Power to amend legislation relating to nuclear safeguards

Part of Nuclear Safeguards Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:27 pm on 23rd January 2018.

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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.