Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 2:



"( ) Subsection (5) may be satisfied by consultation that took place wholly or partly before the commencement of this section."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2 I shall also speak to Amendment No. 30. These amendments are designed to smooth the creation of the NDA. All sides of the House have in principle supported the establishment of the NDA. Nuclear clean up is important and pressing and we want the NDA to get on with the job as fast as possible.

While there are certain advantages in introducing a Bill in the House of Lords, there are some disadvantages. One of them, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has said, relates to the rules on the commitment of public resources in advance of Second Reading in another place. When a Bill starts here there are certain constraints which have a knock-on effect. It has meant that appointments to the NDA Board cannot be made as soon after Royal Assent as we had originally intended. That will have a knock-on effect on the appointment of the chief executive, who, under Clause 4(3), is to be appointed by the non-executive members. Our target date for the NDA to take on its responsibilities for nuclear clean-up is 1 April next year. It is a challenging, but achievable, target. There is much to do if the NDA is to be set up and provided with the necessary infrastructure so that it is able to prepare and secure approval for its first annual plan in time to start on 1 April.

In the light of that, it is essential that work on establishing the NDA can start as soon as possible after Royal Assent. The chief executive will have a key role in driving the start-up work that is necessary for the NDA to function. Decisions on people, buildings, IT systems and support services are all needed before the NDA can begin its

20 Apr 2004 : Column 189

preparatory work. But, as the Bill is currently drafted, the NDA could not start operating until four members are appointed. That would push the appointment of a chief executive until well into the autumn of this year and would slow down the development of a fully functional NDA.

We propose to change the transitional arrangements for the creation of the NDA so that it is established on the appointment of the chairman and for that person to be joined swiftly by the chief executive officer. That will enable the practical work on creating the NDA to start, as we had originally envisaged, soon after Royal Assent which, final approval of the Bill permitting, should mean that we do not lose precious weeks in August and September.

The amendments also put in place arrangements to reflect our determination to ensure the non-executive control that the Bill requires for the NDA board to go forward. During that initial period, the chairman's approval is required for any decision taken by the chief executive until there are sufficient non-executive members to meet the quorum test, as set out in paragraph 9 of Schedule 1.

The initial period would come to an end when the NDA board reached its required minimum complement of seven members, or at the discretion of the Secretary of State. That option is provided so that any unexpected delay in the appointment of the chief executive does not itself become a block to establishing the NDA through the appointment of non-executives. Amendment No. 2 specifically provides for Scottish Ministers to be consulted on the appointments during the transitional period and before Clause 4 on the constitution of the NDA comes into force.

The Government intend to appoint the chairman and then chief executive as soon after Royal Assent as possible—hopefully in late July or early August this year. Non-executive appointments could realistically follow around September, following a recruitment process begun after Second Reading in another place. That explains the timetable.

These amendments seek to facilitate the early development of a functioning NDA in the period after Royal Assent. I stress that, because a previous debate here and a question to my noble friend Lord Triesman from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, dealt with appointments procedures prior to Royal Assent. The Department of Trade and Industry has taken steps to recruit a chairman and chief executive officer designate as senior policy advisers in advance of Second Reading in another place. These provisions do not relate to that. Nothing that is in the Bill can affect the situation prior to Royal Assent. The advertisements for those posts make it clear that the appointments would not be confirmed as chief executive and chair unless the Bill was passed.

The two debates need to be separated. These provisions should allow us to have a relatively speedy and smooth transition to the establishment of the NDA—which would not happen under the Bill as currently drafted. I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I have a short question in relation to the amendment. Does it still mean that, in spite of the wording, there will be

20 Apr 2004 : Column 190

consultation over the specific individuals who will be appointed, not just over the general idea of the type of people who will be required? It is important that those people are acceptable north of the Border, because the role of the NDA impacts so much on devolved matters, such as planning, roads, health and so on.

Also, is there a precedent for the sort of arrangements that are outlined in Amendment No. 30? Have there been similar interim arrangements on the face of any previous Bill?

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I wish to raise a small point. Is the Government's hope to have the provisional agency in place so quickly somewhat over-ambitious? It seems to me that anyone who is likely to be suitable to be, first, the Government's adviser, then, in effect, chairman designate and then chairman, must already be in employment. If he is not on three months' notice, then he is probably not doing a job that would make him suitable for a post of this significance. The same would apply to a chief executive appointment, which cannot be made until after the chairman is in post to appoint him. That seems to me to indicate at least a six-month timetable from Royal Assent. That is when the Minister appeared to indicate that the process would seriously get going. I believe that the Government would be wiser to look at the end of the year rather than at September.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for writing to me prior to today to explain his amendments in detail. I also thank his team for giving a week's notice of their tabling. I thought it appropriate to say that in view of the complaints I made when amendments were tabled only on the previous day. We are not always critical; sometimes we are most appreciative.

We also appreciate the Government's comment that they want to get on with setting up the NDA during the passage of the Bill. Unlike suggestions made in an article in the Financial Times, delaying the Bill's implementation is most certainly not the intention of these Benches. We merely want to do our job properly and carefully and to scrutinise the details of the Bill before it reaches the other place where, unfortunately, Members will not have the time to do so to the extent that we do in this House.

We therefore welcome Amendment No. 2 with the proviso that the Minister will be able to give a satisfactory, comforting answer to my noble friends Lady Carnegy and Lord Dixon-Smith. However, as I have spoken to the Minister previously, he will know that there were reasons why we were glad that he did not move the amendment on Report. Certain matters about which my noble friend Lord Jenkin was particularly concerned had not been sorted out to our satisfaction.

Noble Lords might remember that in Committee, my noble friend Lord Jenkin said a little about the advertisement that the DTI had placed for a policy adviser who would then de facto become the chairman of the NDA. It was noted that the DTI wished to

20 Apr 2004 : Column 191

appoint a policy adviser to advise on the preparations required for the establishment of the NDA who would be appointed as a non-executive chairman.

Our concern was that this advert not only missed out on possible applicants for the chairman's post by dressing it up as a policy adviser, but we also believed that it may well have broken Treasury rules—the Minister mentioned those—that money should not be allocated for use in conjunction with the Bill until it has received a Second Reading in the other place.

The Minister will also know that my noble friend Lord Jenkin pursued the matter with both the Public Accounts Committee and the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Regrettably, we are not today in a position to give a definitive answer on either of the two matters. With regard to the Commissioner for Public Appointments, the gentleman dealing with the matter has not been in his office for a few days. Furthermore, he is not answering his mobile phone, so it may well be that he is on holiday.

With regard to the Public Accounts Committee, we may well receive an answer during the course of the afternoon. As I mentioned to the Minister, we were able to see a draft reply, which had not been seen by the chairman, simply indicating that the letter of the rules,


    "may be said to be followed".

However, whether the spirit of them has been followed is much more debatable.

We do not want to delay matters. I am sure that in a moment the Minister will answer my two noble friends. I shall accept what he has said and the fact that our two problems do not present a reason for rejecting the amendment. They do not interfere with it. I hope that my noble friend Lord Jenkin will be satisfied by what I have done on his behalf, but it is clear that if the position is not correct we will be able to make a protest later. What I have said will be reported in Hansard today.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page