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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 Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change) 7:00 pm, 8th May 2018

This is, I trust, the last occasion on which we will deal with the Bill in the House of Commons. I thank the Minister for the careful, courteous and inclusive way in which he has handled it, which I have found very helpful. We all want the Bill to be enacted, and I think that our discussions about how it should proceed have benefited from the way in which he has conducted himself and presented his side of the argument.

I support Lords amendment 3, which, as the Minister has said, is the only amendment that the Government oppose. We welcome their acceptance of the sensible additions to the Bill that are contained in the other amendments, some of which, although originally proposed by the Government, make adjustments for which we have pressed throughout its passage. For instance, there are proposals to limit the period during which Henry VIII clauses could be used to amend existing legislation retrospectively, and to give the Minister fewer powers to define civil nuclear activities. Lords amendment 5 would insert a new clause on reporting, for which the Opposition have pressed strongly both in Committee and on the Floor of the House. By introducing a three-monthly reporting regime, it would ensure that issues relating to Euratom’s wider remit, over and above nuclear safeguarding—such as nuclear research and development and the import and export of qualifying nuclear material—were debated regularly in the House.

Those are all sensible additions to the Bill. They strengthen it, and we are pleased that they will become part of its final architecture. As I have said, we have always agreed about the overall need for it as a contingency measure, to deal with the eventuality that we do indeed leave Euratom at the end of March 2019. We will of course continue to raise the issue of leaving it at all, and the question of the role that it might play during the transition period after the end of March. However, we clearly need the best possible alternative arrangements to fully protect nuclear safeguarding, and to ensure that the regime is as good as that which was deployed under the Euratom arrangements that we will be transferring to the Office for Nuclear Regulation.

In the establishment of that regime, a vital role will be played by the adoption of bilateral treaties with civil nuclear countries—particularly Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States—and, of course, by the voluntary agreement that will supersede the agreement made with the IAEA on behalf of European civil nuclear countries by Euratom. That agreement will be tenable only on the basis that we have in place a mechanism that will satisfy the IAEA that we are in earnest about nuclear safeguarding separately from Euratom. That is one of the central purposes of the Bill.

The adoption of those treaties is an essential element of ensuring that there are no cliff edges as we leave Euratom. In Committee, representatives of the nuclear industry, among others, expressed the fear that leaving Euratom without introducing all the measures necessary to ensure a smooth continuation of function could create a gap in provision that would be devastating for the operation of civil nuclear in the UK.