Nuclear Safeguards Bill

Ed spoke in parliament today in the debate on the Nuclear Safeguards Bill in support of the Bill and to highlight the importance of Euratom.

Ed Vaizey:

I cannot support the amendments, although I have a great deal of sympathy with the position set out by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead). The amendment I tabled with colleagues from both sides of the House to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill sought to ensure that the Government consulted fully on implementing a Euratom-like regime after we left, so I understand why he has tabled amendments to ensure that the Government are transparent in their dealings. I did not press my amendment to a vote because the Secretary of State and his very able Minister were clear about their responsibilities to keep the House informed about the arrangements being put in place to replicate what we have in Euratom; indeed, they published a written ministerial statement shortly after that debate and before the debate on Report, and they have committed to come to the House quarterly to make clear the progress being made. None the less, as I say, I have a great deal of sympathy for the Opposition’s argument.

I support the Bill because it puts in place some of the structures we will need to replace the arrangements we had as a member of Euratom. I have listened to much of the debate and heard some fine speeches, but however brilliant the speeches, I cannot help thinking that the entire debate takes place in a slightly Alice in Wonderland world. Over many months, I have made no secret of the fact that it is a source of deep and profound frustration for me and many colleagues that we are leaving Euratom. As I said in an intervention, we are leaving Euratom on a technicality. I urge any colleagues who are passionate about Brexit and the apparent freedom and greatness that it will bring back to this country not to try to wrap Euratom up in that thesis.

Euratom is a treaty that works extremely well. The UK is one of the world’s leading civil nuclear powers. Our industry is highly respected and essential to the development not only of current nuclear power, but of nuclear fusion, which is where my interest comes in, owing to the research institute at Culham. Under the Bill, we will engage over the next 18 months in a simple of exercise of replicating almost as exactly as we can the arrangements we now enjoy under Euratom. We are not taking back control. We are not regaining sovereignty. We are not going out into the world as a global power. We are simply going to replicate perfectly serviceable arrangements that already exist, and we are doing so on a technicality. I am not making any particular criticism. This is simply an observation of the collateral damage that Brexit has caused to a particular sector. It will be expensive and time-consuming.

As I have said, I wanted to speak to the amendments to make it clear why I was not supporting them and to take the opportunity to thank Secretary of State and the Minister for all their work. They have been candid and open with me and the Chairman of the BEIS Committee and with other concerned hon. Members on both sides of the House about the work they are doing to try to limit any damage to our nuclear industry. They really have worked tirelessly on this issue. From my perspective—other Members might not agree—I think that they have listened and taken on board our concerns.


Antoinette Sandbach:

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if there were an opportunity for us to seek some sort of associate membership of Euratom once we have left, we should attempt to do that? That would minimise the cost to the UK taxpayer, unlike having to completely replicate the regime over here. I also echo his thanks to the Secretary of State and his ministerial team for the way in which they have approached this matter.


Ed Vaizey:

I understand what my hon. Friend is seeking, but the point has already been made that there is in effect no real associate membership of Euratom at the moment. Ukraine and Switzerland have what is described as associate membership, but it is certainly nowhere close to the kind of arrangements that we have with Euratom now. The Government intend to have as close a relationship as possible with Euratom, whether we call it associate membership or anything else, and we will have to put in place our agreements with the other nuclear states with which we currently enjoy a relationship under Euratom—notably Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States of America. That work is under way, although the timing of the implementation of those agreements is unfortunately not in our gift. It is in the gift of other legislatures that might not be as efficient as this august legislature, but I know that we want to replicate those agreements.

I am particularly pleased that the Prime Minister did not follow the example of Watford, the football team of my hon. Friend the Minister, and change the manager unnecessarily in the past two weeks. I am extremely pleased that he remains his place scoring goals for the nuclear industry, and I look forward to co-operating with him for many years to come.