Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240-259)



  240. And some of that money cannot be depended upon as remaining in BNFL's books for any great length of time?
  (Ms Lambert) When we do the transfer agreement, as I said, we have to balance between ensuring that new BNFL as a business has enough operating cash to operate, but also making sure that we have as many of the assets as possible to fund the liabilities. That is what the taxpayer will be getting.

Mr Lansley

  241. Although we do not know how large that figure is because we do not have BNFL's 2002 accounts?
  (Ms Lambert) Exactly.

Mr Djanogly

  242. Going back to the regulatory side, this morning we had a discussion about BNIF and the first point that came out was the number of regulatory bodies that are involved here, and I think without quoting them that they made it quite clear they thought a lot could be done in terms of co-ordination not only between the various regulatory bodies but also in terms of transparency with third parties looking in. Really my question is what plans does the Department have to streamline the regulatory side?
  (Ms Lambert) I think the Department is not necessarily the person who is going to be controlling this process but as the White Paper makes clear, the regulators themselves are very conscious of this issue. I am talking about particularly the HSE and the Environment Agency and SEPA in Scotland. They have made a lot of effort to work together: they have published memoranda of understanding: and the White Paper makes clear that the government wants to see that process continue so that they work together and I think the LMA could play quite a positive role in this. There is no way that the LMA is going to cut across the regulator's relationship with those they regulate or powers of enforcement, but we do envisage that the LMA will work very closely and in close consultation with the regulators, particularly in drawing up the site remediation plans and work programmes that will underpin the contracts, and all experience elsewhere, particularly also from AWE and from the States, is that that close working relationship towards a common purpose of clean-up is very beneficial in terms of streamlining the process.

  243. If the regulatory side is going to be streamlined, is not the time at which the LMA is created the best time to be doing that as well?
  (Ms Lambert) It might be in that you have some momentum. Equally, I would not want to try and change everything at once, and really what the government is seeking to do on the regulatory process is continuous improvement; build on what we have and use the momentum of the LMA to reinforce that process rather than I think a radical change which might cause more disruption and hinder us from getting on with the task.

  244. So it will be looked at at the time of the legislation?
  (Ms Lambert) I am sure, and I am quite sure, when the legislation goes through, that it is an area Parliament will want to look at.

Mr Hoyle

  245. I know we have just been over the accounts and £2 billion may not be in the picture but I just wonder, because we are so close to the accounts coming out for 2001-02 or a month or two off, surely you must have an indication whether the money is still there or not, or whether it has increased?
  (Ms Lambert) I think it is unlikely that it has increased but you can ask BNFL about the accounts.

  246. I would prefer you to answer the question. That is why I am asking you. I am aware I can ask BNFL and I do not need to be told that.
  (Ms Lambert) These are commercially confidential figures until they are published, and I do not really want to reveal figures.

  247. Do you think there will be an indication that it will still be there?
  (Ms Lambert) I think it will be reduced.

  248. That is interesting. Secondly, and we have touched on this but you failed to answer it, do you believe that this is preparing BNFL for the sell-off?
  (Ms Lambert) I know the motivation for this is to get a better grip on clean-up. That is what is most important and what the government says in the White Paper is that in 2004-05 we will look again at BNFL's future, and that is the future of new BNFL, see how it is done and what its track record is, and one of the possibilities that ministers will consider is whether new BNFL could be the subject of a PPP.

  249. In which case is it fair to say that the DTI are now preparing for that?
  (Ms Lambert) We are at the moment one hundred per cent concentrated on getting the new arrangements setting up, and our focus is clean-up, and when we look at and advise ministers on the future of BNFL the main consideration, as the White Paper says, will be how that will affect the government's priority of clean-up and, of course, value to the taxpayer.

  250. That is very interesting. One hundred per cent focused on this and this alone, so no other time is dedicated to any other issues within BNFL? It is just the clean-up and nothing else. Are you sure you want to stand by that comment?
  (Ms Lambert) What I want to say is that is all of our objective, what we are all working to—and BNFL too. By refocusing their business they are focusing on clean-up, but I have of course a team, headed by Dennis Walker, who is safeguarding the taxpayer's interest in the ownership of BNFL.

  251. So Dennis is preparing himself!
  (Mr Walker) No.

  252. Well, I think we all know what the motivation is. Let's move to Nirex. Why does the White Paper not suggest Nirex' independence from the nuclear industry? Why have you failed to put it in there?
  (Ms Lambert) The future of Nirex needs to be considered not just in the context of the White Paper but also in the parallel considerations going on with the government led by DEFRA which is setting the policy framework for waste management. Everybody is agreed that the developments, the setting up of the LMA, mean that the status quo is no longer appropriate. Everybody is also agreed that we do not want to lose the good work and the expertise of Nirex but what form Nirex institutionally will take in future very much depends on the new institutional arrangements currently being considered by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs in the context of their consultation on managing radioactive waste safely. I do not think I can pre-judge what that is going to be.

  253. Do the DTI support Nirex's own view that it believes it will be better off independent?
  (Ms Lambert) We are entirely at one with what the White Paper says. We recognise the arguments for independence. The focus now should be on the core functions and looking at independence in the context of the new arrangements that DEFRA may announce.

  254. So does that mean you do support Nirex?
  (Ms Lambert) We need to look at it in the context of the new arrangements on the waste management policy.

  255. So we can take that as a yes, or a no?
  (Ms Lambert) I think you can choose how you want to take it.

  256. In other words, you do not wish to answer?
  (Ms Lambert) I stick by my answer. Until we know what the framework will be, I do not think you can pre judge one bit of it.

  Mr Hoyle: Just for the reporter, is it yes or no?

  Chairman: As Ms Lambert is the author of the White Paper in which the choices are posed, I think she has the right to stand by what she has written.

Mr Hoyle

  257. That was not the question. It is whether the DTI supports Nirex's view—yes or no. That was the question, not about how you put the report or what the DTI's views on Nirex are.
  (Ms Lambert) I do not think it is yet ready to be able to answer that question. We need to know the context.

  258. Would you let us know when you will be in a position to answer that question?
  (Ms Lambert) It will come out when we are clearer on DEFRA's next steps on the consultation on their policy framework for waste management.


  259. Do you think that will be before the Bill is published or not? The impression we get is that DEFRA has a rather relaxed view as to the development of a waste management strategy. You might not necessarily want to associate yourself with the word "relaxed" but it does seem to have a rather longer term view than the short term character of the process towards legislation?

  (Ms Lambert) It is certainly correct that the September consultation envisaged quite a long process until at least the endpoint, but without wanting to pre judge what my colleagues may say I think there are a lot of intermediate steps; it is not a question of putting out that document and saying that we will decide in seven years' time. There is a lot of work to be done in the meantime particularly on what the appropriate institutional arrangements should be and what intermediate steps there should be, so I think it is not a question of sitting back and doing nothing. There is a lot of work to be done and I expect we will see some signs of progress shortly.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. I think we will wait for the signs of progress, and we are very grateful for the time you have taken.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 12 August 2002