supplies Oldbury nuclear power station, to commit itself to a trade deal when Britain leaves the EU.
Given those positive soundings, I think that the move away from the EU has the potential to spawn more fruitful international relationships for the UK nuclear industry. My hon. Friend Kit Malthouse made it clear that the EU’s interest in nuclear power is waning. Countries are rowing back on their nuclear commitments, setting time limits on when they want to get out of nuclear power, so perhaps we are better off out of it.
It cannot be denied that the EU’s support for research and development in this field has been instrumental in driving innovation. As Opposition Members have been keen to point out, we have received money and support from the EU, but they often forget that it does not come free of charge, and that we pay for our membership of that club.
Does my hon. Friend agree that as we look towards moving from Horizon 2020 to framework programme 9, there is a strong possibility that the European Union will emphasise a move away from cutting-edge research to capacity building? Will that not cause us a problem?
I entirely agree. It is vital for us to be able to safeguard our national interests and the skills that we have in great numbers, so that we can support the industry and continue to go from strength to strength in the UK, regardless of what the Germans tell us we should be doing.
The Joint European Torus programme in Oxfordshire is a key example of the positive support that we have received. The Government have pledged to underwrite the UK’s share of the cost of the project until 2020 to meet our international obligations and ensure the success of the project. The same applies to Horizon 2020. That willingness to participate in such projects is a clear indication that the UK will not turn its back on commitments with the EU at the expense of scientific progress. The desire to support the sciences domestically will also filter down into immigration policy. The Government have already made it clear that they are keen for the brightest and best people from the world of science to continue to come and work in the UK, and that is not going to change.
The simple fact is that the UK is leaving the EU and, necessarily, Euratom. The European Commission has made that pretty clear. There can be no watered-down half-membership, as Euratom comes with commitments to the European courts and free movement that my constituents would never go for. While the Bill does raise questions about the future of the nuclear industry—all things are uncertain when it comes to a huge negotiation on the scale of Brexit—it is clear that its intention is to promote continuity and ensure that Britain’s high standards of nuclear safeguarding are maintained after we leave. It is a vital contingency plan to ensure that if we do end up with no deal—which no one wants, blah blah blah—[Laughter]—we are ready for that eventuality. That was not meant as a “filler”, but there is no point in going over the same old argument again.
As many of my colleagues have said over many months, we are leaving the EU. That is right and necessary, and it has to be a clean break, but we are not leaving Europe, and we want to continue to co-operate on many aspects that are beneficial to the UK.
It appears that the Opposition are not even going to vote against the Bill. They are playing a dangerous political game with an important decision—talking about the nuclear Armageddon that will inevitably come from the passing of the Bill yet not bothering to vote against it. I am not quite sure where they are coming from. It seemed clear even from the opening statement from the shadow Front Bench that this is not about the content of the Bill; it is an attempt to refight the referendum over and over again, and to talk about how they did not want to leave the EU at all.
The scaremongering about how this might affect medical isotopes or safety and numerous other aspects during the lengthy discussion of this Bill bears no resemblance to what is down on paper. The Bill is about delivering continuity for the industry in the UK and giving us the opportunity to forge ahead in this field in the future.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Ben Bradley, and to be called to participate in this fascinating and wide-ranging debate. We have heard tonight about gramophones, “Dr Strangelove”, beefing up, belts and braces, “blah blah blah”, and the “neverendum”, but we did hear a lot of sense in the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison).
Security of our energy is paramount—on a daily basis in our lives, for every one of us in our hospitals and schools, and in terms of our daily safety. Securing the position of the UK as an international nuclear state is therefore vital as we pave our way out of the EU.
As we heard from the Secretary of State at the start of the debate, this is a simple and prudent Bill whose message is timely. This evening, the fact that the Government are actively working through this Bill to ensure that the UK continues to meet our international obligations for nuclear safeguards while also continuing the UK’s reputation as a responsible nuclear state has been warmly welcomed. Let us be clear: the UK will continue to support Euratom, and in the meantime we will seek, through this Bill, continuity on co-operation and standards.
I believe the Bill will bolster the roles and responsibilities of the UK’s existing nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, once we leave Euratom. Despite “Project Fear”, which we have heard a lot about tonight, the collaboration between scientists and those in the nuclear sector is vitally important to all aspects of our co-operation. The Government want, and, more importantly, intend, to see this continue. It is clear at the outset that the industrial strategy includes nuclear and supports the scientific community through this, and builds on that through Brexit. While the Opposition refuse to accept the public’s decision to leave the European Union, the Government continue to get on with the job of ensuring a responsible withdrawal.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is highly appropriate that this should be the first piece of oven-ready Brexit legislation, as that shows the importance of this industry and of safeguards in it?
So we can add “oven-ready” to “boil in the bag” Brexit, perhaps; yes, it is the latest example of that important vote. As we heard this evening from my hon. Friend Tom Pursglove, what we are doing as we leave the EU really matters in terms of the message we give to our constituents. Those on both sides of the argument are seeing us preparing for what is going to happen.
Let us make no mistake about this: the Opposition have no care for the nuclear industry, they do not support the vital role that it plays within our energy mix, and they do not respect the jobs and communities that rely on it. We heard that this evening from my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland: in an excellent and rounded speech on the industry and what it means to her constituency, we heard a lot about what the impact on her community would be if we got this wrong, and that applies across the UK. In stark contrast to the Opposition, the Government stand ready to take up the important role of protecting our world-leading nuclear industry during and before Brexit, so we can enable the UK to continue to meet its international nuclear obligations as it leaves Euratom.
I will therefore be strongly supporting this Bill this evening, and hope that all Opposition Members will follow Conservatives in doing so.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mims Davies. The Hansard editors will now have to work out how to spell “blah blah blah” as well as “blah-di-blah”.
I am a natural optimist, but if the House will allow me I want to strike a slightly cautionary note at the beginning of my speech. Leaving the European Union was always going to be difficult. We have been members of the EU, and of Euratom, for 44 years and these are some of the complexities that we will have to deal with over the coming years if we are to make a success of leaving the European Union. Additionally, the European Union was always going to be difficult about this because it does not want us to leave. The negotiations will be difficult. It is also quite clear from their recent remarks that most Opposition Members—not many of whom are present at this time of the evening—are going to be difficult and try to frustrate the process.
However, difficult and impossible are two different things. I believe that the Prime Minister is taking the right approach in her negotiations with the European Union. On the one hand, she made a conciliatory and generous speech in Florence in setting out the terms that we were prepared to work on; on the other hand, she has stated clearly and quite rightly that we will prepare for no deal. The Bill is about preparing for no deal on Euratom, although Members across the House clearly want us to strike such a deal. It is no wonder that the Opposition do not think that this is necessary. We know from the shadow Chancellor’s comments yesterday on “The Andrew Marr Show” that Labour would not accept no deal in any circumstances. That means that they would accept the worst possible deal if that was the only deal on the table. It was also made clear in Labour’s manifesto that it would accept the worst possible deal rather than walk away with no deal. That is the most naive negotiating stance I have ever heard of. The shadow Business Secretary must agree that that is not the right approach to take in any negotiations.
It is absolutely right that we should make provision in the Bill for the nuclear industry, which is very important for the UK’s economy and for our energy needs. Nuclear already supplies around 21% of our electricity, and that will grow to around 42% by 2050. As some Members will know, I have shale gas in my constituency and I am often lobbied by shale gas protesters who say that we do not have an appropriate policy on energy and renewables. I want to pay tribute to the strategic approach that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is taking to meeting the energy needs of this country. We absolutely have a future in renewables, and nuclear will play a key part in that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is also about building public confidence, and that developing civil nuclear power is separate from anything being used for military purposes? That is why these safeguards are absolutely right. They make it clear that civil nuclear is completely separate from any other objectives.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Civil nuclear is a key part of our energy requirements and, in turn, of our economy.
It might surprise Members—and certainly members of the wider public—to learn that the UK is the third best performing nation on the planet in the international climate change performance index. We are ahead of every country you could name apart from France and Germany. We have a strategic policy around nuclear and renewables that will continue to put this country at the forefront of the green energy industry. We are also investing in other important areas in relation to nuclear power.
The Minister recently said that the Government would continue to support the Taurus fusion project. As my hon. Friend James Heappey said, the future capability of fusion has been talked about for some time. Indeed, when I was studying physics at Sheffield Polytechnic, which is now Sheffield Hallam University, a limitless supply of clean energy from fusion was talked about as the future. The nuclear industry of course also provides many jobs in the supply chain. My constituency—the bucolic rural idyll of Thirsk and Malton—has James Fisher Nuclear, the Derwent Training Association, which trains new generations of engineers for the sector, and many other such jobs.
All the Bill does is add a safeguarding responsibility to the safety responsibilities of the Office for Nuclear Regulation to ensure that we make good on our commitments under non-proliferation treaties. It will also implement our voluntary commitments with the IAEA. People may ask, “Can the UK have its own policy? Will it be too difficult for the UK to manage its own nuclear responsibilities or put the necessary regulations in place?” Clearly not. The Euratom countries obviously use that body to look after its nuclear interests, but most other countries do that independently. The UK has a long history of nuclear energy dating back to 1956, so we clearly have the experience and knowledge. We can, if necessary, place the current Euratom provisions under the Office for Nuclear Regulation to continue the quality, safe and robust regulations that we have been used to in this country. I commend the Bill to the House.
I may be the last speaker before the wind-ups, but it is none the less a pleasure to contribute to this debate and to follow the eloquent speeches and learned contributions that we have heard. In particular, my hon. Friend James Heappey spoke with such knowledge of the nuclear industry—far more than many of us.
This afternoon has demonstrated the importance of the nuclear industry, which we should not underestimate in our deliberations. Not only is it important to the UK economy, to jobs and the local supply chain and to our nation’s security, but at its heart is the security of the UK’s energy supplies. As we have heard, the UK’s first commercial nuclear power station opened back in 1956. Today, 15 reactors generate a not insignificant 21% of our electricity, so nuclear is a vital source of energy in the UK. Aside from power stations, the civilian uses of nuclear materials extend to medicine, farming, transport and other industrial processes. Nuclear is a key strategic industry that affects us all, including each and every one of my constituents. This Government’s commitment to electric vehicles means that nuclear will have a further strategic importance in the UK. As someone whose household has recently purchased its first electric vehicle, we have an added interest in this field, including in making note of where the UK’s charging points are and are not.
However, this is a serious, specific debate about safeguards. It is not, as we have heard, about safety. The Bill was first announced in the Queen’s Speech to establish a UK nuclear safeguards regime as we leave the EU and Euratom, ensuring that the UK continues to meet international standards for nuclear safeguards while—this is important—continuing the UK’s reputation as a responsible nuclear state.
In this place we are understandably focused on Brexit. We are ensuring that we get the best deal for our country in the withdrawal process, and the Bill is a key part of that process. We often talk about the need to maintain stability and avoid the cliff edge we hear about as we exit the EU, and this is a prime example of legislation that is about preparedness and doing the ground work in readiness for when we leave the EU.
The Government have made it clear that future safeguard arrangements will continue to provide the safety, quality and robustness that currently exist under Euratom. The Secretary of State set out clearly that the EU and Euratom are uniquely legally joined, to which some Opposition Members take exception, and it means that when we formally notified the EU of our intention to leave, we also commenced the process of leaving Euratom.
Put simply, this contingency Bill is intrinsically and uniquely linked to the result of the referendum on
As my hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng said, this is a responsible Bill from a responsible Government who are delivering a responsible Brexit.
Wendy Morton struck the right note when she said this is a serious debate. We have to discuss these issues with due seriousness, and my hon. Friend Rebecca Long Bailey clearly set out our serious concerns about the Bill in her opening contribution.
The Bill should be unnecessary, and the Opposition hope it may yet be so. What the Government should be doing is setting their goal as the UK’s continued participation in Euratom as a member, if possible, or as close to that relationship as we can get. There is a lot of cross-party agreement on that goal—I exempt Kit Malthouse, who extravagantly celebrated our crashing out of Euratom—but in the Westminster Hall debate on the issue back in July, ably led by my hon. Friend Albert Owen, who is a champion of this sector, even Sir William Cash, who was here earlier and who is not a noted dove on these issues, said that we should be working
“towards something like associate membership.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 627, c. 96WH.]
It appeared then that the barrier to that relationship was the role of the European Court of Justice, as Layla Moran pointed out. Indeed, the former chief of staff to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer have both suggested that that is why Euratom was linked to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, and the responsibility for that lies with the Prime Minister. It is deeply irresponsible to put our nuclear industry at risk because of a reckless and ideological decision to make the future role of the ECJ a red line in all matters relating to Brexit.
As hon. Members have pointed out, and as the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said in his opening remarks, the Bill provides for safeguarding arrangements for all civilian nuclear facilities in the UK, which is clearly needed if we leave Euratom, but that is only one part of what is at risk. The wider issues were exercised in the Government’s own position paper, which was issued over the summer. As my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves pointed out, Euratom oversees the transport of nuclear fuel across the EU and enables vital co-operation on information, infrastructure and funding of nuclear energy. It is the legal owner of all nuclear material, and the legal purchaser, certifier and guarantor of any nuclear materials and technologies that the UK purchases. That includes, for example, our nuclear trade with the United States.
Euratom has helped us become a world leader in nuclear research and development. In their position paper on the issue, the Government rightly said that they want a “close and working relationship” with Euratom, and we welcome that. That position paper set out six high-level principles for nuclear materials and safeguards that would frame their approach to the issue. So may I ask the Minister to explain why the Bill fails to address five of those six high-level principles, which are the Government’s own objectives?
Why is the Bill so limited in its scope? Is that because the Government aim to secure ongoing membership and have just brought this Bill forward as a contingency? Will the Minister confirm the answer that I understood the Secretary of State to give to Robert Neill: that it is the Government’s intention to seek associate membership? Is it because their thinking has not advanced sufficiently on all the other issues connected with our membership of Euratom? Or is it, as was said by some of the more excitable Conservative Members, such as Kevin Hollinrake, that they are looking forward to crashing out of Euratom—[Interruption.] Perhaps “excitable” was not quite the right word, but he was working towards it. Given that the Prime Minister has talked it up, will the Minister say what work has been done on a no-deal scenario in the event that we leave Euratom in the way that some Conservative Members would seem to like?
I agree that it is irresponsible language and I am sorry to have heard it from some Conservative Members during this debate.
This is an important issue and the sector is hugely important, as Trudy Harrison pointed out in a thoughtful and informed contribution when she said that it is important that we get this right. The Government therefore need to answer some key questions. The ONR cannot exercise these new powers until it has a voluntary offer agreement and additional protocol from the IAEA for a UK safeguards regime. What work has been done on that and when do the Government anticipate that will be ratified? What have the Government done to ensure that the ONR has the necessary skills to take on the safeguarding of nuclear material? Euratom employs 160 people on safeguarding, 25% of whom work on UK installations, whereas the ONR currently employs eight staff. I understand that it takes five years to train a nuclear safeguards inspector. Two years will not be long enough to reskill the necessary number of inspectors. Are plans under way to re-employ the current Euratom officials or do the Government have another contingency up their sleeve?
The problem is that the nuclear industry is not currently able to call on that level of expertise. It already suffers because of a shortage of labour in many parts of the industry, so that can only get worse.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I am coming straight to. As a number of Members have mentioned, it is planned to halve the current Government grant to the ONR by 2020. I recognise that this is only one part of the ONR’s funding, but can the Minister confirm that that is no longer the Government’s intention? Will he outline what their new funding plans would be, given the additional responsibilities they are seeking to place on the ONR?
An important point made by my hon. Friend John Woodcock, and echoed by some others, was that outside Euratom the Government would have to negotiate individual nuclear collaboration agreements not simply with Euratom, but with every country outside of the EU with which we currently co-operate through our membership, including the US, China, Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan and South Korea. Mr Vaizey mentioned the example of the United States. A section 123 agreement with the US—a legal necessity if we are to trade nuclear goods with the US—would have to go through the Senate and the House of Representatives, with final sign-off needed from the President. Does the Minister really believe it is possible to achieve that in the time we have left?
What provisions have been put in place to ensure that normal business in the UK is not disrupted? As Alex Chalk pointed out, an important part of that will be ensuring that the UK has the right skills to build, operate and decommission nuclear power stations. What will be the Government’s migration policy for the nuclear worker who previously enjoyed free movement under the provision of the Euratom treaty?
A key benefit of the UK’s involvement in Euratom has been our participation in R and D programmes. The Government have given limited commitments on Culham, but what are their wider intentions on the full Euratom work programme from 2019-20 onward?
Seventeen months does not give us much time to resolve such a huge number of issues. The paralysis at the heart of the negotiations, created by the divisions at the heart of the Government, do not give us much confidence that the issues can be resolved within the time available. One further key question: will the Government seek to continue membership of Euratom—or to come to an arrangement that replicates the benefits and responsibilities of that membership—for a transitional period after we leave the EU in March 2019?
The Bill is inadequate. It fails to address so many of the vital questions that the Government themselves raised in their own position paper. It gives the Secretary of State powers to amend legislation without reference to the House—powers that, although narrower in scope, in many ways go further than those in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. For these reasons, we cannot support it. Nevertheless, we recognise that, if the worst comes to the worst—as some Government Members seem to anticipate—and we crash out without agreement, we would be in breach of our international responsibilities under the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons if we do not have a safeguarding regime in place. For that reason, we will seek to amend the Bill significantly in Committee, but we will not oppose it tonight.
I have listened carefully to the arguments in this debate about our country’s future nuclear safeguards regime. I thank Members from all parties for their contributions, but particularly my right hon. and hon. Friends, so many of whom spoke. I am encouraged by the general consensus in the House on one fundamental point: the UK nuclear industry and nuclear research community—both of which have an excellent global reputation—are key assets and must be supported. I promise that we will do nothing to endanger that.
Regardless of where Members stand on membership, associate membership, transition or departure from Euratom—people have used various pronunciations today—I hope we can all agree that it is sensible and prudent to take the powers contained in the Bill, as they are necessary to set up our domestic nuclear safeguards regime. However, there has been a lot of scaremongering—that word has been used. I hope that Opposition Members did not intend to frighten people unnecessarily with certain comments, because I would have to call that “Project Fear”.
I can state categorically that, first, the Bill is nothing to do with medical isotopes and fissile materials are excluded; secondly, we are not going to crash out with no arrangements; and thirdly, important though nuclear safety is, it is nothing to do with nuclear safeguards. The Bill is the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. We have consistently repeated that, but unfortunately—[Interruption.] I was going to say that unfortunately the shadow Minister is nodding, but I know he is nodding because he knows. Other Members, particularly those on the SNP Benches, have confused the two.
“It is recalled that in accordance with Article 106(a) of the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union applies also to the European Atomic Energy Community.”
Given that article 50 has been triggered and that the European Commission has said that that was the right decision, we believe that it is absolutely essential that we have a constructive and co-operative relationship with our European partners.
What a gentleman! Thank you very much.
The Minister is setting out two alternatives: the ONR taking responsibility or our staying in Euratom. However, there is a third way forward—a third way—which is to seek a transition period in which we remain in Euratom and then go for some sort of associate membership of Euratom. Are the Government exploring that opportunity, which would best serve our industry and those jobs?
I really must make some progress.
As we have heard, there are other issues of great importance, such as access to skilled workers and continued R and D collaboration, on which we are focused as we seek to establish our new relationship with Europe’s nuclear community. The shadow Minister, Paul Blomfield, asked me why those points are not included in the Bill. It was a fair question, but let me tell him that they are part of Euratom’s activities that are subject to negotiation but do not require legislation.
I was not surprised to hear all of the concerns expressed today—I would be astonished if the House did not have concerns and questions given the novel circumstances that we now find ourselves in. No country has ever left the EU or Euratom before. Let me explain for the avoidance of doubt that this is not an alternative. This is not because we do not want to maintain our successful civil nuclear co-operation with Euratom. We must set our own nuclear safeguards regime. It would be irresponsible for us not to do so. We are using the body that already regulates nuclear security and safety—the ONR. The shadow Minister said that it only has eight suitable employees at the moment. That is why we are here today—we need to ensure that the Bill has all the provisions both in terms of IT and infrastructure, and we need to recruit all the necessary people. That is why we are taking the powers, why they are so important and why the Bill is so vital and deserves support from across the House. We want to have—and we will have—a domestic nuclear safeguards regime that will enable the UK to meet international safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation standards after we withdraw from Euratom.
The intention is for the new domestic regime to exceed the standard that the international community would expect from the UK as a member of the IAEA. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, we are aiming to establish a robust regime as comprehensive as that currently provided by Euratom.
Some hon. Members have asked why the Bill has been introduced and brought to its Second Reading so quickly—in fact, within a few days. That is because we know how important it is to have a nuclear safeguards regime for the UK. The ONR is key to that, and it needs the time to carry out both the recruitment and the planning. The international community, which we deal with all the time, wants to know that the safeguards regime will be established well before March 2019. I wish to thank EDF Energy, which is constructing our new Hinkley Point nuclear power station, and all of the other people in the nuclear industry, whom I briefed just before introducing this Bill last week, for their support in what we are doing here. The Bill is absolutely critical.
The Opposition have raised some issues about the powers in the Bill and the way in which we have approached the measures. The shadow Secretary of State said that there were too many delegated powers, Henry VIII provisions and all those sorts of thing. In fact, there is one Henry VIII power, which is limited and necessary because it enables us to alter references to the United Kingdom’s agreements with the IAEA. We would not be able to license the inspectors, for example, without concluding these negotiations, which are currently trilateral between the UK, Euratom and the agency.
The bulk of discussions with the European Union are ongoing. We are exploring a number of options for smooth transition from the currently regime to a domestic one. The negotiations are going well. We have found a spirit of co-operation because the officials in Europe and ourselves have a big mutuality of interests, but we have to plan just in case suitable arrangements are not worked out. Shared interests are important and we know that we will provide the best possible basis for continued close co-operation with Euratom, although we cannot say exactly how that will be. It will be similar when we negotiate our bilateral nuclear co-operation agreements, about which my right hon. Friend Mr Vaizey made a rather excellent speech. He actually thanked me for harassing him in the Tea Room, which I will now always try to do. He mentioned the importance of and concerns about the bilateral nuclear co-operation agreements, which are already in place with several countries and will continue. My officials have been to the other countries concerned and I am certain that talks will progress well.
I am happy to meet the representative from the Royal College of Radiologists to discuss the concerns of Layla Moran. I had hoped that I had assured her, but I perfectly understand her point and am happy to meet the relevant people. My hon. Friend Trudy Harrison made an excellent speech. The ONR has already started building processes and systems and recruiting inspectors, and the essential funding will be in place to do that.
I have heard many considered views from both sides of the House, but I hope that the House will unite in recognition of the special contribution of the nuclear industry. The Opposition have said that they will not vote against Second Reading, which is responsible, but I look forward to a lengthy and constructive discussion in Committee and on Report. I can tell from the polite smiles from the Opposition Front Benchers that they will be raring to go and I welcome that. Quite apart from in Committee, I am happy to sit down and discuss the Bill with anybody on an individual basis. I am passionate about it because we really need this domestic nuclear safeguards regime, regulated by the regulator here. It should be as robust and comprehensive as that provided by Euratom or by any international operation. I am sorry that I have not been able to take every intervention, but my door is always open. I very much look forward to the remaining stages of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.