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Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the whole question of whether the Russians should give it up or not is entirely for them. But we expect Russia to respect the conditions imposed by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and we expect Russia to meet its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe. We shall work with Russia to help achieve its goals there.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, does the Minister agree that Mr. Gordievsky served our intelligence services with great courage? Is it not anomalous that the authorities should maintain a sentence of death on him? Will she go further and ask the Russian Government to consider that point?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: No, my Lords. The Government take the view that any decision to maintain and implement the death penalty is a matter for each state. We do not believe that there is a problem for Mr. Gordievsky now.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, can the Minister say whether there have been any representations regarding other defectors--not connected with the KGB, but soldiers and others who are afraid to go back home--and whether a general amnesty might be considered?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, to the best of my knowledge there has been no such application for an amnesty. I shall look into the matter and if there is further information I shall let my noble friend know.

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Lord Bethell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the death sentence cannot be a matter for the Russian Government only? Mr. Gordievsky is a British citizen.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and the member states' governments will monitor progress on Russia's compliance with commitments. But, as I said earlier, I do not believe that this matter is now the problem that it was in 1985 when the situation in Russia was extremely different and indeed when Mr. Gordievsky had not qualified to become a British citizen.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, does the Minister see any parallel with the Rushdie situation?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: No, my Lords.

Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, as a consequence of accession to membership of the Council of Europe, Russia will be monitored carefully over an initial three-year period by the Legal Committee of the Council of Europe? Is she further aware that the Russian authorities have said to the relevant authorities in the Council of Europe that on the issue of capital punishment this is to cease forthwith?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the information in the second part of his Question, which I shall not repeat. The situation in Russia has changed dramatically. Long may that change continue and the country continue to modernise. In the same way the situation of which we now speak, some 10 years on, has greatly changed. I am grateful to the noble Lord.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, the Minister said that Mr. Gordievsky had made no representations for help from the British Government. Can she reveal whether or not there has been any contact between the British ambassador or a member of the embassy with Mr. Gordievsky?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, there is no reason why that should be so. As my noble friend knows, this is a matter for a British citizen now. If he had any representations to make they would be made here in London.

Gas Fitters: Qualifications

3.16 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to prevent gas appliances being made lethally dangerous by fitters who do not possess the qualifications required to fit them.

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The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1994 require that anyone who works on a gas fitting must be competent to do so. The regulations also require that gas installation businesses which undertake gas work in domestic or most commercial premises must belong to a body which is approved by the Health and Safety Executive. The Council for Registered Gas Installers (otherwise known as CORGI) has been approved for that purpose. Failure to comply with either of those requirements is an offence.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. Are the Government concerned over reports that more than 80 supposed engineers were convicted last year for working without having received approval from the Council for Registered Gas Installers and that the law is probably being broken also by others, some of whom pretend to have that approval, which results in lives being put in danger?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, my noble friend is quite correct. Last year there were some 82 convictions relating to all gas work, of which 39 involved offences for non-registration with CORGI. The law is perfectly clear. Since 1994 there has been a legal requirement that gas work must be competently carried out and installers must belong to a class of persons approved by the Health and Safety Executive. From January 1998, each fitter will need a certificate of competence. I suggest that it is up to everyone who employs such a person to install or mend appliances to ensure that that person is approved before they do so.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, bearing in mind the progressive opening up of the gas market starting this year and to be completed in 1998, is the noble Earl satisfied that gas consumers will be sufficiently safeguarded in the servicing arrangements for their appliance and installations under the open market situation? Is he also satisfied that the provisions of the Gas Act 1995 do in fact safeguard them sufficiently in that respect?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I believe that is the case. The Government are committed to ensuring the safety of gas after liberalisation. The new gas safety management regulations come into force on 1st April this year. British Gas Transco also must have an emergency response service over 24 hours, in the same way as British Gas does now. I do not see why that safety should not be secured.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, what is this all about? Has any gas fitter or anyone else ever been blown up? Is this a serious matter?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the whole idea is to prevent people from being blown up.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is concern that although the CORGI arrangements are welcome, there is no

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procedure to enforce registration or to recall registration documents if a fitter is removed from the list? Should not a procedure be in place to require that? Furthermore, is the noble Earl satisfied that the Health and Safety Executive has sufficient inspectors to ensure that procedures are properly enforced? Would it not be a good idea to have some kind of independent body capable of enforcing the rights of consumers in these matters?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I do not believe that we need another independent body. The Health and Safety Executive has adequate powers. One must remember that a number of people are involved. There are around 150,000 fitters and 150 inspectors registered through CORGI. It will take time for the system to be properly organised. New arrangements which started on 1st January this year will come into operation in January 1998. At that time each fitter will have to be certified as a fitter and each business must be a member of CORGI.

To return to the earlier question of my noble friend, when people ask for their gas installations to be serviced or installed it is their responsibility to ensure that the fitter concerned is a member of CORGI and, after 1998, that he is a registered fitter.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway--who seems to doubt whether the Question was necessary--has not been reading some important articles in national broadsheet newspapers? They have recorded the deaths, often overnight, of people sleeping in rooms where gas equipment has been wrongly fitted. I shall send my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway copies of extracts of the newspaper articles recording those deplorable incidents.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am more than delighted to be a post box by which my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy will deliver his rocket to his noble friend behind him.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, can the Minister say whether or not the regulations apply to a private householder doing work for himself as opposed to buying in the services of somebody else?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, that is a pertinent question and the answer is that they do not. They apply only to people who service gas fitments for other people or run businesses that do so.

Burlington House

3.23 p.m.

Lord Strabolgi asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they have decided to sell off the premises of the five learned societies which have been located around the forecourt of Burlington House for over a century and which now face eviction.

7 Mar 1996 : Column 416

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, since about 1877 the learned societies have occupied part of Burlington House free of rent and external repair costs as it was understood to be part of the government estate. The ownership of the building is now in question. Until that matter has been resolved, no permanent arrangements for the future can be made.

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