Transition Period

Nuclear Safeguards Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 14th November 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

(1) The Secretary of State shall, upon laying any statement under subsection (3A) of section 1, seek to secure a transition period prior to the implementation of withdrawal from EURATOM of not less than two years.

(2) During a transition period under subsection (1), any—

(a) conditions under which the UK is a member of EURATOM before exit day shall continue to apply;

(b) obligations upon the UK which derive from membership of EURATOM before exit day shall continue to apply;

(c) structures for UK participation in EURATOM that are in place before exit day shall be maintained; and

(d) financial commitment to EURATOM made by the UK during the course of UK membership of EURATOM before exit day shall be honoured.—

This new clause would aim to put in place a transition period, during which the UK could seek to secure an association to EURATOM.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause refers to the possibility of seeking a transition period prior to the UK leaving Euratom of not less than two years. It states that during that transition period,

“conditions under which the UK is a member of EURATOM before exit day shall continue to apply…obligations upon the UK which derive from membership of EURATOM before exit day shall continue to apply…structures for UK participation in EURATOM that are in place before exit day shall be maintained”— and most importantly—

“financial commitment to EURATOM made by the UK during the course of UK membership of EURATOM before exit day shall be honoured.”

Nothing in the new clause suggests that we shall be members of Euratom in perpetuity.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Conservative, Poole

As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we continue to be a member of Euratom for two years, during which time we would presumably continue to pay our contribution, while at the same time employing inspectors in the UK— we are actually trying to recruit people at the moment. Would it not impose additional costs on the industry if we are both recruiting inspectors and staying in Euratom? Is that not double jeopardy?

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

No, because the idea of a transition period would be, among other things, to give greater scope for precisely that sort of recruitment, training and other arrangements to take place, so that the new regime is assuredly in place by the time we leave Euratom—assuming we do. There would not be any duplication because the positions after Euratom would be fully in place.

The transitional period would be used for the purpose of making sure those final arrangements were in place. Unless a series of magical events occur and everything is completely and easily in place before March 2019, I cannot see anything other than good things coming out of a transition period, including the things we have discussed in making a transition from Euratom to a nationally determined inspection regime complete, waterproof and fully operational.

In that sense, the Bill is straightforward:

“It ensures that, when the United Kingdom is no longer a member of…Euratom…we will have in place a legal framework that meets our future international obligations on nuclear safeguarding. Nuclear safeguards demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military or weapons programmes…Our current nuclear safeguards obligations arise from our voluntary offer agreement…with the International Atomic Energy Agency”— which I will come on to—

“The IAEA is the UN-associated body responsible for the oversight of the global non-proliferation regime. The first requirement flowing from the UK’s commitments on safeguards is to have a domestic system that allows the state to know what civil nuclear material it has, where it is and whether any has been withdrawn from civil activities.”

As we have discussed,

“the Bill has been prepared on a contingency basis. The discussions around our continued arrangements with Euratom and with the rest of the European Union have not been concluded, but it is right to put in place in good time any commitments that are needed in primary legislation. Euratom has served the United Kingdom and our nuclear industries well, so we want to see maximum continuity in those arrangements.”—[Official Report, 16 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 617.]

I cannot keep this up any longer; those are the words of the Secretary of State on Second Reading.

It appears that the Secretary of State at least is pretty much onside with the idea of wanting maximum continuity of the arrangements with Euratom, that Euratom has served us well, and that we have no objections in this country in the past to the working of Euratom, what it does and how it works. For “maximum continuity” of those arrangements, as the Secretary of State clearly wants, seeking associate membership or arrangements with Euratom under article 206 of the existing Euratom treaty—the Secretary of State was pressed on that on Second Reading—is something we would positively seek as an alternative to the contingency that the Bill represents.

From what the Secretary of State stated on Second Reading and from his introduction to the Bill, it does not seem to require a great deal of construction to conclude that that is something that the Government have in mind and would like to achieve.

The Government want to produce the Bill as a contingency in the event that such discussions do not work and that such status is not achieved. At that point, there would be no alternative other than to bring the contingency of the Bill into operation. It is worth bearing in mind that we are not saying, and have never said, and the Secretary of State has never said, that Euratom is not perfectly good as far as nuclear safeguarding is concerned. It works very well and has done for a long time. It provides us with everything we want in terms of a good safeguarding regime; how our international agreements work with other international bodies, in particular the IAEA; and how that relates to our security as a nuclear-possessing country that does exactly the right thing as far as Euratom is concerned on the non-proliferation treaty and all that goes with nuclear safeguarding. We can put to one side the idea that anybody here or on a wider canvas would want to alter in any way anything that Euratom does under the circumstances that it continues to be the body through which, in one way or another, we secure our nuclear safeguarding arrangements.

We have already heard that there are a number of possible arrangements with Euratom that could be arrived at, including something close to associate membership. It has been discussed that associate membership as such cannot properly exist unless the UK is a member of the EU, but an associate status similar to that already enjoyed by non-EU countries, perhaps with a purpose tailored to the UK’s future aims, would be a reasonable aspiration. The more closely that associate status adheres to the benefits that have been achieved from Euratom for the UK, the better off we and everyone in the nuclear industry and in civil nuclear will be, as the Secretary of State agrees.

The amendment merely adds another line to that commitment from the Secretary of State; it does not alter the direction that he wants to go regarding Euratom. It simply says that before we irrevocably remove ourselves from Euratom and its benefits, it would be a good idea to ensure that we have properly explored the arrangements we might have as a continued associate of Euratom, and that we have explored and put in place a transition period to allow that to happen. We heard this morning that the Bill is under some time pressure. A number of us were concerned when we heard from the nuclear industry at the oral evidence session that it was going to be a tall order to get everything—the administration, running, management, and inspectors—in place in the UK. If that is the case for nuclear safeguards, it will certainly be the case for the other five main areas that Euratom undertakes in conjunction with the UK. Therefore, having a transition period to add to our insurance and to make the new regime work seems eminently sensible as we remove ourselves from full membership of Euratom and put in place things that guarantee that we get the best possible outcome subsequent to the expiry of our full membership.

That modest suggestion should not be confused—in case hon. Members think otherwise—with suggestions about a transition period for our departure from the EU as a whole. It is a transition period for removing ourselves from the agreements that were originally made with Euratom—which are arguably separate from those made with the EU, even though over the years they have been substantially incorporated into other EU legislation—and not from the European Union treaties as a whole. Consequently, this proposal should be seen entirely in terms of what was good for this country in the past, as far as Euratom is concerned, and what will be good for this country in the future, as far as an associate status of some description with Euratom is concerned. That is exactly what the Secretary of State was saying, at least subliminally, in his remarks, which I shamelessly pirated earlier. The proposal is in line with the views of the Secretary of State and, I hope, the Minister, and would sit very well with the task ahead of us, which this Committee has very responsibly discussed, as we get everything in place to ensure our regime is as good as possible.

We are coming towards the end of our debate, and this proposal bookends our discussion. At the beginning of the Committee we said that this is a contingency Bill, and the Secretary of State said the same at the beginning of Second Reading. Therefore, under other circumstances we would not want the Bill to be on the statute book. I guess that, since the Bill is a contingency, we want an arrangement with Euratom that is better than the Bill. If we can reach that conclusion by way of a transition period, we should surely support that.

I am sorry that we did not adopt a purpose clause for the Bill, because that would have additionally spelt out how it stands in the scheme of things. The new clause would underline how the Bill stands by—slightly extraordinarily, I agree—requiring the Secretary of State to achieve an outcome that would make it non-functional. We are living in difficult and new times, and that is no odder than some of the other things in the Bill. If we can put that on the face of the Bill to framework what is being done about our future relationship with Euratom, that would be a good purpose, and I hope all members of the Committee would unite around it.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 2:15 pm, 14th November 2017

We support the new clause, which would put in place a transition period during which the UK would have the option to seek and secure an association with Euratom. The Scottish National party does not support the decision to exit Euratom, and the Bill continues to fall significantly short of answering vital questions about the UK’s nuclear future, particularly given the fact that the skilled and trained inspectors are at best unlikely to be in place in time. This Government have put nuclear energy at the heart of their energy strategy, and yet they are leaving the agency that oversees the security of markets, businesses and workers in that sector. Given that the UK Government have poured resources into costly and ineffective nuclear power projects such as Hinkley C, the Euratom divorce leaves questions unanswered and threatens to prove highly complex. That is why a transition deal is not only desirable but may turn out to be essential, and we will be supporting the amendment.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Labour/Co-operative, Birmingham, Edgbaston

I just want to make some suggestions. The concern is that to import fuel and parts from existing nuclear reactors into the UK—as we have already heard—we shall need to have established a regulatory and inspection structure, obtain approval from the International Energy Atomic Agency and then negotiate and ratify nuclear co-operation agreements with a number of Governments. There is an assumption that we should not make: we cannot be sure that nuclear co-operation agreements will just be nodded through, because we know some of the complexities that we already have with other countries, such as the USA. Therefore, I do not think it is sensible to leave Euratom until these agreements are actually in place, and that is why I support these amendments.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank hon. Members for their contributions. I am particularly speechless at the shadow Minister’s widespread quotation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State; were he here today, I am sure he would personally thank him. The truth behind it—I was obviously making a flippant comment—is that most of us actually agree on most of the things the Secretary of State said. I would endorse them and I thank him for formally doing so. However, the Secretary of State also said—I think I am correct in saying it was in his evidence in the Select Committee—that article 50 for the main exit from the European Union and for Euratom were interleaved together and therefore we have served the article 50 notice. That was yesterday’s argument, but it was obviously something the Secretary of State was well questioned on at the time. I mention that because the hon. Members spoke of their desire to ensure that the current position remains for as long as possible, but maximum continuity, which is what we have said we are aiming for, and which was quoted by the shadow Minister, is not the same as pretending that article 50 has not been triggered. It has and we are leaving, so the debate is really about what is next rather than turning back the clock. I have said this repeatedly, and I hope everybody accepts the fact that it is our intention to have a regime as robust and as comprehensive as that provided by Euratom.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North

Speaking of that collective desire, I am sure the Minister will recall Dr Golshan from the ONR saying that we will not be able to replicate those same Euratom standards on day one. Does that not make a compelling case for a transition period?

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I do remember the evidence and Dr Golshan spoke also to Select Committees that I have appeared before, but she did make it clear that while she could not guarantee that we could exactly replicate, we could have a safeguards regime that was very serviceable in working very quickly towards what Euratom is. I do respect her and the institution she works for, but there is no precedent for this.

I accept the gist of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but the same argument might be as true at the end of the transition period as it would be at the beginning of it. However, I am certain and satisfied that we can do the necessary recruitment and make the necessary agreements—which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston mentioned in her contribution—but actually within the time period required. I am sure that if we are not able to do that, I will be hauled before the Select Committee, the Chamber and everything else, and quite rightly. It is the job of Government to make decisions and it is our full intention and belief that we will be able to achieve that. I accept the fact that there is no precedent; I accept that people are entitled to their expert opinions. I do not at all deny that she said it, because I was here and it is on the record, and anyway I respect her too much to say that she is not correct in her view. I suppose I can say that, not being an expert, but my colleagues at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spend a lot of time with all her colleagues, and it is our job to ensure that it does happen.

If I may return to the transition period, everyone really wants the same thing, as I have said. However, the agreement of some form of transitional period is not within the gift of my Department. It is subject to the wider EU negotiations, as I am sure hon. Members will agree. The Prime Minister spoke in her Florence speech about a period of implementation after the UK has ceased to be a member of the EU. That is well understood within the EU, and would be mirrored for Euratom. We would not continue to be a member state of the EU at that time. We would be expected to continue to pay into it and be bound by many of its rules for the transition period, in exchange for which we would expect to continue to enjoy some of the benefits and give ourselves extra time to get domestic arrangements in place, but it is not a way of delaying our departure from Euratom; I felt I should make that clear.

The Prime Minister also made it clear in her Florence speech that we would leave the EU on 29 March 2019. To that end, as hon. Members may be aware, the Government have tabled an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that would make it clear on the face of that Bill that “exit day” constitutes 11 pm on 29 March 2019. The amendment, as I understand it, is not seeking a transition period after exit day, but calling for a transitional period before exit day in order to delay our departure from Euratom. That is not a situation envisaged in the proposals for the implementation period. Proposed new clause 2 sets out a position entirely inconsistent with that, which is why I have to oppose it. The purpose of the implementation period is to secure more time in which to put in place our new arrangements. The Government’s clear intention is that that should include Euratom where appropriate, as well as the broader EU negotiations.

The new clause would arguably introduce even greater complexity and uncertainty into an already complicated negotiation, both within the EU and with other parties. The proposal captured by the new clause is that we should leave Euratom at a different time from leaving the EU. However, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who the hon. Member for Southampton, Test often quotes, said, the two are uniquely joined, so I would argue that there would be significant ambiguities for businesses during the transition period if for two years—assuming it were even possible—we were members of one institution but not the other.

It would clearly be better to have exactly the same approach for both the EU and Euratom, in which we leave at the time the Prime Minister said we would and negotiate toward a two-year implementation alongside our future relationship on both Euratom and the wider EU. That would keep everything aligned and much clearer, which is particularly helpful where there are areas of overlap between Euratom and the wider negotiations, such as on access to skilled workers and movement of goods. For the reasons I have set out, I hope satisfactorily, I am not able to accept the amendment. I hope the hon. Members will consider what I have said and that the new clause will be withdrawn.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 2:30 pm, 14th November 2017

I am not sure that, for the sake of the apparent administrative convenience of leaving the two institutions on the same day, everything will be better served. We have discussed in this Committee precisely why things probably would not be better served regarding the process of ensuring that we have everything in place to replace what we acknowledge that we have received well from Euratom in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, in a brief but important contribution, raised the question of how likely it is that the various bilateral deals that we will have to make with various states around the world will be concluded in a timely fashion. Indeed, I suggest that the opposite is the case—they are not likely to be concluded in a timely fashion, not least because, for example, agreements with the United States would have to go through both Houses of Congress.

It is unlikely that there will be anything other than a rather messy tail hanging around for quite a long while if we stated that we were leaving Euratom on the same exit day the Prime Minister is suggesting in amendment 381 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I do not know whether this piece of advice will be welcome, but if that is what the Prime Minister wishes to do, I think it might be a good idea for her to add the words “and Euratom” to that amendment. I say that because although Euratom and the EU are effectively conjoined, Euratom did not come into being at the same time as the European Union, and therefore it is not necessarily the case that if one puts in place an exit day for the EU, one automatically transfers that exit day to exit from Euratom. That may well be what the Government want to do, but it is by no means clear that that is what would actually have to happen.

It is possible to consider, without in any way undermining the idea that we leave Euratom, a different form of leaving day from that from the EU, in my opinion. That has not particularly been tested in terms of the arguments about whether the Euratom treaty was separate from the EU. The Minister may well be getting wise advice that that is not the case, but it seems at least arguable that there is nothing in stone, and nothing in the amendments tabled to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, that points in the direction of having to leave Euratom at the same time as leaving the EU.

If it were possible to negotiate an arrangement whereby the aim was associate status of some description and the means were a transitional period, with the clear aim that that associate status would be in place at the end of it, that would seem to be a prudent thing to do, as far as our future relationship with Euratom is concerned, bearing in mind all the things we have said about how it has served us and what we could get from it during that transitional period, with that eventual aim in mind.

It would be not only desirable but very wise, in the present circumstances, to state on the face of the Bill that that is what we will try to do, and to require the Secretary of State to try to ensure that it happens. That does not undermine our future relationship with Euratom or with the EU; it merely puts in place something that is possible to achieve and that could be of considerable benefit to this country and to our partners in the nuclear community around the world.

It would enhance considerably the value of the Bill if that transitional arrangement did not succeed, because it would, among other things, show our partners in Euratom and the wider international community that we were intent and absolutely serious about wanting the best possible regime for the future. That surely would be a considerable boost to the idea that we can survive well in an international and closely conjoined nuclear community while not being a member of Euratom in the long term. If the Minister is not prepared to accept the amendment, I would like it on the record that we tried to divide the Committee this afternoon.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 7, Noes 10.

Division number 4 Seasonal Working — Transition Period

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 4