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The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I can reassure my noble friend that the building is not in a dilapidated condition. In fact, English Heritage and the London Borough of Wandsworth monitor its condition closely. Both have the power either to issue a repairs notice or to require urgent works action should they believe it necessary. I can reassure my noble friend that the owners are carrying out repairs when the need arises. If my noble friend were to apply for permission to build four 300-foot towers, it is by no means certain that his application would be thrown out. Each application is judged on its merits.
Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, as it is current policy to pull down particularly ugly buildings, such as that belonging to the Department of the Environment and certain tower blocks, could not consideration also be given to demolishing this hideous and redundant power station which resembles an upturned table and is a particularly ugly blot on the landscape?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The noble Lord obviously does not enjoy the profile of Battersea power station. The Government believe that the building still has the special qualities which were held to justify its listing in the first place. No proposal for its delisting or demolition has been forwarded. But if one were, once again it would be judged on its merits initially by the London Borough of Wandsworth as the planning authority. What may bring the noble Lord some comfort is that the Government have recently announced that the public, including owners, are to be asked for their views before decisions are taken on whether some buildings should be listed. At first that will apply only to some 40 post-war buildingsan exercise which is currently under way.
Lord Geddes: My Lords, will my noble friend advise whether there are any procedures whereby, a building having been listedas in this Question, Battersea power stationthere can be an appeal against such listing?
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the noble Earl said that the Government thought that Battersea power station had certain special qualities. Will he tell the House precisely what special qualities the Government think it has?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I would point out to my noble and learned friend that we are convinced that the building still has the special qualities that were held to justify its listing in the first place. Perhaps I may stress that the fact that a building is listed does not stop proposals coming forward to develop it, to delist it or to demolish it. Any such proposal will be treated on its merits.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, before any of those various drastic proposals are adopted, will the Government give serious consideration to restoring Battersea power station to its original use but using the most up-to-date technology? For example, would not it be a good idea to make it a combined heat and power station and, as its feed stock, use the refuse generated by the good people of Battersea?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the progress in this country of combined heat and power would be much worse than it is if it were not for the noble Lord and his fierce advocacy of it. All I can suggest is that he contacts the owners with that suggestion to see whether it fits in with the master plan which I believe they envisage.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that if the building were to be pulled downa building which was acquired from the CEGB by the present consortium for £1.5 millionthat would represent a capital gain of some £100 million to £150 million to the present owners? That would be an unacceptable undertaking. Is not the right course to seek to have the present owners, or those who are about to acquire it, develop the site in such a way that it is sensitive to the interests of local people?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the planning authority involved, the London Borough of Wandsworth, which I am aware the noble Lord knows well, is seeking the option that he has just suggested as a first priority. As for the noble Lord's arithmetic in the first part of his question, I will neither confirm nor deny it.
The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, Andersen Consulting was awarded the contract by DSS to build and operate the national insurance recording system (NIRS2) following an advertised procurement conformant with UK public service contracts regulations.
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed Answer. There are some disturbing features. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, asked a Question yesterday about the treatment of an individual. Does the Minister understand that it came out clearly that a person who worked for Arthur Andersen has been put almost in purdah while awaiting trial in the US courts? Will the Minister say why an individual can be victimised but not a company such as Arthur Andersen which did not come out of the Wessex Regional Health Authority fiasco smelling exactly of roses?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I heard the exchanges on that subject yesterday between noble Lords and my noble friend Lord Henley. I have nothing to add, because, with all due respect, the subject is a little wide of the Question which has to do with the NIRS2 computer system for the DSS.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the cost of computerising the benefits system has spiralled to £2.6 billionfour times the original estimateand, according to a recent independent Oxford University report, will not achieve any of the anticipated cost savings? Is the Minister aware that the report's author has said that the spend is in fact so large that the department has actually stopped counting it? Is that seemly at a time when the Government are unashamedly cutting benefits to disabled and unemployed people?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the department always counts the cost of all expenditure, including the expenditure proposed day by day by the noble Baroness in her contributions to debates on social security. As to her original question, I cannot confirm the exact figure, but I have seen something like that suggested. One of the premises upon which much of it is predicated is that some years ago when the department started computerising it made certain estimates of what it would cost to do the computer operations at that time. Computer technology has moved on. The number of things that we wish to do by computer has increased hugely and so the total cost of IT in a system which delivers about £90 billion of benefits has increased considerably over the years.
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, further to my first Question, was previous performance considered in the award of the contract? If it was, why was a firm that behaved so appallingly badly in the Wessex Regional Health Authority fiasco awarded the contract, when there were other people available who could do it?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, of course the DSS was well aware of the problems with the contract with the Wessex Regional Health Authority in the late 1980s and of the 63rd report of the PAC on that issue, but Andersen Consulting has done a number of jobs for the DSS and we have found its work satisfactory. It was one of three bidders at the final stages of the contract. Judgments were made by a team of people drawn up by the department, and by independent auditors who were brought in to audit the project at various stages. Its tender was considered to be the best. We consider that it is well able, given its previous track record with us, to carry out the contract.
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