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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness asked me two questions. First, as regards emergency testing, I can assure her that it is virtually continuous and has resulted in Ofgem, the regulator, classifying the nuclear industry, like the rest of the electricity industry, as 100 per cent. "blue" in the jargon; in other words, clear of danger. As to the number of occasions where faults have been found in testing, I do not have that information but I shall write to the noble Baroness on that point. As regards Chernobyl and other power stations in eastern Europe, my understanding is that the expert view is that if there is any risk it is a risk of power failure causing blackouts in the area concerned rather than a risk of nuclear accidents, the effects of which may cross national boundaries.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that experience suggests that power

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failure and nuclear accidents are not separate things and the one can cause the other? Is he confident that other countries are sufficiently advanced in their arrangements to ensure that this country may not become subject to an accident occurring in another country?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, power generation failure happens from time to time in any nuclear industry. On average, it happens twice a year in our 39-40 nuclear sites. The inspectorate has ensured that there are adequate back-up generators. It has given an assurance that the back-up is sufficient to enable the nuclear power stations to operate for a week following any failure. The average down-time for power failure is a matter of hours; therefore, a week seems a very sensible precaution.

As to similar safeguards in other countries, I cannot give comparable figures, particularly in general terms. I am assured that there is more danger of a localised power failure than of a nuclear accident of the kind to which my noble friend referred.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this kind of problem never arises with coal-fired power stations? Can he say whether the Government intend to approve any further coal-fired power stations, particularly when there is a good supply of reasonably-priced coal available in this country?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I remember being in an airport in Chicago when a representative of the Nuclear Workers Union said that more people died in Chappaquiddick river than at Three Mile Island. I accept that the same kinds of accidents do not occur in coal-fired power stations, but horrible accidents have occurred in coal mines. The nuclear power industry in this country has an enviable safety record.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, will the Minister take the opportunity to widen slightly his Answer to this Question? With approximately 40 days and 40 nights to go to the millennium, can he indicate whether there are any areas where the Government remain concerned about the operation of the millennium bug?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, without acknowledging at this Dispatch Box now that there are any such areas, I can assure the noble Lord that the Millennium Date Change Committee of the Cabinet, of which I am a member, has been trawling over all of the essential infrastructure of this country, including its energy infrastructure. It is satisfied that very good progress is being made. That is not to say--no one could--that nothing will go wrong at the time of the millennium date change. The noble Lord is asking for a very unqualified assurance, which I am not able to give.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, in his Answer to the Question, the Minister spoke of contingency

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arrangements to deal with failures of cooling systems. Surely there are other failures which may occur. Why did the Minister pick on cooling systems?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, because cooling systems were specified in the Question.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the Minister recall that radioactive rain precipitated from the clouds which arose from the Chernobyl disaster? This caused serious problems for livestock farmers in the north of England and in North Wales. In the event of a similar disaster, can he say whether any procedures are now available to farmers to let them know when a radioactive cloud is about to precipitate on their land? This will enable them to take in their livestock, prevent it from grazing, and to sell it within 10 years, which, in some cases, was the limitation imposed in the Lake District and Wales.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it was exactly because of the problem to which the noble Countess refers that I assured myself, before answering her question, that expert opinion was that any risk in Eastern Europe, the Ukraine or Russia was of local power failure rather than of a nuclear power accident of the kind that took place in Chernobyl. The matter of adequate notice to farmers is very wide of the Question. I cannot give the noble Countess an absolute assurance that there would be adequate notice. That would clearly depend on the speed and direction of the wind, which is not under the control even of Her Majesty's Government. The issue is a serious one. I am sure that those who suffered from the fall-out from Chernobyl have made their case clearly to the Ministry of Agriculture.


2.54 p.m.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they have taken or intend to take to restrain Russian violence against civilians in Chechnya.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised our concerns with Foreign Minister Ivanov at the summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in Istanbul on 18th November, urging that Russia should reach a negotiated political settlement to the conflict. The Prime Minister has also written to Prime Minister Putin.

The European Union General Affairs Council on 15th November condemned all disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force and urged the Russian Government to observe their commitments under international humanitarian law.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. In relation to the Government's ethical

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foreign policy, first, will she tell the House what is the distinction between Kosovo and Chechnya? Secondly, will the Minister say what information the Government have, and what view they take, about the role of Islamic fundamentalists throughout the Caucasian region?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, in relation to the first part of the noble Baroness's question, there is no comparison between what happened in Kosovo and the situation now in Chechnya. Unlike in Kosovo, we have no evidence of a deliberate Russian policy of ethnic cleansing. Russia has a genuine need to respond to kidnapping, banditry and the militants' invasion in September of neighbouring Dagestan. Our concern is that this response should respect international humanitarian law. Therefore, the distinction between the two is quite stark.

As far as concerns our policy, we have made it absolutely clear that in relation to each of these regions we shall do all in our power to ensure that humanitarian matters are fully respected.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, why do the Government not recognise the Chechens' right to self-determination but acknowledge that right for the Falklanders?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, your Lordships will know that since the end of the war in 1996, Chechnya has been internationally acknowledged as being part of the Russian Federation and remains so. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that the Chechens and Russians resolve this issue between them. At the moment, internationally, Chechnya remains part of the Russian Federation.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I and a number of other people are quite amazed by her Answer to the original Question? Is it not a fact that Kosovo is part of the Yugoslavian federation and that Yugoslavia had every right to put down what it termed to be a rebellion in that country? Further, is it not quite clear that the levels of attacks, injuries and deaths were very much overstated, as is now becoming clear from the United Nations' investigation because far from finding that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, it has as yet found fewer than 2,500?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I shall not take issue with my noble friend about figures, which we can discuss later. It is quite clear that every single effort was made in the Kosovo position to try to ameliorate the situation; to try to get Milosevic to the table; and to try to broker some form of proper response. Milosevic deliberately refused. Your Lordships will know that a number of people have said that we waited far too long before responding. We had to have a balanced response. We are starting the process. It is only when a negotiated settlement shows

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no realistic prospect of success that other alternatives must be sought. That position has not been arrived at as far as concerns Russia and the Chechens. It would be quite wrong for us to go down a road from which we would find it difficult to come back.

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