Oral Question: Nuclear Sector Deal

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John Stevenson: I congratulate my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison on securing the debate on an issue that is important nationally, regionally and of course to her constituency.

I welcome the nuclear sector deal. Clearly, it is not a panacea, but it is an important and significant deal which will undoubtedly help the sector—in many respects it is a signpost for the industry. The implications will not only be positive and raise the profile of the sector, but demonstrate to a wider audience the worth of the nuclear industry and its significance.

A key part of the Government’s industrial strategy has, without doubt, to relate to energy: energy is vital to ensure that the industrial strategy works for the country. It also relates to energy security, and importantly, to ensuring that we have a proper base supply of nuclear energy, but with the right price so that the industry can be competitive and residential users can benefit.

The central parts of the nuclear sector deal that I think are important for my constituents relate to skills, R&D and the supply chain, so I will be a little parochial and touch on Cumbria. In many respects, Cumbria has two USPs—unique selling points—tourism and the nuclear industry. They are of similar economic value to the county, at about £3 billion each. The real challenge for Cumbria is to ensure that the nuclear deal benefits not just one part but the whole of the county. That is why research and development is so important—we can be a world leader, and already have many innovations and developments in Cumbria. Sellafield is at the forefront of decommissioning, and the skills that come from that are so important, not only to Cumbria but to the wider industry. We must not forget the importance of the defence industry and BAE Systems down in Barrow, which demonstrates that Cumbria is home to the whole spectrum of the nuclear industry. The third element is new build, and we would like to see NuGen get on with developing the new power station in Cumbria, which will directly benefit the whole country as well as the county.

The nuclear sector deal must be looked at not in isolation, but in terms of its importance for the wider economy. It can influence the supply chain, and in my constituency, we have a couple of examples: Bendalls Engineering, a significant supply chain enterprise for Sellafield, and Clark Doors Ltd, which innovates in door technology and has built a relationship with Sellafield and the nuclear industry. There is also the benefit of employment opportunities, which go beyond nuclear and into professional services and the supply chain. Importantly for Cumbria and the national economy, we must maximise the nuclear pound in our communities, and recognise nuclear as a catalyst for economic development and economic growth. I very much support the Government’s initiatives. Nuclear must not be looked at in isolation but as part of the wider economy, and it therefore needs to work with local enterprise partnerships, councils and, clearly, the private sector.

I have some direct questions for the Minister. Will he confirm his support for NuGen and the development of a new build in Cumbria? Will he indicate when legislation on the RAB will be introduced? My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland mentioned the RAB and its importance for nuclear development. She also highlighted the importance of changing the role of the NDA, which should be about development, not just decommissioning. Finally, I thank the Minister for agreeing to come to the second Cumbria nuclear conference, and I very much look forward to seeing him there.

…later…

John Stevenson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important to have joined-up thinking within Government in this area? Yes, this is the nuclear sector deal, but it goes beyond nuclear. We need to get the Department for Transport, the Treasury and BEIS involved, so that we address issues such as the A595, which he rightly points out is badly in need of improvement.

John Woodcock: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I thank him for his continued support on the campaign to get the A595 to work. The Department for Education needs to be part of that joined-up thinking, because one of our other big challenges—the deal touches on this, but it is felt particularly acutely in south and west Cumbria—is raising our school standards. We have some of the most advanced jobs it is possible to have, certainly in the large-scale manufacturing projects in Barrow shipyard, yet we have school leavers with lower than average numeracy and literacy. That cannot be right, and we all need to work together to raise those standards, so that the workers we will need in future are capable of doing the tasks we need them to do from the moment they leave school.

Finally, the Minister needs to answer vital questions about the future of the Moorside development in west Cumbria. It would be unconscionable if that development did not go ahead. What the hon. Member for Copeland said about the regulated asset base is absolutely right, but this is a perilous moment for the NuGen deal. We need to hear from the Government that they will stand by the development come what may, be it with a regulated asset base or something else, and that they will not allow Moorside to stall, given the many thousands of jobs and the energy security it would bring, which are crucial to the nation. The Minister can give that message today, and we in Cumbria need to hear it.

…later…

Richard Harrington: It is a pleasure, as always, Mr Owen, to speak under your chairmanship. I would very much like to answer the shadow Minister’s points, but I am very short of time. I congratulate my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison on securing the debate. In fact, on a recent visit to Sellafield she knew so many people that I thought there should be a big sign in the street saying “There’s oodles of Troodles”—because she is omnipresent. She personifies the way the Government support the nuclear sector. I must disagree with the two Scottish National party speeches; there is a fundamental difference of opinion there. We believe that nuclear is an important part of the mix for this country. We do not agree that it is incompatible with building up renewables. Security of supply is the most important thing. One of our strengths is the balance that we have. I know that will continue. [Interruption.] I do not really have time to give way. I have to get on, or I cannot answer hon. Members’ questions. The Government are committed to those strengths. We must develop the technologies that will transform existing industries; that is part of our industrial strategy and the nuclear sector deal is an important part of that.

I must apologise to John Woodcock for not being at his urgent question, but when I heard about it I was on a train from Chester to north Wales to help launch the nuclear sector deal. However, had he informed me the night before, it would of course have been my pleasure to be there. I will come on to his points in a moment.

The sector deal was launched in Trawsfynydd in north Wales, which is a fitting setting for it. It is a £200 million package with a focus on innovation, cost reduction and skills, to ensure we have the technology and expertise necessary to maintain the UK’s position as one of the world’s leaders in the nuclear sector. I congratulate Lord Hutton, the sector champion; we worked with him and with industry leads from the Nuclear Industry Council to develop the content of the deal. The basic points are, first, a 30% cost reduction in the cost of new build projects. As the shadow Minister said, it is essential for the future that the cost of nuclear comes down.

The cost of Hinkley Point was mentioned in the contributions from the Scottish National party; that was done in such a way that there is no risk to the taxpayer but huge benefits to this country. On a recent visit to Hinkley Point, I was very well hosted by the local MP, my hon. Friend Mr Liddell-Grainger, and I recommend that Drew Hendry takes him up on his invitation. It is an incredible site and so good for this country, with local contractors and British companies employing so many people.

The second point is to achieve savings of 20% in the cost of decommissioning compared with current estimates, and the third is hugely to increase the number of women. I was impressed by the number of women working on the site in Hinkley, particularly the apprentices.

I must rush. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness asked me to answer a question about the transport link points and said, quite rightly, that my Department must work closely with the Department for Transport. I know that that is happening and that there is a joint committee, but, as a result of his point, I will attend the next meeting of the joint committee and personally report back to the hon. Gentleman—either by writing to him or by arranging to meet him on that subject.

NuGen Moorside, which the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend John Stevenson mentioned, is a commercial matter between companies at the moment. The Government do not have a magic answer to that, but my hon. Friend asked me to state that we stand by to provide whatever assistance is needed, and we have shown in Wylfa, Anglesey, in which you may have an interest, Mr Owen—although I know you are interested in everything that goes on while you are in the Chair—that we will look at innovative methods of funding new nuclear developments. I understand that there are commercial negotiations going on in places such as Japan and South Korea, and we are monitoring the situation. Again, I will happily report to my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness what comes from it.

Luke Pollard brought up some interesting points, which I must say I was completely ignorant of, about the nuclear submarines in Devonport. I have not looked on Google Earth, because I thought that would be a bit rude under your chairmanship, Mr Owen, but I will do so straight afterwards. I know there is a joint review between the Ministry of Defence and ourselves on decommissioning, and there is a lot of work to be done, but I want to include the MOD more in everything we do. It is quite time enough, and the hon. Gentleman made a very good point, supported by some of my hon. Friends. Because the MOD is a member of the Nuclear Industry Council, it is time that that artificial distinction came to an end, and I will do my absolute best to bring that about.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle and other speakers brought up points about the RAB system of funding, at which we are looking closely. There is a lot of work going on about that. Obviously, I cannot make an announcement on it because we have not yet reached that stage, but it is an innovative form of funding. It gives certainty; it has worked for the Thames tideway and is being looked at for other schemes, and I hope to report back on developments there.

The main point of the whole sector deal that I can see, which is one of the first things that I really got involved in when I took on this portfolio and which I am impressed by, is the contributions from industry and how many different companies are involved. It is not just the usual suspects, or two or three people; it is very comprehensive.

On decommissioning, I have been asked by several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland, about the role of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority as time goes on and moving it from decommissioning to development. Its interest now is in decommissioning; it is the decommissioning authority, and we know that that is overwhelmingly its most significant purpose. However, on a visit to Sellafield, where I met and was impressed by their management, I was told that they already do about £100 million worth of export services. We are well respected throughout the world, and I think it will develop exactly in the way that my hon. Friend suggested, towards a development agency. Part of the sector deal is to transform decommissioning from where it is now, which certainly on the face of it is just a burden to the taxpayer, to an industry that employs a lot of people and supports a lot of products for this country and will be the foremost of its nature in the world. The set-up is now there to achieve that.

I will finish my comments now, Mr Owen, because you have asked me to leave time for my hon. Friend to make a few winding-up comments. I thank everybody; I am sorry I have not had time to go into more detail on some points, but I am always available to talk about them with any hon. Member here.

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