HL Deb 15 February 1993 vol 542 cc899-901

2.56 p.m.

The Earl of Shannon asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they will take to assist in ensuring the supply of energy to Armenia in view of the blowing up of the gas supply line from Russia to Armenia.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we understand that intermittent supplies have been resumed. But we condemn the further sabotage to the pipeline in recent days. Our ambassador to Armenia recently travelled to Yerevan and discussed the situation with President Ter-Petrossian. Both the EC and the UN Security Council have urged all countries in the region, including Turkey, who are in a position to help, to do so.

The Earl of Shannon

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she aware of the potentially extremely dangerous situation at Medzamor where a nuclear reactor is earthquake damaged? It has been idle since 1988. Owing to lack of energy, Armenia is now unable to use the monitor or control systems for the reactor. Two-thirds of the fuel elements are still in place. The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and the Russian Nuclear Safety Agency have stated that it is stable at present. But it is a real and increasing danger. That is in spite of the fact that the Armenians have sent six stand-by generators in an attempt to keep the cooling system going.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am aware of the Medzamor nuclear power station. It lies on a geological fault line and was switched off after the 1988 earthquake. Armenia does not have the expertise to maintain or operate the plant. It is for that reason that the European Community is funding a safety study of the power station. That will shortly be completed. We hope that the Armenian Government will await the outcome of that and other studies before making any decision. That is the way, we believe, that the safest solution to that important nuclear power station can be achieved.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the Armenian people, who over the past decade have suffered appallingly, now face another terrible threat. The Minister has explained the technical aspects. Should we not put pressure on the Security Council to ensure that they are put into operation as swiftly as possible?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, we are well aware of the suffering of Armenian and Azerbaijani people in that region. My noble friend Lady Cox, who has done much to help the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, supplies me regularly with up-to-date information. I am pleased to confirm a further £200,000 for the ICRC and UN emergency appeals in Armenia.

While we see a process through the UN as being important, I believe that the CSCE process and the efforts of Signor Raffaelli to bring the parties together need greater support. We have urged the parties to agree to a ceasefire to demonstrate their willingness to compromise, which is necessary for a solution. There is, frankly, nothing to be gained from switching talks to another forum.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does my noble friend regard the sabotage as part of the Azerbaijani blockade of that country? If so, what response have the Azerbaijanis given to the motion of the European Parliament calling on them to raise the blockade? Will she further state whether the blockade is a critical factor in the appalling strangulation in Nagorno-Karabakh?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend has asked me a number of linked questions. Certainly, the Azeris have sought to blockade Armenia in a number of ways. They have caused great problems in Nakichevan which is a part of Azerbaijan separated from the rest of the country by southern Armenia. We know that without confidence-building measures there will be no solution to the situation. Those measures should obviously include the lifting of the economic blockades. However, we are concerned that there has as yet been no positive response by the Azeris. Until there is, it will be difficult to continue to help the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to the degree we believe they deserve.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned funding by the European Commission for assistance. Will she inform the House of the amount of funding incorporated in the 1993 draft budget adopted by the Community, together with the article title and item number which refer to that expenditure?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I regret very much that without notice of that question I cannot answer the noble Lord, but I shall write to him.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the incident demonstrates the vulnerability of using gas as a source of power supply? On that basis, will she press her colleague, the President of the Board of Trade, to maximise the use of coal for British power supplies instead of gas?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the two cases have nothing in common. The safety of any power station is what counts.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, will my noble friend expand on her earlier Answer and say what efforts the CSCE is making at the moment in broking peace between the Azeris and Armenians? Can she also say whether any progress is being made by the WCC in its efforts to bring together the head of the Armenian Church and the Azeri Moslems?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, Signor Raffaelli, who has been appointed by the CSCE, makes continual efforts to bring the parties together. As concerns the WCC, I cannot give the noble Lord an answer but I shall write to him.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm the reports that Turkey and Greece are pursuing their mutual feud by supplying armaments to the respective sides? If so, can she say what steps are being taken to dissuade them?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

No, my Lords, I cannot.