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Standing Committee Debates
Energy Bill [Lords]

Energy Bill [Lords]

Column Number: 165

Standing Committee B

Thursday 27 May 2004


[Mr. Jonathan Sayeed in the Chair]

Energy Bill [Lords]

8.55 am

Clause 11

Special functions in relation to pensions etc.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Minister for Energy, E-Commerce and Postal Services (Mr. Stephen Timms): I begin by welcoming you, Mr. Sayeed, back to your role of looking after our deliberations.

Clause 11 enables the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to establish and maintain a nuclear pension scheme covering those involved in decommissioning and clean-up. Continuity of pensions provision will be very important in retaining a skilled work force, particularly when individuals can expect to change their employer from time to time without changing their work. The NDA is being given powers to operate a pension scheme in which those working for NDA purposes can remain, whatever their employment arrangements.

The Bill provides pension protection for public sector employees who are transferred for NDA purposes—the Committee will generally welcome that—when such a transfer requires those employees to leave their current pension scheme. The powers in the Bill to establish and maintain an industry-wide scheme will allow the establishment of a scheme that may be the appropriate alternative scheme for those who transfer.

The clause also allows the NDA to administer a compensation scheme for the nuclear industry if it is decided that that is appropriate. The role is currently being performed by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. and, in future, the NDA may take the view that it should do that, in which case the clause would allow that. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Can the Minister make it clear whether that point relates solely to the public sector or whether in any regard the NDA might take over responsibility for pensions in the private sector nuclear industry?

Mr. Timms: The provision is in the Bill because of the position in which people who are currently in the public sector would find themselves if they transferred. For example, Treasury policy does not permit employees who leave the public sector to remain members of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority pension scheme and there has been a good deal of concern about that. UKAEA scheme members

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transferred to the private sector for NDA purposes would be required to leave their scheme. In those circumstances, schedule 8 imposes a duty on the Secretary of State in the case of transfer schemes—and the NDA in the case of other types of transfer—to ensure that transferred employees are offered a pension scheme that is no less favourable when considered as a whole.

Norman Baker: I understand that and perhaps I expressed myself badly. I have no objection to the UKAEA being covered in that way. I was seeking clarification on whether the clause would enable the scheme to be extended to what is already the private sector in the nuclear industry.

Mr. Timms: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the remit and initial task of the NDA is the clean-up of public sector sites. I imagine that if there were an extension of that role to private sector sites—we have had some discussion about the circumstances in which that might be permitted—with costs being borne by the private sector, there would be nothing under the clause to exclude people engaged in that work from being members of the scheme being set up. However, that is not the principal intention and, as he knows, a number of significant hurdles would have to be overcome before the NDA reached the stage of having its role extended in the way that he envisages. However, people already working for private sector contractors on public sector sites could be covered by the scheme that the clause allows to be established.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12

General duties when carrying out functions

Norman Baker: I beg to move amendment No. 105, in

    clause 12, page 9, line 30, at beginning insert—

    '( ) The principal objective of the NDA shall be to protect the health and safety of people, and to protect the environment, from the harmful effects of radiation from those sites for which the NDA has responsibility.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 106, in

    clause 12, page 9, line 30, at beginning insert—

    '( ) It shall be the paramount duty of the NDA to safeguard the environment.'.

No. 22, in

    clause 12, page 9, line 30, leave out from first 'the' to end of line 31 and insert

    'paramount duty of the NDA, in carrying out its functions, to ensure—

    (a) the safety of the environment and the protection of the natural and built environment from any pollution or contamination from the release, spillage or escape of any nuclear or nuclear-related material into the air, waterways, sea or land, or from any contamination arising from the use, treatment, storage, transportation or disposal of hazardous waste (and in setting out its decommissioning strategy for any nuclear installation or site, nothing shall be done that would give rise to any such release, spillage or escape), and

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    (b) the safety of the general population and of the workforce in any nuclear or nuclear-related facility who may be affected by the release, spillage or escape in any fashion of any nuclear or nuclear related material into the air, waterways, sea or land, or from activities involving the use, treatment, storage, transportation or disposal of hazardous material.

    (1A) It shall be the further duty of NDA, so as far as it is not incompatible with the paramount duty under subsection (1), to have regard to—'.

No. 107, in

    clause 12, page 9, line 30, after first 'the', insert 'further'.

No. 23, in

    clause 12, page 9, line 40, leave out from beginning to 'and' in line 43.

No. 108, in

    clause 12, page 9, leave out line 40.

Norman Baker: The purpose of the amendments is to make crystal clear what the Liberal Democrats believe the principal objective of the NDA should be, which is to protect the health and safety of people and to protect the environment from the harmful effect of radiation from those sites for which the NDA has responsibility. The Minister might say that those functions are implicit, or explicit, in the wording of the Bill. He might refer to subsection (1)(b), which refers to the need to safeguard the environment. However, I would suggest that it is important to establish a primary duty for the NDA. The need to safeguard the environment, and the need to protect persons, is just one of a number of considerations in the Bill. It should be the primary consideration for public health and environmental reasons, and it would be helpful if that were stated in the Bill.

There are good reasons why we should ensure that the environment is safeguarded. It is fair to say the nuclear industry has a legacy of problems, such as environmental contamination, that have to be cleared up. The Minister will be aware of the suggestions—borne out by figures from his Department—that there have been nuclear emissions from Sellafield that were harmful to the environment over a long period. They have generated complaints from within this country and from outside as well.

The Minister will know that the nuclear industry has created ponds at Sellafield—B30 ponds and others—and it is clear that no one knows what is in them. Therefore no one is a position to have them cleared up. It is impossible for Nirex to take responsibility for the ponds unless it is clear what is in them. The history of the nuclear industry protecting the environment has not been a happy one, in that regard at least. That is not to say that it has not prevented major accidents because it has—with the exception of Windscale in the 1950s. Since then there has not been a major accident, which is a tribute to the industry. There has been a low-level history of contamination and a failure to safeguard the environment, and that should be addressed at this point.

There is a major problem with the clean-up of what is already there. We know from an answer that the Minister gave to me on 19 January that the White

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Paper, ''Managing the Nuclear Legacy'', which his Department published in July 2002, showed that the costs associated with the clean-up of civil nuclear liabilities in just one area—Springfields—would be about £300 million. He will also be aware that the Trade and Industry Committee, which looked into the matter, believes that the NDA needs a clear set of overarching principles. I refer him to paragraph 13 of that cross-party report, which says:

    ''We consider that a clear and unambiguous statement of the overarching principles within which the NDA will work would be a useful addition to the draft Bill. Such a statement would have most force if it were given in the main body of the Bill.''

My amendment would ensure that the Trade and Industry Committee has its wish granted, and that such a statement is made explicit in the Bill.

I am sure that the Minister will say, ''Don't worry; it's all here. The Bill talks about the need to safeguard the environment and the need to protect persons.'' He will say that all the issues that I have raised are dealt with. In a sense, they are dealt with, but not in a way that states what the principal duty of the NDA shall be. We have heard in previous debates that the NDA will now be involved in generation to some degree, and it may be involved in producing nuclear fuel. It will be involved in a whole range of activities that are ancillary—to put it mildly, or generously—to the purpose of decommissioning. Under circumstances in which that remit is broadening, it is important that the NDA should focus on its primary function: to protect people's health and safety and the environment. It would be helpful for the Government, who I think take that view, if such a statement were included in the Bill.


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