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Energy Act 2013

Exercise of functions: general
Section 92: Directions from Secretary of State

437.This section enables the Secretary of State to make directions to the ONR. There are three separate powers of direction.

438.Under the first of these, set out in subsections (1) and (2), the Secretary of State has the power to give directions to the ONR about how it must perform its functions, and such directions may be specific or of general application. This power might be used, for example, to direct the ONR to conduct a review into nuclear site licence conditions, or to conduct an investigation into the effectiveness of the nuclear security regime at nuclear sites. This power can be used to modify a function of the ONR although it cannot be used to confer additional functions on the ONR.

439.Subsections (3) and (4) allow the Secretary of State to issue a direction, in the interests of national security, which can modify or confer a function on to the ONR (subsection (4)(a) and (b)).

440.Neither of the powers to give directions set out in subsection (1) or (3) can be used to issue a direction in relation to the exercise of a regulatory function in a particular case (subsection (5)). This reflects the fact that although the Secretary of State is able to exercise some controls over the ONR it is an independent regulator and the Secretary of State should not be able to overrule its expertise in individual regulatory circumstances.

441.Subsection (6) allows the Secretary of State to give a direction to the ONR in a specific instance with regard to a regulatory function (such as to react to specific information received by government in order to ensure the security of nuclear premises). Such a direction can only be given where the Secretary of State is satisfied that it can be justified because there are exceptional circumstances relating to national security. The direction may only be given for nuclear security purposes (subsection (7)). This exceptional power reflects the particular expertise that government may have in the sphere of security, but the power is only exercisable in very limited circumstances.

442.In order to provide some transparency about the exercise by the Secretary of State of a power to overrule the ONR in such circumstances, directions made under this section must be laid before Parliament. However, this is unless the Secretary of State considers that making public the direction would be contrary to the interests of national security. In such an instance, a memorandum, stating that a direction has been given and its date, must be laid before Parliament (subsections (8) and (9)).

Section 93: Compliance with nuclear safeguards obligations

443.Subsection (1) imposes an obligation on the ONR to do such things as it considers are best calculated to ensure compliance by the United Kingdom or to enable or facilitate compliance by a Minister of the Crown, with the “safeguards obligations”.

444.“Safeguards obligations” are principally defined in relation to Articles 77 to 85 of the Euratom Treaty and two international agreements made in connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (see subsection (2)(a) to (c)). The overall purpose of these safeguards obligations is to provide confidence that States do not use nuclear material from civil nuclear programmes to manufacture nuclear weapons. The obligations in question require the United Kingdom Government to provide information to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Commission about nuclear material held within the United Kingdom and the use of technology linked with the processing or enrichment of nuclear material.

445.In addition, “safeguards obligations” is defined to include any further obligations or agreements that the Secretary of State specifies in a notice to the ONR (see subsection (2)(d)). The Secretary of State must consult with the ONR before issuing such a notice (subsection (4)). The power here is intended to provide flexibility in the ONR’s safeguards remit so it can also be required to ensure compliance with other existing international agreements and any new agreements which the United Kingdom may enter into in the future relating to safeguards, as well as any undertakings that Ministers may make in relation to safeguards matters.

Section 94: Consent of Secretary of State for certain communications

446.This section requires the ONR to seek consent from the Secretary of State before it issues certain communications relating to both the ONR’s nuclear security policy and the government’s national security policy. The specific ONR communications to which this section applies are any ONR security guidance or any statement of the ONR’s nuclear security policy to the extent that the ONR considers that either of those things relate to government policy on national security (see subsection 2(a)). It also allows the Secretary of State to direct the ONR to seek his or her consent to the publication of certain descriptions of material (see subsection 2(b)). The ONR will not have to seek the consent of the Secretary of State before publishing any code of practice issued by the ONR under section 79, the ONR’s plan, strategy or a report made under paragraph 24 of Schedule 7 or advice given in a particular case (see subsection (3)).

447.The Secretary of State can only use such a direction in relation to communications which he or she considers satisfies the twin tests of relating to government policy on national security matters and being relevant to the ONR’s security policy (for example by containing security guidance or information about that policy) (see subsection (5)). Therefore this power is limited only to communications associated with both the ONR’s nuclear security policy and government national security policy. It does not relate to any of the ONR’s purposes other than the ONR’s security purposes.

448.In order to minimise any administrative burdens, the Secretary of State may issue a general consent in relation to a particular description of guidance which will exempt the ONR from having to seek consent to issue such documents (see subsections (6) and (7)).

Section 95: Power to arrange for exercise of functions by others

449.The effect of this section is to enable the ONR to delegate any of its functions to any person, subject to obtaining the Secretary of State’s consent. The section also permits the ONR to pay the person to whom it has delegated for the performance of the function.

450.Subsection (2) provides that the Secretary of State may only give his or her consent to the ONR delegating a function, if he or she considers that the person to whom it is proposed to delegate can perform the function appropriately.

Section 96: Co-operation between ONR and Health and Safety Executive

451.This section requires the ONR and the Health and Safety Executive to enter into arrangements (and to maintain, review and revise these from time to time) in order to ensure mutual co-operation and the exchange of information about their respective functions. This will help to ensure that the two regulators have a consistent approach to the regulation of health and safety, and that interfaces between their respective health and safety enforcement activities are effectively managed.

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