Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
“(1) The Secretary of State shall, upon laying any statement under subsection (3A) of section 76A of the Energy Act 2013, seek to secure a transition period prior to the implementation of withdrawal from EURATOM of not less than two years.
(2) During a transition period under subsection (1), any—
(a) conditions under which the UK is a member of EURATOM before exit day shall continue to apply;
(b) obligations upon the UK which derive from membership of EURATOM before exit day shall continue to apply;
(c) structures for UK participation in EURATOM that are in place before exit day shall be maintained; and
(d) financial commitment to EURATOM made by the UK during the course of UK membership of EURATOM before exit day shall be honoured.”.—(Dr Whitehead.)
This new clause would aim to put in place a transition period, during which the UK could seek to secure an association to EURATOM
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Purpose—
“The purpose of this Act is to provide for a contingent arrangement for nuclear safeguarding arrangements under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the event that the United Kingdom no longer has membership or associate membership of EURATOM, to ensure that qualifying nuclear material, facilities or equipment are only available for use for civil activities (whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere).”
This new clause would be a purpose clause, to establish that the provisions of the Bill are contingency arrangements if it proves impossible to establish an association with EURATOM after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
New clause 3—EURATOM: maintenance of nuclear safeguarding arrangements—
“No power to make regulations under this Act shall be exercised until the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a report on his or her efforts to—
(a) seek associate membership of EURATOM, or
(b) otherwise maintain the implementation of nuclear safeguarding arrangements in the UK through EURATOM after the UK has left the European Union.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on his or her efforts to maintain the implementation of nuclear safeguarding arrangements through EURATOM after the UK has left the EU.
Amendment 3, in clause 1, page 2, line 14, at end insert—
“(3A) No regulations may be made under this section unless the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement certifying that, in his or her opinion, it is no longer possible to retain membership of EURATOM or establish an association with EURATOM that permits the operation of nuclear safeguarding activity through its administrative arrangements.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to certify, before making any regulations to provide for nuclear safeguarding regulations, that it was not possible to remain a member of EURATOM or have an association with it.
Amendment 2, page 3, line 3, at end insert—
“(11) Regulations may not be made under this section unless the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a report detailing his strategy for seeking associate membership of EURATOM or setting out his reasons for choosing to make nuclear safeguards regulations under this Act rather than seeking associate membership of EURATOM.”
This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from using the powers under Clause 1 to set out a nuclear safeguards regime through regulations until a report has been laid before each House setting out a strategy for seeking associate membership of EURATOM or explaining why the UK cannot seek associate membership of EURATOM.
Amendment 7, in clause 4, page 5, line 6, at end insert—
“(5) No regulations may be made under this section until—
(a) the Government has laid before Parliament a strategy for maintaining those protections, safeguards, programmes for participation in nuclear research and development, and trading or other arrangements which will lapse as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from membership of and participation in EURATOM, and
(b) the strategy has been considered by both Houses of Parliament.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament on the protection and trading arrangements that arise from membership of EURATOM, and his strategy for maintaining them prior to making regulations concerning nuclear safeguarding.
The proposed new clauses and amendments appear in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), who is the shadow Secretary of State, and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and others.
First and foremost, I want to set down a marker on new clause 2, because it represents the dividing line between us and the Government on membership, associate or otherwise, of Euratom. This purpose clause makes explicit that this is a contingency Bill. In other words, it is being enacted to deal with circumstances that may never arise—namely, that we as a country have no future association or membership with Euratom that would enable us to continue to reap the benefits of association or membership in a way that I think is almost universally agreed.
I think that it is agreed—the Minister has stated as much during the passage of this Bill—that Euratom has served well our purposes as a nuclear nation over the past 40 years, and nuclear safeguarding has worked very well in inspecting and representing our obligations to international agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Authority.
It is clear that our interests as a country would be best served by continuing our membership of Euratom, which was founded by a different treaty from that which brought about the EU. Indeed, during evidence to the Public Bill Committee, we heard strong arguments along those lines from eminent lawyers who had been called as witnesses. However, we appear to be in the position of assuming that our future membership of Euratom is not possible, because essentially the Prime Minister, as a matter of choice, included exit from Euratom in her letter to the Commission informing it that we were invoking article 50.
The treaty on Euratom membership is part of the set of treaties described in the treaty of Lisbon. Therefore, as we leave the European Union, we will, de facto, leave our membership of Euratom. It is as simple as that.
I am afraid that it is not as simple as that. A considerable body of legal opinion states that, because Euratom was founded by a treaty other than the treaty of Rome—it was, in fact, founded before the EU came together—it can and should be dealt with separately. Although arrangements relating to association with and membership of various EU bodies have changed over time as a result of changes in EU regulations, that has not been the case with Euratom. The articles relating to associate membership and arrangements are identical to those that were in place when Euratom was founded. There is no case to answer as far as separate arrangements for Euratom are concerned.
My hon. Friend is making a strong case for associate membership. He will recall a Westminster Hall debate that I held only last year, during which there was broad consensus on the issue, including among Conservative Members. I think that the Minister was the only Member who did not agree. The only reasons the Government have given relate to the legal position and the European Court of Justice. If Conservative Members were not whipped, they would understand the logic of the very sensible new clause.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that strong point. I recall that even Sir William Cash suggested during that debate that associate membership of Euratom could be effective in continuing those arrangements, which have served us so well over many years.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the International Atomic Energy Authority. The Government have made it clear that we will be seeking new arrangements with it and that they will follow exactly the same principles as the current arrangements—that is, the right to inspect civil nuclear facilities and to continue to receive all the safeguards and reports. We should be confident that this Government are going about the issue in a serious, sensible and meticulous way.
The hon. Lady makes the case for our new clause. If the Government are going about their business in a sensible and coherent way—I note the Secretary of State’s statement on
After all, it has been stated that this is a contingency Bill. We want to know what it is a contingency against and therefore how it should be framed in terms of what we should be doing in contemplating whether to bring it into operation. If we had either membership of Euratom or an associate form of membership, which might be fairly similar to that enjoyed currently by Ukraine but with a number of additional factors, this Bill would not be needed. The arrangements with Euratom would continue to be in place, rendering the Bill superfluous. We need to be clear about what we are debating.
The shadow Minister knows that he and I often agree on stuff, but I wonder whether today he might concede this point. At worst, his new clauses would merely render the Bill superfluous if we manage to achieve associate membership of Euratom, but at best we are providing the contingency plan that gives industry the certainty that it says that it so much wants. The Bill is therefore relevant and necessary in that sense, even if it may ultimately prove to be superfluous because we achieve Euratom membership.
Yes, indeed. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I are going to agree substantially on this. We regard the Bill as necessary in the context of the possibility that, after Brexit, no arrangements can be brought about with Euratom, either associate membership or full membership. The Bill will then ensure that the nuclear industry is clear about its future and that the arrangements for our international obligations can be properly carried out in the absence of those arrangements. We have indeed been constructive and helpful during the Bill’s whole passage through Parliament. However, that does not detract from our thinking that a number of its procedural elements should be strengthened in relation to what we do while it is gestating and coming to potential fruition after the point at which the things that we are doing may not have had any success.
The hon. Gentleman will see that in some of our amendments we are also trying to make sure that Parliament is fully informed of what processes are under way while we get to the position that the Bill could, or could not, come into operation. That is important for Parliament’s sake. After all, we are in new territory with regard to this Bill, and we therefore have to do a number of new things in legislation that fit the bill for our future arrangements. That is essentially the beginning and end of what we are trying to do through this group of amendments.
I am puzzled why new clause 1 is necessary. All its ingredients are issues that form part of the transition negotiations that our country is going through with the European Commission. It therefore seems bizarre to try to legislate that
“conditions under which the UK is a member of EURATOM before exit day shall continue to apply” during the transition. On that basis, we would be legislating for all sorts of things that form part of the negotiations to continue during the transition. What would the hon. Gentleman say to that?
The hon. Gentleman has slightly got ahead of me, because I started by talking about new clause 2, and I am about to start talking about new clause 1. He thinks that new clause 1 may be superfluous. I would suggest that because this Bill is about procedure as much as fact, the new clause sets out a procedure that we need to undertake in the event of certain things not happening, and it is important that a number of those possible events are covered in the Bill. Should it not prove possible to remain a member of Euratom, for various reasons, it is important to consider the idea of a transition period after which we would then be in a position to fully carry out our obligations to the IAEA and other agencies separate from Euratom. That, indeed, is what the Bill is essentially trying to bring about. The Bill is predicated on the notion that membership or association with Euratom will not be possible, and it is therefore necessary to recreate the arrangements for nuclear safeguarding that have served us so well in a solely domestic form and thereby enabled us to negotiate separate voluntary arrangements with the IAEA and, indeed, separate bilateral agreements with a number of other countries, including the United States, Australia, Japan, and Canada.
“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.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 629, c. 617.]
However, this central point regarding the Bill is not stated within it. That is why it is so important to have a purpose clause, and that is what new clause 2 does. It provides that the Bill is operational only in the event that other arrangements are impossible to achieve.
I accept that there was a vast amount of legal argument on our membership, or not, of Euratom. Indeed, it is not a simple point. However, we have now triggered our leaving Euratom. The treaties are uniquely joined, so it is a fact that we have left Euratom and will no longer be members. As we go forward with negotiations, putting the word “contingent” into the Bill would create uncertainty for our partners in the EU, given that the negotiations are two-sided. Those negotiations have yet to progress, so we need this Bill to be a clear signal or statement to our EU partners to achieve what we want. I fear that having the word “contingent” in the Bill will muddy the waters in our negotiations with our partners. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
I would have thought that the Bill, in whatever form it eventually emerges, demonstrates the opposite. Yes, there are a number of negotiations to be undertaken. We do not yet know the results of those negotiations. We have not left Euratom, which, it is generally agreed, has served our purposes very well. The new clause would enable us to signal, in the event of all those negotiations not working, that we are nevertheless still able to fulfil our obligations to the IAEA and to show it that we have a regime in place that does the business with regard to nuclear safeguarding from the point of view of the IAEA’s concerns. Putting forward this Bill as a contingency measure, as the Secretary of State said was the case, is important in the uncertain position we are in at the moment. Nevertheless, we will need certainty, over a relatively short period, with the bodies that are responsible for policing and organising the nuclear non-proliferation treaties and the whole arrangements relating to nuclear safeguarding. I think, if I may say so, that that is the right way to do it as far as putting a Bill before the House is concerned. The Opposition do not dispute that: we think it is right to have the Bill as a contingency. Our concern, however, is whether there are sufficient elements to the process part of the Bill to ensure that it works as well as it could. That is really the point of difference on the Bill at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman knows that this is incredibly important to him and several of his colleagues, and it is incredibly important to me, with EDF Energy’s operational headquarters for nuclear in my constituency and Horizon just down the road, so we are all coming from the same point. His specific proposal—I am talking about new clause 1 again—is very specific. It even mentions a period of two years, although the transition period that is being negotiated may well come to an end at the end of 2020. In effect, he is asking the Government to legislate on something over which they do not have control. Surely the better approach is to plan for the contingency, as he has already agreed, and recognise that the other elements—Euratom and other agencies—are all subject to a negotiation that this House cannot, by its nature, control.
That is a little strange in that the Prime Minister referred to transition periods for the overall EU negotiations in her Florence speech, and the Secretary of State did so strongly in his written statement on
Yes, of course we all want a transition period, which is precisely a part of the negotiations. What I struggle to understand is that the scenario the hon. Gentleman describes is in effect not within our control. The transition we are seeking is being negotiated—in fact, the Minister and other Front Benchers have made it absolutely clear several times that we want to continue the relationship with Euratom as deeply as possible—but I cannot see the need, in a legislative context, for his proposed new clause 1. In fact, I do not believe it would be possible for any Government conceivably to agree to it.
I repeat my suggestion that, because the Bill is about process as much as content, it is important that it is guided by the sort of considerations we want to take place in order to achieve, as we are all agreed, the best outcome—[Interruption.] Indeed, yes, the best outcome. We must make sure that the negotiations not only proceed with the best outcome in mind, but cover the fact that it may be the case—again, this is out of our control—that if we stick to a position, as far as the provisions of the Bill are concerned, in which everything essentially stops in March 2019, that would be just catastrophic for our nuclear industry and our international nuclear safeguarding obligations. We must get this right, and we must have continuity of arrangements inside or outside Euratom. It is in those circumstances that a transition period is suggested.
The arrangements for the founding of Euratom and its articles suggest that a period of transition for negotiating our way out of Euratom may not be identical to the period for the arrangements for negotiating our way out of the EU as a whole. It is quite possible to conceive the circumstances in which we do not have a transition period beyond March 2019 for negotiating our general withdrawal from the EU, but we do have a transition period for negotiating our way out of Euratom. It is at the least strongly arguable that that may be the case in the future, and it is another reason why such a provision should be in the Bill.
I feel I must pull up the hon. Gentleman because he has twice referred to Euratom having been around for 40 years, but it began in 1957. It was born out of the civil nuclear industry that began in my constituency of Copeland when Calder Hall was first constructed. I thought that I should made it clear that this was from Britain and by Britain back in 1957. We have actually had it for 70 years, although there was the merger in 1967.
I was referring to the length of time that we have been a member of Euratom, not the length of time that Euratom has been around. Indeed, the hon. Lady will know that when Euratom was founded, the UK was not a member of it. I am sure she will also know that the founders of Euratom, particularly one of them—Mr Spaak—wrote a substantial report at the time of the founding of Euratom that strongly envisaged, setting out in chapter and verse, how an associate relationship of Euratom with the UK could come about. The arrangements that Mr Spaak considered in the report for associate membership are identical to those that exist today. I thank the hon. Lady for reminding us that Euratom has been around a lot longer than the period during which the UK’s relationship with Euratom has existed, but I am sure she will agree that even at the outset of Euratom, an association with the UK was envisaged before the UK joined to facilitate nuclear exchange, nuclear development and—although the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was not around at the time—joint endeavours in civil and defence nuclear work.
I fear, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I have tested the patience of the House, particularly, given the number of interventions I have taken, because of the necessity of ensuring that I responded to them fully. I will end by telling the House that we need to remember that this Bill covers just one aspect of our relationship with Euratom over the period during which we have been a member of it. Our relationship with Euratom also includes participation in nuclear research, the transportation of nuclear materials, the development of nuclear arrangements, the trading of nuclear materials and a number of other arrangements, all of which will lapse on our exit from participation in Euratom and all of which will need to be secured for the future. They are not the subject of the Bill, but they will have to be dealt with at some stage if we are not to have a close association with Euratom after Brexit. Amendment 7 would provide for at least an understanding that we will move forward to secure working arrangements for a future outside Euratom, not just making provision for our treaty obligations concerning nuclear safeguarding.
The Opposition think that the suite of connected amendments to the Bill will strengthen it enormously so that it is a fully fit-for-purpose contingency arrangement. I therefore commend these new clauses and amendments to the House.
New clause 1 concerns me, because it seems to me to be a delaying tactic. As I have mentioned, Euratom and the IAEA were really formed in 1957, when Calder Hall was built in my constituency. There are now 70-something businesses operating in the nuclear industry in my constituency alone. I have spoken to each and every one of them, as well as to Sellafield, the Low Level Waste Repository and the National Nuclear Laboratory. They all say that it is absolutely critical that we get on with the job swiftly and provide certainty so that when we leave the European Union on
I come back to the point that Euratom was formed in 1957, and I find it somewhat disappointing that Opposition Members are not crediting our country with the ability to do what is necessary. I have been reassured by the Minister on several occasions about the timescales, and about the process that is already in place for recruiting new safeguards inspectors to the Office for Nuclear Regulation. There are clear synergies inherent in having the ONR, which is the overarching umbrella organisation, working on safeguarding, security and safety.
When it comes to the transition, the Prime Minister has already said that there will be a transition arrangement after we leave the European Union on
I know that the hon. Lady cares hugely about this issue, because it matters a great deal for her constituency. She and I have been in meetings with the Office for Nuclear Regulation, in which it has said very clearly that it will not be able to meet Euratom standards for safety inspections by March 2019. Indeed, even to meet IAEA standards will be very challenging. Does she not agree that new clause 1 would provide certainty, rather than the other way around, because it would ensure that in March 2019 we were in a transition period in which we could still rely on Euratom to perform the inspections that are so crucial in her constituency?
It is not just my constituency, though; this is about the whole country. Today, more than 20% of our electricity is provided by nuclear power stations. The hon. Lady is not quite correct. My memory of the meeting she mentions is that we were told we would have sufficient aspects in place to be able to have the regime, there or thereabouts, to continue with our existing—[Interruption.]
“My current project plan is that we establish a regime that intends to meet UK international obligations when we leave”.
That is achievable. She said that there were challenges, but not that they were insurmountable. She added that she intended to
“build upon that to achieve a system that is equivalent to Euratom.”
So my hon. Friend is correct.
I thank my hon. Friend. It is important that we hold the Minister and the Department to account, and that we focus on the critical path of recruiting the right number of staff into the ONR and ensuring that the regime is in place when we leave. We need to get on with the job, and the 70-something businesses in my constituency absolutely want us to do that.
The hon. Lady and I were both in the evidence-gathering sitting of the Bill Committee, in which Dr Golshan said that
Is this perhaps a matter of fact, rather than a question of confidence in Britain? In taking this course of action without the safeguard that my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead has proposed, we will leave ourselves without the coverage that we need.
I have already said that I believe the transition period will happen, as the Prime Minister has indicated. New clause 1 is a delaying tactic, and that is absolutely not what the industry needs. We need certainty, and we need it today. I am pleased that the Department is already acting to recruit to the ONR safeguarding inspectors, who will also have responsibility for safety and security. That seems to me to provide vital synergies of shared knowledge and shared experience across the board in the nuclear sector.
I want to speak briefly in support of new clause 1. We have debated whether there will be negotiations during the transition period, but I hope that the Minister will respond to this question when he winds up: does he intend to negotiate associate membership of Euratom? We are asking for associate membership, but we have been given no clear idea of whether he intends to seek such membership. We all want the safeguards to be in place from day one. Negotiating over Euratom standards is not in our gift, but we now have in place the highest standards in the world and co-operation with other world leaders.
Having sat through a number of evidence sessions with me, as a fellow member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, the hon. Gentleman well knows that there is no such thing as associate membership of Euratom. The Minister has repeatedly said that the Government intend to seek some form of close association with Euratom—I do not want to dwell on the semantics, but that is obviously a different thing—and to maintain a continuity of relationship with it. The new clause is therefore totally unnecessary, given the Prime Minister’s commitment to a two-year implementation period.
I often agree with the hon. Gentleman in the Committee, but I think that he is completely wrong on that point. There is such a thing as associate membership—of Euratom, and of the European Union—and there are different levels of membership.
Yes, there is. We need to negotiate from a position of clarity and strength, and I do not see us doing so. Without the proposed commitment in the Bill, I do not see the Government saying that they intend to go for third-party or associate membership of Euratom. We have not even seen the legal opinion that the Government were given about the need to leave Euratom in the first place. I support the need for nuclear safeguarding, and I will support the Bill on Third Reading, but new clause 1 is sensible, because it suggests that the Government should approach Euratom members and ask for associate membership, to give us the continuity and certainty that we want.
The hon. Gentleman says that he wants continuity and certainty, but can he not understand the difficulty involved in writing into the Bill the outcome of negotiations that have not yet happened? How can Parliament effectively write into law that we are going to have a transitional period when the negotiations have not yet happened?
The Government say that we need a transitional period for EU withdrawal, and it is obvious to me that we also need one for Euratom. The Government have said that we need to leave Euratom at the same time as we leave the European Union, but I stress again—I hope that the Minister will clarify the position—that nobody other than the Government has seen the legal advice that tells us that we need to exit Euratom. My hon. Friend Dr Whitehead was absolutely right that to say that there is universal support for the idea of our having associate membership. I have not met anyone who works in the industry who says that we should move away from Euratom. If we do, they—the workers; Prospect, the union; many of the experts who gave evidence to us; and the Nuclear Industry Association, which is the umbrella body—feel that we should have associate membership. The new clause therefore speaks on behalf of the industry in the first instance, and we as legislators should listen to what the industry is saying; we should not listen to the Government’s ideological grounds. The only reason why the Government want to leave Euratom is that they do not want to be under the European Court of Justice—that is the crux of it.
The hon. Gentleman, like me, will have received the briefing from the Nuclear Industry Association. Paragraph 5, on legal implications, clearly says that the treaties are entwined—that is the EU’s position and the UK Government’s position—and that it is not possible to remain a member of Euratom while leaving the EU.
Well, let us clear this up now. I invite the Minister to say on behalf of the Government whether it is his intention—or their intention, if he is not in his post at the time—to negotiate associate membership. Yes or no? Otherwise, we are just guessing that the Government will negotiate some form of associate or third-party membership. I need to know these things from the Government, because we do not have anything in front of us. What we have today is a group of new clauses and amendments that would give us the certainty that we need. The industry is crying out for that, so I want to hear from the Minister.
It strikes me as bizarre that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are taking their current line. I can only assume that that is either because they want to try to make the political point that the Government and the Conservative party do not want to have a future relationship with Euratom, which is clearly wrong—the Minister will confirm that when he speaks—or because the hon. Gentleman wants to score a political point with an industry that I know is dear to his heart by suggesting that, somehow, he is being more supportive by trying to write into law something that cannot be written into law. What is needed today—we will hear this from the Minister—is absolute confirmation of the Government’s intention to continue to have as close a relationship with Euratom as possible. That is what will be negotiated. It cannot be legislated for, otherwise we would do the same thing for all the many other organisations in Europe with which we might want to have a future relationship. All of that will be covered in the transition talks in Brussels.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He knows me quite well, and I do not think he would accuse me of scoring political points. I have said consistently since before the Bill was introduced that we need clarity, whether we have full membership of Euratom, associate membership, or a third-party agreement.
I must apologise for my hesitancy when the hon. Gentleman asked me a question. I was not sure whether I was allowed to intervene on him, so I had intended to reply in my speech. Just to make matters clear, however, it is a statement of fact that the Government have served the article 50 notice to leave Euratom, the argument being that the two treaties were so interleaved that we had to. Secondly, there is no such thing as associate membership. Some countries have agreements on certain matters—associate membership on research and development, for example, in the case of Ukraine—but there is no legal category of associate membership. Thirdly, the Government intend to seek as close an association with Euratom as is possible. If it is acceptable to the hon. Gentleman—I attended his Westminster Hall debate, and I have listened very carefully to what he has said today—I will continue my remarks at the end of this debate.
I am grateful, because that is helpful, but there is associate membership—it is just in different sections, whether that is research and development or various other—[Laughter.] There is. Conservative Members laugh, but when we had a debate in Westminster Hall, both sides were in agreement that we needed to strengthen our relationship through an associate or alternative membership.
Like other hon. Members, my hon. Friend has a close constituency interest in this issue. Ukraine has associate membership for the research and development programme. One thing my hon. Friend and I are particularly interested in is whether we are seeking to have what Ukraine has: associate membership specifically for research and development.
That is an important point. However, let me repeat that it is not Labour Back Benchers who are asking for this; it is the industry itself. We need to listen to the industry. Its members are not stupid. They know the technical and legal differences between associate membership and part-associate membership. What they want is certainty. If someone is in a position of strength, they do not go into negotiations, one against the rest, and say, “What are you going to give us?” We have to go to the negotiations with a firm belief that we want a strong associate membership, but I have not heard the Government say that, even in the Minister’s intervention.
I think that we are all pulling in the same direction, but we need to be careful about the language. There is not an on-the-shelf associate membership that we can just pick up and run with. There are associated countries, and there are countries that have associate arrangements, but those are bespoke, and thus far all of them have required the free movement of people and a contribution to the EU budget. It is therefore likely that whatever our associated membership might be, it will be different from that of countries that already have an associated membership. However, those countries are not “associate members”, in the sense that there is an associate membership class.
I think the hon. Gentleman is agreeing with me, but we do not know our position or what our starting point is.
I would like to hear from the Minister—he will have enough time—that the British Government, on behalf of the nuclear industry, are looking for certainty. To say that they are looking for something as close as associate membership is not good enough. Are we looking for a specific British agreement with the rest of Euratom that gives us the same certainty as we have now? If so, we should support the new clause, because it strengthens the hand of the Government, rather than weakens it.
We should look at the comparison with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and phase 1, at the 11th hour waiting for the Irish to reach some sort of agreement. We cannot do that with Euratom and nuclear, because of its nature. Let us be absolutely firm. We are all pulling in the same direction. We want the best for the British nuclear industry. The nuclear industry wants an associate membership, so let us fight for it.
Although I have not spoken on the Bill to date, I have been following its progress from afar. I rise, unsurprisingly perhaps, in opposition to the proposals that have been tabled by Dr Whitehead. As his county colleague, I have a great deal of time for him, but on this occasion I have to say, with regret, that I believe that the measures would delay the implementation of the vital nuclear safeguarding measures that are facilitated by the Bill and extend lobbying for associate membership of Euratom.
Notwithstanding the uncertainty, instability and safeguarding risks that these new clauses and amendments implicitly condone, the association they appear to grasp at seems to be ideologically driven. Those who still worship membership of the customs union or the single market above all else should see the impossible implications of the measures.
Euratom, which was established by the Euratom treaty, as we have already heard, is uniquely joined to the European Union. It has the same membership. Its budget is part of the general budget of the EU. Importantly, it also makes use of the same institutions and entities: the Commission, the Council and, contrary to everything that we voted leave for—to take back control—the European Court of Justice. That is why this Bill, which will create our own version of things, is so crucial. Providing certainty as we leave is crucial, whatever the deal.
I note that the measures seek some association, but that is no silver bullet. As we have heard already, there is no such thing as associate membership, and hon. Members do not have to trust me on that. If we cannot trust the views of a former president of the Union of European Federalists, who can we trust? I speak, of course, of the former Liberal Democrat MEP, Andrew Duff, and he wrote:
“Euratom is therefore a fundamental building block of the European Union and not an accessory. It cannot be separated out from the rest of the Union. Joining the EU means joining Euratom;
leaving the EU means leaving Euratom…There is no such thing as associate membership of Euratom.”
My life is greatly enhanced by that clarification. Let me turn to another source that the hon. Lady might put greater trust in—Professor David Phinnemore of Queen’s University Belfast. He agreed with the former Liberal Democrat MEP:
“Andrew Duff has been quick to point out, correctly, that there is in fact no such thing as ‘associate membership’
of Euratom or, indeed, of the EU for that matter. Non-member states can only be ‘associates’
of the EU.”
That is an academic’s view, as well as an MEP’s view.
Albert Owen, in an exchange with my hon. Friend James Heappey, considered the notion of associated country status. Switzerland has associated country status. That is different from associate membership; it covers only research and development, and as my hon. Friend made clear, it is contingent on free movement. People in this country have said in a referendum that free movement must be controlled. Given the impossibility of the deal that the new clauses seek time to negotiate—to say nothing of its undesirability—it is pure folly to mandate years of uncertainty in a nuclear safeguarding transition period. I contend, rather, that the safeguards, inspections of nuclear facilities and monitoring that the amendments purport to support would be harmed more by a safeguarding transition period—especially since, once we have left the European Union, our Euratom membership cannot apply—than by moving forward immediately to new safeguards.
Is the hon. Gentleman honestly telling the House that the British public do not want experts from other countries to move freely in the nuclear industry? We are talking about not just nuclear installations but research centres in this country that need international co-operation.
Although I like the hon. Gentleman very much and value his contributions to the House, I think he is missing the point and trying to undermine what the British people have clearly told us politicians. It is uncontrolled immigration that they seek to remedy.
I hate to rise to disagree with my hon. Friend, but the British people did not vote to leave Euratom. It is a separate treaty and it was not on the ballot paper. We are aware that we are leaving Euratom because of a technicality. I am also aware that if the Government Front-Bench team could wave a magic wand, they would remain in Euratom. Can we please not wrap up our departure from Euratom into some kind of Brexit dream of sticking it to the continent? We want free movement of our nuclear workers, not least because we are building a multibillion-pound nuclear power station at Hinkley Point.
In disagreeing with me, my right hon. Friend has made my point: specific deals can be done to make sure that the people that this country needs and wants to see here in Britain can come here.
I will make some progress first.
The people we want to see in Britain—those who can contribute to our society, our economy and our communities—should be able to come here and contribute to our national life and national industries. Indeed, that is how we will continue to make sure that our nuclear industry goes from strength to strength.
I knew he would, because my hon. Friend knows that my constituency is adjacent to the enormous new nuclear power station that is being built. We will get a large knock-on effect on employment, and indeed we have the first nuclear degree at the University Centre Somerset, which is in my constituency and the adjacent constituency. Does he agree that we need to keep these brains coming and ensure that this industry is growing and booming as we go forward? We are encouraging young people to go into it, and they want to know that there is a safe future.
My hon. Friend has guessed what is coming later in my remarks. I will come on to the future, but I want to focus now on the importance of nuclear, which I think everyone agrees is of key strategic importance to the United Kingdom. I am therefore pleased that Her Majesty’s Government have been clear that they aim to seek to maintain close and effective arrangements for civil nuclear co-operation with Europe and the rest of the world.
As we leave the European Union and enter, in my view—I accept that it might not be everyone’s view—an exciting and prosperous new phase in our kingdom’s history, where we are free to do what we need to do to put our people first and seek trade deals with friends around the world, it is through the cultivation of open, willing and free global markets, interested in innovation from Britain and the revenues that that trade will bring, that we will help to stabilise and boost the UK economy. In this new industrial revolution—perhaps the fourth industrial revolution, as has been championed by my hon. Friend Alan Mak—nuclear power will form a vital part of the UK’s long-term energy mix.
In that context, I want to inform the House of how little of our energy comes from nuclear. Some 72.3% of France’s energy comes from nuclear, compared with 54.1% of Slovakia’s, 51.7% of Belgium’s, 51.3% of Hungary’s and 40% of Sweden’s. We are at less than half that percentage. I would be delighted to be told that I am wrong—I would be delighted if it were higher—but I am informed that it is less than 20%. Nuclear power, as a source of electricity to power millions of homes and businesses for decades to come, is not only clean, low-carbon energy, but reliable. It will also secure our energy, environmental and economic futures. It is therefore absolutely critical to get the regulation of it right.
We have heard about the deal to secure our first new nuclear power station for a generation. It will be built without resort to the public purse and will mean the creation of 26,000 new jobs. It is the sort of industry we want to incentivise in this country to create good new jobs for young people now and in the future. It will also mean energy security, as I have said, which is absolutely critical for our kingdom’s future prosperity, so it is critical that the right safeguards are in place.
It is important that the nuclear safeguards provided under the Bill are distinct from both nuclear safety measures and nuclear security measures. Those measures, which are respectively intended to prevent accidents and to put in place physical protection measures at nuclear sites—are not under the purview of the Bill. They are unaffected by our leaving the EU, because they are not responsibilities provided primarily by Euratom. Euratom has no role in setting security standards or in regulating or inspecting security arrangements in our civil nuclear sector.
Nuclear safety and security are regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation—very effectively to date, I might add—and it is the ONR that will assume responsibility for running our effectively equivalent domestic nuclear safeguards regime created under the Bill. That is why, again, I believe that the Bill should stand unamended. Furthermore—international safety and security considerations have been mentioned— the UK will remain a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, of which we were one of the founding members in July 1957 and remain one of the board members. Our leading role in the IAEA, our work developing and complying fully with international standards and obligations on nuclear safety and security, and our commitment to responsible nuclear non-proliferation thus demonstrate that the UK has no intention of retreating from international standards in our new domestic safeguards regime.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of this, but I clarify to the House that IAEA standards are not as high as Euratom’s. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has said that it will not be able to meet Euratom’s standards on day one of our exit from the European Union, so that would mean a dilution of the standards that we have today. Does the hon. Gentleman understand and acknowledge that?
My point about the IEA—I mean the IAEA; what a tongue-twister!—was not about the standards it provides. It was that we will remain part of the IAEA and will continue to comply fully with the international standards set out and our obligations in relation to nuclear safety and security.
I wish to turn to some other concerns. One of the most common misconceptions is that leaving Euratom will affect the supply of medical radioisotopes. That is simply not correct. Medical radioisotopes are not classed as special fissile material and are not therefore subject to nuclear safeguards. Consequently, the UK’s ability to import medical isotopes from Europe and the rest of the world will not be affected. Further, I understand—if I am wrong, I am sure the Minister will correct me—that the Government are fully committed to supporting nuclear collaboration in our scientific and research communities, having already underwritten the UK’s share of one of the biggest EU nuclear projects last year. Such misunderstandings—and perhaps misinformation —highlight exactly why certainty is necessary. We need to enact the new rules as soon as possible so that medical isotope coverage can continue, and so that people know it continues, unaffected.
Research and development is critical, and it is underpinned by the Bill. I welcome the Government’s emphasising that the decision to withdraw from Euratom in no way diminishes their nuclear research and development ambitions. In fact, I understand they have stated that maintaining and building on our world-leading fusion expertise and securing alternative routes into the international fusion R&D projects will remain a priority. One example is the Joint European Torus programme, a fusion project based in Oxfordshire—my right hon. Friend Mr Vaizey may want to comment on it later. The contract is due to end in 2018, but I understand that discussions are already under way with the UK’s European partners to extend it to 2020. If the Government are committed to it, it is right that they continue to guarantee that they will provide their fair share of JET funding up to 2020 in order to extend the contract.
My constituency lies on the boundary of the Culham centre. The point the staff there are making to me is that this is about not just funding but being able to access the crucial networks of researchers and get the right talent in the right places. Does the hon. Gentleman concede that this will suffer in the short term, unless we get certainty now?
I will perhaps answer the hon. Lady’s point in a roundabout way. When I visited Switzerland—I should refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—I was impressed to understand that Switzerland, despite having never been part of the EU, was one of the largest recipients of joint funding, because it had the brains to excel at driving technological innovation forward. One of the other biggest recipients of such funding was the UK. A third was Israel, which has never been part of the EU and has very few agreements of the sort that Switzerland has with the EU. Switzerland has some agreements with the EU, and we are leaving the EU. All three nations have great expertise and should continue to strive to ensure access to the networks that this technology and these innovations rely on.
Another such project is the international thermonuclear experimental reactor, a project to build a magnetic fusion device. The agreement was signed multilaterally by China, the EU, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US. It is absolutely right that the UK continues to support such projects. I also understand that the Government have announced an £86 million investment to establish a nuclear fusion technology platform with the aim of supporting UK industry in obtaining contracts for just such projects.
We need to underpin that commitment and funding with some clarity today, however, which is why an additional transition period would be the worst of both worlds. The unique legal status of the EU and Euratom during that period would mean we would not be part of Euratom but would simply be seeking an association with it, or indeed an R&D-only association contingent on free movement and the European Court of Justice—if we are to base our position on Switzerland and refer to it in the wrong terms, as some Opposition Members have done. At the same time, however, we would be unable to enact our own safeguarding measures to underpin all that is good about our nuclear industry—the innovation we have supported and the jobs our young people deserve. I do not believe the new clause stacks up, and I will not be supporting it today.
It is a pleasure to rise to speak in favour of new clause 1. As far as I could follow the argument of Mr Jayawardena at the end there, he was saying that it would create instability to have an increased transition period for a treaty that has served the UK well for 40 years and that we want to replicate in as much detail as possible in the future arrangements. That is Alice in Wonderland logic and not the kind of rigour we ought to bring to this incredibly serious debate.
This fellow Andrew Duff, a former Liberal Democrat MEP, has been mentioned several times in the Chamber. It is, to my mind, the first time a former Liberal Democrat MEP has been taken as a great authority on any matter by Conservative Members, and possibly by his own party as well. I want to briefly and gently warn Conservative Members on the wisdom of taking former leaders’ pronouncements as general facts. For obvious reasons, I do not seek to dwell on my own party’s predicament on the matter, or that of the Liberal Democrats, given the recent well-publicised difficulties of their former leader in matters of faith. Are we to agree, however, with every pronouncement from Lord Hague, a former leader of the Conservative party, on issues on which he remains an expert? Are we to agree without question that Brexit will undoubtedly diminish Britain’s influence on the world stage, as he has made clear? No, of course we are not, so can we please put that argument to one side and move on to the substance of the debate.
I did try.
I would never accuse the Minister of complacency—he is not a complacent man—and I know that as Energy Minister he is giving much time to this matter, but although I do not think there is complacency from Ministers themselves, I am profoundly worried about the capacity in the system to deliver the new arrangements by the time set out. I agree with my neighbour, Trudy Harrison, on so much and we have worked together, but the idea that it is okay to be there or thereabouts in March 2019, at the time of transfer, is, I am afraid, bunkum. A level of certainty has to be written into our nuclear safeguarding regulatory arrangements.
Many Labour Members want our membership of Euratom to continue, howsoever it might be delivered in the future. The alternative at the moment is to rely on a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that is bursting at the seams with all the things it has to deliver on Britain’s exit from the EU. I had a conversation a few months ago with someone whom I knew from my time as an adviser and who remains in the system. What he had to say about the number of staff looking at the Euratom issue in particular was frightening. There is not remotely the level of assurance that the House ought to expect if it is to give its blessing to the Government and not seek to write into the Bill a commitment to a transition period, which is eminently sensible while we try to work out whether we can stay for good.
Some Members have said that there is no certainty because a negotiation is in progress, but the new clause gives a degree of strength to Ministers, enabling them to say, “Parliament has willed that there needs to be a transition arrangement. Our Act—which is, of course, a contingency Act—makes clear that there must be contingency arrangements, and that is what we require from these negotiations.”
Might I suggest that the new clause actually seeks to confuse? It appears to specify what should happen during the transition period, but it is unclear whether it is specifying what the United Kingdom should seek to be negotiating, or whether it is attempting to mandate the terms. It seems to be the opposite of what the Prime Minister set out in her excellent Florence speech. All the Opposition are doing is confusing the issue, which is leading to a lack of clarification for the nuclear industry which wants, needs and deserves it.
The hon. Lady may be confused, but we are not, and the industry is not. The industry is strongly urging the Government—as they will know, if they are listening—and all Members to get behind a transition period while we examine the position, to decide whether we can reverse the wrongheaded decision to leave Euratom that was made—in all probability, unnecessarily—when article 50 was served. The alternative is to face a dire cliff edge that could do deep damage to civil nuclear production throughout the United Kingdom. I understand that the Minister is due to visit Sellafield for the first time later this week—
Well, I hope that when the Minister does come up to Sellafield, he will put his voice and the full voice of his Department behind the campaign that Trudy Harrison and I are shaping to improve our transport infrastructure. It will take him an absolute age to get there, but I hope that when he is there, he will listen closely to what people say. I hope that he will listen to those in my constituency and that of the hon. Lady who will be relying on the new civil nuclear jobs that will come through the NuGen project in Moorside and think again about how our Parliament can strengthen his hand in creating a seamless transition from the existing arrangements to something which we strongly believe needs to look identical. New clause 1 would do that and, even at this late stage, Members in all parts of the House ought to support it.
Order. I should point out to the hon. Lady that this is not the Third Reading debate. We are dealing with the new clauses and amendments.
Thank you for that clarification, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall turn directly to new clause 1. I do not support the new clause, because it seeks to introduce a transition period to delay the UK’s departure from Euratom. When the proposal was tabled in Committee as new clause 2, we engaged in detailed scrutiny. I applaud the forensic questioning by the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), who probed the Minister in great detail. We heard numerous lengthy arguments about why the new clause was unnecessary.
While I understand the Opposition’s desire for a completely smooth transition to new arrangements after we leave the EU and hence Euratom, I do not think that the new clause would achieve that purpose. The Government have made it very clear that they are already making progress on the arrangements for the UK’s safeguarding regime after we leave Euratom, and we have heard considerable evidence of the dangers of putting that at risk. The Bill’s purpose is to minimise any risk to our civil nuclear industry, to jobs in constituencies such as that of my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison, and to our international treaties. It is critical that the safeguarding regimes are maintained, because civil nuclear is an essential part of our national energy strategy. We have 15 operating reactors, generating about 21% of the country’s electricity, and 36 licensed nuclear sites.
As we have heard, membership of Euratom has served us well, and the Secretary of State has made clear that he wants maximum continuity to enable as close an association as possible to continue with Euratom after we leave the EU. This is not the place to get into arguments about whether or not we should have left Euratom; the fact is that we are in the process of leaving it, and I am sure all Members agree that we must look to the future.
The new clause is redundant, but if it were only redundant, I would accept that that was a weak argument and that the Opposition might argue that it would strengthen the Bill. However, I believe that it is not only redundant, but would be counterproductive. The Government have made a clear commitment to a transition period after we leave the EU. In the Prime Minister’s Florence speech, she committed herself to a transition period, which has been extensively debated in the House. It is widely agreed that during that period we would work within existing EU frameworks, such as Euratom, to avoid the creation of damaging cliff edges in business and in our essential nuclear industry.
When the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee heard from Dr Golshan of the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the body that will take on the safeguarding role after we leave Euratom, she told us that the challenges faced by her organisation in implementing a new function were not negligible, but she did not say that they were insuperable. I believe therefore that we must continue with the Bill as it stands to avoid further delay in putting in place a nuclear safeguards regime, which must be ready in good time.
Given the legal arguments, which have been well rehearsed, it is difficult to see how we could continue to be a full member of Euratom after leaving the EU, as triggering article 50 obliged us to leave associated bodies, as set out in the European treaties. If we accepted the new clause, logically we could not leave the EU on exit day, as Parliament has voted to do, because we would be bound into a form of association with Euratom. The two objectives are logically impossible.
Furthermore, placing such an obligation on the Government would create considerable uncertainty in the negotiations and weaken our negotiating stance. It would also create uncertainty for businesses and people working in the sector, when Members on both sides of the House have made it clear that what they need is certainty. By definition, certainty would be hard to come by were the new clause to be accepted. For the reasons I have given, this proposal was defeated in the Public Bill Committee, and I will not support it on Report.
I am delighted to be here with the Minister, who is a genial and hard-working man. I know that he will try to answer some of my questions, and I hope his answers are clear.
When the Secretary of State launched the Bill, he said it was “straightforward”, but the amendments are required because there is nothing straightforward about leaving Euratom. The Scottish National party is concerned about the whole process. Trudy Harrison talked about us being “there or thereabouts”, but that is not good enough when it comes to nuclear safeguards. As it stands, the Bill is a safeguards Bill without any safeguards; there is no contingency for anything going wrong, yet Ministers have failed to convince not just hon. Members in this Chamber, but industry and the people. Leaving Euratom will result in more cost and less value, and the opinion of many in the industry is that it will be impossible to set up an equivalent UK authority within the timescales outlined. That is the view of industry, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the Nuclear Industry Association and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, all of which gave evidence to the BEIS Committee. I was delighted to hear the Chair of that Committee, Rachel Reeves, point out the great concern about the Government’s ability to do as they propose. All the nuclear industry and all those bodies do not want us to leave Euratom; either they see no benefit in our doing so, or they are actively concerned about the consequences.
Ministers have simply ignored the difficulties and the overwhelming evidence before them. They have plodded ahead, and when asked “How?” they use their favourite word: hope. They hope that things will be in place—that agreements, funding and people will be available. Despite the impending loss of influence in developing policy in Europe on future nuclear decisions, the unanswered questions about cost, the difficulties in training or even recruiting replacement inspectors, they plod ahead. As the Minister said in response to questions on these matters in the Select Committee, “They don’t really know and we don’t really know.”
There are a lot of unknowns in the Bill, which is why it is imperative to amend it. The ONR says plainly that it might need more than a two-year transition period after 2019, yet the Government still provide no assurance.
The hon. Gentleman says the Government give no assurance, but the Prime Minister, in her Florence speech, was explicit about the Government’s agenda in respect of a two-year implementation period. I cannot help concluding that the reason the hon. Gentleman advances this line of argument is that he has a destructive attitude toward the whole process, and his ultimate aim is to create a constitutional and ongoing sense of crisis. In fact, the Bill guarantees some continuity, including the two-year period.
The hon. Gentleman, like many of his colleagues in Scotland, likes to try to go to a happy place when faced with harsh realities. The fact is that a two-year transition period is viewed by virtually nobody as a responsible timescale in which to get up and running.
No, I am going to make some progress.
The UK, as it presses ahead with the folly of Hinckley C, will need thousands of workers, many skilled in the nuclear industries.
No, I am going to make some progress. I may come back to the hon. Lady, but we will have to see.
Many of those workers will need to be skilled in the nuclear industries, yet current policy does not support the ability to get those workers if there is no concession on the movement of people, but achieving even that is put into a harsh light when it comes to getting highly specialist staff to meet the new safeguarding functions. Those positions are already challenging to fill. Nuclear inspectors do not live on every street—in fact, they are very rare—and they are in global demand. The Minister says that such staff are required only in the tens, but can he tell me today how many are in place? I offer him the opportunity to intervene. He was asked in November about recruitment. I am trying to get his attention, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will he tell us how the first phase has gone? I will offer him another opportunity to intervene and tell us how many recruits are in place. Is it 15? Is it 10? Is it five? Is it one? Is it none? How many nuclear safeguard inspectors have been set up?
Prospect and Unite the union have given evidence, and Ms Ferns from Prospect said:
“A reasonable approximation is several years—it is not a matter of months but years for people to be able to do that job…It is a small talent pool…even in the best of times.”
Many Members today have cited the testimony of Dr Mina Golshan, the deputy chief inspector and the director of the Sellafield decommissioning, fuel and waste division in the Office for Nuclear Regulation. She has said:
“I have been very clear from the outset in previous evidence sessions, and in discussions with industry as well as BEIS, that it would be unrealistic for us to expect to achieve an equivalent regime to what is in place currently by the time we officially leave Euratom, and that is March 2019.”
The BEIS Committee report, “Leaving the EU: implications for the civil nuclear sector”, states:
“To deliver the new domestic regime the ONR will need to double the number of its inspectors by 2019, and triple its numbers by 2021. Skilling-up the new recruits on time will present additional challenges, as even existing specialists will require 12-18 months of training to become an inspector, and generalists may need five years.”
Those are hefty timescales.
Let us look at the cost. So far, the Government have earmarked £10 million for all the operations in Euratom, yet we can already see that there are going to be much more expensive consequences for the UK. That £10 million figure is dwarfed by the £50 million of Euratom funding that the UK receives for the Joint European Torus project—JET—so it will be interesting to hear from the Minister how that funding is going to be replaced. Leaving Euratom and the JET project has been described as “bonkers” by Steven Cowley, a physicist at the University of Oxford and a former director of the Culham centre for fusion energy, which hosts JET. He is absolutely right. Can the Minister tell us how that funding will be maintained?
Can the Minister also tell us about our future in ITER, the project to build the world’s largest tokamak? The ITER agreement was signed in 2006 by China, the EU, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US, and the building of the tokamak has been under way in France since 2010. The official start of ITER’s operation is scheduled for December 2025. Euratom also funds DEMO, a demonstration fusion power reactor planned to follow ITER by 2050. The UK is a key participant in ITER and sends information, results and design studies from its JET programme to the French site. This co-operation will continue throughout the Brexit process, but it is unclear what the impact of Brexit will be on this co-operation and the continuation of these programmes. Perhaps the Minister can advise us on that. We need to know all this information. Without it, we will need safeguards in place.
Mr Jayawardena, who is no longer in its place, mentioned medical isotopes. He said that it was scaremongering to say that they would no longer be available, and that treaties would be in place to allow access to them. However, the critical point is not whether people can get the isotopes; it is that they have a very short half-life. Sometimes they have to be used within hours of being produced in order to maintain their effectiveness. If they are sitting at a border point because there is no customs agreement, they will be completely useless. Will the Minister tell us how we are going to put in place the necessary customs arrangements to prevent that from happening?
The issue is that we are leaving the single market and the customs union. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, even if we have a customs arrangement, the fact that we are leaving the single market is what will cause the delays? As he rightly points out, the half-life of those radioisotopes will mean that fewer people will be able to be treated by them.
Without alternative arrangements to allow the free movement of such goods across borders, there will be considerable complication and delay, which could affect patients.
As it stands, it is a risk too far to leave Euratom without cast-iron guarantees. I respect the Minister and heard his messages of hope about having people in place. I heard him say that he would like to ensure that that will happen, but we have had no guarantees about the set-up or whether it will be in place. There are no figures and no definite timescales, and we have heard nothing from the industry to suggest that it is satisfied. Without cast-iron guarantees to protect such things, we know that the new arrangement will cost us more, deliver less and diminish our influence. Given the evidence, it is hard to see even how it could be delivered.
The amendments and new clauses would allow us to look for an opportunity to maintain some kind of associate membership of Euratom. We are talking about doing something with which I completely disagree, but this is a new venture that has never been done before, so we have the opportunity to do new things and to strike new agreements. We could look at an arrangement like the one we had with Ukraine to see whether we could have the same with Euratom. If we are going to make this foolish decision to come out of the EU and Euratom and to leave all these things up to chance, it is incumbent on the UK Government to seek the associations that are required in order to keep things moving. The amendments and new clauses should be taken by the Minister and embraced by those on the Government Benches.
Drew Hendry accused Government Members, and Scottish Conservatives in particular, of seeking to find a happy place. Does my hon. Friend agree that that could never be said of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey? He is more inclined to find a depressing place, which I do not recognise in my native land of Scotland.
I thank my hon. Friend, who will know much more than me about SNP Members and their outlook on life.
Our relationship with Euratom is a subject for negotiation. The Government have been clear that they will seek continuity, and they obviously want standards to remain as high as possible. How that connects directly with Euratom is not for this Bill; it is for negotiation directly with the EU. The exact nature of the relationship will of course be closely connected to trade, customs and countless other arrangements.
In Committee, we saw Labour’s attempts to get either a commitment to Euratom, which cannot be given in this Bill, or associate membership, which does not exist and this Bill cannot create. We need to build our own framework so that we are prepared to incorporate whatever kind of relationship with Euratom results from the negotiation. The Government have been clear that that is the most helpful and connected relationship that we can have, so we cannot lay out in this forum what that will look like. We need certainty and structure and to have our own plans in place—not just on paper, but well developed and physically in place—so that we can have continuity regardless of what happens further down the line, meaning that we need to crack on with things now to be ready in time. We heard evidence in Committee about the time needed to put things in place, so we need to crack on now.
I do not understand where Albert Owen was coming from in his speech. While very eloquent, he did not seem to grasp that we cannot write into the Bill things that have not yet happened or are not yet agreed. We cannot include a transitional period, and the Government cannot accept an amendment that foresees a future negotiation with another party, the result of which we just do not know. We need to be ready on exit day. We need to ensure that we cannot be taken by surprise and that continuity is ensured.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is on message, but the message is wrong. The words that I used in my contribution, which was echoed by SNP Members, were not mine, but those of the industry and the experts within it. For once, will the Government start listening to those who understand the industry, rather than bantering about who on which side of the House might be wrong?
I am sure the Minister will agree that we need to support the industry and that we need to do what the industry asks. My point is nothing other than that. My point is that we cannot make that decision in this Bill. It is for the negotiation to decide at a later date.
New clause 1 neglects to recognise that an implementation period is subject to negotiation and must be agreed directly with the EU—we cannot do it unilaterally. The idea of implementation before withdrawal also does not fit with broader plans and discussions that have been mooted for transition out of the EU after withdrawal in March 2019. It simply does not fit. The Government clearly cannot include in a Bill the outcome of a discussion that has not happened.
We need to decide the basic framework now and act accordingly.
I do not know the hon. Gentleman’s background, but I guess it probably is not business.
We cannot fix the plan for withdrawal and implementation in stone now. The Labour party wants to build into the Bill a clause saying that the Bill is contingency only. Our relationship with Euratom is subject to negotiation. No one has written anything off. We want a positive relationship, but we might have to develop and rely on our own framework, and the work to put it in place needs to happen now. An amendment to say that the Bill is merely a contingency would achieve the opposite of its intention by reducing impetus and leading to delays in the process of getting our safeguards in place, which is only bad for the industry and for all the things Dr Whitehead tried to raise.
That is why I oppose new clause 1, and I hope to speak later about my support for the Bill more broadly.
On new clause 1, while I have slightly buried the lead by referencing this earlier, it needs full consideration in this place. Members need to know the judgment of Dr Golshan, who is responsible at the ONR for recreating Euratom in this country:
“Our aim, currently, is to have a system in place that enables the UK to fulfil its international obligations by March 2019, which is when we intend to leave Euratom. I have been very clear in the past—I will repeat it here—that we will not be able to replicate Euratom standards on day one.”––[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee,
c. 7, Q9.]
Members should reflect on that, whatever the political knockabout, because it makes a compelling case for a transition period. Otherwise we will be saying that our nuclear safeguards regime should not be as good as it is today, and I have not heard anyone suggesting that—I do not believe that it would be tolerable.
A week is a long time in politics, and three months is a lifetime in the Brexit process—perhaps it just feels like that—but over that period we have seen the Government move on this point. Conservative Members asked how we can talk about this hypothetical idea. Well, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy himself said less than two weeks ago that the Government want Euratom to be involved in the implementation period. Now is the time to make good on that.
In a similar vein, on new clause 2, if I had £1 for every time someone mentioned in Committee that this is a contingency Bill, I would be able to meet the Foreign Secretary’s new financial commitment to the NHS. The Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Richard Harrington, would be a particularly significant donor, having mentioned that many times.
If this is a contingency Bill, we really should say what it is contingent on, and we should say that in the Bill. Otherwise it is not a contingency Bill, but a Bill that will be law until the Minister decides on the 19.52 train home that it is not law any more. That is not a satisfactory way to legislate.
Finally, on amendment 3, one issue that has developed since Second Reading is whether we actually have to do any of this. Ministers clearly said on Second Reading that leaving Euratom is legally necessary as part of leaving the EU. We tested that in Committee. I asked two senior lawyers in this area, Jonathan Leech and Rupert Cowan from Prospect Law, whether triggering article 50 necessitates leaving Euratom and if they would have advised the Government to follow this path. To the first question they answered “No” and “Absolutely not” respectively. Jonathan Leech’s answer to the second question was:
“The advice would be that you do not have to accept this and it may not be in your interests to do so.”––[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee,
c. 12, Q23.]
That is significant, and it is a departure from where we were on Second Reading.
I represent a leave constituency, and I am always mindful of that when dealing with anything relating to Brexit. I have spent a lot of time knocking on doors and have heard every conceivable argument for remaining or leaving. Funnily enough, I never heard the argument—I suspect no one in this Chamber did—that our membership of Euratom is undesirable, or that there is a desire for a diminution of our nuclear safeguards regime. There is not much of a case for doing this if we do not have to. If we are doing it only because of an arbitrary red line drawn up in Downing Street that we could cross while still delivering Brexit, we are fools to do so. Either way, as amendment 3 states, Ministers ought to come to this place to justify their approach, because once again this is not a decision for the 19.52 train.
Lots of work has gone into the Bill and I have enjoyed participating in its consideration. I believe that we should all support the Opposition proposals, because they would make the Bill better and then we might not need it at all.
I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate. Those who have heard our consideration of the Bill for the first time today will not realise, given that most of our discussion has been about one or two new clauses, that many other aspects were discussed in Committee. I pay tribute to the Opposition Members who have participated, as well Government Members, and particularly the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), whose cameo Brexit role has been well appreciated. Many points were dealt with by consensus in Committee and in our discussions afterwards. Today’s debate has focused on new clause 1, but I will also speak to the other new clauses and amendments in the group.
The overall strategy for withdrawal from Euratom, and our ambitions for our future relationship with it, were the subject of a comprehensive written ministerial statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on
As Members will be fully aware, the nature of our future relationship with Euratom is part of the next phase of negotiations, which is yet to start. The written ministerial statement set out the principles upon which our strategy is based, many of which have been discussed today: to aim for continuity with current relevant Euratom arrangements; to ensure that the UK maintains its leading role in European nuclear research; and to ensure that the nuclear industry in the UK has the necessary skilled workforce. We will be seeking: a close association with Euratom’s research and training programme, which includes the JET project and the international thermonuclear experimental reactor project; continuity of open trade arrangements to ensure that the nuclear industry can continue to trade across EU borders; and maintenance of close and effective co-operation with Euratom on nuclear safety.
It is a pleasure to give way to the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.
I thank the Minister and particularly the Secretary of State for the written ministerial statement published on
If the hon. Lady will have a bit of patience, I will come to those points, all of which are valid, later in my speech. Progress on many of those points will be included in the quarterly statements, which are the result of discussions in Committee.
I have been through the important points covered in the written ministerial statement, so let me turn to the point about associate membership made by Albert Owen—I learned how to pronounce his constituency in the Westminster Hall debate; I hope he realises that I am showing off now—and others. As I have already stated at the Dispatch Box, we cannot be an associate member of Euratom because there is no such concept in the treaty as it stands. We have had a lot of discussions about whether we could. The hon. Member for Leeds East—
I am sorry; I come from Leeds, so I should have known the difference.
Rachel Reeves mentioned Ukraine, which has been mentioned many times. Ukraine has association agreements on specific parts of Euratom’s activities, with research and development being the classic one. We must work within the existing legal framework, which allows for close association but not this theoretical category of associate membership.
I am grateful to the Minister and the Secretary of State for the clarifications they have given today and previously in writing. I understand what the Minister is saying, but my point is that we are in uncharted waters. We need to get on the front foot, and the best way to do that is by acting on behalf of the UK nuclear industry, which is asking for associate membership. Will the Minister therefore please assure us that he will fight for an associate type of membership?
With all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, this quite amuses me, because last week I was berated for being a mouthpiece for the nuclear industry—something with which I was pleased to agree, by the way. The important point is that the language of whether we can have associate membership or not is not important; the important thing is what we come up with. People inside and outside the House can call it what they want, but effectively we all want the same thing. It is just not correct to call it associate membership, however, because there is no such thing. I have made that clear absolutely beyond doubt, as has the Secretary of State.
In the light of what the Minister has just said, will he confirm that in his view an associated status in relation to nuclear safeguards would be distinctly possible?
I hope and believe that a very close association to do with nuclear safeguards absolutely will be possible, but I do not think it helps just to bandy language between one side and the other. We all know what we want, and I am delighted that everybody—it seems to me—on the Opposition and Government Benches wants exactly the same thing. We have all made our points about the language, but I think we all want the same thing. That is very unusual in this House and it really is a credit to everybody.
It is essential that projects and investments are not adversely affected by our withdrawal from the EU and can continue to operate in the certainty that nuclear safeguards arrangements will be in place. That is why we are putting in place arrangements for a new domestic nuclear safeguards regime, regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, as well as negotiating new bilateral agreements with the IAEA and nuclear co-operation agreements with priority third countries. Those arrangements are not dependent on the EU negotiations and the UK Government’s work is well advanced.
The Bill and the regulations that will be made under its powers are crucial. They will enable us to establish a domestic nuclear safeguards regime to meet international safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation standards when Euratom safeguards arrangements no longer apply in the UK. As Members have noted, it will take time to develop and implement the new regime, so it is absolutely imperative that we maintain the momentum of the work needed to deliver it in the timescale required. However well meaning the new clauses and amendments are—I accept in good faith the reasons why they were tabled—the reality is that they could delay our domestic preparations and lead to uncertainty in our discussions with international partners. There can be no question of our waiting until we know the outcome of negotiations before we put in place our own arrangements. The implications of not having the right systems operating from when Euratom safeguards arrangements no longer apply are too serious for the industry and for our position in the international safeguards regime.
As far as the implementation period is concerned, we intend to ensure continuity for the nuclear industry and to avoid the possibility of a cliff edge for the industry on the date of exit. Members will be aware—if they were not listening at the time, this has been mentioned several times already today, so they will be aware now—that the Prime Minister set out in her Florence speech her desire for an implementation period after the UK ceases to be a member of the EU. If the European Commission agrees to an implementation period of around two years, the UK will not be a member state of the European Union during that period. None the less, the acquis will continue to apply, which means that, for the duration of that implementation period, the UK will expect to continue to pay into the EU, to be bound by its rules and to benefit from access to its market. The European Commission’s draft guidelines are explicit that, in its view, this acquis would include Euratom matters. The implication of that—I accept that it is an implication because it has to be tested in negotiations—is that the current Euratom regime could continue to apply during any transition period.
I have to reiterate that a transition period prior to our withdrawal, as proposed by new clause 1, is not a situation envisaged in the proposals for the implementation period. Both parties to the discussions agree that it would helpful to have the matter agreed as speedily as possible—again, there is no disagreement over that—so as to provide the certainty that we need. Whatever the outcome of the talks about an implementation period, let me emphasise that the UK’s overarching objective remains to maintain as close and effective an association with Euratom for the long term as possible.
New clause 1, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, proposes not an implementation period after exit, but a transitional period before exit. That would delay the UK’s exit from Euratom, but that situation is not envisaged in the proposals for the implementation period, or in the article 50 notification that has already been passed by Parliament.
Let me briefly raise quarterly reporting, which I mentioned in reply to the question asked by the hon. Member for Leeds West. It is very important to give Parliament clarity about the progress that the Government are making. That was why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a commitment in the written ministerial statement to provide quarterly updates on progress, which will include updates on the negotiations and progress made by the ONR on establishing the UK’s domestic safeguard regime.
I hope that those arguments will persuade Opposition Members not to press the amendments and new clauses to a Division.
We will not be pressing any measure to a vote, except for new clause 1, which has been debated in a very unsatisfactory way this afternoon. We are not convinced by the responses that we have received, so we will be pressing it to a Division.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House divided:
Ayes 255, Noes 294.