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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that the figure of 35 per cent excess capacity in the distant past was probably a wider margin than the industry needed to rely on. The margin is not now 17 per cent but 18 per cent and rising, as two mothballed plants are coming on stream. Our advice from Transco and those involved in the security of supplies is that that margin is adequate to meet the conditions foreseen for this winter.

More generally, the noble Lord is right in saying that we must address ourselves to changes in electricity supply over the next decade and beyond. Of course, the Government are following strategies that guarantee security of supplies for the future.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I will not ask a technical electrical question, although I served on the London Electricity Board. What sort of safety cushion is there for human beings, particularly the elderly, who will suffer severely from breakdowns, which occur all the time, no matter what precautions are taken? What is being done to identify people who would be particularly vulnerable to hypothermia if there were a breakdown in the power system?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is an important consideration. As the House will know, certain categories of people, particularly those who are ill in hospitals, have the additional protection of the spare electricity generating capacity in our hospitals. However, there is a problem with regard to home use

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and, if a failure occurred, it would have drastic consequences for numbers of people. The elderly are less able to cope.

That is why it is absolutely essential for us to address ourselves to the necessary spare margin, as the Government have done in recent months. We have the reassurance that we are increasingly returning mothballed plants to service to hit the margin necessary. Any faults with regard to the system—and as I said a moment ago, the two faults mentioned resulted from technical faults—are being addressed as rapidly as possible.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, this issue is now being debated for the second time in the past two weeks. Since the last occasion when the matter was raised, widespread concern has been expressed by the industry itself over the practicality of bringing stations out of mothballs and their working satisfactorily. There is a widespread view in the industry that we shall run into shortages, as has happened Italy and America. What are the Government doing to counter those specific arguments from the industry and the experts involved in it?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the North American calamities were to do not with security of supply but with technical faults in the system. We have sought to learn lessons from their failures. The small difficulties that we have had—although I am aware of the consequences for people at the time, they were very short-lived, and involved a relatively small amount of the national grid transmission—have been addressed, and lessons have been learned from them.

As for the industry, let me reassure my noble friend that it was necessary for National Grid Transco, as the people best placed to assess our needs, to signal to the industry that it would like a wider cushion of security and safety for generation. That has resulted in plants coming back on stream. The signal was sent out and the response has been produced.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, the noble Lord said that we now have reserve capacity of 18 per cent but that he has two other plants coming on-stream. Can he give us the new government target for reserve capacity?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the capacities are ranged between 15 per cent and 20 per cent. Over recent weeks we have moved closer to the upper end of that range of security, as we have sought to do. That is why I am able to respond with such confidence to the House.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, my noble friend referred to the emergency supplies held by hospitals. Will he confirm that it is some time since emergency supplies for London Underground were scrapped? Is he confident that that is a safe way in which to run the London Underground should a power cut for whatever reason affect the system?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the decision to end the separate generating capacity for London

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Underground reflected a decision on whether to renew some very aged plant at very considerable cost or whether the Underground could be sustained by supplies from the National Grid. Everyone concerned has been reassured that the National Grid can provide adequately. As the House will recognise, people had acute difficulty at the end of August when one generator failed to provide to the National Grid. Although that technical breakdown could have occurred in any part of the system, it was London Underground that suffered at that time. As I said, however, my honourable friend Stephen Timms, the Minister in another place, demanded a report on what went wrong on that occasion. That report is now being analysed.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the National Grid is resistant to any single-point act of God or terrorist attack?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the National Grid is able to provide electricity according to demand and its ability to transmit that energy. As for other intruding factors, I cannot foresee them; nor, I think, can the National Grid.

Influenza

2.52 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What support they are giving to research in the United Kingdom aimed at reducing the effects of influenza in the population.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Government support a variety of research on influenza, all with the aim of reducing the impact of influenza on the population. It ranges from work on understanding the virus itself to development of new vaccines and improving implementation of existing immunisation programmes, to reducing the impact of a future influenza pandemic.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Does he recall a time some years ago when the effects of the anti-flu inoculation seemed as bad as the flu itself and when my noble friend Lady Trumpington, who was then a Minister, was giving wise precautionary advice from the Front Bench? Are the Government confident that a flu epidemic will not occur this winter?

Lord Warner: My Lords, we can never be sure what the future holds, but we know that early results from the Australian winter do not suggest that there will be a flu epidemic this winter. We have to watch and wait, which is why we have careful surveillance operations in place.

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We also know that the strain of vaccine being used this year has reasonably beneficial effects in dealing with the new strain that may be coming from Australia.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I assume that the Minister is referring to the H3N2 strain of the flu vaccine.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, no doubt the Minister's notes will confirm that. Can the Minister assure the House that the NICE guidance on the use of Relenza is being fully implemented across the NHS?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am pleased to be able to tell the noble Lord that the strain that is currently coming from Australia is the H3N2—the Fujian-like strain, which represents a slight variant on the (H3N2) Panama strain which was included in last year's vaccine. I hope that the noble Lord feels much better for that. I think that the noble Lord knows the Government's policy on NICE guidance. Our expectation generally is that the guidance will be implemented in the NHS within a three-month period.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, the noble Lord just took comfort from what was happening in Australia in its current winter. Is he really saying that what happens on the other side of the Earth is of relevance to here?

Lord Warner: My Lords, having watched the England rugby team, I do not have total confidence about what is happening in Australia. We have seen a tendency for flu strains that occur in winter in the southern hemisphere to move to this country over time. That is the only point that I was trying to make.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, if the triple vaccine is absolutely safe, free from the fear of autism, why do we have a vaccine damage Act?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I did not say that. No drug is without some risk if it is to be effective, as I think noble Lords realise. That is why we have a licensing authority and why we have reasonable confidence in the safety of that licensing authority's decisions.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government are supporting research into live attenuated intranasal virus rather than injected virus, and whether they are concerned at the uptake of pneumococcus vaccine by those who are particularly at risk?

Lord Warner: My Lords, on the intranasal vaccine, we are watching and awaiting the experience in America where there seem to be promising early signs. Pneumococcal vaccine is, of course, a self-vaccine. This year we have extended the policy so that people aged 80 and over receive the vaccine. The take-up has been good and we are improving supplies from Germany.


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