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House of Lords

Wednesday, 7th May 2003.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

2.36 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, before business begins, I take the opportunity to inform the House that I will be undertaking a ministerial speaking engagement in Stratford-upon-Avon on Friday, 9th May, when the House will sit. Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.

Hyde Park: "Star Trek" Exhibition

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How long the "Star Trek" tented complex will remain in Hyde Park; whether it was granted planning permission; and, if so, by which body.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, the "Star Trek" exhibition closed to the public on Sunday, 27th April. The site is being dismantled and will be completely cleared by the end of May, if not before. It received planning permission on 17th October 2002 from Westminster City Council.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. As she gave me a Written Answer in March on the same subject, she will be aware that this large tented complex has been on the grass near Marble Arch since the beginning of December. Does she not agree that having so many large tented structures in Hyde Park for so much of the year—this is only one of about six—detracts from the beauty of one of the few remaining open spaces in London? What action will she take to ensure that this does not happen again in the future?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I do not entirely agree with what my noble friend is implying. This was very much a one-off exhibition. I took the decision to support what the Royal Parks wanted to do in allowing the "Star Trek" exhibition, partly because it was to be held in the winter months, when the park is less used than in the summer months, and partly because it would earn the Royal Parks a certain amount of money. Indeed, it has led to more than 250,000 becoming available to the Royal Parks, which will be put to very good use. It will be used to support improvements in Regent's Park, where all the playing fields are being improved and where there is to

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be a new pavilion. I hope that your Lordships will agree that exhibitions of this kind, which can bring in extra funding for the Royal Parks, should be allowed to take place from time to time. There will not be another exhibition of this kind in Hyde Park for at least three years.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, together with many people who enjoy the incomparable space, I am a regular user of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, where I ride my bicycle. I congratulate those who present to us a place of peace and quiet, but surely some standards of aesthetics must be maintained. The exhibition was a piece of corporate vandalism, a visual excrescence, which caused enormous distress to those of us who visited the park regularly each week and are now avoiding it. What kind of decisions will be made by Westminster Council in the future? That is what bothers us and, I imagine, bothers the noble Lord who asked the Question. If we can have that monstrosity there, what is coming next?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I cannot answer for Westminster City Council. The noble Viscount will have to put his question about its planning decisions to its leader. The noble Lord is exaggerating in suggesting that this tented exhibition was a dire threat to the aesthetics of the park. It was located in one corner of the park on a patch of ground that is in very poor condition. Incidentally, in addition to the 250,000 I mentioned, an extra 110,000 or so will be spent by those who put the exhibition together on improving the ground on which it was held. So another benefit is that that area of the park will be greatly improved.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the local residents association. Is my noble friend aware that, in addition to the tented complex, music concerts also cause considerable disturbance to people living around the park? The music is so loud that it can be heard from Marble Arch to Battersea. Will the Government reconsider the use of the park for these kinds of activities?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the answer to that question is no. The Royal Parks are for the people of London. We try to ensure that they are used by the maximum number of people. We should try to attract as many people as possible, including young people, to use the parks and to benefit from what they have on offer. There are seven concerts a year. I regret that they are sometimes rather noisy—I have sympathy with my noble friend in that regard—but we shall certainly not tell the Royal Parks not to hold these concerts.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that many of the strictures that have been levelled against the "Star Trek" tented complex could equally have been made about the Crystal Palace?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am not responsible for the Crystal Palace. I do not even know what the problem is at the Crystal Palace, so I am afraid I cannot answer the noble Lord's question.

Lord Elton: My Lords, further to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, does the Minister not

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have some locus from which she can use her influence or authority to limit the decibels pumped out by the concerts when they take place? This would not reduce their enjoyment to the young people, but it might reduce the harm that it does to their ears, and it would certainly improve the environment for those who live near.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am certainly very happy to take up that suggestion. I will try to find out exactly what we know about the decibel level that such concerts produce and see whether there is anything we could do to encourage the organisers to make them a little less noisy.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how much money the Royal Parks earn from these sort of events? It is valuable to them, as I believe it is about their only source of income.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I cannot give the precise amount of money that the Royal Parks earn from these events, but I know that it accounts for something like 25 per cent of their funding from non-government sources. They also earn quite a lot of money from the parks being used for film productions, catering and similar facilities. I will write to the noble Lord and give him what figures we have on the precise amount.

Hospital Catering

2.44 p.m.

Earl Ferrers asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the food for the new Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is cooked in Colchester and sent to Norwich by road.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, as with all hospitals, decisions on the systems to be used to provide catering services at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital are for the individual trust to make.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I do not think the noble Baroness can get away with it quite as easily as that. The Government take great pride in what happens in the hospital system and she must be concerned, I would have thought, to realise that 230 million is spent on building a new hospital which apparently does not have any kitchens. Or does it have kitchens which are not used? Presumably all the dishes that come up from Colchester, full of food, including porridge—because even porridge has to be cooked in Colchester—have to go back to Colchester again to be washed up and refilled. Can the noble Baroness say how many road movements, as the Civil Service would say, there are between Colchester and Norwich in bringing the food?

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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Earl is quite right: I am concerned and I certainly do not intend to give him a flippant answer. To answer the last part of his Question first, I understand that every day the food is delivered from Colchester—that is one journey a day. The hospital is brand new, as he knows, built to a PFI contract, and it has opted for the cook-chill method of delivered food. It does not sound very appetising but it is. It means that the food is prepared outside but it is fresh food created to the highest possible quality standards. Because it is delivered in that way, we have a guarantee about that. It offers more choice for patients. The noble Earl is quite right that we are very concerned to increase quality and choice to patients. Hospital food has not been good; we want to make it better. That is why we have introduced the better food programme in hospitals.

Lord Renton: My Lords, can the noble Baroness say how many hours elapse between the cooking of the food at Colchester and its consumption in a hospital at Norwich? How much does it cost to transport that food from the one place to the other?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the food is cooked and chilled, so what is crucial is that when it reaches the hospital and is reheated in the kitchen, it arrives on the ward hot and appetising, something to which the patients can look forward. I cannot tell the noble Lord about the transport costs, but if I can find a figure I certainly will let him know.

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