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Agreements required before withdrawal

Part of Nuclear Safeguards Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 8th May 2018.

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Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 7:00 pm, 8th May 2018

I have every confidence that those agreements will be ready, signed and ratified. I have no reason to believe anything other than that.

If the relevant agreements or arrangements are not in place 28 days before exit day, the amendment in lieu would impose a requirement on the Secretary of State to make a request to the European Council to continue to be covered by the corresponding Euratom agreements—the trilateral agreements between the IAEA, Euratom and the UK and the bilateral agreements between the countries I have mentioned. That request would cover only those areas for which the UK had not signed a relevant agreement or made arrangements for the corresponding Euratom agreement to continue to apply to the UK after exit. I think that answers the questions about process.

I have not mentioned the IAEA itself. We have made very good progress in negotiating with the IAEA, having held several productive rounds of discussions, and it has shared with us the draft voluntary offer agreement and additional protocol. Negotiations on these documents have made good progress, and we expect to conclude a final draft in time for them to be put to the June meeting of the board of governors. The UK has a very strong relationship with the IAEA and continues to support it across a range of nuclear non-proliferation issues—something I was able to reinforce in my meeting last week with the director general, Mr Amano.

Lords amendments 1, 2 and 7 were Government amendments placing the definition of “civil activities” in the Bill. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended that a definition of “civil activities” be placed in the Bill, so far as is possible, supplemented by a power to develop, where necessary, its meaning in regulations. The definition we inserted takes into account the continuing work on the draft regulations that will underpin the Bill, on which we are intending to consult in July. Although the Committee accepted that it might still be necessary to supplement this definition with a power to embellish its meaning in regulations, I have not found that to be necessary, so the amendments remove the existing power to specify in regulations activities that are or are not to be treated as “civil activities” and replace it with a definition in the Bill without creating another power. They therefore reduce the number of powers created by the Bill.

The sunset clause discussed by the Opposition Front-Bench team places a time limit—colloquially known as a “sunset”—on the use of the power in clause 2. Hon. Members may recall that clause 2 contains the power to amend three pieces of legislation in consequence of a relevant safeguards agreement—an agreement relating to nuclear safeguards to which the UK and the agency are parties. That legislation makes detailed references to specific provisions of international safeguards agreements. Those references, including references to specific articles, are likely to change as a result of any amendment of, or change in, the agreements. We therefore believe that the power in the Bill is necessary to make the changes in the relevant legislation to update the references when the new agreements are in place. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended preventing the use of the power after a period of two years had expired. The amendment addresses the principle of the Committee’s recommendation, but provides for a “sunset” period of five years to ensure that the provision can function effectively in all scenarios, including that of an implementation period with the EU.

Lords amendments 5 and 6 deal with statutory reporting. As I have said, I took very seriously the cross-party requests from parliamentarians for regular detailed updates about nuclear safeguards arrangements in this country. The amendments, as amended by the Opposition, would place a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to provide quarterly reports on nuclear safeguards, covering both domestic and international matters, for the first year after the Bill receives Royal Assent.