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9. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): What measures his Department proposes to take to help those local authorities with large numbers of empty houses in the (a) private and (b) public sector. [103260]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin): My Department is supporting the work of the Empty Homes Agency. We are also considering the recommendations of the report of the unpopular housing policy action team into the causes and consequences of low demand for housing in some areas.

Mr. Pike: I thank the Minister for that answer. I am sure that he will know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning wrote to me last week suggesting his willingness to come to Burnley to examine the problem of empty houses. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend was taken into hospital on Friday, but I am glad to hear that he is now at home. I am sure that we all want to extend our good wishes for his speedy recovery.

I thank the Government for their help with the residual debt problem with public sector housing. My hon. Friend the Minister will know that Burnley has 3,000 empty houses in the private sector. The cost of demolishing them is large and there is no site value afterwards. That is causing major ripple effects throughout the whole housing sector in Burnley. I know that that problem is not unique, but councils, such as Burnley, need Government help to try to solve it.

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Mr. Mullin: I am glad to report to the House that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning is now well on the way to recovery.

I have the greatest sympathy for the situation in which councils, such as Burnley, find themselves. Sunderland, the city that I partly represent, has a similar problem. There is no single answer. Each local authority has to devise its own strategy, but some selective demolition is inevitable. That nettle must be grasped. When doing that, it is important to consult residents and all those whose interests are directly affected.

A big reduction in greenfield planning permissions and a better use of brownfield sites is another thing that would help. It never ceases to amaze me that many authorities--I shall name no names--that have serious problems with derelict housing in the inner cities are still granting greenfield planning permissions simultaneously. That only exacerbates the problem.

On the promise of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning to visit Burnley, I am sure that he will do so at the first available opportunity.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): The whole House will wish to join in sending best wishes to the Minister for Housing and Planning.

Is it not clear that the simplest and most direct measure to deal with the problem of empty homes is to reduce the level of VAT on home refurbishments and repair, as has been sought by Lord Rogers of Riverside, the Empty Homes Agency, housing associations and local authorities? Will the Minister note that, last September, the French Government reduced their VAT on such refurbishment and repair to 5 per cent., with full European Union consent? Is not that an excellent example of the downward harmonisation of taxes that the Government could adopt rapidly?

Mr. Mullin: It was of course a measure that the right hon. Gentleman's Government could have adopted at any time over the past few years. We are well aware of the recommendation made by the Rogers committee, but it is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is being considered.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting): Will my hon. Friend consider another aspect of the problem of empty local authorities properties? In the London borough of Wandsworth, countless properties throughout the borough are empty and boarded up solely to be sold. An enormous number of people live and have roots in the borough, but they have no opportunity to obtain local authority housing because it is sold to people who have no links whatever with the borough.

Mr. Mullin: The practice that my hon. Friend describes only exacerbates the serious problems of housing shortage in London and especially for those on low incomes. The quicker that such housing is brought back into use--and preferably for those on lower incomes who cannot afford the huge prices that are being paid for property in London--the better.

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Vehicle Emissions

10. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): By how much he estimates transport-related emissions of greenhouse gases will fall as a result of the Government's policies towards motorists. [103261]

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott): The growth in greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector will be reduced as a result of the fiscal policies, technology and the measures that we announced in the transport White Paper. Our 1998 climate change consultation paper suggested that those measures could save about 6 million tonnes of carbon in 2010. We are currently updating those estimates and will publish revised figures in our draft climate change programme shortly.

Mr. O'Brien: Although I welcome any improvements in climate change problems, that answer demonstrates just how much the Government's policies for cars and the hard-pressed British motorist is informed by concern about vehicle emissions that lead to global warming. That source makes up only a fraction of the sources of global warming that emanate from this country. Will the Secretary of State tell us what steps the Government are now taking to reduce emissions from dirty, coal fired power stations?

Mr. Prescott: I do not think that the amount of greenhouse gases and CO 2 emitted by cars is insignificant; it is approximately 25 per cent. of all emissions, and it is the fastest-growing sector. That is why we have identified the package of measures to which I have referred, and we shall be discussing other areas of contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases, such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and the climate change levy in our proposals, which we will bring to the House shortly.

Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from vehicles is further to encourage the development of alternative fuels? He mentioned new technologies in an earlier reply, but what plans does his Department have to promote the infrastructure development for those alternative fuels which is so essential to developing more vehicles that use those fuels?

Mr. Prescott: Such proposals are among the group of measures that we are considering at the moment, and we have been actively consulting on those. We shall produce those measures in our document shortly.

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that unless the Government set a national target for road traffic reduction, transport-related emissions of CO 2 will continue to rise? Does he agree that the Government need to lead by example and scrap free car parking spaces at the House of Commons for Members of Parliament?

Mr. Prescott: The hon. Gentleman's last point is a typical Liberal point, and it can be left to the House to make a judgment on that at the appropriate time. We have

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made it clear that we do not accept the argument that we can set the national targets to reduce emissions from cars, as he mentioned, and the Commission for Integrated Transport has supported that view. We are concerned to deal with congestion and pollution, and the package of measures that we are putting forward will do that.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Will my right hon. Friend ensure that if people purchase a new vehicle that runs on alternative fuel, it will not be more expensive than other cars? Such cars ought to be cheaper. The complicated system in which people claim back money when they buy a vehicle that runs on alternative fuel ought to be made easier or disposed of.

Mr. Prescott: I agree with my hon. Friend, and we are looking at procedures by which we can achieve that.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I seek the Deputy Prime Minister's advice and help. Does he not accept that transport-related emissions of greenhouse gases will increase in north-east Cheshire unless he grants money for the Poynton bypass and the Manchester airport eastern link road, because inevitably the second runway will, despite the increase in public transport, cause a huge increase in car transport requiring access to the airport?

Mr. Prescott: I thought for a moment that we were going to have another Member crossing the Chamber. [Hon. Members: "No, no."] That was a joke, in case anybody thought I was trying to be serious.

The hon. Gentleman has always found rather ingenious ways of bringing up the road programme that he is concerned about. Our measures relate to congestion and pollution, and the package that we are putting forward will help to reduce those problems. As I have announced today, in Cheshire some £640,000 has been given to improve the public transport system.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): I am afraid that, as ever, the Secretary of State is providing aspirations but no effective action to help the environment. I urge him to take a positive view not only of the suggestions from a couple of his hon. Friends but of our common-sense proposals to cut the tax on fuels that produce low or no emissions of greenhouse gases and to cut the duty on the cars that use them. Conservative Members want to use lower taxes to help motorists and the environment. Why does he persist in clobbering the motorist with high-tax policies that have done nothing to improve air quality in this country?

Mr. Prescott: It is a bit much to hear that from someone on the Opposition Front Bench when we scrapped the fuel duty escalator that the Conservatives brought in. That is certainly one major change that has taken place. As for the proposals by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) about making greener cars, I have to say that some of them are ideas that we have already implemented, some are clearly contradictory and some are not even consistent with the facts. We have a package of measures that are putting us on the road to achieving the Kyoto targets that we have set ourselves for 2010.

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