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29 Oct 2007 : Column 1216

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I am not aware of any such grand design emerging at this stage. We live in hope that by 10 December there will be progress, but we have made it clear to all our European partners that if a new agreement that is acceptable to all parties does not emerge, the proposals of President Ahtisaari remain by far the best way forward in our view.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the Minister says that we live in hope, which of course we all do. Given that between the two sides the choice is Serbia’s offer of very broad autonomy and the Ahtisaari plan—supported by many people in Kosovo—of internationally supervised independence, it does not seem to the outsider that these things are endlessly and for ever apart. While I appreciate that there has to be a report by the troika to the UN on 10 December, is not the secret of going forward to think in terms of a series of meetings and to make time our ally? With time, these two positions can be reconciled. The tiny Serbian minorities can be reassured that they will not be slaughtered and we can see at last a way forward for these unhappy people. Could we voice that sort of opinion within our role in the EU and within the troika, which will report?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that time is important, but we feel that we have given a lot of time to this process, and without a deadline for people to confirm their final point of view, the discussion could go on endlessly. Having said that, the reason I expressed the sentiment that we live in hope is precisely because of what the noble Lord says. In fact, the differences between the two positions are not as extreme as they might appear on first encounter between a high degree of autonomy and a managed independence, which nevertheless protects the rights of the Serbian minorities and ensures through the participation of the European Union in those arrangements that those rights are guaranteed. We still hope that reason will prevail and a solution will be found before 10 December.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, have Her Majesty’s Government managed to discern any Russian national interest at stake, which might justify the threats that the Russian Government have frequently made to veto the Ahtisaari plan?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that it is rather hard to understand precisely what is driving the degree of Russian opposition here, particularly because at a recent meeting—on 27 September—in New York, chaired by the Foreign Secretary, Russia clearly expressed itself as committed to both finding a solution and acknowledging that the current situation was unsustainable.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we are all aware that this has implications for Serbian domestic politics as well as for the future of Kosovo. Some of us have been lobbied by moderate Serbian politicians not to push them too far because of the long-term implications. Given that long-term peace in the region depends on future economic, social and political

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co-operation between Kosovo and Serbia, what efforts are Her Majesty’s Government making to persuade the more rational elements of Serbian politics that a settlement within a time limit is in their interests as well as everyone else’s?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord and others who have spoken that we have impressed upon the Kosovars themselves that they should not get ahead of the international community’s timeline. We will have to take stock of what happens on December 10 and the way forward; we want to avoid any precipitate declarations by any side about this.

As for the Serbians, we have insisted that there are economic gains in their improved and future relations with Europe. Equally, however, we must be realistic that, for Serbians, this is the ultimate red line in the sand, a further reduction and dismantling of their former country. It is therefore enormously hard to find economic incentives matching the political loss which they feel they will encounter.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen: My Lords, before I ask my noble friend about relations between NATO and the European Union and future security arrangements in Kosovo, for the sake of propriety I must say that I am the chairman of Cable & Wireless International which operates a mobile phone service in Kosovo through one of its subsidiary companies. However, on Brussels and the relationship between NATO and the EU, are there still frustrating bottlenecks in discussions about a possible transfer of the security authorities, occasioned by the problems associated with NATO/EU relations given the situation in Cyprus and with Turkey?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my noble friend is an expert on EU/NATO relations and their frustrations. I hesitate to offer him an answer which goes way beyond my own competence on this point, yet nowhere near his own. If he will forgive me, I will resist giving him an answer now but will look into it and come back to him.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, parallel to the pursuit of peace in Kosovo, there is the question of whether the EU is going to conclude an association agreement with Serbia and insist on conditionality in co-operation with the Hague Tribunal, notably in the capture of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. Can the Minister assure us that there will be no linkage of these two things such that Serbia is let off the hook of the capture of those war criminals for its co-operation with a settlement in Kosovo?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the need for the capture of the war criminals has been a public part of the EU’s diplomacy with Serbia for a long time. There is not likely to be any change on that. Serbia gets the message that these are different aspects of its sad history which must be cleared up before its relationship with Europe can proceed to the next step.

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European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) (Republic of Tajikistan) Order 2007

3.23 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 10 July be approved. 24th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 23 October.—(Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Civil Enforcement of Parking Contraventions (England) Representations and Appeals Regulations 2007

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Crawley on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 24 July be approved. 26th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 23 October.—(Lord Grocott.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Traffic Management Permit Scheme (England) Regulations 2007

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Crawley on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19 July be approved. 25th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 23 October.—(Lord Grocott).

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Criminal Defence Service (Very High Cost Cases) Regulations 2007

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19 July be approved. 25th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 23 October.—(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Energy: Radioactive Waste Management (S&T Report)

3.25 pm

The Earl of Selborne rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Radioactive Waste Management: An Update (4th Report, HL Paper 109).

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I move the Motion in the place of the noble Lord, Lord Broers, the chairman of the Select Committee, who is unable to be present today.

This is the fourth time that the committee has returned to the subject of radioactive waste management. The first report was produced in 1999 by a sub-committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs. We benefited greatly by his co-option on to this inquiry, together with the noble Lords, Lord Flowers and Lord Oxburgh, and my noble friend Lord Jenkin, all of whom have a great deal of expertise in this subject going back a long time. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, and my noble friend are participating in today’s debate.

The 1999 report concluded that phased disposal in a deep geological repository was the most feasible and desirable method for dealing with radioactive waste. It called for the establishment of a new, statutory body with responsibility for developing an overarching and comprehensive implementation strategy, and recommended that implementation proposals should be subject to explicit endorsement by Parliament at regular intervals.

After four years’ delay, the Government appointed in 2003 the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) to review the options and make recommendations. CoRWM duly reported in July 2006. We welcomed this report as it broadly echoed and developed the recommendations we came to seven years earlier. It particularly stressed that a suitable site could only be determined by a combination of geological criteria and by a participative process in which potential host communities could have full confidence. Much of the trouble we have got into has been the result of an obvious lack of suitably and properly structured participative processes.

The key difference between CoRWM's recommendations and our 1999 recommendations is that we would have established an independent body outside government control which would have been established by primary legislation and would have required explicit endorsements by Parliament at regular intervals. CoRWM recommended an independent body to oversee implementation, but did not recommend either a statutory basis or accountability to Parliament. As we say in paragraph 1.6 of our report, CoRWM's proposals, although not inconsistent with our own, were in certain important respects watered down.

The Government's response to the report in October 2006, which broadly accepted CoRWM's advice, diluted the recommendation to establish an independent overseeing body still further. The Government decided to give responsibility for the implementation of radioactive waste management to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority under its responsibilities derived from the

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Energy Act 2004. CoRWM's successor will be constituted as an independent advisory board. That will be the new CoRWM.

We are firmly persuaded that this dilution of successive recommendations is not the way to build up public trust. Radioactive waste management is a difficult and controversial area of energy policy. Past efforts to resolve the issue of legacy waste disposal have been tainted by secrecy, leading to an erosion of public confidence. The Government's decision is likely to lead to increasing the potential for conflict and confusion in the institutional arrangements. The Energy Act does not explicitly mention geological disposal. If the Government cannot accept our original proposal for a single independent body with responsibility for overseeing the entire programme, scrutinising and holding to account key players on behalf of Parliament, then, as we say in paragraph 2.18 of our report, at least they should accept CoRWM's advice, watered down though it is, to set up an independent overseeing body. Given the division of responsibilities between the Government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the regulators, it is critical that the remit, responsibilities and lines of accountability of the key players in the programme are clear and transparent. The committee struggled to understand the “alphabet soup” of responsible organisations.

We do not dispute that the terms of the Energy Act are sufficiently broad—indeed, some would say vague—to allow the NDA to undertake this function without amendment to legislation. However, vagueness is not enough. The Act does not appear to have been drafted with these extended responsibilities in mind, and we are not aware that the role of the NDA in geological disposal has ever been debated or endorsed by Parliament. Therefore, to achieve that, we recommend in paragraph 2.41 that the Energy Act be amended to reflect the changing nature of the NDA's responsibilities.

We refer to the new role of the CoRWM—now reconstituted in an advisory capacity—in paragraphs 2.49 to 2.71. In paragraph 2.50, we quote the Government’s insistence that,

We recently met the new Minister, Phil Woolas MP, and we were encouraged to hear that our recommendation has led to CoRWM’s terms of reference being strengthened to include the statement that the Government will respond to all substantive advice.

On the point of scrutiny, we recommend in paragraph 2.62 that the new CoRWM should have a clearly defined and authoritative role in scrutinising geological disposal strategy and development. The terms of reference set out that CoRWM’s primary task is to provide independent scrutiny on the radioactive waste disposal programme. There is a danger that the term “scrutiny” will be interpreted differently by different people. The chairman of NDA, when asked what he understood scrutiny to mean in this context, told us that he imagined,

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That seems a very limited concept of scrutiny. In paragraph 2.68, we call for the relationship between the new CoRWM and the NDA to be clarified to avoid confusion leading to a lack of confidence in the integrity of the scrutiny CoRWM is intended to deliver.

As our committee has been critical of the years that it took Government to determine a radioactive waste disposal policy, we obviously welcome the progress that is now being made, but would caution against undue haste. The public must have confidence in the quality of the science, the scrutiny, the regulation and, above all, the opportunities for public dialogue and participation. Much will depend on the right mix of skills and expertise in the membership of CoRWM under its chair designate, Professor Robert Pickard, whose appointment we welcome.

Lastly, we refer to the need to ensure the supply of the specialist nuclear skills required for the long-term geological disposal programme. An expert workshop held at the University of Loughborough highlighted the significant decline in the nuclear skills base. The meeting called for a nuclear skills renaissance to revitalise the skills base in this sector. We have serious concerns that without such a rebuilding of our nuclear skills capacity, the radioactive waste management programme would be at risk and public confidence in the programme would be impossible to maintain. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Radioactive Waste Management: An Update (4th Report, HL Paper 109).—(The Earl of Selborne.)

3.34 pm

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, I speak in support of the report of the Science and Technology Committee. Nuclear waste is an essential part of restarting the UK nuclear energy programme. I declare an interest as a member of the stakeholder advisory group of EDF Energy, but my remarks are entirely my own.

The report makes some welcome points, particularly about the need for an independent body to advise and scrutinise on behalf of the Government, Parliament and the public about these issues of nuclear waste, and, in particular, the geological places to store it. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response on the report.

The report recommends setting up a nuclear research and development facility. It is essential that both bodies have broader terms of reference than envisaged in the report and will be able to explore widely all the scientific and engineering aspects. At the moment it is almost impossible in the UK, even in scientific and engineering meetings, to hear about the wide range of technologies and policies for nuclear energy and waste processing being considered by independent and government experts in the United States, France, Russia, China and even the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Indeed, the only place where some of these issues can be raised seems to be in the House of Lords and published in Hansard. For example, correspondence with the leading French expert was refused by Nature, New Scientist and all the UK national newspapers,

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even though these are openly available in the bulletins of the American Physical Society, the IAEA in Vienna, and so on.

The issue that the UK establishment—here I exclude Hansard—wishes to suppress is the fact that nuclear waste does not need to be stored for tens of thousands of years in geological repositories. That is only one possibility. However, temporary storage is certainly highly necessary to start our nuclear programme, and probably necessary there for many tens of years. But, as my noble friend Lord Sainsbury explained to this House, which many Members have forgotten, on 5 June 2006 in his reply to my Question,

a UK authority—

The implication of this reply on behalf of the department is that one should not preclude the possibility that in future such technologies will be available, and therefore the form of temporary storage in geological repositories should bear that in mind. There is no reference to that in this report or in any other official document that I have seen.

Officials in the United States and France talk openly of the possibility of reusing uranium nuclear waste over timescales of hundreds of years when the resources of uranium may well have to be used more efficiently. India, China and Russia are actively looking into those issues. In my discussions in Parliament I have found that no one knows about these possibilities. Some colleagues, indeed, have said—in one case after the intervention of my noble friend Lord Sainsbury—that if these future scenarios were explained they would have a more positive view of nuclear energy. So I urge the committee, the Government and the UK scientific and engineering establishment to join the world discussion and to participate much more fully at IAEA in Vienna where it seems that the UK is represented by diplomats and officials—quite rightly—dealing with very difficult issues; but it should be a major forum where these future strategies and scenarios are considered. They should be thinking the unthinkable about future fission and fusion energy cycles, some of which were proposed by UK Nobel Prize winners as long ago as 1945. Then we could perhaps begin to have a debate about genuinely sustainable policies and practices for nuclear programmes. Using our geological storage over the next decades would be just the beginning of the stage.

My experience is that having a longer term vision, which many other countries do, will help the debate and the decisions, as opposed to these discussions about what are we going to do this month, next month or a few months ahead. We must raise our perspective on this. I believe that that will help the political debate.

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3.39 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I speak as a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee, although I was not involved in the initial report on the management of radioactive nuclear waste back in 1999, and only peripherally involved in the 2004 report which was under way when I joined the committee in 2004. So this report is the only one with which I have been personally involved.

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