Power to amend legislation relating to nuclear safeguards

Nuclear Safeguards Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 23rd January 2018.

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Amendment proposed: 5, in clause 2, page 4, line 13, at end insert—

‘(1A) The Secretary of State may only exercise powers under this section at the point at which amendment of any of the legislation in subsection (1) becomes necessary in order to complete the process of transposition of responsibility for nuclear safeguarding from EURATOM to the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and for no other purpose.

(1B) Upon exercising the power set out in subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on the operation of the power.”—(Dr Whitehead.)

This amendment would limit circumstances under which the Secretary of State may exercise certain powers in this section and requires a report to be laid before Parliament.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 254, Noes 295.

Division number 107

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)



Question accordingly negatived.

Third Reading

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 5:13 pm, 23rd January 2018

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

May I begin by thanking right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for their constructive contributions during the Bill’s parliamentary stages to date? I thank everyone who has worked on it, including those who served on the Bill Committee, the House authorities, the experts who gave oral evidence at Committee, my indefatigable officials, who have worked very hard and effectively on the Bill, and the organisations that took the time to provide expert written evidence.

May I also thank and commend the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend Richard Harrington, for his skill and application in steering the Bill through the House? There is no need for him to sing his own praises; they should be sung loudly and clearly from this Front Bench, and I think that that sentiment is shared by Members on both sides of the House.

May I also join in the commendation of the efforts of the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), who have been thoughtful and insightful, and who helped to improve the Bill during the Committee stage? As my hon. Friend the Minister said, they have applied the principles of constructive opposition to their scrutiny of this very important Bill, and that has helped to bring it to this stage in our proceedings.

Let me briefly remind the House why the Bill is so necessary and firmly in the national interest. The nuclear sector is not only important to the future of energy in this country, but has important applications in research and industry. My Department has been working very closely with the industry to make sure that our shared interests are reflected in arrangements as we leave Euratom. The Bill helps to provide the required certainty and clarity to support our ambitions.

As I said on Second Reading, the Bill ensures that when the United Kingdom is no longer a member of Euratom, we will have in place a legal framework that enables us to establish a domestic nuclear safeguards regime that meets international nuclear safeguards and non-proliferation standards. Nuclear safeguards, as the House now well knows, are the reporting and verification processes that nuclear states use to demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military or weapons programmes. The Bill ensures that the United Kingdom can put in place the regime to enable the Office for Nuclear Regulation to oversee nuclear safeguards following withdrawal from Euratom.

To ensure continued international verification and oversight of our safeguards, we are, as my hon. Friend the Minister made clear throughout our proceedings, in discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency to agree replacement voluntary safeguards agreements that reflect the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom. The Bill gives us the ability to implement those new safeguards and the domestic regime that underpins them.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Labour/Co-operative, Barrow and Furness

Following the Minister’s earlier answer, I was not entirely clear whether the Government are committed to Euratom standards from day one of this new regime, or looking at the de minimis of the International Atomic Energy Agency?

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

We have been very clear. We see no problem with the standards that have obtained in Euratom, so our aim is to have complete continuity with those standards. I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that.

Our intention is that the new regime should reflect the high standards that we expect. We want to establish a robust regime that provides coverage and effectiveness equivalent to that currently provided by Euratom. That is our objective. It is clear that we need continuity and that we must work to avoid any break in our civil nuclear safeguards regime if we want to continue the success and prosperity of our industry.

As has been evidenced in today’s proceedings, we have listened to concerns raised throughout the passage of the Bill in the House. In the context of both this Bill and the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, we responded to a number of questions by publishing on 11 January a written ministerial statement that outlines the Government’s strategy and objectives in relation to Euratom. Our strategy is twofold: first, to seek through our negotiations with the European Commission a close association with Euratom; and, secondly and simultaneously, to put in place all necessary measures to ensure that the UK can operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one.

After hearing the concerns raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test and the hon. Member for Sheffield Central about enhancing parliamentary scrutiny, I have made a commitment to report back to Parliament every three months by way of further written statements about overall progress on Euratom, including in respect of negotiations. As we indicated in Committee, we remain committed to the open and transparent approach that has characterised our discussions on the Bill so far, including when we developed the regulations that set out the detail of the domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime.

In response to various amendments tabled in Committee, we have committed to continuing dialogue with the industry, the devolved Administrations and civil society. A series of stakeholder events and workshops will take place, in addition to the public consultation on the regulations that we intend will take place later in the year. Working closely with the ONR, we are in the process of producing two sets of draft regulations. In response to suggestions in Committee that the House would benefit from early scrutiny of the regulations, a pre-consultation draft of the regulations, with an explanatory covering note, was provided to Parliament, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Test said. The draft regulations will go through a full consultation so that they can be exhaustively examined, so we expect them to continue to evolve in response to comment from, and consideration by, stakeholders and, of course, Parliament itself. We make a commitment to work with Members on both sides of the House and people outside Parliament to make sure that the regulations reflect the best possible advice.

The swift progress of the Bill, and the supportive discussions in the House about it, have aided our negotiations with the EU, the IAEA and third countries. We have already held several rounds of discussions on Euratom issues in the first phase of the negotiations with the EU, and there has been good progress. Negotiations with the IAEA on future voluntary agreements for the application of civil nuclear safeguards have also been constructive, and substantial progress has been made. It is expected that these new agreements will be put to the IAEA board of governors for ratification later this year. Negotiations on nuclear co-operation agreements have also proceeded significantly. In particular, constructive progress has already been made in negotiations with key partners, such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan.

In the light of all this, I am grateful to the House for the scrutiny it has given to the Bill and the expert eye it has cast over it. The broad cross-party consensus that we have seen sends an important signal to our international partners that the United Kingdom will absolutely remain a leading and responsible nuclear state. It allows us to reassure the United Kingdom’s very important nuclear industry and the nuclear research community that we absolutely remain committed to supporting them to maintain the United Kingdom’s status as a world leader. Taking early action to have ready a domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime is both responsible and in the national interest, and I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 5:21 pm, 23rd January 2018

This is an important and necessary Bill, as the Secretary of State confirmed, to ensure that a contingency is available should the Government’s negotiations with the European Union and Euratom fail. That was why we did not oppose it on Second Reading, and it is why we will not oppose it on Third Reading tonight.

That does not mean, however, that we do not continue to have concerns about the Government’s approach and about whether there was any necessity at all for the Bill. On Second Reading, I made the case that it should be possible—or would have been possible—to retain the UK’s membership, or to secure a close association with Euratom that would allow the continuation of nuclear safeguarding. The Opposition still think that continued membership of Euratom or a close associate status is both achievable and necessary for the most efficient continued working of a whole raft of procedures relating to the nuclear industry, not just to safeguarding.

I am pleased that the Government seem to have acknowledged that negotiating a close association would be the best outcome for our nuclear industry and that Bill does not constitute a replacement for all Euratom’s functions. The Secretary of State’s written statement on 11 January set out that the Government’s strategy was to

“seek a close association with Euratom and to include Euratom in any implementation period negotiated as part of our wider exit discussions”.

It went on to say that the

“exact nature of the period will be subject to forthcoming negotiations”.—[Official Report, 11 January 2018;
Vol. 634, c. 9-10WS.]

Given that statement, I wonder why the Government did not accept a number of Labour’s proposals: new clause 1, which would simply have asked the Secretary of State to “seek to secure” a transition period during which the UK could secure an association with Euratom, or indeed build any domestic capability; and new clause 2, which would have established that the provisions of the Bill are contingency arrangements if it proves impossible to establish an association with Euratom.

I point out that we could have been more legally robust in our language, especially in new clause 1. We could, for example, have used the words “best endeavours”, but we appreciate the issues that the Secretary of State faces and would have given him the opportunity simply of saying that he would try to secure a transitional period. We are sad that new clause 1 was not accepted today, but none the less I appreciate that the Secretary of State has listened somewhat to Labour’s concerns and promised to report back every three months about overall progress on Euratom in the EU negotiations. As three months from the first statement will be 11 April, which is in the middle of the Easter recess, I look forward to receiving an update on 29 March.

My Front-Bench colleagues have argued that a transitional agreement is vital if we are to ensure that the UK is physically able to provide a functioning domestic safeguarding regime. The evidence taken by the Public Bill Committee highlighted that particular concern of the industry. Dr Golshan of the ONR said:

“given our membership of Euratom, it has not been necessary for the UK and ONR to build capacity and resilience in this area.”

She added:

“a transitional arrangement will be extremely helpful.”

That is not least because the training of inspectors takes several years, as outlined by the representatives of Prospect and Unite the union. Indeed, when she was asked about training, Dr Golshan said:

“We have started that process, but it is a long road and I am not going to sit here and pretend that it is all going to be a smooth run.”––[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017;
c. 5-9, Q3, 8 and 16.]

We have ongoing concerns about the timely replacement of inspectors, so we urge Ministers to agree a transitional arrangement to prevent full obligations from being placed on an unready ONR. The Government did not see fit to accept amendment 4, which would have required the Secretary of State to declare that the ONR had the resources necessary to take on extra responsibilities for nuclear safeguarding in the UK, but I hope they will listen to this plea.

I will say a little word on the powers that the Bill will hand to the Government—the very small Henry VIII provisions, as they were referred to previously. The Minister did not see fit to accept our amendments that attempted to curtail the executive powers conferred by the Bill, but he promised to publish regulations ahead of Report. He did indeed publish those regulations, but not until Friday afternoon—beyond the deadline to table any further amendments to the Bill. I would just like to put on record that although I welcome the publication of the regulations, the timing was rather cheeky and not altogether in the spirit of the constructive approach that both sides have taken to the Bill.

I associate myself with the words of the Secretary of State in thanking all who have spoken throughout our consideration of the Bill, as well as all members of the Public Bill Committee. I want to thank the Front-Bench teams, including the Secretary of State and the Minister. I think it is fair to say that they have been in listening mode. I especially thank my Labour colleagues, not least my hon. Friend Dr Whitehead, who have worked diligently on the finer details of all things relating to nuclear safeguarding. Finally, I want to thank the Public Bill Office and the Clerks for all their tremendous support, as ever.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells 5:27 pm, 23rd January 2018

I sense that the Bill is accelerating towards the other place, so I will not speak for long. I congratulate Front Benchers on both sides of the House and all who have spoken in our debates. As with so many debates on energy in this place, there has been broad consensus, with disagreement about small details around the edges. It is pleasing to be part of such a constructive approach to an important area of policy without partisan divides getting in the way, as they sometimes do in other areas of policy.

The nuclear industry has cultivated a small but perfectly formed and enthusiastic band of representatives in this place. Colleagues on both sides of the House have enjoyed the industry’s hospitality and benefited from its briefing in order that we might understand the issue, which is important for the industry, and have scrutinised the legislation in the House to ensure that it meets the industry’s aims.

I am glad that the Bill has not been amended today, because I think it does exactly what it should be doing in the first place. It is vital that we maintain the safeguards and reputation of the nuclear industry. It is an industry in which even the smallest mistake is unacceptable, and we in this country have a fine reputation for delivering almost immaculate standards of safety, so it is right that Members on both sides of the House want to be reassured that, when dealing with the important issue of our membership of Euratom, absolutely no compromises are made over safeguarding and the safety of the industry.

The Government have been clear, as has the EU, that the treaties of the EU and Euratom are so intertwined that it is impossible to remain a member of Euratom while leaving the EU. Some Opposition Members, who are no longer in their places, made the point earlier that we should at least seek to remain in Euratom. I do not disagree—I think that would be the best possible outcome—but what I do disagree with is the idea that, in amending the Bill to secure that commitment, we should take a bit of a long shot on what has been unachievable for many other countries that are not within the EU, at the cost of providing the industry with what it has been so clear with us that it wants. I am glad that we have not done that, and I have every confidence that the Secretary of State and his team will seek, if not full membership, the closest possible thing to it that is allowable while meeting the terms of our wider Brexit ambitions. I am also glad that, since I spoke on Second Reading, when there was a great deal of rather unfortunate debate about things such as medical isotopes, such fake news has disappeared from the debate and we are all now much clearer about what the Bill does and does not impact on.

The nuclear industry is of huge importance to this country and my constituency. My hon. Friend Mr Jayawardena, in his lengthy remarks earlier, mentioned the importance of nuclear to our energy mix. He is not in the Chamber to hear the answer to his question, but I believe that about 25% of our energy needs today are provided by nuclear, either within the United Kingdom or through our interconnection with France. That is an important contribution, and until we can fully unlock the potential of energy storage, demand response and other flexibility measures, that provision of base-load is absolutely essential to the industrial powerhouse of our nation, so we should support the industry.

We must also ensure—this is the one constituency point I want to cheekily make on Third Reading, Madam Deputy Speaker—that the industrial opportunity of the new nuclear programme genuinely benefits the places in which that nuclear fleet is being built. We must ensure that not just things such as catering companies, accommodation and transport, but meaningful engineering, technology and high skills-based industries, are included in the supply chain for the construction of the new nuclear fleet. Somerset needs more than a fantastic caterer as a legacy of the construction of Hinkley.

The only other point that has come out today that needs to be underlined is that the chairwoman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and other Opposition Members said that there was some debate about whether the ONR would be ready on day one to deliver the standards that Euratom has required of our industry. My response to their concern is not that we should legislate to mitigate the threat, but that we should encourage those on the Front Bench to lean on the ONR and support it in every way possible to ensure that it has the capacity to deliver such safeguarding on the first day of its responsibilities.

That is all that I wish to say, apart from congratulating Ministers on their stewardship of the Bill. The Secretary of State, who I am delighted is still in the Chamber, the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth and the Under-Secretary are enthusiastic fellow travellers on our route to a zero-carbon energy system. I am glad that they have brought this important piece of legislation through the House, and I am glad that it will not be opposed on Third Reading. I look forward to working with Front Benchers and colleagues on both sides of the House on other energy policy Bills in the future.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:34 pm, 23rd January 2018

If power over these issues, as they affect Scotland, were in the purview of the Scottish Parliament, I am certain that Scotland would be staying within Euratom. However, here we are, and this Bill is going through this House. The Minister knows that I respect him on this issue; he has tried to engage with me very positively, and I thank him for doing that.

I would like to say that the Government and the Secretary of State have written in some checks, but I see no evidence of any. However, I do see hopes, promises and assurances. In the fullness of time, the Government will be judged on what happens to nuclear safeguards when their agency is set up and on how well it performs. For the sake of the industry, the safeguards and the people involved in it, I hope that it is a success.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland 5:35 pm, 23rd January 2018

The Bill is absolutely essential to the nuclear industry. Without it, after we leave the European Union, our nuclear industry would collapse. As I said earlier, it would be economically crushing not to have a safeguards regime in place. That would have catastrophic implications for every part of the country, which would be felt across the whole sector.

Following the construction and successful commissioning of the world’s first nuclear power station—Calder Hall, in my constituency, back in 1957—Euratom was formed by the Euratom treaty. It was as important then as it is now to apply civil nuclear safeguards in the UK. The UK has committed, as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to have nuclear safeguards in place—a clear demonstration to the international community that civil nuclear material is used only for civil activities.

The Bill enables the UK to set up a domestic safeguards regime to meet our international commitments on safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation standards. Without the Bill, the movement of materials, fuel—including spent fuel—and components, and even the conversations about materials, fuel and components, could not take place.

Euratom provides the basis for the regulation of civilian nuclear activity in the UK, including fuel supply, waste management and co-operation between nuclear states. It implements a system of safeguards, controls the supply of fissile materials in Euratom member states, guarantees high safety standards and funds international research into nuclear fission and fusion. It is also critical for nuclear co-operation across the world.

In a community such as mine, where the income of 55% of the population depends directly or indirectly on work in the nuclear industry, and in our country, where more than 20% of energy is generated by nuclear power plants, not having measures in place as we leave the EU and Euratom would be unthinkable. An effective safeguards regime is necessary for Sellafield’s operations, for the low level waste repository’s business, for the national nuclear laboratory’s research and for the development of Moorside, the new-build nuclear power plant that is expected to be constructed adjacent to Sellafield. All of that is in Copeland.

I have visited 70-something businesses in my constituency, including large global operations now based in Copeland—some of the biggest names in international industry—and our many small and medium-sized enterprises to listen to their concerns and ambitions for the future. Each and every one is wholly dependent on being able to trade globally. Those businesses are not just critical to that sector, but integral to the socioeconomic fabric of daily life. Of the 1,020 apprenticeships that were started last year, the vast majority were in industry and engineering connected with our nuclear sector. But it goes further: those companies are proud, passionate parts of our society, donating to charities, supporting local organisations and providing enormous socioeconomic benefits. I am proud to say that tomorrow, Sellafield is sponsoring “A Taste of Cumbria” in the Jubilee Room here in Parliament, such is its commitment to its community and county.

I cannot emphasise sufficiently strongly how vital the Bill is for Copeland and Cumbria, and indeed for the whole country. I was delighted that the Government committed further to the Joint European Torus and the international thermonuclear experimental reactor projects. The Bill is equally necessary for research and development and for science and innovation.

Our nuclear industry is an international marketplace, which means that we need in place not only domestic regulations but bilateral agreements with countries such as the US, Japan, Kazakhstan and Canada—the list goes on. We cannot even begin to discuss bilateral agreements without there being a domestic safeguards regime in place. We need one to carry out decommissioning work across the country and to consider exporting the skills and products being developed. It is estimated that overseas reactor decommissioning will total £250 billion over coming decades, according to the Government’s “The UK’s Nuclear Future” document.

The Calder Hall reactor I referred to earlier now requires decommissioning. This is a fantastic opportunity for the sector not just to benefit from the skills and experience gained from decommissioning but to leverage wider UK, European and worldwide decommissioning. The iconic golf ball structure at Sellafield, the Windscale advanced gas-cooled reactor, was the prototype power reactor for the 14 EDF Energy AGRs, which currently supply about one fifth of the UK’s electricity. Its core heat exchangers and associated equipment have all been safely decommissioned and removed, thanks to Government-funded projects, demonstrating that a power reactor can be successfully decommissioned.

I hope that Calder Hall can be decommissioned as a priority and a new breed of small modular reactors installed in its place to ensure that we are at the forefront of nuclear technological developments once again. Small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors offer the chance for UK nuclear expertise and manufacturing to lead the world, but we need the Bill to ensure that we are globally compliant with safeguarding, in addition to security and safety.

On the role of the ONR, it is important to understand the differences between safeguarding, security and safety, all of which are critical to the secure and compliant running of our civil nuclear industry. Currently, the ONR has responsibility for safety and oversees the civil nuclear constabulary with regard to security. Bringing responsibility for safeguarding under this one organisation would seem to bring benefits of shared knowledge and skills and combined experience. The ONR is an independent regulator that was made a statutory public body under the Energy Act 2013, which sets out its role, functions and powers.

International oversight will be a key part of the future regime, so I am pleased that the UK is seeking to conclude new arrangements with the IAEA. It is absolutely vital that the IAEA retain its right to inspect all civil nuclear facilities and continue to receive all current safeguards reporting. That will ensure that international verification of our safeguards activity continues to be robust. We must retain our reputation for excellence to ensure that companies in other countries, such as KEPCO in South Korea, which we anticipate will become the new owner of NuGen, want to do business with us.

Our country is a pioneer and global leader in this area and has an enviable safety record. The Centre of Nuclear Excellence in my constituency and all the businesses and livelihoods that are utterly reliant upon an effective safeguarding regime need this Bill. I hope that the UK will continue to play a leading role in the development of international nuclear security and safety standards, including through the IAEA, and I commend the Government’s work thus far. In particular, I would like to thank the Secretary of State, the Minister and his team for answering questions put to me by my community and businesses, including some that have trained up Euratom safeguards inspectors—such is the level of expertise in Copeland. I commend the Bill and I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education) 5:43 pm, 23rd January 2018

I find it hard to believe that we have finally got to this point, having attended every sitting on the Bill, apart from the Public Bill Committee. As a former physics teacher, I must say that it has been wonderful to hear so many Members talk about all things physics. That is always a pleasure.

I and the Liberal Democrats will, of course, be supporting the Bill, but I do have some questions that I hope the Minister will answer. I echo what has been said across the House about the constructive way in which the Bill has gone through. I appreciate that. As a relatively new Member, this is how I imagined Bills would pass—with lots of conversations, concessions and so forth—so I thank him for that.

It seems to me that the House has achieved broad consensus on most parts of the Bill, and that the Bill is necessary as a contingency measure. I am all for having a contingency planning mechanism to deal with matters that are out of our control, but I think it worth my saying again that we did not have to be in this position. We did not have to leave Euratom—or, at least, the legal case is still being contested. If the Government have been told otherwise and it is set in stone, I ask them to release the legal advice, which would put that argument to bed.

My constituents, many of whom work in the industry, are still crying out for certainty and clarity, but time is running out. I know that the Minister disagrees with the Liberal Democrats’ position of wishing to stay in Euratom, but I urge him to reconsider. So much about the Brexit process seems to be groupthink at its worst. We can still change our mind, but if we are not going to do that, we should at the very least make the crucial admission that this is about the red line of the European Court of Justice. That is the critical issue: that is the main red line that we are not allowed to cross. It was a choice, not a fact, that that was a consequence of the referendum.

If the Government cannot or will not change their mind, I am reassured by what the Secretary of State said in a written statement earlier this month about seeking the closest possible associate membership, and by his warm words about the Joint European Torus and the international thermonuclear experimental reactor—not least because those contracts will be worth billions to the UK over the next few decades and are vital to the local economy, particularly in the Abingdon area of my constituency. He also seeks

“open trade arrangements for nuclear goods”, the ability to ensure that materials cross borders “without disruption”, and

“maintaining close…cooperation…on nuclear safety.”

It is true that Euratom does not directly govern the issue of radioisotopes, but the Minister will be well aware that I am still deeply concerned about the issue. The institution of “a” customs union, rather than “the” customs union, will put blocks at the border, and, because of the short half-lives involved, there will be disruption unless we are very clear about how we will mitigate it.

I look forward to the regular updates that the Minister has said he will give, but has he considered increasing their frequency, at least to begin with? One of my main concerns is that while the Brexit negotiations will continue until the start of next year, Austria will take over the presidency of Euratom very soon, and the heavy lifting really ought to be done before it takes the helm, because there will some problems for us. Will the Minister consider giving more frequent, earlier updates to let us know how the negotiations are going before Austria takes over? The issue is causing a huge amount of consternation throughout the industry, and throughout the House.

As the Minister knows, to ensure that the JET has a future we need to guarantee the 2018-19 work programme by the middle of this year. Again, I should like some updates on how we are to achieve that. It is not just about the money; it is also about ensuring that nuclear scientists have full access to the schemes in the future, not just in the next two years but in the next five and 10. We also need some assurances, albeit not from the Minister’s Department, about the movement of nuclear scientists. Those assurances are not yet written in stone, but this matters to the scientists, because they are extremely saleable.

I accept that the Bill is needed, because it is better for us to be safe than sorry, but I wish that we did not have to do this at all.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Conservative, Erewash 5:48 pm, 23rd January 2018

I congratulate the ministerial team on their successful navigation, which has allowed the Bill to reach this stage. It is a key piece of legislation that will safeguard Britain’s international reputation as a responsible nuclear state once we have left Euratom. I believe that there is potential for significant inward investment in the UK in the post-Brexit era. We heard from my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison about the impacts that the nuclear industry already has in this country, but I think that we can do more.

The Government have been clear throughout the passage of the Bill that they will work to establish a close and effective working relationship with Euratom once the UK leaves the organisation, including close association on matters such as research, training and trade. Ministers have made no secret of their ambitions for the nuclear sector, and I support those ambitions. We have an opportunity for some of the UK’s leading companies to be at the forefront of world-leading new nuclear technology.

During the Bill’s passage, Ministers have been consistent in reassuring the House that leaving Euratom in no way diminishes the UK’s nuclear ambition. The announcement by the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend Richard Harrington, in December of a new £86 million fund to establish a national fusion technology platform demonstrates the Government’s continued commitment to nuclear research and development, which will be welcomed by a number of my constituents who work in the nuclear sector.

The launch of the small modular reactor competition in 2016 is another example of the importance the Government attach to the UK’s civil nuclear industry to provide a secure, clean and affordable source of domestic electricity that can also be exported overseas. The UK small modular reactor consortium, led by Rolls-Royce, estimates that the design, development and production of a fleet of small modular reactors would create up to 40,000 skilled nuclear supply chain jobs and add over £100 billion to our economy. As my hon. Friend Rebecca Pow said, our young people need to know that there is a future in the industry; they need that certainty to start on their career pathway. As the centre of Rolls-Royce’s nuclear operation in the UK, Derby has the potential to become a world leader in new nuclear technology, with the potential benefits extending across the wider region, including to my constituency. I will therefore follow closely the progress of the small modular reactor competition in the coming weeks and months.

The Bill will strengthen the UK as an independent global nuclear power, reflecting the Government’s ambitions for the sector.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane 5:52 pm, 23rd January 2018

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend Maggie Throup and all other colleagues who have spoken today in what I am sure everyone agrees has been a fascinating cross-party discussion. I want to contribute to debate because the Bill deals with a crucial issue that affects every single one of us and the safety of our nation. Getting the agenda and the legal framework right as we take the historic step of exiting the EU is imperative, because leaving the EU means also leaving Euratom—the European Atomic Energy Community—the body that sets the nuclear safeguards regime.

The Bill gives us the tools to ensure that an effective nuclear safeguards regime is established, enabling us to continue to meet international standards for nuclear safety, while maintaining the UK’s reputation as a responsible nuclear state. I have raised the question how we cope with leaving Euratom since the start of the discussions on EU withdrawal, always stressing that leaving the EU must not result in a weakening of our nuclear safeguards, on which we all rely and which are instantly recognisable on the global stage. I have often referred to the matter in wider speeches on the environment, because it is all related to the environment and is so important to us all.

I am confident that the Government have made it clear that future nuclear safeguards arrangements will continue to provide the quality, safety and robustness provided under Euratom and that we will continue to co-operate on standards. Our domestic regime will meet our international commitments on safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation standards. It is clear that the amendments proposed today—I listened carefully to the speeches made—would add nothing and lead only to delay and even obfuscation, especially the amendments relating to the transition period and an association with Euratom, which, as many colleagues have pointed out, simply is not possible.

The ONR, which already regulates nuclear safety and security, is the obvious route. It is also important to keep legislation relating to nuclear safeguards updated as they change on the international stage. The Bill will give the Secretary of State powers to do just that by updating existing international agreements once new agreements are reached.

Our nuclear industry is second to none on the world stage. It has a fine reputation, which we must maintain. Our standards have been a major draw in attracting investors to the nuclear industry in this country. Obviously, I am going to cite the Hinkley Point example, with its Chinese investment. One of the reasons that the Chinese want to engage with us is that we have very high standards on nuclear. That shows us off well on the wider stage and reflects well on us. Hinkley Point is the largest development site in the whole of Europe. I liken it to a James Bond film set. It is absolutely unbelievable how huge the development is. It needs to be seen to be believed. In energy terms, the power station will deliver 7% of our baseload energy, and it is low carbon, which is exactly the kind of energy that we are promoting, alongside all the other renewables. It is a clean source of energy.

Hinkley Point is not in my constituency but adjacent to it, and it has a massive knock-on effect for the people in Taunton Deane, from managers to engineers and from bus drivers to the caterers mentioned by my hon. Friend James Heappey. Ultimately, 26,000 people will be employed on the site. The industry is spawning many other jobs and creating a whole generation of nuclear businesses. My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash mentioned that she had a similar situation in her constituency with her micro-nuclear plants.

The first nuclear degree is operating partly from University Centre Somerset, which is in Taunton in my constituency. It is sponsored by EDF and the Ministry of Defence. It is critical that the industry should grow and enable all the young people who are doing this training to have a future. That is why the Bill is so important. We need the right checks and balances, so that we can go forward into a really positive future and be a world-leading industry. In mirroring Euratom, we are going to regulate civilian nuclear activity in the UK, including fuel supply, waste management—mentioned by my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison—and co-operation between nuclear states, which will be essential. I am confident that, through the ONR, we will achieve that, as well as new agreements with the IAEA.

I want briefly to touch on the subject of radioisotopes, because it has been raised with me by constituents. I welcome the cross-party work that is going on to ensure that there is no interruption in the continuity of supply of radioisotopes as we exit the EU. The Government are rightly listening on this. There seems to have been a lot of scaremongering, which is frankly not helpful. On nuclear research, the UK is a world leader in promising nuclear fusion technologies and we must maintain that lead. We must have the arrangements that the Government are negotiating, so that we can continue to participate on the world stage and attract the right nuclear brains to this country. I fully support the Bill. Nuclear safety and security are issues that deserve the utmost attention, and I am sure that the Bill will achieve its aims and set the Rolls-Royce standards mentioned by the Minister. I am optimistic that we will get the right system in place to keep us all safe.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 5:58 pm, 23rd January 2018

I shall make just a few brief comments. I paid my compliments earlier to Dr Whitehead, and I also want to pay tribute to the Minister, who has conducted the passage of this Bill with great aplomb, dignity and good humour. That has been much appreciated. Like Layla Moran, I have attended all the debates on the Bill in the Chamber and in Committee. As a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, under the very able chairmanship of Rachel Reeves, I have also had the benefit of attending several hearings at which we received evidence on this subject.

Leaving Euratom is actually a matter of some regret for me and probably for many Members on both sides of the House. I am not one of those people who supports the Government’s programme of leaving the European Union without appreciating that some aspects of being part of the EU have been intensely beneficial to the United Kingdom, and nuclear safeguarding is without question one of those areas. I therefore hope that Members will recognise that the Bill is a plan B in case we are unable to remain in some way associated with Euratom.

Euratom is at the heart of our nuclear industry and has not only the skills and expertise but the experience to be of service to our nuclear industry, which is a complex field. Nuclear energy is a vital part of our energy mix, offering baseload capacity for the energy market. As such, the Bill is vital to ensure that we meet our international obligations as we leave the EU. Although such things form a vital part of the reasoning behind safeguarding in this industry, it is not a luxury; nor is it simply a health and safety matter. Our international obligations under non-proliferation treaties make our leadership in this area as a world power a significant issue, and as a leader, the UK must meet its obligations. We secure the moral authority to stand up to rogue states and to nations that have a different view of non-proliferation through our safeguarding regime. We must not forget just how much safety concerns matter in this sector. The consequences of getting something wrong would have ramifications not only for us, but perhaps for generations to come. Having a strong safeguarding regime in place, which is what the Bill provides, is absolutely vital for the health and prosperity of the industry and of our economy. I therefore unreservedly support the Bill on Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.