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House of Lords

Monday, 16th December 2002.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth.

House of Lords and House of Commons Refreshment Departments

Lord Dubs asked the Chairman of Committees:

    Whether he will consider the advantages of merging the House of Lords and the House of Commons Refreshment Departments.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I am always ready to consider any proposal from your Lordships. If your Lordships wished to pursue this, I think that, in the first instance, the House Committee would wish to seek the advice of the Refreshment Committee. Consultation would then be needed with the authorities in another place.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his Answer. Does he agree that, on grounds of management efficiency alone, there would be a case for merging the Refreshment Department of this House with that of the other place? Does he further agree that it is an even more pressing problem given that the Commons will start to rise much earlier in the evening, and that there are likely to be underused resources in the Refreshment Department in the other place by January? Will he, therefore, give the matter urgency?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, we are prepared to consider it. So far as efficiencies are concerned, I understand that the last time the issue was raised—which, admittedly, was in 1981–82—it was decided that no economic advantages would accrue to either House. It is too early to say what the effect of the change of sitting patterns will be in your Lordships House. I understand that the same view is taken in another place. Obviously, that must be closely monitored.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords—

Lord Colwyn: My Lords, is the Chairman aware that changes are taking place in the Refreshment Department? Mr Bibbiani, the superintendent, leaves in two or three days' time, and his successor starts work in the new year. Work on new staff facilities, new kitchens and a new restaurant outlet start in July. Is he also aware that, as chairman of the Refreshment Committee, I have regular meetings with my counterpart in the House of Commons, when we

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discuss matters of mutual interest, which do not at present include amalgamation of the two departments?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who is chairman of the Refreshment Committee. I am sure that we all wish to join him in paying tribute to Mr Bibbiani, who is shortly to retire. As I am sure your Lordships are aware, Mr Bibbiani was awarded an OBE in recognition of his outstanding 22 years' service as superintendent of the Refreshment Department. I am sure that the House will be pleased to hear what the chairman of the Refreshment Committee said about new facilities and keeping in touch with the other place.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Refreshment Committee, which takes great interest in the welfare of the staff, who serve us amazingly well in your Lordships House. Does the Chairman agree that it is vital that the morale of staff be a primary consideration in any discussion of future arrangements?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in echoing her praise for the staff of the department, who serve us so well, particularly at this time of the year. I know that for many of your Lordships the presence of friendly and familiar faces is an important element of our services. I reassure the staff that they have no reason for concern.

Lord Roper: My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees not accept that Barry, in his original plans for the Palace, suggested that there be a common set of kitchens for both Houses? Although that was not put into practice, will he at least examine whether there are opportunities, while maintaining the diversity important to the two Houses, of achieving economies of scale?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, as I said, we will look into the matter. Since the original Barry design of this House, refreshment facilities have sprung up elsewhere, including in outbuildings—in our own case, in Millbank House. I am thinking, in particular, of the Barry Room, the Attlee Room, the Reid Room and the Home Room. The Commons now have an enormous empire across the road in Portcullis House and at 1 Parliament Street.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, will the Chairman undertake to see whether fairly traded products are used as much as possible in the catering of the Houses of Parliament?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, that strays slightly from the Question on the Order Paper. Bearing in mind the rules of procedure of this House, which I must be the first to obey, it would be wrong of me to answer that question. However, the question will have been heard by members of the Refreshment Committee.

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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords—

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, will the Chairman also consider other areas of life in the House; for example, the Computer Office or even the Library? That might help efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, that is even wider of the Question than the previous one was.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords—

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords—

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I gave way before.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, so did I.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, it is obviously Gardner's Question Time.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I agree with most Members of the House that we have seen great improvements and are happy with things as they are, particularly given the new improvements to be made. Is there any discussion about the Pugin Room returning to us? In the 21 years in which I have been here, it has supposedly been coming back. When we got red carpet, we were told that it would return, but it did not.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I understand that that issue has been on the agenda for many years. Nothing has happened about it so far.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, has the Chairman any information on the costs of running our department as against that in the House of Commons, and on losses or profitability in each case?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I do not want to get into a comparison between our arrangements and those of another place. The net costs to the House of Lords last year were 977,000 out of a turnover of 2.7 million. The costs in the Commons are a matter for them.

Terrorism: Terminology

2.43 p.m.

Lord Ahmed asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What they mean by "Islamic terrorist".

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government do not believe that the term "Islamic terrorist" is appropriate. We should not allow any credibility to the claims of some terrorists that they are motivated by religious conviction. They must know, as

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we do, that Islam is a faith of peace. As many leaders, political and religious, have made clear, terrorism is an anathema to Islamic faith and practice.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her reply. Is she aware that since 9/11 "terrorism" has become interchangeable with "Islam"? Terminology such as Islamic terrorist, Islamic jihad and Islamic warlords is offensive to all Muslims such as me. Does she agree that a terrorist is a terrorist, whether they are IRA, ETA, Irgun, Tamil Tigers or the Hindu extremists such as RSS, Shiv Sinna and Bajrang Dal?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government condemn all terrorism, but the fact is that some terrorist groups refer to themselves as Islamic. That is the problem. They claim Islam as their justification. They are entirely wrong in doing so. Islam provides no justification for their terrorist activity, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear on 12th November last year, when he said that acts such as September 11th were wholly contrary to the Islamic faith.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, in the light of the Minister's immediate reply, what consideration might the Government give to helping to build up mainstream, moderate Islamic opinion in this country? The juxtaposition of the terms "Islamic" and "terrorist" is very unfortunate. The vast majority of Muslims in this country and around the world are honest, godly, decent people. They need a better voice in this country. I wonder whether we could move towards having some equivalent to the Board of Deputies of British Jews for the Muslim community, which could bring together all the different strands of Muslims and act as an articulate voice for the Muslim community in this country.

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