Chilcot debate 29/01/2015
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab):
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson), but I disagree with him on the idea that we see the events of 2003 as history. We see them under the cold light of eternity. They are not a matter of history for the loved ones of the 179 of our brave soldiers who fell. They still suffer a living wound that will never heal. I would like to repeat a speech I made in 2009 when I was sitting where the hon. Gentleman is sitting now. I am not allowed to repeat that speech, but not a word of it would change. The speech (below) consisted of 10 minutes of reading out the names of all the British soldiers who died. I believe that that is a far more effective way of making the point that, as the result of a decision taken here in this House by many of us, those young people lost their lives.
An American-British enterprise was not inevitable. We need not have been involved. The Americans were going in anyway and we had the choice to stay out, as Harold Wilson did many years ago. The main reason I am offering myself to my electorate in a few months’ time is because of this. I want to see the end of this and I want to see us get to the nub of the terrible mistake we made. It is to do with the role of Prime Ministers and their relationship with Back Benchers in this House.
Something happens to Prime Ministers when the war drums start to beat. They talk in a different way. They drag out the old Churchillian rhetoric. The rolling phrases come out. They walk in a different way—they strut like Napoleon—and they are overwhelmed by hubris. No longer are they dealing with the boring detail of day-to-day operations; they are writing their own page in history. Usually, it is a bloody page in history.
We do not need an inquiry into the whole Afghanistan enterprise, on which there was general agreement, but we certainly need one into why we went into Helmand when only half a dozen British soldiers had been killed in combat. We went in with a belief that not a shot would be fired and we would be out in three years, but 453 deaths followed. That is what we need an inquiry into.
There has been a profound change in this House. It happened on 29 August 2013, when the Prime Minister came here to encourage us—I believe, with a certain complicity with other party leaders—to go into Syria to attack Assad, who was the deadly enemy of ISIS. Now we are attacking ISIS, which is the deadly enemy of Assad. How on earth could we have been persuaded to be dragged into the middle of that conflict, which is ancient, deep and incomprehensible to us? Thank goodness the good sense and pooled wisdom of 650 MPs, informed by the terrible tragedies of Iraq and Afghanistan, persuaded this House not to follow the prime ministerial instinct for war. That will change this House for a long time.
Along with others, I believe there is nothing political about this in any way. Those of us who remember the vote, which was the most serious vote we ever took, remember the imprecations of the Front Benchers. One hundred and thirty-nine Labour MPs voted not to go to war, against the strongest three-line Whip of my time here, but 50 others, who were very doubtful, were bamboozled, bribed and bullied into the wrong Lobby or into abstaining—and nearly all of them bitterly regret it now. It was a misuse of the organs of this House. Virtually every Committee that looked into it—those that are supposed to know better, such as the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Defence Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee—were all cheerleaders for the war. And where were the Opposition? There is nothing political here. The then Leader of the Opposition was more gung-ho for war than Tony Blair. Only half a dozen hon. Members on the Conservative side voted against the war, and to their great credit, of course, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru voted the same way.
We are being denied the truth. I find it astonishing that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) does not agree there were no weapons of mass destruction. It is amazing if he still believes there was an imminent threat to British territory. I have a document—I have no time to go into its detail—referenced by Tony Blair as evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the threat posed. It concerns a meeting on 22 August 1995 at which the principal person giving evidence was a General Hussein Kamal. For goodness’ sake, read the document!
I dealt only briefly with the intervention from the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) because this debate is about the Iraq inquiry and its timing, not about the substance, and I would have been slapped down very quickly. For the avoidance of doubt, however, the whole Security Council judged in November 2002 that there was a threat to international peace and security from Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.
Because they believed you and Colin Powell.
Because they were fooled. The right hon. Gentleman should recall—[Interruption.]
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle):
Order. This has been a good debate, and we do not want to spoil it. Let us continue in the manner we have done so far. I want to get to the end and make sure everybody gets to speak.
The intervention was contemptible. On that point, I share the view of the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway). We remember the ignominy of the right hon. Member for Blackburn walking behind Colin Powell after the latter had presented a tissue of lies about the threat. It was not true, and our representative was supporting him in those lies, and they sent all those young men and others to their deaths.
At the time, I wrote a letter and got a reply from the right hon. Gentleman. It was on my blog, and I will put it back up now. In March 2003, I told Tony Blair, “If we go into Iraq alongside George Bush, we will deepen the division in the world between the Christian western world and the Muslim eastern world, and we will create a division that will cause bloodshed from my local mosque to the far corners of the world.” The right hon. Gentleman replied to that letter, and a contemptible reply it was too—as was his reply today. He should recognise the terrible error of his ways and what he did. I agree with the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). It is nonsense to suggest there were weapons of mass destruction or a 45-minute threat to Britain. We, as Members of Parliament, the people who took that decision, should be thoroughly ashamed of it, and I will stay in this House, and I will fight to be here, until the truth is known and those who committed this terrible crime are brought to book.
This speech is now banned by Commons Standing Orders.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab):
"We could not have stopped the war in Iraq, as it was predetermined, but what we could and should have done is stopped Britain’s involvement in it. I believe that we, as Members of Parliament, should now confront that dreadful mistaken decision. The most insistent voices calling for an inquiry are those of the loved ones of the fallen. They want to believe that their loved ones died in a noble cause. Many of them are haunted by the possibility that their loved ones died in vain.
Perhaps the most appropriate way that we can face up to the results of our decisions would be now to recall and honour the names of the fallen:
Philip Stuart Guy
David Rhys Williams
Denise Michelle Rose
Anthony John Wakefield
Paul William Didsbury
Donal Anthony Meade
Stephen Robert Manning
Gordon Alexander Pritchard
John Johnston Cosby
Stephen Robert Wright
Jamie Lee Hancock
Jonathan Carlos Bracho-Cooke
Luke Daniel Simpson
Daniel Lee Coffey
Johnathon Dany Wysoczan
Joanna Yorke Dyer
Adam James Smith
Mark J. McLaren
Alan Joseph Jones
Timothy Darren Flowers
David Kenneth Wilson
May they rest in peace.”
Horizon scanners cannot save Jeremy Heywood from MPs’ well-aimed flak
Head of civil service questioned about delays to Chilcot inquiry and accused of letting prime minister pressurise him
As the serving cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, and, at the start of the Iraq war, principal private secretary to Tony Blair, Sir Jeremy Heywood was at pains to reassure the public administration select committee of his total commitment to transparency. Albeit a transparency that verged on opacity.
How did he feel about the delays to the Chilcot inquiry, asked Labour’s Paul Flynn. “Deeply frustrated,” Heywood replied, resisting his natural impulse to point out that delaying inconvenient reports was a sign of a job well done.
Would there be an audit trail of his interventions?
“Definitely not,” said Heywood, crossing his fingers.
Redactions in the transcripts of phone calls between Tony Blair and George W Bush? A few spelling mistakes had had to be taken out.
Did he know anyone who was in the process of Maxwellisation (which gives individuals an opportunity to respond to provisional criticism in the inquiry’s report)?
“Absolutely not,” he insisted, before inadvertently letting on that two people had told him they were being Maxwellised. That kind of careless talk costs lives.
Having confirmed he had done nothing in regard to Chilcot, Heywood next confirmed that he hadn’t given a moment’s thought to which party or parties might form the next government, though he was sure that whoever it was would do exactly what he said. Heywood knows exactly who runs the country: he does.
What’s more, Heywood knew exactly the type of talent he was looking to work under him. “I have a talent matrix to measure talent,” he announced.
Bemusement turned to outright amazement when he went on to add that “functional leaders manage functions”.
Conservative Cheryl Gillan asked what leadership skills he was looking for in the civil service. Heywood said he was setting up an inquiry into that and hoped to report back in five or six years. Or possibly later, if things went well.
Lib Dem Greg Mulholland was concerned about reports that the civil service was now full of “horizon scanners” and “stove-pipers”. What did these people do?
Heywood was outraged. There were absolutely no stove-pipers, and if there were they were only a very small team – a specialist cell – and “they were getting ahead of the in-tray”.
As for the horizon scanners, they were looking between the cracks.
Labour’s Paul Flynn couldn’t resist going for the kill.
“Had the horizon scanners investigated drones?” he said, as straight-faced as possible. Heywood didn’t get the joke.
“No they hadn’t,” he snapped. “But if the drones did need investigating then our horizon scanners will be on to them.”
The limitations of the horizon scanners became all too clear when chairman Bernard Jenkin ambushed Heywood, accusing him of having failed to interpret the civil service code of conduct correctly by allowing the prime minister to pressurise him into condoning the involvement of special advisers in party political campaigning.
“Wrong, wrong, wrong,” yelled an incandescent Heywood. “The prime minister doesn’t pressurise me into anything. It’s me that pressurises him.”
“We’ve consulted a number of different legal opinions,” said Jenkin. “And they are all adamant you are unequivocally wrong.”
“I don’t have a copy of the code in front of me,” Heywood hissed.
“I do,” said Mulholland.
“Well, the guidelines aren’t clear enough,” Heywood gasped, scrabbling for his temporarily misplaced certainty.
“They are perfectly clear,” said Nigel Evans, suppressing a snigger. Everyone was enjoying this.
It got worse. While Heywood had been ducking and diving, his own spad had been rummaging through some files and placed the relevant page of the code under his nose. Heywood gave him a death stare. Here was one civil servant whose immediate horizon looked bleak.
“My conscience is clear,” insisted Heywood, not looking at the document. The clarity of conscience that comes of a lifetime in the shadows.
From QUENTIN LETTS 28th January 2015
How pink Sir Jeremy was, pink as cheap nougat, when questioned by MPs about the scandalously delayed Iraq inquiry. Apart from a few white splodges where his jaw muscles twitched, his cheeks were as pink as the lovehandles of an English shopgirl sunbathing at Torremolinos.
Sir Jeremy Heywood, that is. Ah, Sir Jeremy! He is Cabinet Secretary, Head of the Civil Service, the poohbahs’ poohbah, eminence grease, fixer sans pareil.
He is the man who, in this Coalition era, has been able to slide between Whitehall’s knackered cogs and give the democratic gearings a few cunning squirts of his own – all in the cause of smooth government, doncha know.
Sir Jeremy! Once he served Tony Blair as his bag carrier. Later he did a few shimmies round Morgan Stanley’s vaults in the City. Now he serves – the verb is a loose one – David Cameron at 10 Downing Street. Sir Jeremy is the modern Sir Humphrey.
He may have a silly haircut (really, a man of 53 should have outgrown such quiffs) and a modish northern-English accent but the Humphreyesque traits are unaltered: All praise be to the System.
Its navel gazers actually ended up spending more time asking him about ministerial special advisers – there has been a bijou scandal of them being forced to campaign at by-elections – than about the Chilcot inquiry. Sir Jeremy seemed twitchy about both matters.
Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport W) went at him with a certain despatch, his first question being: ‘To what extent have you been responsible for delays to the Chilcot inquiry?’ Sir Jeremy, turning the colour of an early-season radish, claimed that his involvement had been no greater than that laid out in a ‘protocol’ governing the inquiry.
Mr Flynn wondered if Parliament should simply grab hold of Sir John Chilcot’s draft report and publish it. A ghost wandered across Sir Jeremy’s gaze. ‘It would be a mistake to rush it,’ he said. A mistake to rush it? The ruddy thing is already five years late!
Repeatedly Sir Jeremy claimed that he had ‘a bias towards transparency’, a phrase that may well have earned hyena laughter around London SW1.
Cheryl Gillan (Con, Chesham & Amersham) wondered if anyone had kept an ‘audit trail’ of interventions made by outsiders in Sir John Chilcot’s work. Sir Jeremy, who looked appalled by this idea, was glad to say that he knew of no such audit trail.
His eyes moved warily, hooded behind his Zurich-dentist spectacles. He claimed to have no idea who was likely to be criticised by the inquiry’s report. He licked his lips, as children do when about to be sick in the back of your car.
The committee asked how he and his top mandarins were preparing for the general election result and any new coalition. ‘We want to make sure we understand the parties’ manifestos,’ said Sir Jeremy. Join the club, chum. He said he had invited his predecessor, Sir Gus O’Donnell, to give a recent talk to civil servants about how to deal with coalition talks. Oh no!
Then came a passage almost beyond parody when Sir Jeremy was asked about ‘leadership skills’ in the Civil Service.
It turned out he had just organised a ‘huge exercise’ in securing ‘the right skills, the right promotion systems’ (ah yes, promotion – yum yum) in Whitehall. ‘That’s what we’ve focused on,’ he said proudly.
Even before a Lib Dem MP could ask him about official jargon, Sir Jeremy was yodelling about ‘our talent matrix’ and ‘functional leaders’.
Soon we were on to ‘horizon-scanning’ and ‘stove-piping’. He was amazed that anyone should find such terms opaque. ‘The danger with all this horizon-scanning is that it stays in a very specialised cell but we’re getting ahead of the in-tray,’ he said with relish. ‘We’re only at the start of the process of strengthening our central capacity.’
Manuel from Fawlty Towers spoke clearer English.
It was the John Major Government that blundered foolishly into the daftest privatisation of all. The then Transport Committee, with a Tory majority, unanimously warned of the certain disasters ahead. The forecasts were remarkably accurate as the present Transport Select Committee's recent report proved.
General Secretary of RMT Mick Cash said
"Twenty years of fragmentation, mismanagement and private profiteering on Britain's railways have left maintenance, upgrading, expansion and fleet replacement programmes miles behind where they need to be to keep pace with surging passenger demand.
"That has left us in the ludicrous position where rolling stock is being shifted from the north to the south, where there aren't enough units to operate on the newly electrified lines and the lashed up Pacer trains, welding a bus body to a train chasis, are stuck with us for years to come. The state of our rail fleet and infra structure is a daily insult to passengers paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on rammed out, unreliable services.
"All the time that our railways are seen as a money making racket by greedy train and fleet companies we will be left jammed in the slow lane and so it is no surprise that 70% of the British public support RMT'S campaign for public ownership.
"RMT's ongoing campaigning, particularly on Northern, Trans Pennine, the Inter City fleet and on the infra structure, will use this transport committee report as further ammunition. "
Child Abuse Inquiry
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The Home Affairs Committee was told that there will be an investigation into allegations that Whips in this House have concealed evidence of paedophilia by Members in order to blackmail them in the Division Lobby. The range of investigations being carried out by this committee is vast, involving tens of thousands of incidents. Is it not right that we look again at the scope of the investigation, because it is unlikely that it can achieve the expectations of the victims within a reasonable time, and should we not look at more forensic investigations that can be attainable with results in a reasonable time?
Mrs May: It is important that the terms of reference do not leave out anything in the work of the inquiry panel. How the chairman, when appointed, will wish to take that forward as regards the specific areas they want to consider will be a matter for them. It has been made very clear by survivors in discussions with me and others that they want to ensure that the inquiry does not inadvertently or deliberately leave out areas that they feel it should cover within the geographical limits that we have set, of England and Wales. On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I have written to party leaders to ask them to ensure that their parties co-operate fully with any requests from the inquiry.
Business of the House Questions
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): As we have waited all these years to discover the truth about why this House sent 179 brave British soldiers to their deaths in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, is it not a matter of urgency, to avoid future blunders, that we look now at why we took the decision to go into Helmand province in 2006, in the hope that not a shot would be fired? Four-hundred and fifty-three deaths occurred. Should we not start that inquiry as soon as possible?
Mr Hague: That is really a question—about policy on a future inquiry—to direct to other members of the Government. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have instituted regular quarterly statements in Parliament on Afghanistan, which I often delivered in my time as Foreign Secretary, and which the Defence and International Development Secretaries have delivered. We have thus ensured that in this Parliament there has been greatly increased scrutiny of our policies on Afghanistan. Any decisions about inquiries on top of that have to be taken in the future.
25 NATO non-nuclear states.
Paul Flynn: Does the hon. Gentleman recall that representatives from NATO came to my constituency last year? I was very happy to welcome them. Of the 28 countries, 25 are non-nuclear states, and they found no difficulty walking with their heads held high.
Sir Nick Harvey: It is certainly true that very few NATO states possess nuclear weapons, although a few have them on their soil. Other Members have spoken about the nuclear umbrella, but none of us knows how real it is, and let us hope that it is never pushed to the test. We are asked to focus our minds on whether we should proceed with a replacement programme in 2016. It is not of course the Trident missile that needs replacing, but, as other hon. Members have said, the submarines. I believe that we should be willing to build some more submarines at this time, but I shall add some riders in a moment.
Who protects the Baltics?
Paul Flynn: Is not the question: what will America do if there is an attack on the Baltic states from Russia? Our involvement in this is peripheral. We do not provide a deterrent; America does. We are clinging to this virility symbol as a gesture of our old national pride when it is not relevant. The whole point of multilateral disarmament is to reduce the number of nations with nuclear weapons down to two. By possessing them we are encouraging other nations to acquire them.
Rory Stewart: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, but I think the fundamental nature of our disagreement is going to be about our whole relationship to the NATO structure and the kind of role we wish to play within it. Although the hon. Gentleman is speaking very eloquently about nuclear weapons, I suspect he would also disagree with many Government Members about conventional weapons, and the role we generally play in protecting countries like the Baltic states against attacks from Russia. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene again, I would be very interested to hear what he proposes Britain should do to defend the Baltic states against such an attack.
Paul Flynn: I know the Baltic states very well: I visited them four times in the ’80s and ’90s. I am not suggesting that we pretend some fantasy nuclear war is going to take place with us as the main participant. Where we have been successful is in humanitarian interventions in places like East Timor and Sierra Leone. Where we have failed is where we have gone into Iraq and Afghanistan with all guns blazing. We are good at humanitarian intervention and that is where our money should be invested.
Rory Stewart: With respect, as I suspected, the hon. Gentleman is focused on issues like East Timor and humanitarian intervention which have very little to do with the question of NATO. This whole idea of an attack on one being an attack on all is fundamentally predicated on the idea of deterrence. It is fundamentally predicated on the idea that we in the UK, as a major member of NATO, would protect these states if they were attacked, and my suspicion is that the hon. Gentleman has no strategy whatsoever on how to defend them. Giving up on the nuclear weapon is simply a symbol from the hon. Gentleman—a virility symbol, perhaps—of actually giving up in general on our obligations to protect NATO states. If I have misunderstood, I am very happy to take another intervention.
Paul Flynn: The hon. Gentleman is being very generous. If he went to Tallinn, Riga or Vilnius and asked the people there who they would look to to defend them if Russia attacked, they would say they look to America, not us.
Rory Stewart: We can, of course, agree with the hon. Gentleman on that. That is true. One of the questions is working out what Britain is going to do, but of course the biggest question for Vladimir Putin is what the United States is going to do. But the reason why these questions, and the uncertainty around them, are relevant is that Vladimir Putin’s decisions on whether to use ambiguous warfare, conventional troops or nuclear weapons will be guided by his perception of what we—the United States or Britain—are likely to do in response.
"It's an appalling waste of public money. It's like scattering confetti. Time extends and extends. I have looked at this two or three times now and every time I look at it the cost goes up - not in hundreds of millions, but in billions." Margaret Hodge MP, chair of Parliamentary Public Accounts committee
Last 4th November the managing director of Sellafield, the giant nuclear waste processing plant on the Cumbian coast in NW England, issued its report to the six-monthly meeting of the nuclear sites stakeholder group covering the Sellafield plant.
In bullish tone he opened his introduction, boldly pronouncing: "This time last year, in my first report to WCSSG as Sellafield Ltd's Managing Director, I talked about our new strategy Key to Britain's Energy Future.
"I explained that I wanted a clear strategy, understood by our employees and the local community, to drive improved performance in our nationally important task of cleaning up the Sellafield Site.
"The strategy describes how we will deliver our clean up mission by keeping Sellafield safe and secure, by making demonstrable progress on all of our activities and by providing a return on taxpayers' investment through value for money and socio-economic benefit in our local community.
"Our strategy describes where we want to be, and the Sellafield plan explains how we will get there. We recently launched a companion document, the Excellence Plan which outlines activities that will improve our ability to reach our goal."
Everything in the Sellafield garden is rosy
Rising to his optimistic theme he went on to claim: "Twelve months on and I believe we are beginning to see the strategy deliver improvements in performance and this gives me increasing confidence that we can achieve what we promised to do, on time and to budget ...
"Looking ahead, we will continue to drive for reliable performance, an increasingly challenging task given the age of our plants and infrastructure. This means we need to strive to find innovative solutions to problems.
He concluded by noting: "We are being supported in this through a new collaborative approach with key stakeholders most associated with the delivery at Sellafield. The organisations include Sellafield Ltd, Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR), the Environment Agency (EA), Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Department of Energy and Climate Change, (DECC) and Shareholder Executive ...
"As part of our drive for excellence we have recently completed a programme of nuclear safety culture surveys. As we achieve more successes over the next number of months alongside the member organisations," he finished off, "we will share this information at future meetings."
Two months later - sacked
Barely two months later, on 13 January, Energy Secretary Ed Davey announced in a statement to Parliament that he was sacking Nuclear Management Partners (NMP), the private consortium awarded the £22 billion top tier management contract for Britain's biggest nuclear installation, in early October 2008.
Davey told MPs: "The government agreed last year with the Public Accounts Committee's conclusion that it was a priority to consider what contractual model might best deliver improved performance and value for money at Sellafield.
"In the meantime, we endorsed the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA)'s decision to roll the current Parent Body Organisation (PBO) contract forward into the second term (from 1 April 2014) to ensure that the progress made in the first five year term could be built upon.
"Sellafield Limited (the Site Licence Company which operates the site under the ownership of the PBO) continues to make progress and is currently on track to deliver against its key performance measures and milestones in 2014/15.
"Despite this progress, the NDA has concluded that a change in model is now the best way forward ... Under the new arrangement, Sellafield Limited will become a subsidiary of the NDA and will continue to be led by a 'world class team', who will be appointed and governed by a newly-constituted Board of the Site Licence Company. "
DECC's nuclear quango the NDA, the owners of Sellafield on behalf of the taxpayer, produced an 8-page so-called 'Stakeholder Briefing' to explain what was going on.
It states, inter alia, that: "This decision is the result of careful consideration and review of various commercial approaches in use where the public and private sector comes together to deliver complex programmes ...
"The review is consistent with the undertaking that NDA gave at the 4 November 2013 and 4 December 2013 Public Accounts Committee Hearings, based on the NAO report 'Assurance of reported savings at Sellafield', HC778, 29 October 2013, that NDA would consider its options in regard to the way the Sellafield site was operated and in particular the use of the PBO (parent body organization) model."
But it is as illuminating as much for what it omits as what it reveals.
A scandalous agreement to fleece the taxpayer
How could such a turn-around happen so quickly? As with everything in the nuclear industry, all is not what seems, and there is a complicated backstory to the Sellafield decision, which is startling.
I have worked on this issue with Labour MP Paul Flynn for seven years, and his attempts to make transparent the deal done to give NMP the contract have been met with obstruction - by Government and the nuclear industry at every turn.
In July 2008, Flynn got a sniff that some dodgy dealing was under way by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), then responsible for nuclear energy policy, to award a management contract for Sellafield to a new consortium.
At its crux was the stipulation that all the potentially vast liabilities would be covered by the taxpayer, while all the profits went to the consortium,
To probe this possibility, he asked the Labour minister responsible what recent communications or discussions had taken place with both the NDA and consortium applicants for the Sellafield decommissioning contract on the indemnification of the contract holder against claims arising.
The now late Malcolm Wicks responded: "The Department has been informed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) that it expects to have to grant an indemnity against uninsurable claims arising from a nuclear incident that fall outside the protections offered by the Nuclear Installations Act and the Paris / Brussels Convention to whichever of the four bidders for the Sellafield contract is successful.
"The NDA is conducting the Sellafield parent body organisation competition under the EU Competitive Dialogue procedure, evaluating the four bids received against agreed evaluation criteria. Within that process bidders were invited to make proposals for a nuclear indemnity under competitive tension against an established framework.
"It would not be viable for any of the bidders to proceed without an indemnity because any fee earning benefits of the contract would be overwhelmed by the potential liabilities. The NDA has assessed that the benefits of engaging a new contractor far outweigh the remote risk that an indemnity might be called upon. The final form of the indemnity will reflect the specific terms proposed by the preferred bidder." (Hansard, 14 July 2008 : Column 76W).
But were MPs bothered?
The cat was out of the Sellafield Boondoggle bag. By 22nd October - after an exchange of letters with both the then chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Tory right winger, Sir Edward Leigh, and The Speaker, over the summer, Flynn tabled an early day motion (EDM 2321) - a kind of Parliamentary kite flying with political wallpaper covering - under the title 'Parliamentary oversight of Sellafield indemnification'. It read:
"That this House notes that when the Government decided to provide indemnification against insurance claims following nuclear accident at the Low-level Waste Repository at Drigg, for the new American management company, the then Minister for Energy published a written statement in Hansard of 27th February 2008 and the associated Minute was placed in the Library to allow 14 sitting days for objections from hon. Members; contrasts this open procedure with the approach adopted for a similar insurance indemnification for the new private sector management company for Sellafield, Nuclear Management Partners, when no written statement was placed before Parliament but instead, the then Minister for Energy wrote on 14th July 2008 to the chairmen of the Committee on Public Accounts and Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee, enclosing a copy of the Minute setting out the proposed arrangements and stating that a copy of the Minute would be placed in the Library; further notes that this Minute arrived in the Library on 14th October, more than 75 days after the period for hon. Members to object officially elapsed; believes it is unacceptable for hon. Members to be denied the opportunity to comment on this Minute, the effect of which is to privatise the profits of the Sellafield management contract leaving the potentially multi-billion pound liabilities with taxpayers; declines to give approval to the proposed indemnification arrangements; and calls upon the Government to reopen the period in which hon. Members may signify objections to Government guarantees for which no statutory authority exists."
In so doing, he flagged up a scandal in the making, but few fellow MPs noticed. Flynn asked a clarificatory question to the energy minister, by now Mike O'Brien, (in the newly formed Department for Energy and Climate change, headed by Ed Miliband as Secretary of State).
Specifically, he enquired on what dates between 14th July and 6th October 2008 Ministers or officials of his Department met officials of the NDA to discuss the indemnification of the successful bidder for the PBO chosen to manage Sellafield, and what meetings his Department and its predecessor had had with the European Commission on the compliance with state aid rules of the Government accepting an indemnification for Sellafield.
Mike O'Brien told him: "There were no meetings between 14 July and 6 October 2008 between the NDA and Ministers or officials of BERR about the indemnity for the successful bidder for the Sellafield PBO ... There have been no meetings with the European Commission on this issue. As a normal commercial arrangement involving no subsidy for the new PBO the proposed indemnity does not raise any State aid concerns." (Hansard, 11 Nov 2008: Column 1143-4W.)
'It's all a ludicrous conspiracy theory'
Perhaps ministers believed there were no subsidy concerns, but there were a raft of other very worrying, unresolved concerns. To air these, Flynn secured an unusual Parliamentary debate, held in Westminster Hall on 19 November 2008, under the headline: 'Nuclear Industry Finance' (Hansard, 19 Nov 2008: Column 119WH)
Mr Flynn was dismissed by Mike O'Brien as a conspiracy theorist asserting that "his concoction of conspiracy theory, innuendo and hyperbole has reached new heights in the House", further telling MPs that Flynn had "exaggerated, went way over the top in his condemnations."
Mr Flynn's Labour colleague, Jamie Reed - who then, as now, represented the Copeland constituency, which includes Sellafield - chipped in with the observation that Mr Flynn's exposure was an "incoherent concoction". (Hansard, 19 Nov 2008: Column 125WH)
On 13 th January, after the Sellafield contact cancellation, the prodigal MP Jamie Reed, pronounced to his local paper, The Whitehaven News, that "If the contract has been terminated, it's the right decision: both inevitable and overdue ... and common sense, operational sense and business sense has now prevailed. The site will move on from this and improve. This decision is in the best interests of the industry, the site workforce and my constituents."
The Ecologist's readers may judge for themselves, now that the current energy secretary has sacked NMP from their £22 billion contract, who was exaggerating - and whether or not Mr Flynn's criticisms were coherent.
Freedom of Information request spills the beans
Just before Christmas in 2008, the NDA delivered to my inbox 140 pages of internal memos, emails and other documentation concerning how the Sellafield contract had been awarded - after a protracted battle over disclosure for many months.
Many of the documents were very heavily censored prior to release with whole pages, and the names of most of the officials involved had been systematically blanked out.
Nonetheless, they included buried in the pages released, the extraordinary revelation that BERR, and the NDA, wanted to go ahead with awarding the deal to NMP, by avoiding Parliamentary scrutiny and circumventing democratic oversight, detailing how the deception of Parliament was to be effected. It was a clear scandal.
The collusion between Government and the NDA on behalf of the private consortium, and manifestly against the public interest of the taxpayer, was revealed on 4th January 2009 in The Independent on Sunday - with my detailed assistance - in an article by Geoffrey Lean, 'Officials plotted Sellafield cover-up: MPs were denied the chance to challenge sweetener to private firm's nuclear deal':
"A rushed timetable was drawn up which involved naming a preferred (PBO) bidder for the contract on 11 July 2008 and signing a transitional agreement on 6 October 2008. But this clashed with the long parliamentary summer recess, which ran from late July to the very day set aside for the signing.
"If the Government were to stick to its speeded-up timetable, the documents say, 'the very earliest date' in which the minute could be laid before Parliament would be 14 July, shortly before the recess began on the 22nd.
"Determined not to slow down the handover, the Government decided to reduce the period in which MPs could object. On 26 March, an official whose name and department has been blanked out emailed the official Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to stress the requirement to 'shorten the 14 working parliamentary days that an indemnity would normally need before it can become effective'.
"The official added: 'To get this down to five days, we will need to muster some persuasive arguments and I wondered where you had got to on assembling these.' Two days later he was sent a 'first draft' of the argument including an assertion that the 'vulnerability of Sellafield operations is already seen as a significant safety risk'.
Any time at all for MPs' scrutiny is too long
"But by early June , the idea of giving MPs any time at all to object had been abandoned. Another email to the NDA, from apparently the same blanked-out official, reported a 'conclusion' that a letter should merely be written to Edward Leigh MP, the chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, 'rather than go for a shorter notice period to the House'.
Thus a minute 'explaining what has happened' would be laid before MPs only 'when Parliament reconvenes in the autumn', by which time it would be too late to raise objections. On 14 July, the then energy minister Malcolm Wicks duly wrote to Mr Leigh; he did not object and the indemnity went into force before MPs knew about it.
"Other confidential documents, received after two Freedom of Information Act applications, divulge that three local Councils in Somerset asked for £750,000 to fund a planning officer and legal advice from companies that want to build nuclear power stations in their areas, raising questions about conflicts of interest, and that the officially neutral NDA considered coming out in favour of new reactors."
Fast forward to the Coalition's governance of Sellafield: Mr Flynn tabled another EDM, number 1048, two years ago, on 6 February 2013, which included the observation:
"DECC were questioned on the probity of such huge sums being awarded (to NMP) without Parliamentary scrutiny; recalls an earlier EDM 2321 on Parliamentary Oversight of Sellafield Indemnification tabled on 22 October 2008 observed accurately that the agreement would privatise the profits of the Sellafield management contract leaving the potentially multi-billion pound liabilities with taxpayers; acknowledges the subsequent release of internal memoranda and emails between DECC and NDA officials which expose the deliberate cover up from Parliament."
A damning critique hidden from Parliament
In the summer of 2013, I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the NDA for any internal review they had conducted on the performance of Nuclear Management Partners, who had been controversially been awarded the PBO management contract for Sellafield.
Finally, following the Coalition announcement that the NDA was extending the NMP PBO contract worth several more billions, the Public Accounts committee - now chaired by former Labour minister, Margaret Hodge - announced it would investigate the extended contract.
Then, after initially turning down my FOI request, on appeal, NDA conceded, and sent me a copy late on a Friday afternoon in early November, just before the PAC hearing on the following Monday with the NDA and DECC officials on Sellafield.
After reading the explosive criticisms contained in the internal evaluation by auditor, KPMG I forwarded it to Mrs Hodge, suggesting she might raise it with the PAC witnesses. Here is a transcript of what happened in the opening of the hearing on 4 November, as published the following day:
Q9 Chair (Mrs Hodge): "On the KPMG report, which we only got this morning, my understanding is that that was never shared with the NAO. Why not?"
John Clarke (NDA CEO): "The KPMG report was only completed very recently."
Chair: "No, you had a copy of it in September."
John Clarke: "We had a draft copy of it in September."
Q10 Chair: "Well, we only got it this morning because of a freedom of information request. The final copy has a September date."
John Clarke: "We have spent a considerable period of time redacting what we believe was commercially sensitive information."
Q11 Chair: "That information was absolutely pertinent as to whether or not you took the view on whether to renew the contract. Why was that not shared with the NAO, even in draft form? I do not know whether you want to comment, Amyas."
Amyas Morse, National Audit Office chief executive: "It would have been illuminating, knowing that we were producing a follow-up report. It certainly would have been illuminating to know of the existence of this report. I have carefully checked with my staff. As far as we know, we did not know of its existence, let alone having seen it."
John Clarke: "There was certainly no intent to keep it secret. There was a lot of talk about the fact that we were producing it. It is worth pointing out that KPMG's report assessed the performance of the site over a wide period of time. It was not advising us on the right course of action."
Q12 Chair: "I understand that. The report, which I have only just shared with my colleagues on the Committee, is a terrible indictment of the contract: it says that progress on major projects within legacy ponds and silos, which no doubt we will come to, 'is behind schedule and has exceeded ... cost estimates. It appears this is principally attributable to SL', Sellafield Ltd, 'often as a result of poor project management ... whilst savings have been made, overall schedule progress has not met PP11 targets, which over time risks costing more than efficiency savings generated.'
"On Sellafield Ltd's capability, it says that 'there remain continued deficiencies in project management, supply chain management and resource allocation'. We then go on to leadership, where there has been a 'high turnover of SL executive secondees and a predominantly reactive response to issues.'
"Governance 'does not appear to be effective or unified.' On alignment, 'parties in the PBO model are not aligned in their objectives, with fractures evident in many relationships due to complexity, competing priority and contractual tensions'. Interfaces 'do not deliver', incentives do not work, there is no appetite for risk and there is no stakeholder confidence. I cannot see anything good in that.
John Clarke: "Essentially, the comments about performance fall into three categories. There is the inherent nature of Sellafield itself, with the complexities that it presents. The Major Projects Authority came in to review it recently, and their conclusion was that Sellafield presents unique technological project management and leadership challenges unparalleled anywhere.
"So there is the inherent nature of the beast that is Sellafield. Many of the comments you related there relate to the capability of Sellafield Ltd itself. Sellafield Ltd is the enduring entity, the site licence company, the licence holder and the environmental-"
Chair: "It is wholly owned by NMP."
John Clarke: "Yes it is, for the duration of the contract. But the 10,000 people work for Sellafield Ltd. One of the things we have asked NMP to do-"
Chair: "NMP is responsible."
John Clarke: "We have asked NMP to improve the capability for Sellafield Ltd."
Q13 Chair: "What have you been doing for the last four to five years?"
John Clarke: "I would say that the rate of improvement in that capability has been less than we would have wished. There have been improvements in capability, but not as much as we would have wished for."
DECC Permanent Secretary Stephen Lovegrove told the PAC: "The Department knew of the KPMG report. I did not personally, but officials had sight of it and read it."
Mrs Hodge observed: "It's an appalling waste of public money. It's like scattering confetti. Time extends and extends. I have looked at this two or three times now and every time I look at it the cost goes up - not in hundreds of millions, but in billions."
NMP: contrite all the way to the bank
Indeed so. A month later the NMP bosses themselves were instructed to appear before an enraged PAC. It was a veritable political mauling of the NMP witnesses inside the committee's coliseum.
Tom Zarges, the chair of NMP, backed up again by the hapless NDA boss John Clarke, and Sellafield Ltd's MD Tony Price, told the MPs that he was "humbled and truly sorry" for mistakes made during his firm's five-year tenure at Sellafield, and vowed that they would "not be repeated in the future."
Mrs Hodge observed she was "bewildered" the NDA had recently awarded NMP a five-year extension to run the nuclear site, adding caustically: "Mega-bucks are paid to NMP in fees, yet NMP does nothing [to address issues] other than waiting for the NDA to chivvy you along."
Mr Zarges defensively said: "While we have had achievements, we are not satisfied with these. We are a long way from satisfied ... If we have not learned from these experiences, we are not doing our job."
Meanwhile Mr Clarke conceded that he has been "disappointed with elements of NMP's performance ... The quality of leadership has been less than what we would wish for, and we have been disappointed with elements of performance. But to continue with the contract will provide a better outcome than the alternatives."
Two months later, on 4 February 2014, the PAC published its devastating report 'Managing risk at Sellafield', which inter alia concluded the NMP contract for Sellafield achieved "little improvement" commercially "for extra money spent".
Another conclusion was that "The use of cost reimbursement contracts for Sellafield Limited and its subcontractors means the financial risks are borne by the taxpayer. This contracting approach may be the best option where costs are very uncertain.
"However, as project and programme plans firm up and the lifetime plan becomes more robust, it should be possible to move away from cost reimbursement contracts. The Authority should determine how and when it will have achieved sufficient certainty to expect Sellafield Limited to transfer risk down the supply chain on individual projects and then to reconsider its contracting approach for the site as a whole."
An appalling waste of public money
One re-imbursement was not so much financially huge as extraordinary in its absurdity: an NMP executive claimed £714 taxi fare for a family cat to go to an airport! And was paid (although later it was recovered after a public uproar).
Margaret Hodge proclaimed the contract was an "appalling waste of public money ... The cost of one project soared from £387 million to £729 million in 18 months; another rose from £341 million to £750 million, with completion delayed for six years, in much the same short period."
The most damning conclusion read: "In 2011-12, the Authority paid out £54 million in fees, £17 million for 'reachback' staff and £11 million for executive staff seconded from Nuclear Management Partners. Sellafield Limited also awarded contracts to Nuclear Management Partners' constituent companies worth some £54 million in 2011-12.
"That means, in effect, that those who let contracts awarded their own constituent companies contracts, which raises concerns about fair competition and value. The Authority should ensure all payments are linked to the value delivered and that payments are not made where companies have failed to deliver. It should also routinely provide assurance on the operation of its controls over payments for Nuclear Management Partners' constituent companies."
Tom Zarges nevertheless maintained: "The first term of our contract has been characterised by many successes but also a number of disappointments and areas for improvement. Our job now is to build on our experience of the last five years to safely and reliably deliver our customer's mission, while further accelerating the pace of change and providing value for money to the NDA, Government and the UK tax payer."
An NDA statement insisted that "[we] now have a much better understanding of the issues and complexities that exist at the site and the challenges that lie ahead. Whilst progress has been made on a number of fronts we will require significant improvements during the next contract period.
"We have had extensive discussions with NMP and made clear where these improvements must be made. We will continue to monitor performance closely and remain focused on achieving our goal of safe, effective, value for money decommissioning at Sellafield."
Contract termination 'an operational matter'
A few weeks later, the then energy minister, Michael Fallon, since promoted to Defence Secretary, told Paul Flynn in a written answer:
"The contract review at the first break point, and the decision to continue with the contract into a second five year period, was an operational matter for the NDA. The NDA reached its decision based on a thorough review of performance in the first period of the contract and consideration of all available options.
"The Government endorsed the NDA's decision on the basis that it represents the best way forward at this time, giving NMP the opportunity to build on the progress made in the first five years of its contract for Sellafield Ltd (it has met some 90% of its targets to date and safety at the site has improved), address weaker areas of performance, and make further real progress in this next five year term." (Hansard, 24 Feb 2014 : Column 142W)
On the day Ed Davey announced the big U-turn, by chance Treasury Permanent Secretary, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, appeared before the Parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee inquiry on 'Whitehall: capacity to address future challenges', to be challenged by committee member Paul Flynn, asking:
"Just as a general principle, are you happy for the public purse to take all the risk, as I pointed out as clearly as possible in 2008, and for the private company, a foreign company, to take any profit that will come out? Is that an abiding effort for the Treasury?"
Sir Nicholas Macphersonanswered: "Put in those terms, I would never be happy with any contract like that. Ensuring that risk is borne in the right place is one of the biggest lessons of the financial crisis. I do not want to get into this individual issue, because I am not sufficiently informed about it."
Meanwhile, John Robertson MP, Labour chair of the All Party Nuclear Power Group (a nuclear cheerleader set-up) said on 16 January, three days after Sellafield management were sacked:
"The industry really has turned Parliament around. We do now have a political House singing from the same hymn sheet on nuclear power. We need to work hard to keep it that way!"
In so saying, he revealed just how out of touch the pro-nuclear cheer-leaders in Parliament really are.
NMP paid shareholders 145m in dividends
The Sunday Times Business section reported on 18 January that the failed NMP was paid its shareholders £145.1m in dividends during its tenure, starting with a £24.5m payout in 2009-10. The terms of its deal entitled it to £50m a year in fees from the NDA, "dependent on performance".
NMP said last week it was "surprised and disappointed" to be ditched and had improved its performance and saved taxpayers £650m during its tenure. It declined to comment on the dividends.
The ruling nostrum of the Civil Service is the unimportance of being right. Calamities come and go. Ministerial careers are ruined. Civil servants who challenged accepted wisdom of their political masters are usually sidelined. Their careers wither. Those who collaborate with political calamities survive and they progress inexorably into top jobs and honours.
Not this time. The media vividly revealed a crisis of anxiety as passport applications were unanswered or delayed. The anger of public and select committee was multiplied by the imperturbable calm of the Passport Office's response. The Home Affairs committee were told there was no 'backlog' of applications. Photographs of rooms with tables and chairs stacked high with unanswered correspondence suggested otherwise.
The Chief Executive Paul Pugh set my pulses racing by condescendingly explaining that a backlog of half a million applications was not a ‘backlog’, it was ‘work in progress’. This is the now familiar defence of solving problems by euphemism. ‘Torture’ was redefined by the US CIA as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, delivering prisoners to be tortured is ‘extraordinary rendition’.
My constituency of Newport had suffered the loss of 150 jobs in in the process of reducing the service to the emaciated state that failed when under strain. Apart from a computer crisis, the public’s loss of confidence in 2014 was unprecedented.
The only reason the service did not collapse altogether was because hundreds of employees were working seven days a week and reinforcements had been brought in from the Border Agency and other departments. Still Mr Pugh continued with his ‘Crisis, What Crisis? ‘ defence.
All MPs had constituents worried sick about their delayed passports. Promises were given to them by the call centre that phonecalls would be returned or the passports would be sent. Rarely were promises honoured. Desperate to avoid cancelled holidays many of my constituents travelled to Liverpool to get the service that was until 2012 available in my constituency of Newport West. Many passports arrived at the very last moment. Often the day before the journey and, in at least one local case, on the morning of the day, that the family's plane was due to leave in the afternoon.
Home Secretary Theresa May had the political nous to avoid defending the indefensible and apologised to the nation.
The Home Affairs committee had done its job by exposing and rightly mocking an appalling predictable and predicted calamity of management by panic. The agency was not helped by the surplus of £124million it made in the previous two years. An excess of entrepreneurial zeal has delivered weeks of anxiety to millions of families. Loyal staff had lost their jobs in unwise cuts that led directly to excessive burdens of overtime for their colleagues.
The Select Committee’s unamimous verdict was that “There has been a complete management failure at the highest levels of the organisation. Despite making a surplus of £124 million over the past 2 years, making record overtime payments and giving its chief executive a salary larger than the Home Secretary's it is scandalous that bonuses of £674,000 have been awarded during this period. The management of this organisation would be unlikely to survive to the final round of " The Apprentice". The HMPO should lose its agency status and be brought back under direct ministerial control following this appalling series of failures.
They have delivered a shamefully poor service to the estimated 5.6 million British citizens living abroad.”
Nemesis was delivered by ending the Passport Office’s role as an executive agency and effectively sacking Paul Pugh who was instructed to remain in his role until a successor - in the form of a Director General - was appointed.
Contrary to the tradition of the service the importance of being wrong was paramount on this occasion. The Home Secreatray has eaten humble pie, the agency has been humiliated and its Chief Executive removed-a precedent worth emulating.
On Tuesday Ed Davey was forced to defend the government’s ludicrous policy of continuing to award lucrative, nonsensical contracts to the building of nuclear power plants. The latest at Hinkley point has guaranteed that the tax payer will purchase electricity off of NMP a French company for a hugely inflated price for the next 35 years.
In 2008, I had an Adjournment debate to point out that the huge costs and risk of the operation would be borne by the taxpayer and not by the private company. It was a mistake to start the operation and a mistake to renew it, but it is also a mistake not to learn the lesson. Have not the Government just risked another £10 billion as a gift to a foreign company at Hinkley Point and agreed a price for electricity that will continue, guaranteed, for 35 years? Again, the pubic bear the risk and the cost, and private people from abroad—from China and France—will take the profit.
Let me try to agree with something the hon. Gentleman said. The costs of decommissioning are huge. Two thirds of my Department’s budget goes towards decommissioning nuclear power stations from the past and dealing with that legacy, so we need to think about value for money as we do that vital work safely. That is one of the reasons that, with the new nuclear programme, it is vital that the contracts and prices we agree include the costs of decommissioning and waste management, and they do.
Obviously, we need to deal with the cost of legacy waste, but as well as announcing the change in the contract the NDA has announced an increase in the estimated cost of cleaning up the site, which now comes to a staggering £110 billion over 120 years. Given those figures and that time scale, how can the Secretary of State possibly give the assurance he gave to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) that the costs of new nuclear will be met by the companies, which may well not be around in anything like 120 years?
Let us be clear that those costs relate to decommissioning the legacy waste. In answer to the hon. Member for Newport West, I was referring to the negotiations with EDF and its partners on the strike price for the new build at Hinkley Point C. That will include the cost of decommissioning, so that is in the price. Legislation went through this House under the previous Government to set up the nuclear liabilities fund and to ensure that it is independent and ring-fenced so that the moneys that go into it are properly managed. We have done a huge amount of work to ensure that that ring-fenced resource will grow and meet the future decommissioning costs.
The great thing about a National Audit Office report is that it is consensually agreed between the Department and the NAO. I am afraid that rather disproves the points that the Secretary of State has tried to make. He tried to locate the original plan in 2008 under the now Leader of the Opposition, but the report says that the previous plan was designed in 2007. The Secretary of State called this the revised plan, but the NAO report is very clear that, in fact, the
“Authority accepted the revised plan in May 2011”,
so this is a revision of the revision that his predecessor approved. Finally, the report was produced in 2012, when the Secretary of State was in post, and states that there were significant uncertainties back then. Why did he not act on the uncertainties that he agreed with the NAO existed then and work up an improvement for the time break in the contract?
Given the criticisms of the NAO and the PAC, is the Secretary of State really telling us that he knew there were concerns about the model, but did not think that he could change it? Will he explain what monitoring procedures he and the then Minister with responsibility for energy, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), put in place to keep a close eye on the company? Will he tell us what meetings they had, what figures they required and what evidence they wanted from the very beginning of the process for renewing the contract?
To be clear, the renewal of the contract was the NDA’s decision, which we endorsed. When we endorsed it, we obviously asked the chief executive, the chairman and the board of the NDA some serious questions, including about the model, and that led to the review of the model and to today’s statement.
In relation to the renewal of the ongoing contract, I of course met executives from the NMP. I cannot give the hon. Lady details of all the meetings that my Ministers or I had. I am happy to write to her about them; there is nothing secret about them. The key thing was to ensure that the contract renewal covered improved performance during the ongoing review of the model, and the facts show that performance has improved.
Three of the world’s top 10 engineering challenges are at Sellafield. As other hon. Members have said, it is a very complex site. Will the Secretary of State ensure that he and his fellow Ministers undertake very complex monitoring to make sure that the value-for-money challenges identified by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee do not slip again? I mean value for money in not just the cost of the contract but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) said, the impact on the supply chain, because Sellafield should not deaden the local market, but build it and help it to thrive.
I certainly agree with the hon. Lady that the project on the site is hugely complicated. Anyone who visits it can see that for themselves. I should tell her, however, that the prime responsibility for managing it lies with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. The NDA was quite rightly set up under the previous Government—with cross-party support—and we believe that it is the right model.
The NDA needs to be involved in all local decisions. It would not be very sensible for that to be managed by Ministers and officials in Whitehall—the NDA is on the front line—but it is the job of Ministers and, indeed, this House to hold the NDA to account. We do that through regular reports and through the officials who regularly work with the NDA, and the House does it through the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the Public Accounts Committee.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) mentioned, the French company AREVA, which is part of the NMP consortium, also has a very big interest in Hinkley Point. I know that the sites are very different, but will the Secretary of State use this opportunity to give assurances that the challenges and risks talked about today have been fully addressed at Hinkley Point?
The risks are very different in all senses of the word. The new build at Hinkley Point C has already undergone huge regulatory processes. There is the time needed for the generic design assessment for a new nuclear reactor—in this case, for the EPR reactor, it took three years—and then regulatory approvals are needed for the site itself. The regulatory oversight of the new build at HPC is therefore of a very different nature. However, it is certainly extremely detailed, and I hope that that gives her the assurance she seeks.
One question leapt out of the dross and bedlam of PMQs.
Non-partisan, relevant, vital and delivered with enviable aplomb, the Father of the House asked who is delaying the Chilcot Report? Sir Peter speaks for the most under-represented group in parliament. In spite of great progress in improving the diversity of the Chamber, octogenarians are still disgracefully few. At 80 MPs are not as good as they used to be. They are much better-less vain, ambitious or nervous- liberated to speak freely and independently.
New horrors cascades on old horrors and invade our minds. Only 40 days since the massacre of the innocents in a school in Peshawar. Now the slaughter of the cartoonists overlays our stored memories of the Breivik, Boko Haram and Mumbai murders. Instant communications dump the bloody images in our homes. I tweeted "Nous sommes tous les Francais".
Thrilled to hear inspirational speeches by two aspiring MPs-Jo Stevens Cardiff Central and Ruth Jones Monmouth. Both are fresh voices for Westminster who can emerge triumphant from the bewildering turmoil of voter’s clashing disloyalties of May 7th. A vibrant fresh Parliament is certain.
Eagerly accepted an invitation to an election hustings in Newport West, the same day that PM dodges a TV debate. Incumbent politicians are urged to shun debates that provide platforms to smaller parties. The PM's excuse is rightly mocked. On November 10th I was the only Labour or Conservative MP to sign the Green Party’s letter seeking their inclusion in TV debates. With astonishing chutzpah David Cameron strains credibility with this belated spasm of support for fair play to the Greens. Lord Tebbitt says he may appear to be 'frit'. Andrew Rawnsley described it ‘as one of most terrible excuses in the history of politics.’ Bit of an under-statement there.
Powerfully moving show of world unity against barbarism of religious fanaticism. Wales played its part as all parties demonstrated by candlelight outside the iconic Senedd. It's now the focus of national emotion. 'CHARLIE Hebdo' ydym ni.
Select Committee exasperated with Minister Sam Gyimah's devotion to one democratic reform only. Why equalise constituency boundaries without reform of Lords, PR and the oath? Could it be that the new boundaries is the only reform that will help Sam's party while still distorting the will of the voters? Chris Chope unfavourably compared our degraded democracy with newly minted ones in former dictatorships of Council of Europe countries. All enough to make reformers a tad cynical.
Bad day for Treasury Mandarin to pontificate before the Public Administration Committee. Why had the Nuclear Management Partners (NPM) 17 years contract been cancelled eleven years early? He had not been briefed. The loss to taxpayer will be in the hundreds of £millions in this £40billion contract -now heading north to £100bn. Nick Macpherson said it would not happen again.
Reminded him that it did happen again this year with the new £10 billion gift to French and Chinese companies to build Hinkley Point C, plus the 35 year long guarantee to pay twice the going rate for electricity. Isn’t nuclear the most fragile fuel source with all Japanese and German nukes closing down after Fukishima? The only two new nuclear stations being built in Europe are now six and five years late.
I gently advised him to read my speech on NMP in 2008 and the many questions I have asked as recently as February 2014. The warning was then and is now proved that all profits from both deals would go to foreign firms, all losses would be paid by taxpayers.
Confused, he promised to write to me. Oh dear.