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House of Lords

Monday, 25 February 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Death of a Member

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, it is with great sadness that I have to inform the House of the death on 23 February of Lady Darcy de Knayth. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to her family and friends.

Armed Forces: Pensions

2.36 pm

Lord Morris of Manchester My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I do so as honorary parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion.

The Question was as follows:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, in their response, members of the tribunal opposed the transfer of their England and Wales jurisdiction to the Social Entitlement Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal. However, the proposals in the consultation paper make it clear that members of the existing tribunal will be transferred into the new statutory tribunal structure to continue their excellent work in the same way as at present and to preserve the tribunal’s expertise.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, but is he aware of the depth of disquiet in the ex-service community about the proposal to submerge the Pensions Appeal Tribunal—the guarantor of fair treatment for war pensioners—in the proposed Social Entitlement Chamber? Is not the chamber already too big? Why do the proposals fail to reflect the flexible framework set out in the Act and ignore the historical reasons for creating and continuing the PAT? With all his customary distaste for mincing words, my noble friend Lord Rooker told Parliament that our Armed Forces,

Is that not a compelling enough reason for a discrete specialised jurisdiction for our war disabled and bereaved?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, of course I pay tribute to members of the armed services and, indeed, to my noble friend for his outstanding work in this area. I assure him that these proposals have been the subject of a consultation, on which no final decisions have been taken. Perhaps I may refer him to Lord Justice Carnwath, the Senior President of Tribunals, who has made it clear that one of his principal objectives in the coming months will be to ensure that the changes do not come at the expense of continuity, specialisation or service to users. The proposals are an attempt to use the undoubted strengths of the current Pensions Appeal Tribunal, but within a larger and more integrated approach to tribunals generally.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Pensions Appeal Tribunal and its president, Dr Concannon, have over the years built up a strong position of trust among members of the Armed Forces? Would it not be folly to put that relationship, especially at this time, at risk by merging the tribunal with the much larger body, the Social Entitlement Chamber, in which it will be swallowed up and soon lost to sight?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the president and all members of the tribunal for the outstanding work that they have undertaken. I accept that there is enormous confidence in their work among members of the Armed Forces and those who appear before them. As I have made clear, we are seeking to ensure that the strengths of the tribunal that the noble and learned Lord referred to will be taken forward in the new structure. Lord Justice Carnwath has made it clear that that is his intent as well.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the stated intention behind the Social Entitlement Chamber is for expert members of the various panels, particularly medical experts, to be a general chambers’ resource, available for all types of appeal, such as social security and so on. How do the Government intend to use across the board the armed services members, who are currently an essential part of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal but who obviously could not be used in any other capacity? Those members give confidence to servicemen that the people listening to them know about service life. Why waste the expertise on injuries incurred in warfare that medical members have by allowing other people to come into the Pensions Appeal Tribunal system? Surely the whole purpose of the tribunals Act was to have a flexible system.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that is what is being proposed, while we retain the current strengths of the system. The assignment and allocation of members of appeals will be the responsibility of the president of the relevant chamber. As far as I am aware, there is no intention to dissipate the expertise of the medical members, but there may be situations in which they can provide evidence to other tribunals and it would

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be a pity to waste that expertise. I should also make it clear to the noble Lord that before a member can be used in another jurisdiction, they will have to go through the appropriate training and be given a ticket enabling them to do so. There will be a quality check on that.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords—

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, by my reckoning it is the turn of the Conservatives, but we have time for both questions.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, if the Government subsume this highly skilled and highly specialised tribunal, in which families can have some trust, how do they propose to face the fact that tribunals will now be meeting all over the country as part of larger tribunals? Up to now, the Royal British Legion has had a special agreement with the PAT to provide people for specific meetings and tribunals when major issues are at stake, but it will be unable to run all over the country attending all sorts of large tribunals. These issues will be one small bit of the system, but they are nevertheless vital to the armed services. I feel that we will be betraying the military covenant and leaving families in a serious state of anxiety if we do not preserve something that has lasted since 1919 and which is trusted and needed.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have sympathy with the noble Baroness’s remarks and I pay tribute to the work of the Royal British Legion. My understanding is that cases will be listed. That will ensure that resources are used efficiently so that cases relating to a given jurisdiction within a chamber are heard on the same day. I hope that that will assuage some of the concerns of the Royal British Legion.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, in relation to the document Transforming Tribunals, will my noble friend further confirm the assurances given by my noble friend Lord Bach on 4 February—I had previously given notice of this—that there will be no change in the equal status of the three members of tripartite tribunals and that all the parties who judge the case will be equal?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. This is subject to a second consultation by the department, BERR, which will respond to those issues in due course. I can tell him, however, that most respondents to that consultation have commented that the tripartite structure of the tribunal was a real strength that aided decision-making in cases where considerations of context and reasonableness were important.

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Olympic Games 2012: Financing

2.45 pm

Lord Sheldon asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, on 10 December 2007, the Government announced the result of work undertaken to ensure that the budget for the Games was fully aligned with the scope, programme and risks and confirmed that the findings of this work validated the ODA budget and the overall funding package of £9.325 billion that was announced in March 2007. Further details of funding for the Games can be found in the first annual report on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, published on 22 January this year.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but is he aware that the National Audit Office report this month pointed out that there is a major risk in the lack of agreed cost estimates in the Olympic programmes? At the same time, is he also aware that Ken Livingston has guaranteed that there will be no increase in London tax bills to finance the Games? Since the Games executives are being paid very much more than was anticipated, does my noble friend gather that there will be some shortfall here, and how will he deal with it?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as we have made clear on a number of occasions, there is no intention to have a shortfall in resources. The resources that will be commanded from the three contributors are £9.325 billion. That is the costed figure. The Government’s intention, determination and expectation are that that budget is adequate for the Games.

Lord Laming: My Lords, are the Government aware of the growing concern among a number of charities that the funding of the Olympic Games will draw money away from very important charities in our society? Can the Minister say anything that would comfort charities that have great concern about this? It is no comfort to know that they might get back some funding in 2015 or 2016.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the National Lottery intends to contribute 19 per cent of its resources to the Games, which certainly puts strain on other parts of its allocation, as has been recognised. Additional resources will still be available for the bodies concerned, but any loss from any increase that they could have anticipated will be made up when land values are realised after the Games.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, will my noble friend consider the particular point made in the National Audit Office report that there is a major risk in the lack of agreed cost estimates of the Olympic programme? Can he deal with that?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I can in this respect. There has been analysis of the Olympic budget at the highest level. In this analysis, where anxieties have been expressed, for instance with regard to the security budget, I can report that the contingency provision for the security budget is three times higher than the original allocation of resources for security. We are taking on board the fact that there could be significant increases in certain areas, but these were all included in the £9.325 billion budget, which was announced in March last year. We intend to stick to that budget, which is adequate to deliver the Games.

Lord Imbert: My Lords, has it been noted that the Government listen to what happens in your Lordships’ House? A few weeks ago, a similar Question was tabled about funding for the 2012 Olympics, and I asked whether the Government were properly funding the British Transport Police Authority in its endeavours to provide safety on the transport system during 2012? I have now heard from the authority that it has been properly funded so that the resources to be available for it almost to guarantee the safety of the transport system in 2012, which is to be commended.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful for that testimony.

Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister have a further guarantee that sufficient resources will be in place to make sure that there will be a sporting and planning structure legacy? That is one of the reasons why we bid for the Games in the first place.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the legacy was an important aspect of the success of the bid. The noble Lord will appreciate that there have been suggestions that there is a failure to project accurately the returns that may occur after 2012. We are in difficult areas here because we are projecting land values. All of us will recognise that there are problems with regard to projection in those terms. Nevertheless, there is not the slightest doubt that the Olympic estate is an extremely valuable asset that is designed to supply the legacy and the resources for the enhancement of the area after the Games. The whole planning of the estate is along those lines.

Agriculture: Swill Feeding

2.52 pm

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the Government welcome the thorough report published by the parliamentary commissioner for administration in December 2007. We are considering the report carefully and will reply to the ombudsman before the end of March.

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Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am grateful for that encouraging response, but does the Minister accept that the ombudsman found that there was maladministration on behalf of Defra? What new evidence has Defra brought forward to justify the continued refusal to give compensation to the pigswill feeders? Was the swill tested at the time for virus?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not think that the noble Baroness has given a fair assessment of the ombudsman’s report. Six out of seven complaints were dismissed. There were two areas of maladministration, one of which was discretionary by the Ministers about compensation and has been revisited by other Ministers on at least two occasions. In the report, the ombudsman has declared herself satisfied that she could not and would not wish to interfere in that decision. The only other area of maladministration relates to the record keeping of the vet, who was not responsible for foot and mouth. With respect, we will give a formal, considered response to the report, which did not find in the way that the noble Baroness said, before the end of March.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, is not one of the most important potential uses for waste food that of producing energy through anaerobic digestion? Given that the Government say we are leading in terms of renewables and the environment, why, on British farms, do we have only 20 anaerobic digestion systems whereas Germany has 3,000?

val Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. There is no argument about what can be done with the waste, including catering waste. In 1999, swill feeders were banned from using airline waste food and non-GB food. They were also banned from putting dead piglets in pigswill. The complete ban put in place in 2001 and subsequently across the European Union in 2003 means that an enormous amount of food waste is unfortunately going to landfill where it will pollute the planet. As the noble Lord says, anaerobic digestion would get the energy out of the waste.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that only 26 pig producers were involved in this, that the activities they were carrying out were perfectly legal, and that they had to re-equip themselves with the boilers necessary to bring the swill up to the temperatures required by Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union? They spent many thousands of pounds setting themselves up and their businesses were peremptorily closed by the Government at the start of foot and mouth disease outbreak. For the noble Lord’s information, the pigswill was not tested for foot and mouth disease. I have the answers to a Written Question going back to just after the foot and mouth disease testing period.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, with respect, it goes wider than that. The advice from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee—SEAC—has always been that inter-species feeding ought to be banned, so you can put foot and mouth to one side. Feeding pigs to pigs and lambs to lambs does not make sense and the committee said it should not be

25 Feb 2008 : Column 435

done. That was part of the reason for bringing in the complete ban. It was suggested before 1997. Steps were taken in 1999 to make certain reductions. That is not the issue. There is no analogy with the fur farmers and others who were completely put out of business. There is business in waste and in trading in waste. I fully accept that while the equipment was there for the boilers, pigs can be fed other materials and the waste can still create a lot of money for people unless they put it into landfill.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, there is increased pressure on food supplies. We know that poultry and livestock consume large quantities of cereals. Does the noble Lord not agree that it is time to reconsider the ban on swill feeding and devise methods of using the one-third of food that is gown in the UK and currently classified as waste?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am surprised at that suggestion from the noble Lord. SEAC has never changed its advice on this—it does not matter what you do to the material or how well you might cook it, inter-species feeding in this way is not a good idea. We do not want to turn the clock back on that. The noble Lord is quite right: one-third of the food that we sell and produce is not used. It is wasted, but it should not go to landfill. There are other ways of getting money and energy out of that waste food.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, could the noble Lord answer my question: was the swill feed tested for virus?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, it depends on the particular farm. The swill was made on a different farm from the one where foot and mouth started. I do not know whether that particular feed—or, indeed, feed around the country—was tested for foot and mouth. Obviously, as the noble Countess said, there were some two dozen swill feeders. There are 62 members of the swill users’ group, but I do not know whether all 62 were producing feed at the time. I will provide a written answer on this, but it does not alter the fact that we will give a considered reply to the ombudsman’s thorough report, which did not find in favour of six of the seven complaints made.

Northern Rock

2.58 pm

Lord Steinberg asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the United Kingdom is in a fundamentally strong position. London continues to be the leader in international financial markets, and we are determined to keep it that way.

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