Kwasi Kwarteng contributions to the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018


Tue 8th May 2018 Nuclear Safeguards Bill (Commons Chamber)
Ping Pong: House of Commons
17 interactions (1,009 words)
Mon 16th October 2017 Nuclear Safeguards Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
33 interactions (1,116 words)

Nuclear Safeguards Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Legislation Page: Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018

Nuclear Safeguards Bill

(Ping Pong: House of Commons)
Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Tuesday 8th May 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Stephen Kerr
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 May 2018, 7:28 p.m.

My hon. Friend has the power of mind-reading because the next thing I wish to say is that given that it will not be possible for us to maintain Euratom membership, the Government have taken the realistic approach of declaring through the process of the current round of negotiations that we would like to achieve an “as close as possible” relationship with Euratom, however that might ultimately be described. Although there is no such thing today as an associate membership, perhaps it is possible to become an associate of some form or another to the end of achieving that “as close as possible” relationship that we desire.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con)
- Hansard - -

8 May 2018, 7:30 p.m.

My understanding is that we as a country want to leave Euratom. Does my hon. Friend agree that opening up a suggestion that we could have associate membership muddies the waters slightly in terms of the clarity of the debate?

Stephen Kerr
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 May 2018, 7:30 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I do not think it does. The Minister has made it clear during the passage of the Bill that although we are leaving the European Union and our membership of Euratom will therefore end, we still want as close a relationship as possible with Euratom. The Government have been absolutely clear in their determination on this. They stated in a written statement published last September that

“it is vitally important that the new domestic nuclear safeguards regime, to be run by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, is as comprehensive and robust as that currently provided by Euratom. The government has therefore decided that it will be establishing a domestic regime which will deliver to existing Euratom standards and exceeds the standard that the international community would require from the UK as a member of the IAEA.”

I hope that the Minister will reconfirm tonight that it is still the Government’s intention to reach and maintain existing Euratom standards in respect to safeguarding. I recognise that it will take time to get to that point, but it would be useful if he indicated when he expects we will able to assume that we have everything in place to maintain the Euratom safeguarding standards, and if possible, how much that will cost.

I also commend my hon. Friend on his success in progressing towards his objective of putting in place what his amendment in lieu describes as “principal international agreements” and “corresponding Euratom arrangements”. These principal international agreements refer to and include the nuclear co-operation agreements that we will need to maintain because it is on the basis of these agreements that nuclear goods, including intellectual property, software and skills, can be moved between the UK and other countries. The Select Committee report summarised the evidence we heard and concluded that nuclear co-operation agreements were

“expected to depend on the existence of a mutually acceptable UK safeguards regime. Witnesses were concerned about any potential gap between leaving Euratom and setting up new arrangements, which would cause considerable disruption to nuclear supply chains”.

We also heard that

“nuclear cooperation agreements with the US, Canada, Japan and Australia will be crucial for maintaining existing operations and should be prioritised.”

I welcome the news that the Minister has brought to the House tonight about the IAEA, the draft voluntary offer agreement and the additional protocol. I also welcome the US-UK nuclear co-operation agreement. Perhaps he will give us more detail on how long it will take for the agreement to be ratified. I referred earlier to the optimistic note that David Wagstaff, the head of Euratom exit negotiations at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, brought to our Committee, where he indicated that the co-operation agreements were

“well advanced and…would be completed in time for our departure.”

I have heard again tonight that that means March 2019.

With reference to the principal international agreements, perhaps the Minister will update the House on our negotiations with Canada, Japan and Australia. Will all Euratom’s existing nuclear co-operation agreements continue to apply to the United Kingdom until such time as new agreements can be established? It is vital that our civil nuclear industry can continue to operate with certainty and that there should be minimum to no disruption to the sector as we leave the European Union. Britain must be in a position to continue to honour its international obligations—

Break in Debate

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 May 2018, 7:35 p.m.

I should like to begin by echoing the remarks of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) about the Minister’s participation in the Bill so far. He has indeed been helpful, inclusive and relentlessly courteous as we have gone through the process. I welcome the progress that has been made, but that must be set against the background of what we believe to be the folly of leaving Euratom in the first instance. The last time the Bill came before us, I said that despite the Government’s ideological intention to abandon Euratom—it is ideological; there has been no attempt to challenge whether there might be a possibility to stay in it—their proposals fell short of answering vital questions on the UK’s nuclear future. Those answers have been asked for by the nuclear industry, the medical profession, our research sector and virtually everyone associated with nuclear power. Simply put, we should not be leaving Euratom.

Even with some sensible amendments from the Lords that have been accepted by the Commons, the Bill still fails to answer many critical concerns. As I have stated before, we in the Scottish National party believe that the safest nuclear power is no nuclear power. In Scotland, we have demonstrated what can be achieved by alternative renewable energy sources, and there is still a vast potential to be tapped, especially offshore, for an abundance of low-cost clean energy. In contrast, the UK Government continue to chase the folly of new nuclear, including the white elephant that is Hinckley C. That means higher costs for consumers, and technologies whose capital costs continue to skyrocket.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

8 May 2018, 7:36 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that “no nuclear” can be squared with full participation in Euratom? If he had to choose one or the other, what would he decide?

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 May 2018, 7:37 p.m.

I find the hon. Gentleman’s question rather odd. I shall come to the reasons that we support Euratom in a moment, but a no-nuclear future means that we still have to navigate the nuclear that we have at the moment, and the wider public need to understand the existing nuclear technology.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

8 May 2018, 7:37 p.m.

rose—

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 May 2018, 7:37 p.m.

I want to make progress, because I am aware that Members wish to move ahead and I wish to accommodate that as much as I can.

On safeguards, at Dounreay in the highlands we have lived with the consequences of the UK’s previous regulatory regime. Decades on, we are still finding nuclear material that has simply been dumped or buried. For these reasons, and many more, while we work for a nuclear-free future, we recognise the vital need for the continuing protections and benefits that we have enjoyed through Euratom. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.

Turning to the Lords amendments, and the Government amendment in lieu, I should like some clarification from the Minister. On Lords amendments 1 and 2, I have said that providing clarification on the definition of “civil activities” is a sensible move, but is he in a position to enlighten us on the question put by Lord Hutton as to why the phrase, “for peaceful purposes”, has been defined in regard to electricity generation? I understand that Lord Henley, the Under-Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, was to write to Lord Hutton with a response to that question. However, I am not aware that there is anything on the public record on that issue, so I would be grateful if the Minister enlightened us.

Lords amendment 4 proposes a sunset clause, but I still do not think that the Government have fully answered the question as to why the sunset provision needed to be extended to five years from two years, so I would welcome clarification from the Minister. That being said, this is a sensible clause to add to the Bill.

I also agree with Lords amendment 5, which will mean that we receive a report for each three-month period in the years after the Bill is enacted. I note that the reports could include information on the development of the domestic operational arrangements required for the new domestic safeguards regime. Will the Minister outline what level of information he expects to provide? What information does he intend to include in the reports? For example, will they include information on the profile of ongoing costs, including any increases, on skills, on the recruitment and skills opportunities for girls and women and on gender pay? Reports should also include a rolling risk register.

I also note that we are to expect, or “may” have, a report that includes information on future arrangements with Euratom, including on nuclear research and development and on the import and export of qualifying nuclear material. I listened carefully when the Minister said that he had “every confidence” about the situation. It is good that he does, but we should have a guarantee. As was said earlier, there should be no diminution of the current protection that we enjoy under Euratom. I remain concerned about radioactive isotopes, but I do not intend to go through the rationale that I presented in the previous debate for why they are vital—although if I did, I would make no apology for doing so. The medical profession is concerned about their future availability, and even if there are agreements about access to such isotopes, the question remains unanswered about how we are supposed to obtain them in a Brexit future that means no customs union. How are they going to get across the border in time, before their limited half-life has expired? I could say much more on that, but perhaps the Minister can tell us how he intends to overcome the customs barriers and get that material here.

The Scottish National party supports Labour’s position on Lords amendment 3, and if it comes to a vote, we will vote to disagree with the disagreement that the UK Government have brought forward. If the Minister was serious about giving Parliament assurances, he would accept Lords amendment 3, which was moved by a Cross-Bench peer. The amendment quite literally does what it says on the tin: no exit from Euratom if relevant and necessary agreements are not in place. Instead, in presenting their own amendment (a), the UK Government are again asking us to take things on trust and believe that everything will be all right on the night. That is not good enough when it comes to nuclear safeguards.

Break in Debate

I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister will reconsider the opposition to the well-put proposal from the Lords. Ultimately, however, there is still time for the Government to make this decision and say, “Forget this, we don’t have to pursue associate membership. We don’t have to enact all of this scrabble to get new nuclear inspectors in place.” He may tell me if I am wrong about this, but if we have Euratom status, will these inspectors that we are recruiting be needed? We do not have to go through with this process if the Government swallow their collective pride and admit they were wrong to put us on the path to leaving Euratom in the first place.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con)
- Hansard - -

8 May 2018, 8:02 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak tonight as I spoke in this important debate at an earlier stage—on Second Reading. I was pleased to hear the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who gave a good, comprehensive analysis of why civil nuclear power and the nuclear industry are so important, not only to her constituency but to the country as a whole. In this debate, we tend to get forgetful about the immense contribution Britain has made to the nuclear industry and nuclear science. At the beginning of the 20th century, we had people such as Thomson and Rutherford, and others in the Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge and at other universities. They pioneered nuclear technology and advances in the nuclear industry. It is sad to hear speeches in this House that yet again undermine, frustrate or seek to question our capacity to get this right and to institute safeguards.

In that regard, the Bill is an excellent piece of legislation. It is sensible and it tries to construct a framework that will allow us to leave Euratom and go our own way. After all, we are members of the International Atomic Energy Agency—it has a structure and about 169 countries as members—and we should celebrate that. To hear people in this Chamber, one would think that without Euratom we were absolutely nothing and there would be no safeguards and no industry. We have heard the doom-mongering prophecy of thousands of job losses, to which the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) alluded in his mildly entertaining speech. We have had all these bugbears and goblins, and all this terror, held before us, but we are taking a simple step: we are going to leave Euratom and institute our own Bill, as we are doing, that will provide for safeguards in the industry. We also have the IAEA as a backstop. All this fear-mongering and these doom-laden prophecies of job losses are grossly exaggerated.

The other thing to say on the amendments is that in eight years in this House I cannot remember a Government who have been so accommodating and open to amendments as we have been on this Bill. In general, we see Governments, including the one of which I am a member, rejecting amendments; sometimes the amendments make sense and often they do not. In this instance, I have been surprised and impressed by the fact that our Front Benchers and the Government as a whole have adopted many of the amendments proposed in the Lords.

I want to talk a little about the House of Lords amendments and the processes they are going through. The job of scrutiny that the Lords are doing is good, but in the context of Euratom and debates about the EU there is a suspicion—I am not saying that all the people in the other place are influenced in this way—that a lot of these debates and institutions are being set up as straw men with which to block Brexit. When people say we should stay in this or that institution, there is always the suspicion of it being a rearguard fight to reverse the decision of the referendum of June 2016 and somehow to stay in the EU by other means. I am not suggesting the majority of their lordships are influenced by that, but in these debates there is always the suspicion that people are trying to use proxies and excuses to prolong our membership, unnecessarily, of these European institutions.

Euratom is a creature not of the EU but very much of the philosophy that was underpinning countries of western Europe coming together. I believe Euratom was established in 1957, roughly at the same time as the treaty of Rome, but we did not actually join it until 1973. To hear some of these speeches, one would think that we had no nuclear industry and no nuclear expertise before we joined Euratom. As I was trying to suggest, that is, of course, completely false.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 May 2018, 8:09 p.m.

Would the hon. Gentleman perhaps concede that he has misunderstood the amendment? It says that its provisions would be invoked only if everything had not been agreed. It does not say that we would stay in Euratom in perpetuity; it simply says that we would stay in until the point at which every single i had been dotted and every single t had been crossed.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I accept that it is a clever amendment. I accept that on the face of it, it says that it is just a backstop, there purely to ensure that if we do not have the right treaties in place we get to stay in Euratom forever and ever, but the hon. Lady and I know that the people who composed the amendment do not expect all the relevant treaties to have been signed in the short timeframe available. I suggest, perhaps cynically—perhaps the hon. Lady will challenge me on this—that the clever amendment is simply a ruse to prolong our membership of Euratom. Call me an over-cynical man of superstition, but a lot of my constituents, if they pay any attention to this issue, would come to the same conclusion.

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

8 May 2018, 8:07 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me a second go. In a sense, we are all rooting for the Minister, in the hope that he will come to a complete set of agreements in time. We all want that, and as soon as he does that, the amendment’s provisions will no longer apply. There is no issue, because if it all happens, it is fine, and even if it does not happen, the amendment will no longer apply as soon as it does happen. I do not understand the hon. Gentleman’s argument; it does not make logical sense.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s interventions. All I am suggesting is that what we have seen in the other House and heard in speeches there over several weeks is a consistent and concerted attempt to reverse the verdict of June 2016. I feel that this Euratom debate—I spoke on Second Reading—has been very much a proxy debate about the merits of the EU, which it should not have been. I have every confidence that the Government have the right safeguards in the Bill. I do not feel that the British civil nuclear industry is under any threat whatsoever. With the IAEA, we have in place the right structures. The scaremongering and doom-laden prophesies should be set aside, we should encourage the Government and we should reject the Lords amendments.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 3.

Lords amendment 3 disagreed to.

Nuclear Safeguards Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Kwasi Kwarteng Excerpts
Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse (North West Hampshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 7:02 p.m.

I am grateful and very pleased to be here as the first brick is placed into the strong foundation that we will be building for a post-Brexit Britain. This is the first real piece of legislation enabling us to see what it will look like. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill’s brevity and concision. Hopefully that pattern will be repeated.

I welcome the Bill and indeed our leaving Euratom, as I said earlier, although I recognise that many will not. Warm has been the embrace of Euratom for the past 40-odd years. Much has been achieved, in both research and safeguarding standards, but in truth the mourning bell has been tolling for Euratom for some time, because it is clear that the EU is turning its face against civil nuclear power. Germany is phasing it out by 2020, in a decision taken a couple of years ago, while Belgium, in a decision taken by our friend Mr Verhofstadt when he was Prime Minister, has decided to phase it out by 2025. Italy and Denmark have already made nuclear power generation illegal. Greece and Spain are phasing it out. Austria—ironically, as the home of the IAEA—has made it illegal even to transport nuclear material across its territory, such is its antipathy to it.

Given that the aggressively anti-nuclear Green party peppers Parliaments across the continent and has 51 seats in the European Parliament, serious questions need to be asked about the future of Euratom and its funding. When we recognise that much of the Horizon 2020 funding, which will go towards nuclear research, is generated by Germany, which will not be using the technology invented under that programme, we have to ask how long Germany will tolerate the notion that it should be pouring hundreds of millions of euros into nuclear research.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con)
- Hansard - -

16 Oct 2017, 7:03 p.m.

My hon. Friend clearly knows a lot about this subject, so on a point of information to illuminate the House, what does he think about the French attitude to nuclear power?

Kit Malthouse Portrait Kit Malthouse
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 7:03 p.m.

As I was about to say, in truth, Euratom is the French. It is anchored around France, with its 58 reactors, and they are the only serious nuclear player among the EU 27. The UK is second and Ukraine, although not a member—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) pointed out, it is now a special associate of Euratom, as it were—is third. Nevertheless, we now have the opportunity to look strategically at where our civil nuclear is going, what global alliances we should have, the direction of Euratom and EU nuclear research, and whether there is a better way.

Break in Debate

Lord Walney Portrait John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 7:09 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse)—[Hon. Members: “Why?”]—because he at least made an argument, unlike some previous Conservative Members, whose speeches were filled with vapid nonsense about how everything would be wonderful. His argument, however, was essentially: the Germans are coming and we need to pull up the nuclear drawbridge.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

16 Oct 2017, 7:10 p.m.

My hon. Friend’s precise point was that the Germans had retreated and left the field of civil nuclear energy. So the hon. Gentleman has drawn exactly the wrong conclusion.

Lord Walney Portrait John Woodcock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 7:10 p.m.

I tried to listen carefully.

I have some sympathy with Ministers. I am reminded of Dora Gaitskell in 1961 when she turned to her husband Hugh, that great leader of the Labour party—

Break in Debate

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 7:26 p.m.

As many Members have already pointed out, the Bill should not be needed at all. The most sensible approach to nuclear safeguarding would be for the United Kingdom to remain a member of Euratom, rather than wasting vast amounts of time and money in setting up an alternative regime that the Government admit will be as much a replica of the original as possible. The Government have created a rod for their own back by insisting that the European Court of Justice and freedom of movement are red lines. I wish they would just admit that that is the problem, rather than hiding behind legalese and unpublished, disputed advice.

As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), when most people voted on 23 June 2016, the vast majority did not even know what Euratom was, let alone how to pronounce it. It remains possible that Britain could have taken the option of remaining a member, and it is a political choice to withdraw from it before that has been absolutely set as the legal position. What I am sure of is that the fallout—pun absolutely intended—of this decision leaves a huge gap not only in the country’s ability to safeguard nuclear material, but in many other areas not covered by the Bill.

We are told that the Government will seek a new treaty to replace Euratom, so the Bill is applicable only in the event of Britain’s crashing out of the EU and Euratom with no deal. No deal would be deeply disastrous for Britain, and the Government should not even be considering that option; yet here we are, about to pass a Bill to authorise spending on just that eventuality. Let us give credit where it is due. Given the importance of this issue and the Government’s own lack of confidence in themselves, the Department is doing absolutely the right thing in preparing for the worst—and yes, the Liberal Democrats would vote for the Bill on Second Reading. However, the fact that the Government have produced the Bill so early in the Brexit process shows that they must be genuinely concerned by the complexity of the task ahead and the possibility that the negotiations will fail.

By the way, as we all know, we have not even started those negotiations, and industry experts tell us that it could take up to seven years to negotiate a treaty as wide-ranging as Euratom. Although I have enjoyed listening to the jolly assurances of some Conservative Members—I, too, am an optimist by nature—I fail to see how we are going to do this in time.

Like many other Members who have spoken today, I am gravely concerned about the limited scope of the Bill and the fact that it does not cover the full range of Euratom functions. In particular, I am worried for my constituents. At one time, Abingdon had the highest number of PhDs per square kilometre in Europe, and many of the scientists still work on the Joint European Torus—JET—in Culham. The United Kingdom is world-leading in that area. Fusion technology, if achieved at scale, would be tantamount in technological terms to putting a man on a the moon—it is that revolutionary—and it would be a criminal act to put that position in jeopardy, but that is exactly what we are doing. To ensure its future, we need guarantees about the next phase of the work programme by the middle of next year, months before the Brexit negotiations are completed. This is very urgent.

This is not just about money, as we will, I am sure, be told: to fully participate, we must ensure that these scientists can move freely and collaborate fully and, furthermore, that those already here are enticed to stay. These are the best minds in the world, and I need not remind the Government how rare they are. It is all very well saying that we want them to stay, but we need to give them more certainty than that; they are already leaving.

My constituents, alongside others in the industry, are extremely concerned about the implications of Government decisions on their futures. What kind of associate membership do we want? Will the Minister publish, and consult on, proposals for dispute resolution? Will he guarantee freedom of movement of specialist and technical staff in the nuclear industry? There is far more information that we need from the Minister about these and other areas, and it is worrying that this Bill is so limited in scope.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

16 Oct 2017, 7:31 p.m.

Is the hon. Lady seriously suggesting that there would be any circumstances in which well-qualified nuclear professionals would be prevented from coming into this country? Does she think, plausibly, that that is an outcome we might get to?

Layla Moran Portrait Layla Moran
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 7:31 p.m.

I absolutely do, because we have not had that absolute cast-iron guarantee. I should add that this is not just about the nuclear scientists; it is also about all the support staff who are needed.

Break in Debate

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 7:41 p.m.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I am pleased to be speaking in this debate. Once again, we are in a debate where we are all promised a post-Brexit world that is shinier, better and newer than anything we have witnessed up to this point. Whether we are talking about nuclear safeguards, food safety standards, consumer rights, trade with the EU, the strength of the pound, UK nationals living abroad, EU nationals living in the UK, or 30% being wiped off the bond yields leaving a £1.8 trillion black hole in our public sector pensions bill, we are told that it will be all right on the night and that everything will be wonderful.

The fact is that no state has ever left Euratom before. Despite what we have heard in the Chamber today, some legal experts—I know that we do not always like listening to experts—believe that it would be perfectly possible for the United Kingdom to leave the EU and remain a member of Euratom because, despite sharing the institutions, the two treaties are distinct and have separate legal instruments. I urge the Minister to explore that. The nuclear industry certainly believes that the UK should pursue some form of continuing membership of Euratom. We do not know what form that will take. We have no details or certainty. I think I probably speak for a large chunk of the public across the United Kingdom when I say that the UK Government’s negotiating skills have not inspired confidence.

I remember sitting in a Committee and being told by the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), who is now the Leader of the House, that it was necessary and, indeed, essential for us to fly nuclear materials across UK skies so that they could be used in a range of medical treatments at the height of their efficacy. Experts now tell us that leaving Europe’s nuclear regulator will put patients in the UK at risk of losing access to vital medical treatments, but those concerns have been dismissed by Conservative Members,. Despite what we have heard tonight, withdrawal from Euratom as part of Brexit would make it harder for the UK to access the nuclear isotopes used in cancer treatments and medical imaging. It is not me who is saying this—I confess that I do not have the medical or scientific expertise to do so—but the Royal College of Radiologists has told us that this is the case, as has Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

I could give the House 20 other examples of people at the top of their game who have told us this, but I fear that I lack the time to do so. Despite all that, those concerns were utterly dismissed by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who is no longer in his place, and the Secretary of State told us that these matters are not within the scope of the Bill. I fear that such a response is not reassuring. I am also alarmed, as I am sure many others will be, that someone who is qualified as an economist sees fit to contradict medical experts.

Euratom is responsible for co-ordinating and regulating the transport, use and disposal of nuclear materials in Europe, including many of the isotopes used in radiotherapy and some kinds of body scans. It seems that some of the most widely used medical isotopes can be produced only in specialised reactors, none of which is located in the United Kingdom. The materials currently used in Britain are mostly manufactured in the Netherlands, Belgium and France. Experts have told us that there is “no excuse” for Government Ministers failing to foresee the problems that leaving Euratom would cause. They have also indicated, given that all these matters are subject to negotiation, that although it might be possible for the UK to remain within the existing arrangements, it would be “exceptionally complicated” and that the UK’s position would “inevitably be weakened”. Those are the words of medical experts at the top of their field. Crucially, no real clarity on how any agreement might be achieved by the UK Government has been forthcoming. The Government’s position paper on Euratom published in July contained little detail even on nuclear power and it did not mention medical isotopes. Perhaps the Minister would care to mention them today. Can he also tell us whether the Secretary of State for Health has been consulted on this matter?

Ministers have absolutely no excuse for failing to anticipate this controversy. The problems were clearly highlighted in an article in the Financial Times way back in February and in briefings by nuclear industry experts. I know that we do not like experts, but occasionally it is useful to listen to them. As with all aspects of Brexit, there is little evidence of any serious planning.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

16 Oct 2017, 7:47 p.m.

The whole purpose of this Bill is to plan for the contingency where we leave Euratom, so how can the hon. Lady say that?

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 7:47 p.m.

We have heard repeatedly from those on the Conservative Benches about transitional arrangements and avoiding a cliff edge, but everything is subject to negotiation. As I said earlier, the negotiating and diplomatic skills of the UK Government are deeply suspect, and at worst alarming, when it comes to dealing with Europe.

Dame Sue Ion, the honorary president of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear and a former chair of the Nuclear Innovation Research Advisory Board, has pointed out that

“if suitable and robust alternatives to leaving Euratom are not in place, the potential impact”—

may mean that we—

“cannot move material or intellectual property or services or components or medical isotopes.”

That view was echoed by Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer, who has been critical of Government officials, whom he called “ignorant” of the impact of leaving Euratom because they

“think it’ll be all right on the night. It won’t.”

If he is tired of hearing that it will be all right on the night with regard to Euratom, imagine what he would make of the list at the start of my speech.

Madam Deputy Speaker, may I crave the indulgence of the Chamber for a few more minutes? I cannot let this debate pass without mentioning something that is not strictly within the scope of the Bill. I fear that we cannot talk about nuclear safety and regulation without pointing to another threat that looms large.

Break in Debate

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare (North Dorset) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 7:54 p.m.

Realising the risk that I take by making this comparison, may I say that it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson)? She and I served on the Procedure Committee together for some time. I listened to her speech with great attention, but I have to say in all good humour that she did a very good caricature of the P. G. Wodehouse quote that it is not very hard to distinguish between a Scotsman or Scotswoman and a ray of sunshine. Her speech was the Don Quixote speech of this debate: there is nothing good in the Bill; we are all going to go to hell in a handcart and—[Interruption.]

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

16 Oct 2017, 7:54 p.m.

We’re all doomed!

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 7:54 p.m.

And we’re all doomed, as I hear my hon. Friend say from a sedentary position.

Let me start by saying what this important Bill is not about. I do not believe that it is a Brexit virility test. I happen to believe that voters on both sides in the referendum will want to see the Bill delivered and landed safely through our proper procedures. I gave my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) prior warning that I would challenge his assertion that one of the core reasons that motivated him to vote to leave the EU was that we would leave Euratom. I simply do not believe my hon. Friend—despite his cerebral dexterity—when he says that millions of people tootled off to the polling station in their droves to vote leave because it provided the opportunity to leave Euratom. In exactly the same way, I did not vote to remain because I thought that our membership of Euratom might be in jeopardy. I must confess to the House that I am part of probably 98% of the nation that had no clue what Euratom was or did, who was a member, that we were a member or about the excellent work that we did.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

16 Oct 2017, 7:56 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) was suggesting that he was precisely the only person in Britain who had gone to the polls in order to leave Euratom, so my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) is making his point for him.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 7:57 p.m.

I still remain to be convinced, but I will not push that particular proposition to a Division this evening.

It strikes me that the position of most speakers in this debate rather echoes what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said in an intervention on the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. If I heard him correctly, he said that Euratom has done nothing wrong, we are not annoyed with it, and it has not offended us in any way, but lawyers on this side of the Channel and lawyers for the European Union have said that triggering article 50 means that we will de facto leave Euratom, which requires a further and separate discussion. I say with the utmost respect to colleagues on both sides on the House who have had a legal calling in the past—[Interruption.] My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) chunters from a sedentary position. No doubt there will be an invoice for me in the post for that chuntering.

Break in Debate

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 8:02 p.m.

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion of engineering, research and innovation in this place and in her constituency, and she makes an apposite point. Anyone who wants to see Brexit a success needs to understand that we will have political processes but that the regulatory and business communities want clarity and certainty at the earliest possible point. I agree with her entirely that the Bill provides that bridge, for want of a better analogy, between membership now and a regulatory regime in the future.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

16 Oct 2017, 8:02 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way once again. Is it not particularly significant that this is part of a contingency plan, in the light of the objections that we will somehow have a so-called hard Brexit?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 8:03 p.m.

I agree very much with my hon. Friend. It certainly shoots the fox that we will have a bonfire of regulations and a race to the bottom. I find it strange that those who have spoken against the Bill this evening have, in one breath, accused the Government of presiding over a chaotic, shambolic and uncontrolled, if not incontinent, Brexit process and have then chastised the Government for trying to ensure continuity at an early stage, as my hon. Friend and others have said. Such continuity is welcome, and we would be right to chastise the Government were we not to have it.

If the Bill is not a debate about Brexit virility, it is also certainly not about access to isotopes, and I absolutely deplore those who have tried to wave that shroud. One of my hon. Friends—I was going to say it was my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), but I do not think it was her—said that access to isotopes is important for a large number of our constituents who need them for medical treatment when they are unwell, and it is the worst kind of shroud waving to say that they will not have that access.

Break in Debate

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 8:59 p.m.

No, I will not give way, because a number of Members still wish to speak. I apologise; I would normally give way, but I am about to conclude because I know we are short of time.

The Bill will give the Office for Nuclear Regulation additional powers. It will give the Government the opportunity to use limited powers to amend the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Act 1978, the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000 and the Nuclear Safeguards (Notification) Regulations 2004, so that references in legislation to existing international agreements can be updated. I appreciate that Opposition Front Benchers have concerns about that, but it strikes me as a remarkably pragmatic attempt to get important business through the House in a timely manner, so that our important nuclear industries are not compromised. I commend the measure to the House.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con)
- Hansard - -

16 Oct 2017, 9:02 p.m.

My only regret in speaking is that, given the constraints on our time, you have imposed a six-minute limit on our speeches, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I feel that I could speak for a long time on the important subject of our debate.

The Bill is precisely the sort of responsible measure that a good, decent, forward-looking Government would introduce to avoid the cliff edge that we are told is a problem with so-called hard Brexit. The debate is serious, but the Opposition are clearly not taking it seriously. I am disappointed that so few of our Opposition colleagues participated. I am surprised that we have had a string of Conservative speakers, without even a bat squeak from the Opposition in response.

From the speeches of members of the Opposition parties, one would think that we faced disaster if we left Euratom. We will not face disaster precisely because of the Bill. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) quoted a nuclear expert and used the phrase, to which he did not return, “without alternative arrangements”. That is key. The expert said that, if we left Euratom “without alternative arrangements”, there would be a problem, but the whole point of the Bill is to set up those alternative arrangements, without which we would face a more difficult situation. The hon. Gentleman could not have made a more ridiculous point.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 9:03 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to respond. Does he accept that the industry would prefer to stay in Euratom or have an associate membership to “alternative arrangements”?

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

16 Oct 2017, 9:05 p.m.

I know that the hon. Gentleman has been listening to the debate with rapt attention, and he will have noticed in the course of several hours of discussion that we are leaving Euratom because, if he remembers, we voted to leave the EU last year. It was not the British Government who said we had to leave Euratom, but the Commission. The EU itself said that, as a consequence of voting to leave the EU, we had to leave Euratom, and we have taken it at its word. Perhaps we should not have done; perhaps the hon. Gentleman has intelligence that we do not possess, but we took it at its word and, consequently, it is quite proper to seek, through the Bill, to provide the “alternative arrangements” that industry experts have suggested are necessary to smooth the transition process.

I also wish to point out how depressingly gloomy a lot of the SNP’s language has been. We have been told that we are useless negotiators and that the state of Britain’s diplomacy is woefully inadequate. We have been told all sorts of things about how bad things are going, and of course nothing could be further from the truth. It is a complete fantasy. In fact, our diplomacy is widely respected throughout the world. We have a highly effective, well trained force and a disciplined, professional cadre of people. It is nauseating to hear SNP Members decry and denigrate our civil service in that way, and it is indicative of their lack of seriousness that only two Members from that particular party are gracing us with their presence in the Chamber.

With a couple of minutes to spare, I want to talk briefly about Britain’s traditions in nuclear power. I know it was uncomfortable to hear, but my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) was right that we are leaving Euratom at a moment when the countries of Europe, such as Germany, Italy and even Austria, are retreating from civil nuclear power. It is not something they want in their energy mix. The response of the German Chancellor to the Fukushima disaster in 2011 was to suggest that Germany would not pursue nuclear power and would shut down its nuclear power plants. Indeed, it is revealing that Frau Merkel is now in conversation with the Green party in Germany. Her coalition is dependent on Green party co-operation, and those of us who follow these things will know that the Green party is singularly opposed to nuclear power. It is the one thing that will not happen if it enters the Government in Germany, once the Government have been constituted, so there is no way that the Germans will develop this line of research. Similarly, we understand that Austria has banned the transfer of nuclear material.

Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 9:07 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman rightly points out where he disagrees with politicians of other places or has criticisms of them, but will he withdraw his earlier remark about the SNP criticising civil servants, which we have never done? All we have done is criticise the failure of this Government.

Kwasi Kwarteng Portrait Kwasi Kwarteng
- Hansard - -

Forgive me, but one of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues mentioned—we can all look at Hansard tomorrow—that our diplomacy was being ridiculed and was somehow deficient. If someone says that diplomacy is deficient, they are criticising the diplomats who are conducting that diplomacy, and I am afraid that most of those diplomats are indeed civil servants, so that was criticism of our civil servants, with no cause whatever—it was just a form of abuse. I know that SNP Members get caught up in their rhetorical exercises and like to make a big splash in the House of Commons, but I thought that was completely unnecessary.

Lastly, when it comes to freedom of access and foreign scientists and nuclear power experts coming to Britain, there is no country that is more open, from the academic point of view, to foreign talent and ingenuity than Great Britain. We have dozens of Nobel prize winners, many of whom came from outside the United Kingdom. We also have a great record in practical science and in businesses that have developed from the fruits of that practical science, so again this scaremongering and project fear is completely misplaced. I suggest to those hon. Members that they just move on.

Tom Pursglove Portrait Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2017, 9:09 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow the many thoughtful and informed speeches we have heard this evening, and it is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), who speaks with great passion on these matters—and always manages to do so without many notes, which I for one find very impressive.

I am regularly asked by constituents what progress is being made on Brexit, and tonight’s Bill represents perhaps our first substantive policy debate at Second Reading on an issue that matters to our constituents on a day-to-day basis as we chart our exit from the EU. It is disappointing, therefore, after all the bluster at the start of the debate, when Labour Members had a lot to say for themselves, that we have such barren Benches opposite now. I would be happy to take an intervention from one of them on this important issue, but unfortunately they are not here.

This issue affects all our constituents. The civil nuclear industry is very important and affects every person in the country. It is relevant to keeping the lights on and to the jobs of thousands of people directly employed in the nuclear sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) was right to highlight how this was not just an abstract issue but one that affected people’s lives and livelihoods. It is also relevant, however, in the context of supply chains—tons of steel is used in nuclear projects, for example. We should not forget, therefore, that this affects not only jobs directly involved in the industry but many jobs throughout the supply chain.

I listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said during his remarks. I thought he put his case eloquently and set out his rationale brilliantly. I noted down a few of the key points he raised. The first was that we had to go down this route because of the article 50 requirements. That is very simple. Opposition Members are often keen to cosy up to the European Commission, and often think the Commission is absolutely right, so I have to ask myself why they do not believe it on this occasion. The position has been made very clear, by both the UK Government and the Commission, so perhaps Opposition Members need to go away and have a look at that.

I was also pleased to hear that we must and will live up to our obligations, as we would all expect. Of course, businesses and the sector want as much certainty and continuity as possible, and that is exactly what the Bill seeks to achieve. It is also possible to deliver the benefits of Euratom membership through other means. We want to continue to adhere to the standards set down and therefore we fully support their replication. My constituents would expect us to replicate them. We hear about lots of different policy areas in the House—international trade, for example. What point would there be in our watering down the standards we adhere to at present? I have heard no logical argument for why we as a country would want to do that. It just is not in our interests as we look to go out into the world and make a success of Brexit. It is also in our national interest to have sensible strategic co-operation into the future. It is the responsible, right and logical thing to do. That good will was demonstrated by the commitment to underwrite the UK’s share of the EU joint European torus project.

The Bill will ensure that the UK continues to meet its international obligations on nuclear safeguards as they apply to civil nuclear material through the International Atomic Energy Agency; to maintain the UK’s reputation as a responsible nuclear state that supports international nuclear non-proliferation; and to protect UK electricity supplied by nuclear power. Who could argue with any of that? The Bill is one of contingency, certainty and reassurance, so I am surprised that the Opposition are not more enthusiastic, not least because we so frequently hear from them about how we are not making sufficient progress. When we try to make progress, they criticise us for it. It makes no sense. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot continue using such issues—important technical issues—as a proxy for something else.

It was very disappointing to hear the reckless scaremongering about isotopes for medical uses. People will have heard those claims and been concerned. We should not do that. The House has a responsibility to be honest. We need to be truthful about the issue, and I am very pleased that the Secretary of State was able to provide the reassurance that people sought.

Let us not forget that there is still a very long way to go in the negotiations that lie ahead of us. I believe that we have a great deal to offer as a country in relation to nuclear. We lead on research, we lead on innovation and we lead on science, so we bring a lot to the table. As I have said, there is a long way to go in the negotiations; let us see what can be agreed.