Clause 8 - Procedure etc relating to modifications under section 6 or 7

Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:30 pm ar 18 Tachwedd 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 4:30, 18 Tachwedd 2021

I beg to move amendment 13, in clause 8, page 8, line 11, leave out from “power” to end of line.

This amendment strengthens the requirement on the Secretary of State to publish details of license modifications.

Ms Fovargue, as there are no amendments or objections to the clauses from this one to the end of part 1, I suggest that it might be possible to dispose of them collectively to get to the end of part 1 this afternoon. The Opposition would have no objection to that.

I will be brief. Amendment 13 simply says that if the Secretary of State is going to publish something, they should get on and publish it. As it stands, the clause states:

The Secretary of State must publish details of any modifications made under a relevant power as soon as reasonably practicable after they are made.”

That is a weaselly dilution of the “must” at the start of the line—if the Secretary of State must publish details, they should just get on with it. Hon. Members will see that the following subsection states:

“If…the Secretary of State makes a modification…the Authority must…publish the modification.”

That does not have the little weasel phrase at the end, so why is that weasel phrase in subsection (5) and not subsection (6)?

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I do not want to be a pain, but does not deleting

“as soon as reasonably practicable after they are made” make the timescale for the Secretary of State to publish open-ended? In a way, the amendment is not tightening the timescale but leaving it more open-ended.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

My concern in this clause is that the phrase

“as soon as reasonably practicable” gives the opportunity for almost limitless delay to publication. If the Secretary of State must publish details of any modifications, he must, and if he does not, he can be called up under the terms of the Bill. If that weasel phrase is in it, however, the delay could last for a long time. I suggest that the amendment tightens it up by saying that it should be published and that is it.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I realise that we are arguing over semantics, but perhaps it should be amended to be “must publish details of any modifications made under a relevant power once that modification has been made” to try to bring absolute clarity that it needs to be published right away.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Yes, that might have been a good idea, but unfortunately it is not on the amendment paper this afternoon. My amendment is, so I hope the Minister will consider ensuring that subsections (5) and (6) are consistent, so that both modifications made under both are required to be published, full stop.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Amendment 13 addresses how soon the Secretary of State should be obliged to publish the details of any modification made under the relevant powers, as already referred to. We think the clause already provides a clear and transparent process, which includes consulting the named parties before exercising these powers and modifications, and then publishing medications made

“as soon as reasonably practicable” after the fact. Of course, publication can exempt matters that are commercially sensitive or that relate to national security.

The purpose of the amendment is to remove the obligation on the Secretary of State to publish the details of any modifications as soon as practicable after they are made. The Secretary of State would therefore not be subject to an express time obligation on when the details of the modifications must be published. I welcome the Opposition’s focus on ensuring transparency throughout the process of setting up a RAB for a project. We recognise that decisions to modify licences are important, and we believe it is necessary to provide a transparent decision-making process in legislation, as the Bill seeks to do.

I believe the amendment would reduce transparency, not increase it. I do not consider that it will help us to achieve the objective of a clear and transparent decision-making process. Removing the express obligation on the Secretary of State to publish details of any modifications as soon as reasonably practicable could result in uncertainty about when they should be published, which might cause the Secretary of State to unnecessarily delay the publication informing the public, stakeholders or industries of the modifications made. I hope that the hon. Members for Southampton, Test and for Greenwich and Woolwich will agree with that position; the amendment would reduce transparency, not increase it. I therefore ask that amendment 13 be withdrawn.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I think we perhaps have a slight divergence of opinion here. We were seeking to simplify and create an imperative for publication by reducing the qualifications on that publication. The Minister has sought to suggest otherwise. We will have to disagree on that; however, we do not wish to push this to a vote this afternoon, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.