All 1 Lord Krebs contributions to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017

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Wed 1st Mar 2017
European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill
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Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill Debate

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Department: Department for Exiting the European Union

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill

Lord Krebs Excerpts
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 1st March 2017

(7 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 103-II Second marshalled list for Committee - (27 Feb 2017)
Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan Portrait Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan (Lab)
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My Lords, I am a supporter of nuclear power and I would like to facilitate nuclear energy in any way I can. However, I am not sure whether the legal forest through which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, tried to take us can be dealt with as simplistically as he suggests. In the first instance, we signed up to a separate treaty when we joined the Common Market in 1973, but by 2008 circumstances had changed. Euratom was by that time integrated into the EU in a way that I do not think renders it the separate entity that the noble Lord has suggested. It is worrying that the Government clearly had not given any serious attention or thought to this. In the course of the last two or three weeks, there has been quite a major change in the climate, in so far as a number of people, myself included, have raised this issue at different times. But we have to recognise that, when we talk about the nuclear industry, we are not talking only about power generation. At the same time, it has to be said that EDF—the agent of the French Government, which I imagine will remain in Euratom—will be running 20 power stations for some years to come. Therefore, in that respect at least, it may be somewhat premature to get too worried about this.

The fact is that the nuclear industry is not just about generation. It is concerned with the fuel cycle, decommissioning procedures, regulatory arrangements for safety and general UK regulatory competence. In all these areas, we enjoy a position of world leadership. The industry gets castigated because we do not build our own reactors any more—we build them for our nuclear submarines, but not for civil generation—but there is an incredible amount of science and manufacturing expertise at stake here. Frankly, I am not too concerned at this stage about whether we are in Euratom, we are going to leave or we have to leave. I am concerned that this industry should demand the proper attention it requires. It has already been suggested that in the Government’s industrial strategy, such as it is, nuclear is going to play an important part. If so, we need to give proper recognition to the international character of the industry and to the fact that a considerable number of British businesses, and considerable British academic and industrial expertise, are still invested in this industry. In many respects, we will be pretty well the only country in the developed world with a nuclear new-build programme. We will see programmes in China and India, and there is one in America, but we do not see the kind of nuclear power development that we might have wished for.

If Britain is to carry on with and take advantage of this industry, the Government will have to give a lot more attention to it. I would like us to get beyond the platitudinous responses which have characterised the Government’s answers in debates and discussions so far. It would be helpful if the Minister gave us a little detail this evening on what is going to be done. How will we address this worrying conundrum of whether we will have a nuclear industry capable of operating on an international basis, and how can we take advantage of the very strong cards we still have to play?

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I refer to a report of the Science and Technology Select Committee from a few years ago, when I was its chair, on the subject of nuclear R&D in this country. In doing so, I support this group of amendments. In the report, we asked: given that the UK is committed to a civil nuclear programme and a refreshing of nuclear energy generation capability, do we have the skills in this country to deliver—not just in overseeing the build by foreign companies, but in the regulation? When we heard evidence from the witnesses, we realised that such capability in the United Kingdom has been seriously eroded. Here are some numbers: the workforce in nuclear energy and nuclear science decreased from 8,000 in the 1980s to under 2,000 by the early part of this century. Our investment in nuclear R&D is half that of the Netherlands and Norway, one hundredth that of France, and less than that of Australia, which does not have a nuclear energy programme at all.

Traditionally, we have not been investing enough in nuclear R&D capability. Therefore, the research capability sponsored through Euratom is, I believe, crucial to the future of our civil nuclear programme. In our report, we said:

“The nuclear industry and the regulator rely on the research base to train the next generation of experts. Once lost, these capabilities will not easily be replaced”.

It is important that the Government reassure us that, if we are to withdraw from Euratom, which I do not think we should, we have a mechanism in place to ensure that that nuclear capability is being developed. The Select Committee report made 14 recommendations, the vast majority of which the Government accepted. One was that the Government should set up a nuclear R&D strategy board. Has the nuclear R&D strategy board been consulted on this issue, and what is its view?

Earl of Selborne Portrait The Earl of Selborne (Con)
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My Lords, I was lucky enough to serve on the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and I now chair the Science and Technology Committee. We are revisiting this issue at present, looking at developments since the 2011 report. One of the recommendations, which was not fully implemented by the Government, but on which, nevertheless, there was a bit of progress, was that a strategy board be set up to advise government in the long term—and nothing could be more long term than a nuclear energy strategy. An organisation was set up called the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board. NIRAB was set up on a limited term of three years and produced its final report in February—last week, in fact—which is a survey of civil nuclear research in this country. I echo the question of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs: what will follow NIRAB? While in principle it is often a good idea for advisory boards and strategy boards to have a built-in termination—otherwise, they go on for ever—in practice we do need continuity of thought. That has clearly been lacking. Indeed, there has been no thought; that has been part of the problem. Successive Governments kicked this into touch. Nuclear research was an issue that, until recently, simply was not addressed adequately.

In its February report, NIRAB pointed out something totally obvious that nevertheless needs saying: that international collaboration is the main route for developing nuclear technologies. Of course, there are a number of ways of undertaking international collaboration, but we are quite a small player, however much we manage to build up our dismally low nuclear capability compared, say, with the 1960s, when we were indeed a large world player. We have been overtaken by a number of countries. If the industrial strategy, which has nuclear as one of its 10 pillars, is to be implemented, we have clearly got an awful lot of catching up to do.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, slightly failed to note that, although we joined Euratom before the European Union evolved from the EEC, the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008—which I must admit had escaped my notice—joined Euratom and the European Union at the hip in some way. A lawyer can explain to me the implications of that but paragraph 18 of the Explanatory Notes explains that we have to withdraw from the European Atomic Agency Community, Euratom, because it is now part of the EU in legal terms. Be that as it may, it is absolutely clear that we have to have a relationship with Euratom and with other organisations around the world which are collaborating.

One such collaboration, again thinking long term, is the Generation IV International Forum. This is looking very long term, leapfrogging through to new technologies which have still to be developed—we are thinking about the year 2030 and beyond. At the moment, the NIRAB report describes us as only participating as an inactive member—that was the case in 2011—through the subscription to Euratom. When the Government responded to the Select Committee report, they said, “We don’t have to worry about joining the Generation IV Forum if we want to remain connected to the emerging technologies, because we are members of Euratom”. Clearly, that answer does not work anymore if Brexit is going to happen and we are going to leave Euratom. We clearly need quite quick answers.

I agree entirely that this is not controversial. The Government are the first to say that we simply have to develop a nuclear strategy and a nuclear capability, and we have to collaborate. If, for legal reasons—and I do believe they are only legal reasons—we have to withdraw from formal membership, surely when the Minister responds he can tell us, without prejudicing any negotiating position in this case, exactly what ideal situation we would like to achieve.