HL Deb 03 March 2004 vol 658 cc653-5

3.2 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the estimated cost of recruiting a non-executive chairman designate of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority; and by what authority this expenditure has been committed.

Lord Triesman

My Lords, the cost of recruiting a senior policy adviser, who will advise the Department of Trade and Industry on the preparations required for the establishment of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is £45,000 plus VAT in respect of fees to the research consultants, Whitehead Mann, and £20,400 in respect of advertising the post. As the recruitment literature makes clear, the successful person is expected to become the chair of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in due course, but that further appointment is subject to the successful passage of the Energy Bill. The DTI sought the agreement of Her Majesty's Treasury to incur that recruitment expenditure in order for it to meet its current responsibilities effectively and efficiently prior to the completion of the Energy Bill, and in order to manage the transition of those responsibilities to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority so that that body can start operating as effectively as possible after Royal Assent.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

My Lords, is the Minister not aware that anybody who reads the advertisement that appeared in the Sunday Times on 8 February will see that the DTI is in fact advertising for candidates to fill the post of a non-executive chairman of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority? Is he not also aware that the Treasury rulebook makes it perfectly clear that such an appointment may be made only after the Bill has received a Second Reading in another place? Does the Minister expect this House to accept that the dressing-up of the advertisement to make it look like one for a policy adviser in the DTI is anything other than a transparent device to get round the Treasury rules and, as such, is wholly improper?

Lord Triesman

No, My Lords, I am not aware that that is the conclusion that should be drawn, although I understand from what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said in Grand Committee on the Energy Bill on 15 January—which I think reflected comments that he made at Second Reading in your Lordships' House on 11 December—that that is his view. In brief, the job advertisement—I have it in front of me—makes it absolutely clear that a special adviser is required, who will not become the non-executive chairman unless the Bill passes through both Houses of Parliament.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, will the Minister explain what that person would be doing during the period before the Bill is enacted, bearing in mind that we have just completed a lengthy Committee stage in this House? The Bill has still to go through its remaining stages here before being referred to another place. That would be very long period for an advisory function to be exercised.

Lord Triesman

My Lords, the individual who is appointed will have a number of responsibilities. The policy adviser will consider the structure of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which is subject to the Energy Bill receiving Royal Assent. Such consideration will cover the skills mix of the board of the NDA; appropriate non-executive director posts; senior appointments; the corporate governance arrangements of the NDA; and preparations for the transition to the new contractual arrangements for nuclear site management. That is a fairly extensive job remit and the advice of an individual of some capability will plainly be needed in the department for those tasks.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, will the Minister confirm whether the accounting officer of the DTI approved the advertisement being made at this time?

Lord Triesman

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the post will be filled by a Nolan-type process? I am sure that he will. Will be also assure us that there will be a Nolan-type outcome?

Lord Triesman

My Lords, there will be a Nolan-type process. Having been involved in one or two Nolan-type processes, I have yet to see one that did not have a Nolan-type outcome.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, what will happen if that part of the Energy Bill is not passed by Parliament?

Lord Triesman

My Lords, I can only repeat the point that I made a few moments ago. The post within the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority depends on the passing of the legislation. If the legislation is not passed, the authority will not exist. The role of a non-executive chairman of that authority will not exist either.

Lord Elton

My Lords, in that case, the person who is appointed to the post will have finished the work that he was appointed to do. What are the arrangements for his retirement?

Lord Triesman

My Lords, I am not sure that it is a good precedent to retire people so far in advance of their appointment. There is a serious job to be done. I have tried to set out for your Lordships what that job comprises. I hope that noble Lords will agree with me that it is an important job and that a person of exceptional ability is needed just for those tasks, let alone the tasks that will flow from the passing of the Bill. I do not envisage, and I hope that the House does not envisage, that the person will be retired so prematurely.

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster

My Lords, is the Minister aware—as he must be—that there is a good deal of doubt about whether the process complies with the standing conventions and Treasury rules for appointments in that it will take place before the Bill's Second Reading in the House of Commons? Once again, standards in public life are being called into question. May I suggest to the Minister that the matter be referred to the Committee on Standards in Public Life?

Lord Triesman

My Lords, I do not accept that suggestion. I was asked if the Treasury approved the advertisement. I have confirmed that. I was asked if the accounting officer in the DTI approved it. We are talking about independent, senior civil servants and their judgment should not be called into question.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, I played a relatively small part in the deliberations of the Grand Committee. I was under the impression from those meetings that all parties are in favour of the establishment of the NDA. A body to begin decommissioning nuclear facilities is long awaited and is welcomed by all people. Therefore, does it not make sense to take all the steps that we can, in advance, to get the process under way?

Lord Triesman

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the question. The fact is, everybody has welcomed the serious approach that has been taken to nuclear safety and making sure that we can dispose of nuclear waste in a serious and safe way. The sooner these processes are under way, with all due regard for the precedence of parliamentary process, the better. It would be ludicrous were we to delay it on these grounds, which have arisen only because of the Bill being introduced in this House before it was introduced in the other place.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, be that as it may, will the Minister explain—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, we need to move to the next Question.