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Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, it is a normal planning appeal inquiry. We believe that it provides adequate opportunities for interested parties to make known their views and for relevant issues to be explored fully and appraised carefully before a decision is reached.

Lord Cavendish of Furness: My Lords, I declare an interest as a director of United Kingdom NIREX Limited. Is my noble friend aware that, as Cumbria County Council has pointed out, the proposed rock characterisation facility is intended to be for research only and is not to be a licensed nuclear facility? Does my noble friend agree that in finding a safe disposal site for radioactive wastes, knowledge is required to establish whether or not the geology is suitable? That is precisely why a rock characterisation facility is needed.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, yes, I agree with my noble friend Lord Cavendish. The RCF is intended for the purpose of research to assess the geological characteristics of the area and to allow informed decisions about whether to proceed with a repository to be taken at a later date. Any plans to go ahead with a repository would be subject to separate planning applications and consultations.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that he seems to have agreed with his noble friend that the rock characterisation facility is necessary; in other words, he appears to have pre-empted the result of the public inquiry?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, it is for NIREX to decide whether it is necessary to continue with the research. That is why it has put in the planning application. If we are to go ahead with the burial of low or intermediate waste, I believe that such a research facility is required.

Lord Flowers: My Lords, as chairman of the Royal Commission whose report published 20 years ago led to the creation of NIREX, I have two related questions for the Minister because I am becoming somewhat confused. First, as the RCF is being considered because it will enable the properties of rock to be determined in the rock mass underneath the selected site for waste disposal, does the Minister agree that until the RCF has

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been constructed, measurements made and the scientific results evaluated, no inquiry can asses the suitability of the site for eventual waste disposal? Secondly, will the Minister confirm that, even if we were to abandon nuclear power altogether tomorrow and decommission all the nuclear reactors, the nuclear waste which has already accumulated would require substantial, safe underground storage?

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I believe that it is the view of scientists that some form of deep-waste disposal site is required. In answer to the noble Lord's first question, I should stress that the research has been concentrated at Sellafield where the drilling of some 25 boreholes has been tested and monitored along with a full range of regional geophysical and mapping surveys and that RCF is purely the next step. However, it is, of course, subject to planning permission.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, will the Government ensure that the names and the whereabouts of the 10 unnamed sites considered by NIREX for 1989, and the results of the investigations carried out by the company on those sites, will be available to the inquiry?

Viscount Ullswater: No, my Lords; I do not believe that that would be correct. After all, the inquiry is purely on the site as regards a particular form of rock characterisation. To name other sites which may have been looked at does not serve that purpose.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in answer to two previous questions the Minister said that such a facility is necessary. However, is it not the case that a public inquiry on the application will have to take into account the issue of whether or not such a facility is necessary? Therefore, has not the Minister twice pre-empted at least one part of the issue before the public inquiry?

Viscount Ullswater: No, my Lords, not at all. I said that it was government policy that such a facility is necessary. The question is whether the RCF should be built at Sellafield.

Falkland Islands

2.53 p.m.

Lord Morris asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have noted the observations of the ambassador-designate of the Argentine Republic, Senor Rogelio Pfirter, concerning the Falkland Islands.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we noted the observations on the Falklands made by Ambassador Pfirter to the press in Buenos Aires on 6th February which we find objectionable. We have made our views on the matter very clear to Ambassador Pfirter and to the Argentine Government.

Lord Morris: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for her response. While I appreciate the difficulty that Ambassador Pfirter faced

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in that he had to answer questions from the press while standing shoulder to shoulder with his employer—namely, the President of the Argentine Republic —does my noble friend agree that it is really most unhelpful to make such remarks in that context?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: Indeed, my Lords; we agree. However, from the exchanges between the new Argentinian Ambassador and our Permanent Under-Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I know that the Ambassador clearly regrets the exchanges with the press which led to the reported observations.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, in the light of the importance of a political settlement with Argentina, both from the point of view of a long-term relationship with Argentina and the long-term interests of the Falkland Islanders, can the Minister give the House an assurance that such a political settlement will be pursued with some urgency, despite the unfortunate and unhelpful remarks made by the Argentinian Ambassador?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, as I told the House last week, we have regular high level exchanges with the Argentine Government on a wide range of issues. I believe that the Argentinian Government have shared our desire to maintain a real improvement in our bilateral relationship over the past few years. From the visits of members of Her Majesty's Government, and, indeed, from the activity of British investors, it is quite clear that good relationships are developing. However, I believe that we must hasten slowly in the matter and ensure that the preparations for better relations are most thoroughly prepared.

Income Gap

2.55 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to ensure that the income gap between rich and poor in the United Kingdom does not widen.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, the Government believe that giving people choice and opportunities, encouraging success and promoting wealth creation is the best way to safeguard the living standards of all groups. Our policies enable people to take advantage of opportunities through improved education and training, help the unemployed get back into work and protect the vulnerable by targeting help where it is most needed.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. But I am not sure that he would get two or three cheers from the thousands of people who are unemployed. Unemployment is the greatest threat to any country. Therefore, will the Minister consider what growing unemployment has done to countries in Europe and the threat that it posed to this country in the 1930s? Ought it not perhaps to be taken most seriously? I know

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that the Minister cannot give me an answer immediately. But is he prepared to consider calling in the CBI, the TUC and the chambers of commerce—they would willingly help this or any Government—to help ensure that unemployment does not grow and that, therefore, especially in view of today's news, it does not threaten our country?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right to put his finger on unemployment as one of the major problems when it comes to looking at the bottom decile. However, perhaps I may point out to him, and, indeed, to the House, that over the past year or so unemployment in the country has fallen by over half a million and is now well below the level found in the countries of some of our major European competitors. But we are still not completely satisfied, as shown quite clearly in the Budget Statement of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last November, when he announced a package of benefit and employment measures worth almost £700 million in order to help get more of the unemployed back into work.

Earl Russell: My Lords, in his first Answer the Minister spoke of improvements in education under this Government. Can he mention just one of them, because I cannot think of any?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am more than delighted to assist the noble Earl in that regard. However, as he comes from a university background I am surprised that he should ask such a question. In 1979 one in eight benefited from higher education; now it is one in three. More young people than ever are staying on in education and training: about 90 per cent. of 16 year-olds and 75 per cent. of 17 year-olds. I should have thought that the noble Earl would be aware of those figures. They certainly show the progress that has been made in further and higher education under this Government.


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