Brexit: Energy Security (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:41 pm on 6th June 2018.

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Photo of Lord Selkirk of Douglas Lord Selkirk of Douglas Conservative 7:41 pm, 6th June 2018

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord who just spoke, but I have a different interpretation of the evidence the Minister gave the committee. I quote paragraph 64:

The Minister informed us that ‘our top priority is to be as near as possible to the current arrangements … Where there is such mutuality of interest I do not believe it is beyond the wit of those involved to work this out very quickly’”.

On the whole subject of research, his emphasis was that there should be collaboration. I quote paragraph 113:

“The EU provides not only energy research and development funding, but also collaboration opportunities that are of value to both the UK and the EU. We therefore support the ambition of both Government and industry to continue to collaborate with the EU on research initiatives post-Brexit”.

Like the chairman of our committee, I should mention an interest that I have in a small family company that has pockets of land and the possibility of one or two turbines. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on the excellence of his chairmanship and his objectivity, and the clerks, who have shown very great ability and considerable skills in drafting.

When the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey famously declared that the lamps were going out all over Europe, he was of course speaking metaphorically. He was contemplating the terrible conflict which was about to erupt across the channel in 1914. Most fortunately, we are not facing disaster and open warfare as was Sir Edward. Our concerns are very much more mundane. They are economic, functional and structural. But the committee report that we are debating contains some serious warnings for the Government on the matter of our post-Brexit energy security and supply, concluding as it does that the UK’s current frictionless trade in energy with Europe could be at risk.

Indeed, there is concern due to bad weather, which is not always foreseen, and interruptions caused by outages. Last week, a series of predictions were made and entered the public domain that can be described only as alarming about how a no-deal Brexit might impact on various spheres of our lives here in the United Kingdom. They were refuted strongly by members of the Government, so can the Minister assure us that no such drastic consequences or deprivations would affect the vital energy sector if we were to leave the European Union without a properly regulated free trade agreement?

When the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Richard Harrington, gave evidence to our sub-committee he said that the Government’s determination with regard to the maintenance of energy security was as far as possible to try to maintain the status quo, which I mentioned to your Lordships in different language. His actual words were:

“So, our top priority is to be as near as possible to the current arrangements”.

He stressed that and we are entitled to ask the Minister how far that aspiration has been fulfilled. Can an update be given about the extent of the progress and success achieved in pursuit of this objective, despite the Government’s determination to leave the single market and the customs union—a policy which makes it more likely that we will no longer remain inside Europe’s internal energy market? Responding to the report’s conclusions that the UK should seek to stay within the IEM, the Government have said that they are “exploring options” for our continued participation, but it would appear that is unlikely to be possible if we continue to insist that the UK will no longer acknowledge the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

An important related question in Mr Harrington’s evidence was on future funding for energy research initiatives. We are currently working alongside our European neighbours and in particular we need to know about nuclear research, in which Britain plays a pre-eminent role. I was told when I put that particular question to the Minister that it was the Government’s objective to achieve a far-reaching science and innovation agreement with the EU. He said, as I mentioned:

“We want the framework for future collaboration that we have now”.

The report also stresses the importance of the recruitment of highly skilled workers from Europe to the energy industry, which is particularly important in the nuclear energy sector, and the need to take account of this as new immigration policy is developed.

I refer to the committee’s concerns about the Government’s decision to leave the Euratom treaty, which regulates the nuclear industry throughout the EU. This determination to depart, about which Ministers claim that they have no choice, has caused considerable concern and warnings have been issued about its impact, which range from the difficulties that could be caused for the import of medical supplies to treat cancer to a possible threat to the building of the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. The report suggests various steps that the Government could take to mitigate the adverse effects of leaving Euratom, including negotiating some form of associate membership. Once again, however, the need to accept some form of jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice could be a stumbling block, although I hope that will not happen.

This House recently backed an amendment to the EU withdrawal Bill to try to prevent the Government leaving Euratom unless and until alternative arrangements on nuclear co-operation were in place. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the UK will be ready to put in place its own safeguards and inspections regime when the implementation period ends in 2020.

According to my recollection, the Minister expressed the hope that we would visit the National Grid. We were in a position to inform him that we had. It was quite moving to witness the decision-making taking place with consummate professionalism. The great expertise of those concerned and their dedication caused me to believe that those who are giving such tremendous service to our countrymen and women deserve the strongest possible support. I hope the Minister will be able to give some reassurance tonight.