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Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): There was a good deal of distress among Londoners caught up in the power cut. The Minister will know that the London underground had its own generating supply at Lots road for 100 years. When it was closed, assurances were given that the underground's supply would be secure. The Minister tells us that some 43,000 automatic mechanisms could turn off the secondary supply on which the underground now relies. Is there not a case for returning to the argument that the underground should

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have its own back-up supply in case the national grid fails? If that is deemed necessary, will the Government invest in it?

Mr. Timms: I agree about the distress and, at the least, great inconvenience caused to a large number of Londoners that night. If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I will deal shortly with the question of the resilience of the underground's power supply.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to confirm that some emergency capacity is still retained at Lots road for running the underground in the event of a failure, which would allow the escalators and lights to work and the trains to move rather slowly, and that this capacity continues to be maintained?

Mr. Timms: I shall talk more about that in a moment. The back-up supply is now at Greenwich, not Lots road, but my hon. Friend is right to point out that some back-up for the underground is available.

Returning to the night of 28 August, an incorrect protection relay—1-amp rated, rather than 5-amp rated—had been installed at Wimbledon when the old equipment was replaced in 2001, which was the immediate cause of the loss of supply. Although all supplies were restored in 41 minutes, the consequences, as a number of Members have rightly pointed out, lasted a great deal longer. In particular, there was an immediate loss of supply to some 60 per cent. of the underground, which in effect brought the whole system to a halt. Each London Underground control centre lost the ability to see diagrams of the position of trains for the duration of the failure, so they began to speak to train operators in order to collate positions manually. Some 57 trains had stopped inside tunnels, eight of which—carrying 1,200 passengers between them—were evacuated via the tracks.

Each evacuation, I am pleased to say, was carried out according to standard arrangements, but that of course meant that the underground network could not be switched back on until it was absolutely certain that all passengers and staff were safely away from the tracks. There was no risk to passenger safety, and the whole House will want to express thanks to all those involved for their calm and safe response. Although the emergency back-up power supply available to the underground, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) has just referred, is not of a sufficiently high capacity to keep the trains moving, it did ensure that emergency lighting was available at all the affected stations, and that the evacuation could be carried out safely.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I acknowledge what my hon. Friend says about the safe execution of the procedures provided by London Underground, but surely one of the main issues is the time that it took to bring the service up to speed. Is he satisfied that the procedures provided by London Underground are effective, as well as efficient?

Mr. Timms: They were certainly safe, which was the overriding priority. I shall discuss in a moment the wider question of whether they were necessarily the most

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appropriate action to take on the day, but we need to pay tribute to the fact that the operation was conducted safely, and that the procedures worked well in terms of protecting passenger safety.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Timms: I will give way in a moment, if the hon. Gentleman will just bear with me. I should make it clear that the failure in London had nothing to do with any lack of generation capacity. The National Grid Company pointed out that since 1990 it has invested more than £3.5 billion in nominal terms in the system—a significantly higher rate than before. Its performance, measured against the security and quality standards required by its licence, is reported annually to Ofgem and made public. Performance has improved since 1990, and the level of customer demand lost has been extremely low. It can justly point to a good record in terms of meeting the demands made of it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) asked a question that many people ask: why does the London underground no longer have its own power supply, following the closure of Lots road last year? The underground consumes half of 1 per cent. of total UK power consumption. In fact, before Lots road was closed last November, it had been supplying no more that 60 per cent. of the underground's power for some time. Power for the underground has been bought in from the national grid for 20 years or more.

The Lots road power station opened in 1905. At the time, it was the biggest in the world, and when it closed it was the oldest working power station in the world—reflecting the previous Government's woeful failure in terms of investing in the London underground. London Underground had considered options for upgrading it or replacing it since the mid-1980s. It was finally decided— before 1997, in fact—to close Lots road and buy in power from the national grid through the private finance initiative deal. It is worth noting that between 1969 and 2002, Lots road failed 13 times, and the national grid supply to the underground just twice.

London Underground will of course be looking very carefully at how its power PFI worked and what lessons need to be learned. In addition, as part of the investigation that I have announced, the Department of Trade and Industry's engineering inspectorate will look at the London underground's power supplies, and may make recommendations if that seems appropriate in the light of that investigation.

The incident was the biggest loss of supply from the national grid for more than 10 years. I announced on 10 September that the Government and Ofgem will undertake further investigations into the failure's causes and impact. We are determined to learn any lessons that might help us to prevent such distress in future. The joint Ofgem-DTI investigation and the engineering inspectorate's investigation will also look into the power cuts that took place in the west midlands on 5 September, when a loss of power occurred at 10.10 am at the national grid's Hams Hall sub-station, in Coleshill. On that occasion, full power was restored by 10.52, but some 200,000 customers were affected. On that day, I registered my deep concern with the National

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Grid Company at this second power cut, coming as it did so shortly after the power cuts in London. I am expecting a report from it on that incident shortly.

Patrick Mercer: The Minister will be aware that during the weekend before last, the Osiris II exercise, in which a terrorist strike on the Bank tube was simulated, took place. That happened only a few days after the incident that the Minister describes, yet very little reference was made to that real incident that occurred on 28 August; indeed, such reference was passing and jocular. Can the Minister confirm that lessons from that real incident were passed on to inform the exercise? I saw very little sign of that.

Mr. Timms: Some of those lessons will take time to crystallise, but it is clear that we will learn all the lessons from what happened on 28 August, for the future of the underground. It is right to draw attention to some of the questions that need to be answered. For example—this question has already been hinted at—was evacuation the right decision for some trains? Were the drivers kept sufficiently well informed? Was there adequate communication between staff and passengers? All of those questions need to be asked and answered. As I said, we need to look at whether the underground has adequate power security, but the Government's London resilience team, working closely with the office of the London Mayor and others, will consider all those issues. Indeed, the London resilience forum deals with all these matters, including the simulated terrorist attack to which the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) referred. It has carried out a lot of work on contingency planning for London, and that work will continue.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): As the Minister knows, the question of whether it was appropriate to evacuate some of the trains has attracted enormous interest in London, given the resulting delays in restoring the service, to which the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) referred. Will he make it clear whether, under the new arrangements, the final decision on such matters rests with the Government or with the London Mayor?

Mr. Timms: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Mayor now has responsibility for the underground. As I understand the procedure, however, it is possible for individual drivers to decide whether evacuation is necessary, in the interests of the passengers of the train concerned; indeed, it is right that drivers be able to make that decision. Whether everything worked exactly as it should have on 28 August is a question that needs to be addressed.

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