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Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I ask my right hon. Friend to celebrate with me the fact that a team from Stockton has designed earthquake-proof
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houses, which are being built today in Panyatta, Kashmir. The team—Dr. Riaz, Dr. Bloom and Dr. Kitchen from Teesside university—are concerned that while significant moneys and investment appear to be available, it is nearly impossible to access them through the chain of bureaucratic restraints.

The Prime Minister: Again, I do not know the particular circumstances, but I congratulate the team on the work that they have done. I am happy to look into whether bureaucratic constraints are preventing the money from going forward or whether there is some other reason. Of course, it is worth pointing out that this Government, through the Department for International Development, have done an immense amount for the relief of the victims of the Pakistani earthquake, and it is extremely important that we do everything we can to make progress. I am happy to look into the point that my hon. Friend raises.

Q10. [96564] Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): The United Nations instructed Iran to cease nuclear enrichment by the end of August, since when nothing has happened. Is the Prime Minister confident that he will be able to get this matter back before the Security Council so that we can have a binding resolution, at the very minimum preventing any further nuclear or military equipment from being exported to Iran, and is he confident that he will get the support of Russia and China in doing so?

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): What about Boris Johnson saying that Iran should have nuclear weapons?

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Mackinlay, the Prime Minister is doing all right on his own.

The Prime Minister: I thought there was a late leadership bid there.

The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) raises an extremely serious point. I had an opportunity to discuss this with a very senior official in the Chinese Government yesterday. We are working very closely with all the permanent members of the Security Council to ensure that we get this back in front of the Security Council and get a proper, binding resolution. I should like to take the opportunity to say that when Iran says that the purpose of this is to prevent it from getting access to civil nuclear power, that is simply not the case. We have made it clear that we will not merely allow that, but help Iran with a civil nuclear power programme. However, we will not allow it to acquire material that goes to the development of nuclear weapons capability—that would be in breach of all its international obligations. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—it is important that we take whatever action is necessary to stop that happening.

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Radioactive Waste Management Report

12.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the report of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management—CoRWM—which was published on 31 July. Similar statements are being made in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. On behalf of the whole House, I thank the chair of the committee, Gordon MacKerron, and its members, for the outstanding effort that they put in to arrive at their unanimous report.

The issue of nuclear waste disposal has dogged successive Governments. CoRWM was asked to recommend the best option, or combination of options, for the long-term management of the United Kingdom’s higher-activity radioactive wastes, which provides protection for people and the environment. The Government believe that the CoRWM report provides a very strong basis for moving forward with clarity and consensus. We accept CoRWM’s recommendations that the UK’s higher-activity waste should be managed in the long term through geological disposal, as well as the continuing need for safe and secure interim storage until geological disposal is available. We also agree with CoRWM that we must continue to build on the momentum that it has helped to establish.

As CoRWM’s report observes, geological disposal is the approach that is being adopted in many countries, including Belgium, France, Finland, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. Nevertheless, securing geological disposal represents a major challenge that will require a commitment over many decades. We accept CoRWM’s recommendation that the process for developing a geological disposal option should be undertaken on a staged basis, with clear decision points. That will allow Government to review progress and to assess costs, value for money and environmental impact before decisions are taken to move to the next stage.

Planning and development of the geological disposal option must be based on four key pillars: a strong and effective implementing organisation, with clear responsibilities and accountabilities; strong independent regulation by the statutory regulators—the Health and Safety Executive, the environment agencies and the Office for Civil Nuclear Security; independent scrutiny and advice to Government on implementation; and a partnership with the host community.

The CoRWM report observes that the safe and secure storage of civil legacy radioactive wastes already falls within the remit of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which was established under the Energy Act 2004. The NDA also has responsibility in its current remit for low-level radioactive waste. We have decided that responsibility for securing geological disposal of higher-activity waste should also fall to the NDA, so as to create one organisation that is able to take a strategic view through all stages of the waste management chain, and that is clearly and transparently accountable to independent regulators and Government.

The NDA is already subject to statutory safety and environmental protection and security obligations under the Energy Act 2004, and its contractors are subject to
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regulation by the environment agencies, the HSE and the Office for Civil Nuclear Security. Its strategy and annual plans are subject to approval by Government. We will ensure that, in future, the longer-term radioactive waste management interests of Government are appropriately represented in the NDA’s strategy and that it has governance arrangements to reflect its increased responsibilities.

Nirex has played an important role in maintaining and developing the UK's knowledge of geological disposal, including the provision of advice to industry on waste conditioning and packaging, since the demise of its geological disposal development programme in 1997. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I, as joint shareholders in Nirex, are grateful to the successive chairs and the board for their hard work, and, of course, to the expert staff involved. None the less, the Government believe that having two organisations on the same playing field with potentially overlapping responsibilities would confuse and blur accountability. Instead, we are determined to harness the skill and commitment of the staff involved within the NDA.

Following today’s statement, we shall allow Nirex a short period to comment on the proposed ownership transfer and how it could best be brought about. The independent environment and nuclear safety regulators believe that the proposal will provide a framework that they can regulate strongly and effectively. They are content that the NDA will be responsible for implementing the geological disposal programme, within the constitutional arrangements that I described earlier. The regulators’ support is critical, as strong independent regulation is key to ensuring the safety of people and the environment and securing confidence and trust in the delivery arrangements.

On the third key pillar of our approach, we remain committed to the independent advice that CoRWM has pioneered so well. Accordingly, a successor to the independent committee will be appointed to give continuing advice on the plans for long-term management of radioactive waste.

CoRWM has set the standards for open and transparent advice that takes into account not only the best available scientific and other expert input, but the views of the public and stakeholders. It has also built up support and—perhaps surprisingly, given a name that does not exactly trip off the tongue—brand recognition. The new committee will therefore maintain the current name, but its membership will be reconstituted to reflect its role in the next stage of the “Managing Radioactive Waste Safely” programme. The committee will be sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the DTI and the devolved Administrations.

The committee’s primary functions will be to advise on the implementation of a geological disposal programme, including considering the strategy and delivery plans and the site selection process. It will make its advice available to the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales, as has been done by CoRWM.

The circumstances surrounding the long-term disposal of higher activity radioactive waste are unique. We have made it clear that we are not seeking to impose radioactive waste on any community. In that
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context, we strongly support exploring the concept of voluntarism and partnership, as described by CoRWM, with the local authorities serving communities that might be affected. As CoRWM recognises, there is a need to consider further how such arrangements will work in practice. Accordingly, we will look to develop further an approach that includes: the stages and decision points; how communities would be involved; the role of democratically elected bodies locally; and the potential for involvement and community packages as suggested by CoRWM.

Disposal facilities will be built only in a geologically suitable area, and we will also consider how geological and scientific considerations will be meshed with other societal considerations as, for a successful programme, all the criteria will need to be met. I invite any local authority—or group of local authorities—that wishes to be involved in those discussions to contact me, the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, or my officials directly. Similar invitations are being extended by my colleagues in the devolved Administrations.

It must be stressed that any future facility-siting process will be a wholly new process, divorced from the historical Nirex process. Lessons have been learned from that. We are also determined that the new approach will be carried out from the beginning in an open and transparent way, with appropriate opportunity for public and stakeholder, as well as expert, involvement. In light of that further work, the Government will produce an implementation framework and publish it for consultation as soon as possible next year.

This announcement and the more detailed response that I am publishing today—copies of which have been placed in the Library—complete stage 2 of the “Managing Radioactive Waste Safely” programme. We are now entering stage 3: planning for implementation. We aim to be able to move to stage 4—the final implementation stage—in 2008, and we are confident that the sharing of information and viewpoints, and the transparency of the CoRWM process, will have been maintained.

The CoRWM report states:

Governments of all parties have struggled to develop a long-term approach to the problem that is founded on science and then driven by openness and transparency. I believe that the content of my statement today combines scientific rigour with clear accountability, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for his statement, and for letting me have prior notice of its content. I also echo his comments on Gordon MacKerron and the members of his committee—the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management. They have undertaken a difficult, complex and sensitive task with skill and refreshing transparency. I therefore broadly welcome the fact that the Government have decided to proceed in accordance with the committee’s recommendations.

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There are sharply differing views in the House on whether it is desirable or necessary to build new nuclear capacity. However, I trust that we can all agree that there is now an urgent need to find a long-term, secure solution to the problems posed by historic nuclear waste. Whether we like it or not, it is there and it has to be dealt with. Successive Governments have put off confronting that issue for far too long.

The Government have accepted CoRWM’s recommendation that geological disposal is the best available approach to the long-term management of all the material categorised as waste. They have also accepted that a robust programme of interim storage must play an integral part in the long-term management strategy. They are right to have done so.

What is likely to cause more controversy is the decision to give the responsibility for planning, implementing and managing that process to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority rather than to a new independent body. Is there not a danger that conflicts of interest will arise from the fact that the NDA, which owns the waste and existing sites, will also, under the Government’s plans, be responsible for implementing the geological disposal? How will the Secretary of State ensure that, in selecting the sites for storage, the NDA will not only act, but be seen to act, with complete impartiality?

The Secretary of State has rightly emphasised the need for openness and transparency throughout the next stages of the process. Is there not a risk that not only the transparency but the integrity of the whole process will be compromised by the decision to place it, effectively, in the hands of the industry? I strongly urge the Government to look again at this part of their plans; the Secretary of State will understand that it is absolutely essential that the procedures that they adopt are beyond reproach and, as far as possible, beyond controversy.

This aspect of the Government’s plans has already called into question the Secretary of State’s green credentials—and I know that he is very sensitive about them. There is a case for the implementation of the plans to bury nuclear waste to be overseen by a body that is clearly independent of the nuclear industry. I know that he will refer in his reply to the statutory regulators, but there will undoubtedly be concerns that that is not enough.

In respect of locating the disposal sites, the Secretary of State has indicated that he is keen to explore the concept of voluntarism. He is right to do that, but what indication has he received so far from local authorities that they would be willing to enter into negotiations on becoming host communities for nuclear waste? Also, what thought has he given to the scale and nature of any inducements that might be offered to local communities that agree to take such waste?

I am pleased that the Government have set out a timetable, although I note that it is described as “indicative”. Given the length of time that we have all already waited for this announcement, it would have been better if they had set out a firm timetable today. Although safety must be paramount, and there is no case whatever for a rushed job, there is an urgent need to make progress, and CoRWM has mapped out how to do that.

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Finally, I have looked in vain for any indication of the likely cost of the Government’s proposal. Surely the Secretary of State would not have made today’s statement without having any notion of what the proposal will cost to implement in the short, medium and long term. I should be grateful if he shared that information with us and with the taxpayer. Out of which budget will the costs be met? It is hard to believe that the costs will fall to beleaguered DEFRA, which is cutting its budget to make up for the cost of incompetent management.

Overall, we welcome the announcement, which takes forward an important and serious issue that, shamefully, has remained unaddressed for far too long.

David Miliband: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the serious tenor of his remarks and the engaged way in which he has tried to address the subject. One major issue, to which I shall return later, is the misapprehension on his part that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is anything other than a creature of this House. In fact, it was created under the Energy Act 2004, so it is not a creature of the industry.

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must applaud and build on the work of CoRWM, and he is absolutely right to say that this issue should not divide people according to whether they are for or against any further nuclear build. He is also right to say—he could hardly be wrong—that we must both proceed with due speed and not rush he job. He was taking no risks in setting that out. I have yet to be approached by any local authorities, but I know that Members have signalled in debates in this Chamber and elsewhere that their communities are interested in those discussions.

I made it clear that we would give further details on the site selection process next year, which somewhat gives the lie to the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that we do not have a forward timetable. Financing obviously needs to be considered by the Government, rather than just one Department—and certainly not just mine. That is what we propose to do, in close consultation with the Department of Trade and Industry and other interested parties, not least the Department for Communities and Local Government.

As I said, the NDA was set up only two years ago by this House, so the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that we should have yet another new body, which would further complicate an already very difficult set of issues, does not seem —[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman recommended setting up another new body, but our and the regulator’s argument is that it needs a singular focus to achieve the accountability that is being delivered. The NDA works not for the industry but for this House and this Parliament, which gave it a very clear mandate to serve the public interest. So the hon. Gentleman should look again at the 2004 Act—I am not sure whether his party voted for or against it, but my memory is that it enjoyed wide cross-party support. It is certainly quite wrong to suggest anything other than that the NDA is driven by the Act under which it was set up.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): We on the Liberal Democrat Benches welcome the commitment to deep geological disposal as the least bad solution to the
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legacy of nuclear waste. However, we were slightly surprised by the statement, in that the Secretary of State congratulated—rightly—CoRWM and its chairman, Gordon MacKerron, on the work done, but then said that it is to be reconstituted. So on the one hand, CoRWM has done a good job, and on the other, it is being sacked. That is perhaps as bizarre a decision as the Prime Minister’s decision, following the incompetent implementation of the single farm payment, to promote the Secretary of State’s predecessor and put her in charge of Britain’s foreign policy.

May we please have a clear commitment from the Secretary of State that the distinction that CoRWM draws in its report—it was not picked up on in today’s statement—between dealing with the legacy of our waste and any new decision should be very clear? There should be no assumption that the decision taken today to set in process the means of dealing with that legacy will set a precedent for dealing with new waste. There should be no licence to create new waste from new power stations.

I am also concerned that the statement is rather mealy-mouthed about a key recommendation of CoRWM that there should be a commitment to voluntarism, and no imposition of radioactive waste on any community. The Secretary of State said in his statement:

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