Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

We are well aware of the important issues that the noble Baroness’s amendment raises around the resourcing of the nuclear inspectorate. We are continuing to make improvements in this area and can point to some substantial ones that have been made in recent months. We are making good progress on the generic design assessment process, which will be subject to regular reporting. We believe, therefore, that the existing methods of reporting, including answerability to Parliament, are adequate. I hope the noble Baroness will feel reassured sufficiently to withdraw her amendment.

4 pm

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I do not know what my noble friend is going to say, but that sounded like a fairly good response. However, do the Government appreciate the anxiety that will build up in Parliament over the next six years as power station after power station shuts down and people begin to realise the danger of the situation? It is easy to talk about the facts, and of course they have to be thought about, but the anxiety in Parliament will probably focus on the problems identified by the inspectorate. That is why this particular amendment pinpoints what will be a big problem. Do the Government understand just how urgent this is?

Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Baroness is right, but the Government would have to be living in a blind hermit’s cave not to recognise the increased interest in nuclear issues and the concern of the public. That is why the issue of the disposal of nuclear waste, for example, has been the subject of much debate in the press and the media generally. Given our programme for the closure of existing nuclear power stations, the public are aware of changes in the industry, and of course the development of new build will raise concerns. None of us is unaware of the fact that the nuclear industry promotes such anxieties and it behoves the Government to follow the pattern established by previous Administrations—after all, the nuclear programme existed for many decades before this Government—which is that the safety of the public is paramount in the design, commissioning, construction and maintenance of facilities, and of course in the legacy we inherit from existing reactors of nuclear waste that needs to be disposed of safely and satisfactorily. I recognise the validity of the points made by the noble Baroness and hope that in my response I have been able to give her some reassurance.

Baroness Wilcox: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for his very full answer. I am getting used to his very full answers—I have to listen carefully to see whether I have actually won anything along the way. We are all trying to achieve the same thing here. We want to get there safely, as quickly as we can and, I hope, in such a way that the general public do not feel excluded from the process. It is bad enough that more and more each day we feel that we are hostages to the rest of the world for our energy provision, so this amendment is one more way of trying to make sure that the Secretary of State would be required to report on progress so that we stay in the loop. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, talked about nervousness in

24 Jun 2008 : Column GC569

this regard and gave the amendment his qualified support, although perhaps not to the principle. With his great experience and expertise, my noble friend Lord Jenkin will contribute a great deal to our debates in Committee over the coming days. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer and my noble friend Lady Carnegy.

So much is going on in this area. We know about the Stern review and the interim reports, and I hear what the Minister says about collaborations with the French. In the midst of this tangled web of reporting, we will ask again and again for direct reporting and for things to be put in the Bill so that the people of this country, Her Majesty’s Government and the Opposition can see exactly what is going on and when, so that it is not too late. We have heard before and will hear again that we are in dangerous times.

I shall read exactly what the Minister has said, but it does not sound as if he is giving me anything I did not have before he stood up to speak. I shall withdraw the amendment, but not with any great joy.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 42 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: As we come to Chapter 1 in Part 3, I hope that it is in order if I ask the Minister a question which I asked at Second Reading, but to which I have not heard an answer from the Government. I would like to pursue it. Clause 101, the extent clause, states that this is the only part of the Bill that does not apply to Scotland. I understand that the reason is that the present Scottish Executive say they do not intend to allow any new nuclear power stations to be built in Scotland. They intend simply to refuse planning permission. Energy provision is, rightly, a Westminster matter, but under the Scotland Act, again rightly, planning is devolved to Holyrood.

The present Scottish Administration’s anti-nuclear stance is political, but it will not necessarily last for ever. A new Scottish Executive may want—indeed, they may find themselves impelled—to bring new nuclear power stations to Scotland. Even the present Executive may find that unavoidable. It seems not only sensible but properly responsible to include in the Bill now this provision for decommissioning and clean-up for the building of new nuclear power stations in Scotland, otherwise, if and when new nuclear build is back on the agenda in Scotland, new legislation will be required and vital time will be lost, when it is obvious that the situation is likely to be increasingly urgent.

I am not clear whether we at Westminster are free to make this change, or whether the Scottish Parliament would have to agree to it first. Under the Scotland Act, energy generation and health and safety are reserved to Westminster and environmental matters are devolved. Can the Minister tell the Committee where responsibility for this part of the Bill lies, as far as Scotland is concerned? I suspect it is, as it were, a hybrid part of the Bill—there are elements of both. It is important that we know that.

If responsibility is with Holyrood, that Parliament would have to pass a so-called Sewel motion to agree that we at Westminster should change the Bill now. It

24 Jun 2008 : Column GC570

might well be that it would want to do that, given that there is a minority Administration who can be defeated on a vote. I note that the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, is with us and he may have something to say about this which would be very interesting. I would be grateful if the Minister could cast light on the position. It is a pretty important matter which could become very urgent, and if we cannot change the Bill now, it would seem highly irresponsible of all concerned. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan: I could not resist the opportunity to rise after the noble Baroness’s remarks. In the first instance, the separatist Administration at Holyrood want to pick a fight on energy in any way that they see fit. It is a question of political judgment as to whether or not we respond at any time—by “we”, I mean Westminster—and whether it is appropriate at the moment. One of the failures of the Scotland Act is that we left opportunities for the frustration of the execution of reserve powers to the Parliament by means of legislation that does not relate to the functions that might be exercised.

One could say that defence of the realm is a UK responsibility, but were we to seek to improve the facilities for the nuclear submarine fleet at Holy Loch, we might well find that that would be contrary to the separatist Administration’s interpretation of the planning legislation. One must consider the matter from a number of standpoints. In the short term, on the construction of new nuclear power stations, it is fair to say that Hunterston B will not be ready for decommissioning until the middle of the next decade and Torness will at the earliest be in about 2019-20. Whether or not Scotland requires two additional nuclear power stations or whether it requires two reactors of, let us say, 2,000 megawatts in total, is not for us to pass judgment on. It is for us to exercise our political judgment on whether we want to pick a fight on such an issue at this time.

One area has not been given anything like sufficient attention. That is the waste currently lying in Chapelcross station in the south-west of Scotland, just off the M74 and almost within sight of the English border—for that matter, probably as close to Sellafield as any nuclear installation in the country. It would be a toss-up between Heysham in Morecambe Bay and that station. There is waste there; there is concern about whether it should be stored there in perpetuity or whether it should be treated at the appropriate place—and certainly taken to Sellafield for storage.

At the moment, nothing is happening because of the anti-nuclear posturing of the separatist Administration. That is an issue, but, again, is it worth a fight? Those of us who—like the noble Baroness, I am sure—read the Scottish press at the weekend know that every weekend there is an energy press release from the Administration. Every third weekend, it is anti-nuclear. One is invariably about Scotland's oil; another is about anything in general relating to energy; the third is anti-nuclear. I am genuinely at a loss to know whether it would be desirable to pick a fight at this time. We should be looking at revisiting the devolution settlement and preventing the planning legislation being

24 Jun 2008 : Column GC571

used in a vexatious fashion to undermine the legitimate authority of Westminster in areas relating to defence and energy in the round.

I have responded to the challenge, but I am not sure whether the Government need to act at present. There are fights that are worth having right away and others for which we would be better waiting for a little longer. One problem in Scotland is that we have not dealt with the need for additional nuclear power in a sufficiently aggressive manner. We have allowed the debate to be dominated by assorted well intentioned tree huggers and malign separatists. The issue requires rather more vigorous attention than it has yet received.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: The noble Lord used the word “posturing” to describe the attitude of the present Government—as they like to be called—in Scotland. That word carries with it certain pejorative connotations; I wonder whether he really meant that.

Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan: That was exactly what I meant.

Lord Redesdale: On that point, did the noble Lord mean “tree huggers” as a description of all those people who are anti-nuclear in a pejorative way?

Lord Palmer: The words of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, are extremely important. I was frightened to hear the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, talking about a fight. My views about the Scottish Executive are well known, certainly on the Floor of the Chamber. The last thing in the world that anybody would want is a fight between Westminster and Edinburgh on the subject of defence or fuel, but we are in a serious position long term looking at our fuel security. I support very strongly what the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, said. I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, that a fight between Edinburgh and Westminster is certainly the last thing I would want, living just 10 miles inside Scotland.

4.15 pm

Lord Bach: I hardly dare venture into this debate. I will try to be as brave as I can. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, for raising this issue and for doing so with her usual courtesy. She was kind enough to write me a note about this. My officials have seen it and I hope that my response will be satisfactory, even if the issue is not satisfactory.

Devolved matters are waste disposal, environmental discharges and planning. Reserved matters are safety, electricity generation in the broad sense and nuclear security. It is important to get that straight at the start. Given the energy challenges that we face in the United Kingdom and the role that we believe nuclear power stations should and will play in meeting them, it is of course regrettable that the provisions in this chapter do not apply to Scotland. The UK Government’s position is that should the view of the Scottish Executive towards new nuclear power stations change, we will seek to apply these provisions as soon as possible. But not daring to go into the difficult, not to say dangerous, world of Scottish politics, I have to say that I am not

24 Jun 2008 : Column GC572

as confident as the noble Baroness that any vote in the Scottish Parliament would necessarily lead to the result that she thinks, because the party that makes up the Executive in Scotland at the moment is not the only party that is opposed to a nuclear future. I have to make that point, although I do not know how it will turn out on the night, as they say.

It is established that some aspects of the clauses that we are considering relate to the disposal of radioactive waste, and the disposal of radioactive waste in Scotland is a devolved matter. Therefore, to apply these clauses in Scotland, as the noble Baroness rightly said, would require a legislative consent motion named after my noble friend Lord Sewel. The Scottish Executive have made it clear that, given their opposition towards new nuclear, that consent would not, to put it mildly, be forthcoming.

It may have been possible to gain that consent if the UK Government had been willing to dilute the powers in the forthcoming legislation. However, frankly, we are not willing to dilute the robust level of taxpayer protection that these provisions provide just in order to gain that agreement. Furthermore, as the Scottish Executive has made clear again, under devolved powers, any application to build a new nuclear power station in Scotland would require consent from Scottish Ministers under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989. The Scottish Executive is on record as saying that any proposal from the industry to build a new power station would need to be considered on its individual merits. However, the Scottish Executive have also said that it is unlikely that proposals for the industry for new nuclear generation would find favour with the Scottish Government. As I said, should the policy change, we would seek the agreement of the Scottish Parliament to extend this legislation at the earliest opportunity. The noble Baroness should know that we in government share the same frustration that she and the other speakers in this short debate in Committee made clear.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I thank those who joined in on this short discussion. It is extremely reassuring to know that the present Government in Westminster have drafted the Bill in that way not because that is how they want it but because they feel that they cannot do otherwise.

I was a little depressed by what the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, said. He knows a thing or two. I listened to him with great care. He spoke about nuclear power in Scotland as if it applied just to Scotland. Everyone in Scotland wants the Scottish economy to grow; I doubt that anybody does not want to export energy—I am sure that the noble Lord does. To say that because we have two nuclear power stations we may not want to replace them is pretty bland. I rather hoped that we might have a number of nuclear power stations in Scotland, for which we are eminently well placed. I hope that the noble Lord does not really feel that Scotland has to be singled out in this way. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for what he said. I am a little discouraged: I hoped that it might be possible to make the change. It may still be possible, but I have not done the sums about how a vote would go. I just hope that the Liberal Democrats may recover

24 Jun 2008 : Column GC573

from their surprising point of view, because it is very anti-Scotland. Scotland cannot survive in this way. I am grateful to the Minister for what he said.

Clause 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 [Approval of a programme]:

Baroness Wilcox moved Amendment No. 42:

“( ) the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and( ) any relevant local authority.”

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 43, 44 and 45. All the amendments in this group relate to different aspects of consultation on nuclear decommissioning programmes.

Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 are designed to specify who should be considered as an “interested body” during consultation on the approval of the programme. It is sensible to include in the Bill provision for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to be consulted. We understand that the NDA might play a role in any event and that it reports directly to the Secretary of State. However, specific inclusion would enshrine in law what might be intended as matter of course. We also feel strongly that the relevant local authorities should be consulted. Decommissioning programmes have the potential to have enormous impacts on them.

Amendment No. 44 would make a similar change to Clause 46 and include the local authority among those organisations invited to make representations about proposals to modify a nuclear decommissioning programme. It seems good practice to include the local authority before programmes are approved and formal submissions on changes to a programme are made.

The final amendment in this group would extend the consultation on guidance to include the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and any relevant local authority. The impact of a programme on the local community could be wide-ranging—on transport, for example. The effects would best be understood by those in the local authority, who might be helpful in pointing out local concerns that would otherwise have been missed by centrally imposed guidance. I beg to move.

Lord Redesdale: We support the amendment on the basis that local communities will be involved through the local authority. One of the problems with the privatisation of many of the companies with which we are concerned is that there do not seem to be many access points to long-term decisions, and we cannot get a great deal more long term than nuclear waste because it will be with us for generations to come. Therefore, I hope that the Government will add local authorities to the Bill, because it may make the process much more acceptable to local communities. Sellafield is very popular locally because of the jobs associated with it, but if storage were to take place in other places, one would have to make sure that the local population was happy with the situation. One of the most important aspects of that is ensuring that decision-making is inclusive and that information is spread through local authorities.

24 Jun 2008 : Column GC574

Lord Bach: These amendments have been grouped together because, if accepted, each of them would place additional statutory consultation requirements on the Secretary of State in relation to this part of the Bill.

The purpose of a funded decommissioning programme is to ensure that the operator sets out the steps to decommission the power station and to manage and dispose of the waste that is produced. The programme will also have to contain the information that sets out the estimates for the costs of those activities and how those costs will be accrued.

As the Bill stands, in discharging his responsibilities in relation to a programme, the Secretary of State is required to consult with the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency in England and Wales and the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland, where appropriate, prior to making a decision about whether to approve or reject a programme or propose a modification to a programme or prior to making regulations or publishing guidance.

The purpose of the duty on the Secretary of State to consult with the interested parties is to ensure that a programme submitted for approval or any subsequent modification conforms to the safety and environmental requirements of the relevant regulatory body. The parties I have named have expertise in relation to nuclear safety, security and environmental matters. It is also to ensure that any decision that the Secretary of State might make—for example, to impose certain conditions or additional obligations or, equally, to issue guidance—does not adversely affect the existing regulatory structures for the nuclear energy sector. For example, it might not be helpful for the Secretary of State to approve a modification to a programme submitted by an operator that would not be acceptable, say, on environmental grounds to the Environment Agency.

I shall briefly set out how the various bodies referred to in the noble Baroness’s amendments are already involved in any potential new nuclear build, how their relationship to the provisions in this section of the Bill is different from that of the interested bodies and why, because of this, I am unable to support these amendments. I am going to talk about each body in turn, rather than speak to each individual amendment.

The amendments that concern local authorities would require the Secretary of State to consult with them when exercising his duties. We believe that they add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to the Bill’s provisions and would not enhance the level of scrutiny given to funded decommissioning programmes. We do not believe that local authorities always have the competence to assess the technical or financial content of funded decommissioning programmes, especially given that the primary focus of these provisions is about ensuring that appropriate financial security is put aside to decommission the power station and clean up the site on which it stood. In our mind, such a statutory requirement would simply place further burdens on already pretty burdened local authorities. These additional burdens would result from the local authority—on occasion, certainly, if not on the majority of occasions—having to seek external advice on the detailed content of the programme in order for it to engage in a meaningful way with the whole process.

24 Jun 2008 : Column GC575

Of course, we recognise the enormous experience that local authorities have in the field of planning and their role in assessing the impact of infrastructure projects on the local community and representing those interests through the planning process. However, there is a difference between these roles and the roles performed by the interested bodies that are more closely affected by decisions made by the Secretary of State under the nuclear provisions in the Bill.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page