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House of Lords

Monday, 29 March 2010.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

Introduction: Baroness Grey-Thompson

2.37 pm

Dame Carys Davina Grey-Thompson DBE, commonly called Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, having been created Baroness Grey-Thompson, of Eaglescliffe in the County of Durham, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Finlay of Llandaff and Lord Coe.

Introduction: Lord Bichard

2.45 pm

Sir Michael George Bichard KCB, having been created Baron Bichard, of Nailsworth in the County of Gloucestershire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Blackstone and Lord Ouseley.

Death of a Member: Earl Northesk

Announcement

2.49 pm

The Lord Speaker: My Lords, I regret that I have to inform the House of the death yesterday of Earl Northesk. On behalf of the whole House, I extend condolences to the noble Earl's family and friends.

Afghanistan

Question

2.50 pm

Asked By Lord Astor of Hever

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, before answering, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal of Horse Jonathan Woodgate from the Household Cavalry Regiment, serving as part of the Brigade Reconnaisance Force, and of Rifleman Daniel Holkham from 3rd Battalion The Rifles, serving with 3 Rifles Battle Group, who were killed recently on operations in Afghanistan.

The food provided on operations is constantly reviewed and developed in response to views from the front line to ensure that quality and nutritional standards are

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maintained and to provide variety. The Armed Forces feeding project is evaluating actual food and energy intake. Gender, ethnic and cultural differences are also being considered. This study is due to report at the end of the year.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, our thoughts, too, are with the families and friends of Lance Corporal of Horse Woodgate of the Household Cavalry and of Rifleman Holkham of 3 Rifles.

On occasions, soldiers and Royal Marines are having to make do with boil-in-the-bag ration packs or tinned spam, sometimes for up to 50 days, because of helicopter resupply shortages. What assurances can the Minister give the House that everything possible is being done to ensure that FOBs are resupplied with fresh food? What research is being done to bring our field rations into line with those of our allies, such as the Americans, who have self-heating meals?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, it would be rare for our forces to find themselves having to make do with boil-in-the-bag food. Most forces are in forward operating bases of about 400 people. They will typically have chefs. About 80 per cent of the food they work with is fresh or dried, and about 20 per cent is from 10-man ration packs. On rare occasions, perhaps at patrol bases or out on patrol, one-day kits are used. They are superb. I have eaten them, and I know of a number of others who have done so, too. It is fortuitous that this month's Defence Focus has a two-page spread on the varieties available and the cultural differences catered for. I am assured-but then I would be, wouldn't I?-that they are the envy of our allies. I shall place a copy of Defence Focus in the Library.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I associate these Benches with the condolences that the Minister has expressed. I had the pleasure, with a number of noble Lords, to visit our bases in Kandahar and Camp Bastion. The standard, quality and variety of food for various nationalities were remarkably good. How are those standards maintained in other forward places?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, in a sense I am slightly repeating myself. What makes a real difference to quality of food is being able to have military chefs well forward. Most soldiers will be served by military chefs in the main bases. These are the dynamic things, but most of the time that quality is maintained at the forward operating bases. They are working from fresh supplies and from the 10-man pack, which is a pack of foods that are now pre-varietised in the UK before they are sent, so we do not repeat the one unfortunate incident when they were all the same. We do an awful lot to produce the variety. The idea of these military chefs is particularly exciting; they are soldiers first-they are fighting chefs-but, at the end of the day, they provide the morale-boosting variety.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, first, I declare an interest. A young captain who is a member of our family is in FOBs in Afghanistan at the moment, so this is of particularly keen interest for

29 Mar 2010 : Column 1181

me. The food is important for physical well-being, but it is also important in the operating field for the morale of our service men and women. Certainly the food has improved back at base, but we need to see an improvement in FOBs-there is no doubt about it. I would take a lot more heart if the Minister could comment on the possibility of an outcome at the end of this year, which would then take some time to implement. Is there any way that the schedule for that could be brought forward? It is not a highly technical matter, and it would certainly help if it could be.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the situation is developing all the time so, in a sense, it would be wrong to say the end of the year. There have been considerable improvements in the recent past, with the development of the multi-climate ration pack, which is the new one-man pack. It came out of troops being dependent on them for extended periods; that is why it has developed into a much wider variety. It is nutritionally very sound, with 4,000 calories and the sort of balanced diet that we do not think about having. We have very bad diets compared with these packs. I urge people to look at the magazine that I mentioned. We are doing a good job for our front-line forces; there is good variety, good nutrition and they are very healthy on it.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: Does the Minister recall the quotation in Stanhope's Conversations with Wellington who says, effectively, "You never know what you are going to meet with. Sometimes you have to get by on a steak and a pint of claret."?

May I refer the Minister to the Duke of Wellington's diaries in the hope that he will learn as much about food as we have, as a consequence of visits to Wellington Barracks, about the way the Duke looked after his men when they were in barracks?

Lord Tunnicliffe: I am not precisely familiar with the quotation and I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for that. However, looking at history, Wellington was so successful because he took his supplies with him. He did not rob the countryside; he planned ahead and took his impedimenta with him for cooking and so forth. Frankly, nothing has changed over the generations, except that in periods of new challenge we have not been well adapted. We are now adapted to Afghanistan and we are in Afghanistan doing exactly as he did-not the claret though; no alcohol in Afghanistan. Apart from the claret, we are trying to improve and maintain morale through a large variety of good food.

Baroness Trumpington: Is the Minister suggesting that, like Wellington, our troops should live off the countryside? Would it be mostly dope?

Lord Tunnicliffe: I am not the first, and I shall probably not be the last, Minister to be misunderstood by the noble Baroness. I am saying the very opposite: Wellington succeeded by not living off the countryside, but by feeding his troops properly. It has been a tradition of the British Army; it is probably in its finest hour now in Afghanistan.



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Parliament: 2012 Pageant

Question

2.59 pm

Asked By Lord Roberts of Llandudno

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, has put his interesting proposal to the House authorities. I hope that he will understand that it would be inappropriate for me, at this stage, to lend my personal support to any particular proposal while it is under consideration.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I am grateful to the Minister for that partially cheerful answer but, after many months-years, even-of such difficult times in Parliament, does she not agree that a pageant of Parliament that shows the achievements of the British Parliament over many centuries could do something to restore our reputation? Will the Leader of the House encourage those authorities who are able to help us with facilities of any nature to discuss with us the future of this proposal?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I agree that we have been through difficult times, but I still think that we should be proud of our Parliament and proud of our democracy. Anything that can be done to engender more confidence is a good thing. I think that we need to wait until this proposal has been through the proper procedures, which is what is happening now. However, I draw the noble Lord's attention to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Hall of Birkenhead, who was introduced last week, is chair of the Cultural Olympiad. He might find that useful.

Lord Richard: Does my noble friend agree that this is a somewhat unreal suggestion from the Liberal Democrat Benches? Before we celebrate the achievements of Parliament, would it not be a good idea to persuade the Great British public that there are achievements that deserve to be celebrated in the form of a pageant? We have to be a bit more popular. Can my noble friend imagine the front page of the Sun if we were to have a pageant to celebrate the achievements of Parliament? I can imagine little that would be worse for the reputation of this House.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I hear what my noble friend says and I can of course imagine the front page of many newspapers. However, I still think that there are many achievements of this Parliament, and of this House in particular, of which we should be proud.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, is there not a strong case for deferring the main celebrations of Parliament until 2015, when we can celebrate Magna Carta, not only for what it contained but for the massive impetus and inspiration that it gave to the cause of human freedom?



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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is an excellent idea to celebrate 2015. In 2012 we will have the Olympics, the Paralympics-we have just welcomed the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson-and of course the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen, so there will be much to celebrate that year.

Lord McNally: My Lords, is not 2012 the right year for this, a year when we will be celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen in a constitutional monarchy? Nothing could be more depressing than the noble Lord, Lord Richard, waiting for the approval of the Sun before this Parliament has a pageant. It is time for Parliament to get off its knees and to tell the people of this country that it is here that their liberties are secured, as they have been for 800 years. That would be a celebration indeed in 2012.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I completely agree. I would never go on my knees. I am very proud of Parliament and would never wait for the endorsement of the Sun for anything. If we did that, we would not be governing in the way in which we are. There is much to be proud about. While there will be much to celebrate in 2012, there will also be much to celebrate in 2015.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords-

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords-

Noble Lords: Lord Wright!

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, why can we not hear from my noble friend and then from the noble Lord, Lord Wright?

Lord Ashley of Stoke: Is my noble friend aware that this could be seen as a public relations exercise and that, as such, not only the Sun but other newspapers would have a field day mocking the attempt to paint Parliament white? The timing is very bad and absolutely wrong. I would be opposed to any such move.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I hear what my noble friend says. Clearly there are a wide variety of views around the House. Ultimately it is for this House to decide on these issues but, while I understand concerns about a public relations exercise, there is also much that we should continue to be proud of in our Parliament.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, if this proposal finds favour, I for one look forward to hearing Welsh Peers singing the praises of Parliament?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords, together with Peers from Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, the Leader of the House has mentioned the Sun, but is it not more to the point that, if this rather curious proposal were to go ahead, it would be important that it was sponsored by the Daily Telegraph?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, what an excellent idea.



29 Mar 2010 : Column 1184

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one of the reasons to be proud of Parliament is if it does its job properly in scrutinising legislation put forward by the Executive before it is passed?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is what we do day in and day out. This House in particular is extremely good at it.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords-

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, bearing in mind the fact that Parliament has been losing powers not only to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but to Europe as well and is continuing to do so, and is held in less respect now than it ever has been, would it not be more appropriate to hold a memorial service than a pageant?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: No, my Lords, I completely disagree. We celebrate the continued life of this Parliament.

Housing: Shorthold Tenancies

Question

3.05 pm

Tabled By Baroness Gardner of Parkes

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest which is in the Register.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, the Minister for Housing made a statutory instrument on 22 March raising the annual rental threshold for assured tenancies to £100,000 from 1 October 2010. This will extend the framework of assured and assured shorthold tenancies to the majority of private lettings as the original legislation intended. An impact assessment was published alongside the SI and placed in both Houses' Libraries.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank the Minister, but really the notice has been quite short. That was obviously tabled after my Question. Is he aware that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said that London will be the most adversely affected and that it says:

"The Government needs to ensure that landlords and agents dealing with these properties are aware of the changes and will have time to access a relevant scheme."

How much time is he proposing to allow?


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