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House of Lords

Tuesday, 12 May 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

World War I: Veterans


Asked By Lord Faulkner of Worcester

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Sergeant Ben Ross of 173 Provost Company, 3 Regiment, Royal Military Police; Corporal Kumar Pun of 1 Battalion, the Royal Gurkha Rifles; Corporal Sean Binnie of the Black Watch, 3 Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland; and Rifleman Adrian Sheldon of 2 Battalion, the Rifles, who were killed on operations in Afghanistan on Thursday last week.

The French Government’s decision to award the Légion d’Honneur to Mr Harry Patch and Mr Henry Allingham was welcomed and my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence was present on behalf of the MoD at the presentation. It is right that we should all remember and recognise the contribution of those individuals and their generation. The whole House will recall Remembrance Day last year, when the three remaining World War I veterans laid wreaths in that moving ceremony at the Cenotaph.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I associate myself with the tribute paid by my noble friend to those four servicemen, and I thank her for her reply to my Question. I agree with everything that she said about remembering the contribution of that generation. I had the honour of meeting Harry Patch on a visit to Ypres last year. Does she agree that those two survivors have played an amazing part in creating understanding about warfare and conflict, and in promoting peace and reconciliation through such things as visits to schools and numerous visits to veterans in Flanders? That being so, why cannot we also offer those gentlemen some sort of official recognition? Next month, they will celebrate their 111th and 113th birthdays, which even by the standards of your Lordships' House are great ages. Will my noble friend please use her influence to see whether something can be done fairly quickly to achieve that recognition?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I, too, had the privilege of meeting all three of those veterans last year at Remembrance Day and I certainly agree with

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my noble friend about their contribution to an understanding of what war was like in those days and the importance of peace. My noble friend and the whole House will know that national honours and awards are in the gift of the Sovereign and are always handled discreetly. It would be wrong to set a precedent by commenting further. I am sure that the House will also recall that a Statement was made on 27 June 2006 in another place in which the Government’s plans to honour the World War I generation were laid out. It is important to remember that work is in hand to take further that idea and other ideas of how we should recognise those contributions.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, from these Benches we also send our condolences to the families and friends of the four soldiers mentioned by the Minister who were tragically killed in Afghanistan. I turn to the Question. Whatever the Government may be planning after the death of the last of these veterans—whether it be a state funeral or something else—will they ensure that they take close soundings with the families of the veterans?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that we have made a statement saying that, because the death of the last World War 1 veteran will be such a major milestone, there will be a memorial service, which will be an opportunity for the entire nation to remember not just that individual but the whole generation whom we are talking about. Obviously, these matters have to be dealt with extremely sensitively, and the wishes of the families have to be taken into account, which is why it might be appropriate to wait a little time following the death before holding such a service.

Lord Addington: My Lords—

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Lib Dem!

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, there is plenty of time. Let us hear first from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and then from the noble Lord, Lord Jones.

Lord Addington: My Lords, while I and these Benches join in the thoughts expressed about the four soldiers who have died, would the Minister not agree that we have been very late to honour those people who have served us on active service? Will the Government undertake to look at how we honour those who survive conflict and have served the country? At the moment we are tremendously good at remembering the dead, and are starting to remember the wounded—but not those who make it through comparatively unscathed.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, a lot of work has been done recently, because of recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to understand the needs of those who have been injured or who have served on operations. The service Command Paper that was

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published last year, and improvements in healthcare and the rights of former servicemen, take that situation a lot further, and there have been significant improvements. It is right to say that we should not forget those who survive conflicts, as well as to remember those who have died. As far as concerns about being late to acknowledge the contribution of those such as the veterans whom we were talking about, there have been many acknowledgements, and the 90th remembrance service last year was a very fitting occasion to recognise the contribution of those who had served in the First World War.

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former serving officer in the Royal Navy and a passionate advocate of defence manufacturing equipment from Britain in both the CBI and UKTI. The Minister recognised the sad loss last Thursday—I notice that one of them was a Gurkha. I would love to hear from the Government that we will honour not only these two amazing veterans of a faraway conflict, but also Bomber Command, which this and former Governments have never had the courage to acknowledge formally. Will the Minister confirm now that the Typhoon programme and the aircraft carrier construction programme will carry on? Will the Government please get behind the serving officers and men of the armed services of this fabulous country?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I am very proud of what we have done in our equipment programme, but I do not intend to go into that in response to a Question about some very important people who have served this country well; we should spend our time acknowledging that. On the subject of awards, it is a good thing that it is not Ministers who make those decisions: we have appropriate mechanisms in place, we have so far done very well by our veterans and we should all remember their contribution.

Energy: Wind Turbines


2.44 pm

Asked By Lord Willoughby de Broke

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government regularly communicate their support for wind generation as part of their commitment to developing renewable energy. We will reaffirm this policy in the renewable energy strategy, to be published this summer.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Could he confirm that, because of the intermittent nature of wind power, all wind farms need permanent back-up

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from conventional generating plant? Does he agree, therefore, that supporting wind farms is as socially unacceptable as sneezing in public during a flu epidemic?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords, I do not follow the logic of the noble Lord’s argument at all. Of course, he is right to refer to the intermittent nature of wind energy, which means that there must be back-up capacity. However, as this House has frequently reminded me, that reinforces the need for a diversity of supply, which is why this Government have given their support to new nuclear and new coal under carbon capture and storage, as well as encouraging renewables. As for wind in general, we see onshore wind as having a critically important part to play in developing energy sources in this country.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? I, for one, think that wind turbines are not only beautiful but practical as well.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I could not agree more. On a recent visit to the Orkney Islands, I saw some beautiful wind farms, which I am sure enhance the landscape.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, reminded the House, the Minister’s boss, the Secretary of State, declared that objecting to wind farms was socially unacceptable. Is the Minister aware that the distinguished scientist James Lovelock, in his recent book The Vanishing Face of Gaia, with a commendatory preface from the president of the Royal Society, no less—the noble Lord, Lord Rees—contains the most excoriating attack and demolition of the case for wind power that I have ever read and which every objector should use in every public inquiry? Does the Minister consider that Professor Lovelock is socially unacceptable?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we welcome all contributions to this enlivening debate about the contribution that wind energy can make to the achievement of the renewable energy targets. As I said, we believe that we need a diversity of supply in future, but, unlike the professor whom the noble Lord mentioned, we believe that wind energy has an important role to play in that diversity of supply.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, last week there were two announcements—one by Siemens, stating that it was about to open a factory in Kansas employing 400 people in producing wind turbines, and one by Vestas, stating that it was likely to close its turbine plant on the Isle of Wight. Is that not an example of the failure of British government policy on renewable energy and wind power, and is it not an indication that we are falling behind the rest of the world rather than making up the space that we have already lost?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords. Those are commercial decisions and, as I told the House last week, the factory that, regrettably, was closed made

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turbines for the US, not the UK market. There are very positive signs about development in this country. An announcement was made today by E.ON, which said that the first phase of the London Array project will take place later this year, which could generate power in time for the 2012 Olympics. That wind farm will involve 341 turbines, so very significant progress is being made. The renewables target is very challenging and we will need a lot of onshore and offshore wind, but I am satisfied and confident that we will achieve those targets.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, the Minister referred to the targets. Is he able to tell the House how many regions are on track to reach their targets on renewable energy? What sanctions are there to be applied to local authorities that fail to meet those targets?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is not a question of regional targets. In the summer we will be publishing the renewable energy strategy, which will have scenarios that embrace the developments in different areas of renewable energy that we need to see happen. Behind the right reverend Prelate’s question is the attitude of some local authorities in terms of turning down planning applications. Noble Lords will know that we have reformed planning legislation, and in the summer we will be producing a draft of the national policy statement that will relate to renewable energy. That will, I hope, have a positive impact on the role of local authorities in granting consents.

Lord Boston of Faversham: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that the unacceptability or acceptability of these turbines depends on where they are to be sited? As one who lives in Cumbria, I have quite strong views about siting. There are places there where it would be unacceptable to site these turbines because of the great damage they would do to the environment in that county.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord, in common with all noble Lords, appears to have strong views on wind farms. I take his point that there are areas of the country, or specific sites, where it would not be sensible to proceed with wind farm developments. Those are factors that need to be considered by planning authorities. The point that my right honourable friend was making is that it would be wrong if there was simply a blanket assumption that no wind farm development should take place.

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords—

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are in the 15th minute; we must move on.

Wilton Park


2.52 pm

Asked By Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, following a review of Wilton Park in 2008, the Government have committed to ensuring the success of Wilton Park as a centre for the resolution of global challenges. We are reworking our strategy, including a new mission, new objectives, new financing mechanisms and new governance arrangements. The Government are also recruiting a new chief executive and chair to lead Wilton Park.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, that is very good news indeed. However, given that Wilton Park performs a valuable function, as the noble Lord has explained, can he give greater assurance that there will be continuity of funding to ensure that this programme of reorganisation and redevelopment takes place over the period that he has envisaged? Perhaps in addition—I declare a somewhat well-known interest—could he encourage the chief executive to have more conferences on Latin America?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, we have assured core Foreign Office funding for Wilton Park over the next three years. This replaces the fact that Wilton Park was going to different parts of the Foreign Office to get funding for different conferences, which had a huge labour and transactional cost to it. We hope that the provision of this core funding will allow the leadership of Wilton Park to go out and find new clients, so that it will be able to put itself on a much more stable footing for the long-term future.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I declare an interest: my wife is a former member of the Wilton Park council. This is a very good example of soft power in British diplomacy, which the Foreign Office values a great deal but which the Treasury does not seem to understand. There are similar issues over Commonwealth scholarships and a range of other things. Can the Foreign Office have a much more constructive, broad dialogue with the Treasury about these soft-power elements in British diplomacy, which have been cut back so vigorously in recent years? Wilton Park is only one of a considerable number of immensely valuable links with other countries, providing a way of influencing the debates in those countries in a way that we have found so useful.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the conference centre, when it works well, is an extraordinary success in today's world. In the UK we have the examples of Ditchley and Chatham House here in London, which the noble Lord also knows well, and more globally we have things such as the World Economic Forum. But to succeed in this highly competitive world, even an institution such as Wilton Park needs to find the right niche with a sharpened mission and focus in terms of the kind of conferences it seeks to attract. We are betting on its success and as we secure that success we will certainly defend it against the Treasury.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, as a former member of the council of Wilton Park, may I attest to the great value of that setting both to the people of this country and especially to those from developing countries? To put it crudely, there are very few places

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on this planet where people can safely go and think out aloud in trying to find solutions to immensely important problems.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, it is an extraordinarily important feature of Britain for all those who have been lucky enough to visit it, and even for us poor Labour Ministers. It is the closest we have been to a house with a moat around it.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, will the Minister accept that I have visited Wilton Park many times but have never noticed a moat? Will he also accept that we strongly support and welcome these moves to ensure the continuity of Wilton Park, which has been extremely well run? It is particularly valuable in bringing together representatives of some of the smaller nations of Europe and of the Commonwealth to discuss issues of common interest and to do that particularly valuable thing of promoting not only our own interests as a nation but also promoting the interlinking and global togetherness which will ensure stability and peace throughout the planet.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I certainly agree with all that the noble Lord said. I think that it could even hold a few more conferences on the Commonwealth. On the issue of Britain as a nation that networks effectively between small and big nations, between NGOs and Governments, between think tanks, and in the general debate on ideas in international affairs, Wilton Park is a critical part of the soft-power architecture of what makes Britain effective in the world.

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