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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, any incident at Sellafield, or at any other United Kingdom licensed nuclear site, is fully investigated by the operator in order to determine its cause and to put in place such measures as may be necessary to prevent a recurrence. The Health and Safety Executive's Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, the independent regulator, carries out separate investigations as necessary in order to determine whether any further regulatory response is appropriate.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Is she aware--as I am sure she is--that accidents have occurred at Sellafield from time to time over a long period? There were incidents in 1972, 1983, 1991 and 1992. Only last month Sellafield was fined £28,000 for what it admitted were serious and significant failures to take proper care. In view of that record is it not time that a public inquiry took place to settle the matter one way or another? There is a consistent record of accident after accident and denial after denial. Is it not time that we knew the truth?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, noble Lords certainly will be told the truth. Safety is of the highest priority at BNFL. One in 10 employees at Sellafield is directly involved in safety. BNFL has invested £750 million in plants designed to minimise any impact on the environment and is always looking for ways to improve standards of safety.

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The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, mentioned that there had been some incidents. That is true. Since 1990 when the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES) was introduced, the Health and Safety Executive has published details of 20 incidents at the Sellafield site. The majority of those were rated at level 1--the lowest level on the scale. It means an anomaly beyond the authorised operating regime. The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate would not allow any site to operate if it were not satisfied with its safety.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, is it not a fact that if one happened to be an inhabitant of the city of Aberdeen, one would be exposed to far more radiation than the level 1 that my noble friend mentioned?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, what my noble friend has said is absolutely right.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the public have the right to demand the highest standards of safety and openness as regards safety at all nuclear installations? Will the noble Baroness give us some assurance that any privatisation of the nuclear industry will not result in the dropping of any of those safety standards?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I can most certainly give that assurance to the noble Lord.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that while I should like to be assured by what she said--I am sure that she believes every word of it to be true; and so it may be--the point is that until we have had a proper public inquiry none of us can be quite sure? When we are dealing with nuclear matters we should be absolutely certain. The only way to find out the reason for this constant record of incidents is by having a public inquiry. Will the noble Baroness think again?

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, it is not a constant record. I have already told your Lordships the position. The fact is that BNFL takes this matter very seriously, as do the Government. I can assure noble Lords that I have considered carefully everything that has been said to me, and I feel reassured.

Rail Privatisation: Concessionary Fares

2.52 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will discuss with the Royal British Legion the effect of rail privatisation on disabled pensioners in London.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport would carefully consider any representations he might receive from the Royal British Legion.

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Lord Molloy: My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome reply from the noble Earl. We are grateful that all parties in another place and in this House support the Royal British Legion. However, we now face the problem that older people who were wounded in the war find travel more difficult than those who served throughout the war but were not wounded. Those are some of the issues about which we should like to talk with the Minister. I sincerely hope that he will seriously examine them. We in the Royal British Legion are confident that all parties in both Houses will always continue to give us their full support and will endeavour to understand the problems of those who were badly wounded serving their country in war.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will congratulate the Royal British Legion on its work, in particular with ex-servicemen and women who have been injured in the defence of their country, and also the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, as national vice-president of that organisation.

I can assure the noble Lord that concessionary rail fares for pensioners and disabled people in London are being safeguarded under privatisation, and that applies just as much to ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, there seems to be some confusion. I understand that Mr. Simon Green, the chair of the London Committee on Accessible Transport, has had discussions with the Ministry which has told him that it is not willing to ask the people who will take over the privatised transport to continue the scheme for more than a year although the period had recently been settled at seven years. Will the Minister clear up that point? Will the period be a year or seven years?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the point raised by the noble Lord has been brought to my attention. I understand that the British Railways Board decided that as the train operating companies serving the London area were due shortly to be franchised it would be inappropriate for them to sign a contract which would commit as yet unknown private sector franchise operators to a seven-year London concessionary fare scheme. I must point out that there has not been a previous seven-year concessionary scheme; this would have been the first seven-year period.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister a little more. I understand that there are 100,000 transport vouchers for disabled people in London. If the scheme had been included in the contract to be signed by the privatised companies, those companies could have allowed for it in the price that they were willing to pay. Why could that not have been done? It would have reassured people.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I believe that there was more concern with the details as regards how the scheme was charged to London boroughs. We

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believe that franchise operators will be in a better position to negotiate with the London boroughs once they hold their franchises.

Beef: Humanitarian Distribution

2.56 p.m.

Lord Monk Bretton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in spite of the European Union ban, they are entitled to give away safe beef from beasts aged over 30 months to consumers in needy countries.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, no. The export of meat from any bovine animal slaughtered in the United Kingdom is currently prohibited by virtue of Commission Decision 96/239/EC.

Lord Monk Bretton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that somewhat brief reply. Nevertheless, will he ask his right honourable friend in another place not to dismiss from his mind altogether the possibility of a giveaway of beef ? Will he also bear in mind the moral virtue in avoiding the waste of edible food?

Can my noble friend say something about the extent of the backlog on farms of cattle awaiting slaughter? Press reports yesterday gave estimates of 120,000 to 400,000 head. Is my noble friend able to be a little more precise? Can he indicate the proportion of that figure as regards dairy cows and clean cattle? Is there an estimate of the length of time that it will take to clear the backlog?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, clearly the export of beef to countries which do not themselves have the right to export beef to the European Union is a matter that we shall be addressing at a very early stage when we discuss the lifting of this unjustified ban. It would have the great advantage that, if countries--it would have to be their decision--were prepared to take our over-30 month beef (which I have been eating happily for many years now), that would help to clear the backlog. The backlog exists because of the difficulty of sufficient rendering capacity. I would guess that the backlog stands at about 150,000 animals at present. I cannot divide that figure between cows and beef animals. We hope to clear it in reasonable time, but it will not be immediately.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, will the Minister answer the earlier question from the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that he failed to answer? Is it a fact that from 1989 both America and Canada banned our beef imports because of our failure to deal with the high incidence of BSE in this country? Would it not be altogether better for the Government to concentrate on restoring consumer confidence here rather than seeking to make a scapegoat of the European Union?


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