in the fourth session of the fifty-first parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the twenty-seventh day of april in the forty-first year of the reign of





House of Lords

5 Feb 1996 : Column 1

Monday, 5th February 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

THORP Reprocessing Plant: Safety

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have received reports of breaches of safety rules at the THORP reprocessing plant at Sellafield (Observer 21st January 1996), whether stipendiary magistrate Gillespie has said that "many serious errors . . . must be attributed to more than mere negligence" and whether they are instituting a public inquiry.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, the report in the Observer is misleading. The Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has confirmed that there were no reportable breaches of the site licence conditions at the THORP reprocessing plant at Sellafield. I have placed a copy of the magistrate's full judgment in the Library of the House. The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate will not allow nuclear plants to operate if it has doubts about their safety. There is no need for a public inquiry.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that reassuring Answer. Is he aware that there is some concern that those assurances may not be entirely justified? Is it not desirable to have an examination of the situation? I must tell the noble and learned Lord that I have not read the document that has been placed in the Library and perhaps I should reserve any further questions until I have done so.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, in some respects I am not surprised that the noble Lord has

5 Feb 1996 : Column 2

expressed some concern. The report in the Observer says that documents released to Greenpeace reveal that there was an incident in which a 120-tonne flask of nuclear fuel from Germany was damaged during unloading and that that was not recorded in the plant's accident log. In addition, it claimed that safety checks on the flask, including radiation and monitoring to ensure that there was no dangerous leakage, were bypassed.

I would have gained a clear impression from that statement that the flask was full; in fact, it was empty at the time. The damage that occurred was to one of the rings on the flask and that flask was one that was not used and not to be used at Sellafield. If the noble Lord reads the judgment of the stipendiary magistrate he will see that he reports specifically that the flask was devoid of nuclear matter at the time. Security checks were carried out. I can only conclude that part of Greenpeace's mission is to mislead.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that of course we do not condone any safety breaches at the Sellafield plant, but neither do we condone the dangerous practices of Greenpeace activists who were chaining themselves to a railway track to prevent the movement of materials there? To put matters into proper perspective, will the Minister tell the House for how long the Sellafield plant has been operating and how many people have been killed through accidents there?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord exactly how long, but the plant has been operating for a considerable period of time and has a very good safety record. It is completely open about any small incidents that might occur. If anyone has any concerns, the very skilled Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is called in. I wish to emphasise that on this occasion there was no question of a cover-up. The

5 Feb 1996 : Column 3

inspectorate concluded and, indeed, confirmed that there was no reportable breach of the site licence conditions on that day.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, can the Minister explain the reason for the very serious remarks attributed to the stipendiary magistrate? He said:

    "Many serious errors ... must be attributed to more than mere negligence".

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, the noble Lord indicated that he will read the judgment and I certainly recommend that he does so. It is long and elaborate. The points which the magistrate made, which are used in direct quotations in that article, relate to some written documents--what is called a quality plan. As British Nuclear Fuels has subsequently explained, that plan does not require Health and Safety Executive approval. However, I urge the noble Lord to read the context within which the stipendiary magistrate made his remarks.

Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will know that the Government of the Republic of Ireland have expressed their concerns about the adequacy of the safety regulations at this plant. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government of the Republic of Ireland are still pursuing those concerns or whether they are satisfied about them?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I understand that a civil case is being brought in the Irish courts by four residents of Dundalk in relation to the operations at Sellafield. The outcome of an appeal by BNFL is awaited on whether the Irish courts have jurisdiction to hear the case. In view of the fact that the outcome of an appeal is pending, it would be inappropriate for me to offer any further comment.

AIDS: Treatment Costs

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    The number of patients currently being treated for AIDS, the average cost per patient for hospital treatment, and whether the cost per patient varies from hospital to hospital.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): My Lords, the number of people being treated for AIDS in the United Kingdom in 1994 was around 4,000. The annual average cost of hospital treatment for an AIDS patient is in the region of £21,000 and costs vary from hospital to hospital.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware of the concern about this year's change in the method of funding AIDS treatment clinics, which until now has been ring-fenced? In view of the health service principle

5 Feb 1996 : Column 4

of the money following the patient, will she consider reassessing the situation at the end of the year to discover whether the money for treating AIDS cases went where the patients were treated?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, yes. The money that is given to regions by the department takes into account the caseloads for HIV and AIDS within each region. Regions then take into account the treatment centres when allocating their funding. However, the formula is not so fine-tuned that the money to regions is exactly related to patient workloads. We expect regions to take that into account when considering the trusts which run the centres.

Lord Kilmarnock: My Lords, while the latest PHLS report is welcome news, projecting a declining trend in new AIDS cases from 1999, for which everyone concerned--the Government, the voluntary sector and the medical profession--deserves congratulation, will the Minister accept that the total caseload, even in the revised projections, is forecast to rise from 3,485 in 1995 to 3,690 in 1996 (approximately 200 additional cases) and to continue that upward trend for the next three years? In those circumstances, will the Minister assure us that that trend will be taken into account when the Government make their cost calculations for the treatment and care of AIDS?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, yes, I can give that assurance. In fact, the trend is likely not to rise by 10 per cent. but to reduce by 10 per cent. according to the predictions. The funding in real terms is reduced by 7.7 per cent. so there is a margin for health authorities.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, my noble friend said that the costing appeared to be falling. Can she say whether the number of new AIDS cases that are reported in this country is on the increase or on the decrease?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, it is on the increase. If one looks at specific groups, such as men who have sex with men or bisexual men, the numbers are decreasing. However, the numbers in other groups, such as drug users, are increasing.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, the Minister has given some remarkable details today. However, will the Government consider issuing more information in order to warn people of the danger of AIDS and the fact that there are measures which can be taken to stop them catching this awful disease?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, three national campaigns are being run at the moment. The first is targeted at young people, the second at gay and bisexual men and the third at holidaymakers. In addition, a great deal of work is going on locally through health promotion departments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page