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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Next Question!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, we have 40 minutes and there are only four questions. As the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House is not getting to his feet, I assume that I can continue.

Does the Minister agree that one of the problems in local government at the present time is the system of cabinet government where only a few people are involved in making important decisions? The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is surely right when he says that people feel a little disenfranchised with local government at the present time. Does the Minister consider that it would be a good idea—as happens in the countryside where there are parish councils—to set up neighbourhood councils in large cities and towns to help with planning and the distribution of the aid available from central government?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, that is exactly what is happening in some big urban areas in parishes where devolution is taking place. If there is such a large interest in this subject, I hope that there will be a substantial attendance in the House on Thursday when I shall be bringing forward the Local Government Bill for your Lordships' consideration.

Central Line

2.45 p.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government are well aware of the misery, which is worse than inconvenience, that the closure of the Central Line is causing passengers and businesses. We share their concerns about the considerable time it has taken to restore services. Some services are now running on eastern and western sections of the line and London Underground will announce this afternoon that a through service from Loughton to Ealing Broadway will open on Thursday. The Government will continue to keep up the pressure on London Underground to deliver improvements to the service.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Ten weeks after the accident happened it is good to know that one train might achieve the long distance from one end of the line to the other. Is my noble friend aware that a similar accident happened in Philadelphia in 1990, which involved a motor falling off the bottom of a train? Sadly, four people were killed. On that occasion the line was reopened four days later. Who is responsible for allowing or not allowing the Central Line to reopen? Whose signature has to be the first one on the piece of paper? It seems that everyone is frightened of making a decision, which, as my noble friend said, is affecting many millions of people.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not aware of what happened in Philadelphia. In London the responsibility falls on London Underground and Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate, which is part of the Health and Safety Executive. I do not know what were the engineering conditions in Philadelphia but my noble friend should take into account that here we are talking about a Tube line on which there are 2,800 motors, each as big as a dustbin and weighing half a tonne. There is a motor on every axle of every train. That means that there are 11,000 bolts. Each time a motor is replaced it has to be lifted off the bogies, placed over an inspection pit—there is one at each end of the line—and the new bolts and new safety brackets have to be installed. That is a big job.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, can the Minister explain whether the delay is due in any part to necessary track repairs as well as repairs to the trains? If, as the Minister has said, the trains are being repaired and the motors rebolted, why have not those trains that have been repaired come back into service as quickly as possible?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, this is not a matter concerning the track, but rather one concerning the motors on the trains. In fact, trains have been coming back into service. The first group were brought back into service on 14th March, the second group on 24th March. Furthermore, as I have said, from this Thursday a through service will operate from Loughton to Ealing Broadway. I understand that London Underground intends for all stations on the line to be served by Easter.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the opportunity

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provided by this prolonged closure has been taken by London Underground to carry out necessary track, signal and station maintenance while the line is closed?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, advantage has been taken of the closure to carry out modifications to the bolts and safety brackets for the motors. That has been the most urgent work.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I know that that is not a full answer to the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. I hope that she will be able to contain her impatience.

The Central Line is part of the second element of the three public/private partnerships due to be signed within the next few weeks. All the issues raised by the noble Baroness in her question will be tackled by the partnership. There would have been no advantage in seeking to do anything about the situation in advance.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, has there been any news with regard to the bolts and brackets holding the motors on trains on the other Underground lines in London?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Central Line is very peculiar—I say that in full anticipation of the laughter which will follow. The central section of the Central Line has very sharp bends and therefore the trains on that line are designed differently; that is, the trains are put together in two-carriage sets rather than four-carriage sets. For that reason, the trains have motors fitted on every axle of every carriage. That is not the case on any other line and thus there is no reason to suppose that the problems which have arisen with the 1993 rolling stock—those are the trains we are referring to—could arise on any other of the Underground lines.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that when the original contract for the Central Line rolling stock was awarded in the late 1980s, the previous government decided that they would split the maintenance of the trains from the procurement of them? Does he agree that, in retrospect, perhaps that was a mistake? A much greater incentive is generated if those providing the rolling stock also have to take responsibility for maintaining them.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Central Line contract was a disgrace. It went way over budget and took far too long. For many months now I have been citing it as an example of the justification for the public/private partnership in your Lordships' House.

Yes, problems arise if engineering contracts are separated from any responsibility for subsequent maintenance. That is exactly what the public/private partnership is all about; that is, it is designed to ensure that those who undertake such contracts bear continuing and long-term responsibility for their work.

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Medical Research Council

2.53 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to take any action in respect of the policies and performance of the Medical Research Council.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, we note the Select Committee report on the Medical Research Council issued on 25th March and are reviewing its recommendations. We shall make a detailed response in due course, but the MRC is highly renowned around the world for its track record in promoting excellent medical research.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I had intended to mention the report in my Question, but under the procedures of the House, I was not allowed to do so. That is why the Question has been worded as it appears on the Order Paper.

The report states that:

    "We have found evidence of poor financial management and poor planning, with too many funds committed over long periods leading to large numbers of top quality grant proposals being turned down".

As someone who has always had a high regard for the Medical Research Council, I was very disturbed to read press reports concerning this Select Committee report, especially as public expenditure of over 400 million is involved. Can the Minister reassure the House that the Government have had no cause to worry about the Medical Research Council and that they continue to value its work?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that question. In view of the press accounts of the Select Committee report, I should like to take this opportunity to assure the House that the report does not suggest that the structure of the MRC is faulty, that money has been wasted or that there has been any financial impropriety. The criticisms have related to the allocation of funds between responsive-mode funding and managed funding, the management of commitment and forward funding, consultation and the way that the peer review of the UK Biobank project was handled. These are complex issues, in many cases involving matters of judgment, and therefore they require careful responses.

I should also say that in the past we have had some concerns as regards the processes of financial planning and commitment. We have been working with the MRC to address those concerns and we are satisfied that good progress has been made.

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