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Lord Ezra: My Lords, I support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. There is a social connotation to the work of the NDA. It reminds me of a problem that we had to face in the coal industry when I was directly involved in it. We started off by considering that it was our task to run the industry and that if we had to close pits for good and sufficient reason, the social implications would have to be borne by other agencies of government. However, we soon realised that that was an inadequate response. We had to set up our own body and with our knowledge of the localities involved we had to see whether we could find alternative employment for those who unfortunately were deprived of their livelihood through our actions, justified as they may have been.

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I have great sympathy with the amendment, and I believe that the NDA should have a wider social responsibility which spells out more clearly what is implied in the Bill. The amendment spells it out in a way that I consider to be wholly desirable. Therefore, I hope that the Minister can accept the amendment.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Jopling and the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. If, like me, one lives within sight of Chapelcross, one knows that such a closure after virtually 50 years' operation has a catastrophic impact on the local community. I know that that will equally be so in west Cumbria and at Sellafield, where I have often visited.

I would like clarification from the Government about where we stand on support for the community. At Second Reading, I raised the issue with the Government. In response the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said:

    "I referred earlier specifically to west Cumbria, where there is a heavy dependence on the nuclear industry. However, that applies also to the north of Scotland and, as far as the noble Lord, Lord Monro, is concerned, to the economic area around Chapelcross".—[Official Report, 11/12/03; col. 920.]

I want to know who will be responsible for funding that support. Will it be done through the task force or, in respect of Dounreay and Chapelcross and later our other nuclear stations in Scotland, is it to be done through the Scottish Executive? It is notoriously true that co-operation between the Government at Westminster and the Scottish Executive is pretty fragile and often non-existent. What the Government here say will happen just does not happen in relation to Scotland, or they use the Sewel rules which allow them to put through a motion in the Scottish Executive without it being fully debated. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, can give the House an idea of how much support the community will receive from the NDA. Is it to be funded entirely from London, or will it be supported in Scotland by the Scottish Executive?

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is correct. In west Cumbria and in Dumfries, the nuclear industry has worked extremely well with the community—there is the very best of relationships. As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, they were fostered by the late Sir Christopher Harding most effectively. It would be tragic if the skilled workforce of 400-plus at Chapelcross were put out to grass with no jobs to go to. I know that there are bound to be jobs in the NDA and in the decommissioning procedure, but by and large the industry has been a source of employment for skilled people with university degrees, and such jobs have provided rare opportunities in rural areas such as Dumfries and Galloway.

I hope that the Minister can give the House some encouragement and support for the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Jopling. It has been tabled with the very best of intentions to help areas of high unemployment when the plants are decommissioned.

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The support that is to be provided at Dounreay and to west Cumbria will substantially be available to the other power station areas as well.

Lord Gray of Contin: My Lords, I want to associate myself with what my noble friends Lord Jopling and Lord Monro have said. To some extent, decommissioning has already started at Dounreay. The cleaning-up has taken place and many people who were previously employed there have been re-employed, which is all to the good. I hope that the same will be achieved in other parts of the country. It is no surprise that those who have not experienced any of this yet are a little apprehensive about what may lie ahead.

The amendment is a very good one. It spells out clearly what is expected. I reiterate what my noble friend Lord Monro said: the relationship between the present authority and the local communities in the various Scottish cases has been very good in every case, particularly at Dounreay, which is the one that I know best. The relationship there has been excellent and the progress made so far has been very encouraging indeed. I am not suggesting for one moment that these standards will not be continued, but it is essential that they are maintained and, where possible, even improved upon.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, covered the subject very adequately. I merely want to register my total support for what he said.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, we, too, support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Jopling and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who is unable for very serious reasons to be with us today. I know that my noble friend Lord Jenkin is sorry that he could not be here because he would have liked to have spoken in support of the amendment.

I have listened very carefully to what has been said. The truth is that my noble friend Lord Jopling made a wonderful introduction and covered most of the points that could be covered. I would have to dig deep to find another reason to support the amendment because he has covered them all. I was very impressed with the point that he raised in relation to the reply given to the earlier amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Davies. He pointed out that the Minister made great play of the fact that the role of the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency is first to decommission and then to clean up. Frankly, that says it all. It was the most attractive part, in a sense, of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, which I felt was very unattractive in parts.

I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Monro and Lord Gray for the way in which they referred to their local interests. Again, I cannot add to anything they have said. They covered the issue of local knowledge and they know what is going on. It was interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, spoke about his experiences in the coal industry and how it had a duty to clean up and help the social fabric of an area when coal was no longer the predominant industry there.

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With those few remarks, we strongly support these two most important amendments.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Jopling has fully explained the reasons for moving the amendment. I do not wish to repeat what he said—it was very clearly put—but perhaps I may ask one or two questions directly of the Minister.

I spoke at Report stage on this issue, where the answer I received from the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, was that it would be the responsibility of the regional development agencies. What progress has been made, if any? Have the regional development agencies accepted this responsibility and what plans do they have to discharge it?

I understand that the NDA has a limited provision of 2 billion, which it will obviously use for the whole of its work. How much of that, if any, does it anticipate setting aside to achieve the aims of my noble friend? Clearly there will not be a pot of money on which to draw at the last minute. I imagine that certain facilities will have to be made in advance; if so, what are those? My noble friend said that he is apprehensive that sufficient funding has been made available. Can the Minister clarify that point?

At Report stage, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said:

    "I have not the slightest doubt that a great deal more needs to be done . . . But there we have an indication of work in progress with encouraging results. We will want to build on that experience as regards West Cumbria".

Perhaps the Minister can share his thoughts with us because I certainly have not had any response—I do not know whether other noble Lords have—since that time.

Later the Minister went on to say:

    "This is in the early stages preparation, but it will be in place before the NDA takes up its responsibilities for sites in April 2005".—[Official Report, 18/3/04; col. 445.]

That is all well and good, but the amendment moved so ably by my noble friend seeks more than that. I hope that at this stage of the Bill—this is the last chance we have—the Minister will answer these direct questions.

From the feed-back that I have received of the demands that are made on the RDAs, they may be apprehensive that they will be charged with doing something for which they do not have a specific allocation of funds. I urge the Minister, if he can, to reply to that point when he responds to my noble friend.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is clear from our earlier discussions that the Government are conscious of the kind of problems that have been outlined, particularly in relation to the west Cumbria area, where BNFL has historically played a major role, and in the other areas of the UK to which reference has been made, including Dounreay and elsewhere. BFNL has played a significant role in the community and has done so without even the

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statutory provisions already in the Bill, let alone the wider-sweeping changes to the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. Unlike BNFL and the UKAEA, the NDA will continue to have an active role in supporting and encouraging activities and initiatives, bringing forward social and economic benefits to the communities in which they have operated.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, was good enough to recognise that there are significant powers within the Bill for the NDA to do so. Clause 9 refers to giving encouragement to social and economic benefits to local communities. That is not an optional extra; it is clearly part of its powers. It refers also to environmental benefits—which are less evident in these amendments—under Clause 12, which was inserted during an earlier stage of the Bill. It has responsibilities and requirements in relation to the skilled workforce under Clause 11. As to the driving forward of the clean-up operations, there is a requirement under Clause 14 that this must contain proposals for supporting local communities, maintaining a skilled workforce and so on.

The annual plan of the NDA will have to cover and report on these various areas. Certainly support for local communities will be a significant issue and will be subject to ministerial approval.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, referred, as did others, to the task force which has been set up in West Cumbria and the memorandum of understanding with the West Cumbrian authorities, led by the North West Development Agency. That agency is therefore a positive participant in this and the area is already a priority for the north-west regional strategy, bringing together regional stakeholders, public authorities and various companies, maximising the effect of the various relevant funding streams. Many millions of pounds have been made available through such measures.

Given that background and given the commitment of the NDA and its predecessor bodies to the communities, I am not convinced that we need any further amendments along the lines of those proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. There has been a significant partnership between the pre-existing organisations, the RDAs and the local authorities and there are very substantial powers within the Bill. But the way in which the amendments are phrased would take that significantly further and do not sit very well with the overall responsibilities of the NDA.

For example, Amendment No. 4 links government policies with the NDA's contracting arrangements. It implies that the social and economic benefits locally are more important than any other policies the Government may have in respect of nuclear clean-up. That is not a sensible approach. Clearly it is one of many responsibilities, but the environmental outcome, the speed and efficiency of clean-up, the way in which we deal with the workforce and so on must all be part of those responsibilities. That is part of the contract and it is the responsibility of the NDA rather than the Government, as Amendment No. 4 suggests.

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I do not think the language of Amendment No. 4 is right either when it refers to the NDA having a responsibility to optimise the social and economic life of the community. I do not believe that, however dominant individual employers may be in an area, they can be given that kind of responsibility for the future of their communities. Indeed, in some ways, it would be very unhealthy for that to happen. That is why we have brought into the plan for west Cumbria and elsewhere not only a range of public authorities but also other private sector employers. I think that that is the right approach rather than placing a strategic obligation on the NDA, while recognising that the NDA will be a driving force and will provide resources to deliver those local benefits.

Amendment No. 6 is even more seriously wrong. It suggests that the Secretary of State might withhold a grant to the NDA should it be considered that the NDA is not doing enough to support local communities. Let us think about the balance: the essential task of the NDA is nuclear clean-up—a very delicate and difficult task. The NDA is under certain obligations and has certain powers beyond those obligations to deal with local and social issues, but should a future government decide that the NDA was wanting in one particular respect in delivering that, is it really sensible that the government should deprive it of funds in order to carry out its core task? Amendment No. 6 would provide a very substantial and unnecessary power which the combination of the NDA with regional and local authorities to deliver social, economic and environmental benefits will not need in carrying out the kind of objectives which noble Lords have urged on us.

The Bill as it stands provides significant obligations on the NDA to engage in that. The action of government in bringing what will be the NDA together with others to deliver support for those communities, together with the obligations in the Bill on the NDA, will deliver what people want.

As for who will be involved, in England the RDA will be a major partner, as will local authorities and others. In Scotland, the major partners will be the Scottish Development Agency and Scottish local authorities, with the general guidance of the Scottish Executive. They have responsibility for regeneration in Scotland and will partner the NDA in this regard.

The noble Lord, Lord Monro, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked what moneys will be available. It is not possible to say how much money would come from the NDA in this regard when we do not know with which sites it will be dealing in a period of operation that will last for many decades. Contributions would come from other funding streams as well as from the NDA by a combination of measures, probably led by the public sector, but also levering in other private sector moneys to create a healthy economic and social base for those communities. Therefore, with regret, I do not think it is possible for me to respond to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Monro, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. Clearly, there will

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be a responsibility on the NDA to provide such resources as will be appropriate to the impact of its activities on particular communities over the years. It is not possible for me to say today how much money or what proportion of NDA funds will be available for that purpose.

We all recognise the importance of the relationship between the NDA and the local communities in which it operates and is, in some cases, the dominant employer, directly or indirectly. However, I think the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has phrased his amendments goes too far. Amendment No. 6, in particular, provides a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Important though that nut is, such a provision would interfere with the central purpose of the NDA.

I therefore hope that with the commitment from the Government and the existing commitment in the Bill on the NDA's role in this regard, the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to press his amendment.

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