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Volume 401: debated on Wednesday 19 March 2003

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What discussions he has had with (a) the National Assembly for Wales and (b) local authorities in Wales on contingency planning for a terrorist attack on nuclear installations in the Bristol channel. [102972]

The lead responsibility for counteracting terrorism lies with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, security at civil nuclear facilities is a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry. The UK's civil nuclear sites apply stringent security measures, regulated by the DTI's Office for Civil Nuclear Security.

Both the Wales Office and the Assembly are involved in national arrangements for dealing with the effects of any civil emergency. Within Wales the Assembly works jointly with local authorities to maintain a state of preparedness.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that 15 years ago, when we were fighting proposals for the Hinkley C pressurised water reactor, we were told that the chances of an aircraft hitting a nuclear installation were so negligible as to be irrelevant? Few people would take that view now, so is the Minister satisfied with the contingency arrangements for nuclear installations, which, on Severnside, are the most concentrated in the country? Is he satisfied with the resources for the National Radiological Protection Board and is he sure that the emergency services on both sides of the Bristol channel are able to cope with a catastrophic emergency?

The companies operating civil nuclear installations have always been required to have in place robust, detailed and well-rehearsed plans to respond to any radiological release. The plans involve emergency services and local authorities in the surrounding area and are regulated by the nuclear industry's inspectors, as the hon. Gentleman is probably aware. The arrangements were significantly enhanced following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Contingency plans were tested against the threat posed by a major incident in a live exercise at Bradwell on 10 May last year. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must always continue to maintain very high vigilance and a very high regard for those installations and ensure that they are properly cared for and properly protected, and I believe that we are doing the right thing in that respect.

Does the Minister accept that the best long-term defence against terrorist attacks on nuclear installations is to rid Britain of its civil and military nuclear roles? What can we learn from the disaster at Chernobyl, as a result of which not only that community but even farms throughout Wales were devastated?

Until yesterday, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) was responsible for homeland defence. Who is now in charge of that?

Those matters are, of course, ultimately the responsibility of the Home Secretary.