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Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab):
The Prime Minister is aware of the effect of the retrospective introduction of business rates on companies operating in various ports around the country, including Goole in
my constituency. Five years after the planned implementation, the Valuation Office Agency has still to agree assessments with many companies. One of those, Scotline, went out of business after being summonsed for a rates bill of £700,000, which was reduced to £114,000 on appeal. Will my right hon. Friend meet the Chancellor, and the Department for Communities and Local Government, and get a fair and equitable solution to keep jobs in our ports safe?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he has always been a persistent advocate of the ports and the jobs they create. I am very happy to meet him to talk about this issue and what we have done-the equal interest-free payments paid in instalments over an unprecedented eight years. I am happy to talk to him about what more we can do to help.
Q6.  Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has already said, Paul Walsh, the chief executive of Diageo and a member of the Prime Minister's own management and business advisory committee, has said:
"I don't feel at all deceived. This isn't about politics. It's my firm view that the proposed National Insurance increase is a tax on jobs".
The Prime Minister: I have said that the country has to make a choice. The Conservative party has made its choice, but I say to the country that if we want to maintain and improve our schools and policing, including the record numbers of police and neighbourhood policing in this country, and if we want to ensure the cancer guarantee, the GP guarantee and the other guarantees in our national health service, that has to be paid for. I believe that the country will make the choice in favour of maintaining and improving our public services, and I think that, once again, the Conservative party is exposed as the party that opposed public service improvements in our country.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab): Over the years there has been a continual drift away from direct taxes to indirect taxes, which, as the Prime Minister knows, bear most heavily on those who can least afford them. Does he agree that it is becoming time that we went back to the traditional Labour party policy on taxation, which is to redistribute wealth in favour of poorer people? I would like him to say in this general election that he will see direct taxation imposed on the billionaire rich, who should be carrying the real burden of taxation in this country.
The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend on one point, and that is the importance of tax credits, which have helped lower and middle-income people get out of poverty and secure their livelihood. [Interruption.] The Conservatives are not interested in tax credits. Six million families in this country receive tax credits. Twenty million children, mothers and fathers benefit from tax credits. One of the cuts that the Conservatives propose for this year is to cut child tax credits for middle-income families, which would do more to push people into lower-income groups than anything else. They should change their policy and help middle-income families in this country.
Q7.  Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Prime Minister once notoriously promised "British jobs for British workers". Can he confirm that the latest official figures, produced this morning, show that the number of UK-born private sector workers is several hundred thousand lower today than it was in 1997?
The Prime Minister: Net migration to this country has been falling as a result of actions that we have been taking, and it has fallen in the last three years. It is falling because there are more people here locally getting the jobs that are available. The Conservatives should think twice about their policy on quotas for migration, because the very businesses that they are quoting want to be able to bring people into this country to do the jobs that are necessary. We propose the Australian points system on migration. The Conservatives' policy of a quota for immigration, without giving a number, would do great damage to British business.
Q8.  Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op): As I know my right hon. Friend is aware, the past 10 years have seen an unprecedented increase in support for science and technology in this country, but will he agree that now is not the time to cut investment in science, research and education? For it is in these areas that we will ensure our future economic success and economic growth.
The Prime Minister: Record investment in education, record investment in universities, record investment in science in our country, record investment in new innovation in our country: that is the record of our Labour Government, and I am proud to tell people that we are the party that supports industry in this country.
Q9.  John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): Given the allegations surrounding Glasgow city council and the demands for an inquiry-I believe that the idea of an inquiry is supported by former leader Steven Purcell and Labour businessman Willie Haughey-will the Prime Minister support such an investigation, or is he afraid that there is something to hide?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman came down to this Parliament and he spent most of his time voting with the Conservative party. He should go back to Scotland and explain why, instead of voting for jobs, he is voting with the Conservative party in Parliament.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to make arrangements to reprocess spent nuclear fuel stored in the United Kingdom in order to meet non-proliferation objectives and to offset the decommissioning costs of major reprocessing facilities; and for connected purposes.
The Bill would promote the utilisation of the full nuclear fuel cycle and the facilities that underpin it in Britain, so that the costs to the taxpayer of nuclear decommissioning may be reduced, and the successful implementation of national and international nuclear non-proliferation objectives may be met.
Before beginning, I must point out that a number of my friends and family members work in the nuclear industry in my constituency, and that I am a former employee of the Sellafield nuclear plant, which sustains something in the region of 16,000 jobs in my constituency.
My Bill is designed to resolve some of the most important issues facing us, as a country, and some of the most important issues facing the British nuclear industry today. The Bill presents a series of policy solutions to certain complex and interconnected challenges that are currently before us. The complete resolution of all the issues outlined in the Bill will require interdepartmental co-operation in Whitehall and intergovernmental co-operation internationally. Fundamentally, however, the genesis of the solutions to these problems lies constitutionally and legally in Parliament, but technically and physically at Sellafield, in my constituency.
The Bill covers seven areas: the cost of nuclear decommissioning to the taxpayer; the potential of publicly owned nuclear facilities and materials to generate significant commercial revenue; the continuation of spent nuclear fuel reprocessing; the establishment of a new mixed oxide fuel manufacturing facility at Sellafield; the significant effect of that on the final radioactive waste inventory for the national deep geological depository; the management and governance of non-British radioactive materials in Britain; and, perhaps most importantly, the significant help that the proposals would give to our nuclear non-proliferation objectives.
The Government have taken the right decision on decommissioning this country's ageing nuclear facilities. The estimated decommissioning cost to the taxpayer now stands at about £80 billion. This estimate could increase or reduce as decommissioning continues, as new techniques are developed and as expertise from all over the world is brought to bear on what are in some cases internationally unique engineering challenges. It should be recognised that a large proportion-perhaps the majority-of these costs have been incurred through our military nuclear programmes and not through our civil ones, although in the past that dividing line has sometimes been obscured.
The creation of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority was an important and necessary step by the Government, and the relatively new body continues to do good work in my constituency and elsewhere around the UK. The
NDA recently announced its business plan for the new financial year. It has a budget of £2.8 billion, £1.5 billion of which will be spent at Sellafield. This is all public money, and the rise in spending since the creation of the NDA has been both dramatic and profound. By way of illustration, when I left Sellafield in 2005, its annual budget was just below £900 million. The fact that we need to spend £1.5 billion of public money at Sellafield in this financial year is beyond doubt and, in my view, non-negotiable. However, the principal question for any time-but even more so as we build economic recovery and emerge from recession-is whether all that money should come directly from the public purse. Is there not another or an additional way in which the money can be found? The answer is yes.
The potential of publicly owned nuclear facilities and materials to generate significant commercial revenue at Sellafield is enormous. The thermal oxide reprocessing plant, or THORP, at Sellafield is the single largest yen earner in the British economy. The plant is of vital strategic importance not only to the UK nuclear industry but to the UK as a whole, as it provides services that few facilities in the world can offer. Current reprocessing contracts at THORP-depending on operational performance-are scheduled to end in approximately 2020. THORP reprocesses spent nuclear fuel, separating out the reusable uranium and plutonium as oxides which are then capable of being made into mixed oxide-MOX-fuels.
As the nuclear industry expands across the globe-no one can now doubt the reality or speed of that expansion-the marketplace for the services that THORP can provide continues to grow. This is not a hypothetical marketplace; it exists now, and potential customers are showing genuine interest in pursuing the route that I am outlining. It is incumbent on us as a nation to extract every single penny of value from the facilities at Sellafield, such as THORP and the Sellafield MOX plant, which have been so heavily invested in by the British taxpayer. These facilities are enormous assets, and they can and should be used as income generators, and the derived income could and should be used to limit the decommissioning costs to the public purse. This is not just sensible; it is just, fair and in the public interest. There is therefore a copper-bottomed case for continuing reprocessing at THORP beyond 2020, and it is now in our interests aggressively to seek and pursue the commercial opportunities that exist.
In addition, there exist at Sellafield tens of thousands of tonnes of uranium dioxide and approximately 100 tonnes of plutonium oxide. Consultations are under way on how to classify these materials. Put simply, there is a stark choice to be made: the materials are either wastes or assets. If they are classified as wastes, it will cost billions of pounds of public money to treat, store and dispose of them. If, however, they are classified as assets-which they undeniably are-their value as component materials to service the growing international demand for MOX fuel will be enormous, and they will be worth tens of billions of pounds to the British taxpayer and to the nation.
There is real interest from certain parties in developing a new MOX fuel manufacturing plant at Sellafield, and this should be pursued in the national interest. Using plutonium and uranium oxides in that way would certainly change the nature of the radioactive waste inventory
that will eventually be placed into a deep geological facility somewhere in this country-potentially in my constituency. That decision would be entirely in the hands of local people, not politicians, but the status of the nuclear fuel cycle and the final inventory will inevitably have an effect on the process and on public attitudes.
So there is clearly an issue of definition with regard to British and non-British radioactive wastes. The definition is a simple one, and the legally binding substitution arrangements that Britain has with its overseas customers work well. This is a prescriptive and demanding process, and it should be so. However, such is the nature of the constitutional change experienced by this country that new draft arrangements should now be established for the management, storage and governance of the radioactive materials currently stored at Sellafield, in case the definition of Britain changes.
Clearly, as a British facility, Sellafield currently stores and treats materials that are generated within Scotland as part of the United Kingdom-and it has done so for many years. The arrangement works well. However, should the Scottish people opt to leave the United Kingdom-in my view, that is their inalienable right-these materials will cease to be classified as British. Such a move would mean that all Scottish radioactive waste stored and treated in Britain would have to be reclassified. Such a move would necessarily require new environmental, economic and policy arrangements. Potentially, all Scottish materials could have to be returned to Scotland at the cost of billions of pounds to the Scottish taxpayer. Such a move would probably require the creation of an independent Scottish Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, an independent Scottish regulator and an independent Scottish deep geological repository, and more.
Alternatively, Britain could enter into entirely new arrangements for Scotland and establish a commercial
arrangement whereby Scotland paid Britain for its waste to be treated and stored-again, at the cost of billions of pounds to the Scottish taxpayer, but again, the revenue could be used to accelerate decommissioning in Britain or to offset the costs to the British taxpayer.
There are many more scenarios, and I hope that officials from the Scottish Government and Whitehall can meet soon to discuss potential eventualities and to develop a mutual way forward. These issues must be addressed in a calm, rational and consensual manner. To this end, I have written to the Scottish First Minister in the hope that we can begin this dialogue.
Finally, the strengthening of the industrial base, which facilitates the nuclear fuel cycle in this country, provides us with the single best chance we have of not only meeting our own nuclear non-proliferation objectives, but helping others, particularly the United States, to meet theirs as well. The same skilled work force, academic base, industrial supply chain and industrial practices that will and should help us to exploit our nuclear fuel cycle technologies are the same as those that will help us to put nuclear weapons materials beyond use. We owe it to ourselves and to existing and future generations to do this, and we owe it to the taxpayers of this country to maximise every drop of value from the nuclear investments they have made. My constituents deserve nothing less.
That the following provisions shall have effect-
Sittings on 7 and 8 April: general
1. At the sittings today and tomorrow-
(1) any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour, and shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House;
(2) any Lords Amendments or Lords Message in respect of any Bill may be considered forthwith without any further Question being put;
(3) Standing Orders Nos. 83D to 83H and 83I(2), (3) and (6) (conclusion of proceedings, &c.) shall apply to proceedings to be taken in accordance with this Order (but with the omission of Standing Orders Nos. 83D(2)(c) and 83E(2)(c));
(4) notices of Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules to be moved in Committee on any Bill may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time; and
(5) Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.
Wednesday 7 April
2. At today's sitting the following business shall be brought to a conclusion (unless already concluded) at the time after its commencement shown in brackets at the end of each sub-paragraph-
(1) proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Bribery Bill [ Lords] (one hour);
(2) Committee of the whole House and remaining proceedings on the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [ Lords] (one hour);
(3) proceedings on the Motion in the name of Secretary Alan Johnson relating to the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2010 (one hour);
(4) proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill (one hour);
(5) any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the bringing in of an Appropriation Bill, presentation and First Reading of any Bill brought in in pursuance of that Motion and remaining proceedings on any such Bill, to which Standing Order No. 56 (Consolidated Fund Bills) shall apply (forthwith);
(6) Second Reading and remaining proceedings on the Finance Bill (three hours); and
(7) Committee of the whole House and remaining proceedings on the Digital Economy Bill [ Lords] (two hours).
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