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Dr. Kumar: The right hon. and learned Gentleman attacks us for trying to fund the universities, but does he recall that when his Government were in power the universities suffered the loss of billions of pounds of support, which we had to put right when we came into office? We had to invest £2 billion in the sciences, which the Conservative Government had underfunded so much. Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall his own Government's record?
Mr. Clarke: We did make some mistakes. We also expanded the numbers of students attending universities quite dramatically and we increased expenditure on higher education, but we squeezed the funding per student. We did so because we believed that British universities should move away from being wholly
With hindsight, I can say that we produced some beneficial changesuniversities now look much wider for their sources of income and have much better contacts with industry and the outside world than they ever had beforebut we overestimated the pace at which the universities could achieve them. Given that we overestimated, there is absolutely no point in driving on with an even faster rate of expansion, to be paid for by students and parents. That is a bigger mistake than any that we made. The time has now come to consolidate, to lower the targets and ensure that we can finance existing provision without opting for top-up fees.
Finally, I should like to make a few brief comments about the House of Lords. It is a disgrace to see before the House a Bill to change the House of Lords. My specific reason for saying so is that I wasted much of the previous Session attending the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, whose purpose was supposedly to discuss the final stages of reforming the House of Lords. I do not know why I served on that Committee, as I realised that it would be a complete waste of time. It was simply another means of using up another 12 months while we talked about a variety of schemes. Although we all contemplated an elected element in the upper House, we ended up with a complete horlicks, largely because of House procedure. A full range of options was finally presented to the House of Commons and it was obvious that a majority wanted an elected element in the upper House, but there was no majority for any one solution. That enabled the Government to return to what we all knew was the Prime Minister's favourite option of a wholly appointed upper House.
The Prime Minister has brought us here. It was certainly not the responsibility of the previous Leader of the House or, indeed, of anyone else. In the end, the Prime Minister decided that he had two objectives. The first was to secure a majority in the upper House, because it was holding his Government to account too firmly. The second was to secure a wholly appointed upper House through some quango of nice establishment people who could appoint their friends steadily to the upper House while allowing him additionally to appoint a few party people. That would lead to an altogether quieter and less troublesome House of Lords.
I shall not argue the case all over again, but in any other developed country the idea that the upper House of Parliament should be wholly appointed for life by a combination of party leaders and some quango would be regarded as ridiculous and unacceptableas it is in this case.
Parliament must be strengthened. I am in favour of a wholly elected upper house, although I would settle for 80 per cent., or even 60 per cent., but I am certainly not prepared to settle for the current proposal. If it goes through, the House of Lords could last for decades in its present state. In 30 years' time, people will be saying of some elderly peer, "Why has he been a legislator for 40 years? Can anybody remember how he got here? Why is he still sounding off about legislation?" The reply will be, "Don't you remember, he gave a financial
The current proposition is dangerous. Many people on both sides of the House believe in a stronger Parliament and in parliamentary reform, and I hope that many Members from all parties will stop the Government in their tracks and prevent them from moving to a wholly appointed upper House.
Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Although I shall direct my comments to the subjects chosen for debate todayplanning, housing and transportI shall end my speech with a few words about pensions and top-up fees, on which I hold particular views.
I welcome the fact that the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill is coming back. The rollover procedure is entirely sensible; we have already spent so much time debating the Bill that it would be nonsense to start the process all over again. That is certainly a welcome benefit of the modernisation procedure.
I welcome, too, the Government's commitment, to which the Deputy Prime Minister referred, to ensuring that every local authority has a proper consultation procedure for planning applications, whereby those in the community who are especially affected will be able to check that their local authority has followed a properly set down procedure. I hope that will put an end once and for all to those deplorable situations where local residents find out, or, more often, do not find out, about planning applications that affect their lives and the lives of their families from a notice stuck on a lamp post nearor, sometimes, not very neartheir home. The measure will deal with that.
I am glad that it will no longer be possible automatically to renew an approved planning application year after year after year. Some time ago, a neighbouring authority to my constituency, Rotherham district council, agreed a planning application for an out-of-town store. It did so before PPG6 was changed by the previous Conservative Governmentone of the few good things they did during their 18 years in power. As a result of that change, new out-of-town stores were no longer allowed at sites such as Catcliffe in the Rotherham district council area. However, as the application had been approved and renewed several times before the change to PPG6, with changes to the original application, the Morrison supermarket group was given permission to build a new out-of-town store.
As a result, Morrison closed a store in Darnall, an inner-city part of my constituency, and the shopping centre no longer has a food store. Pensioners and others cannot get to the out-of-town store, which is several miles away and has no direct bus service, so there is almost nowhere for them conveniently to do their food shopping. The heart has been knocked out of the shopping centre andto make a non-planning pointthe Morrison group is being especially unhelpful by refusing to come to a reasonable agreement with the local Co-op, which was prepared to move in and set up an alternative food store for the poorer local people, the pensioners and others who do not have their own
I have some sympathy with some of the points made by Opposition Members in the Standing Committee, of which I was a member. We should not have a general third party right of appeal and the Government should look into the issue again. Such appeals slow the planning process and far too many applications are referred on for an inspector to determine. In general, I am in favour of such applications being determined at local council level, but in cases where a local authority makes a planning decision that is contrary to its local plan, especially where the planning authority itself has a financial or other interest in the decisionfor example, where the land is owned by the local authority and it would gain a capital receipt from its salelocal residents should have the right to appeal.
Any overextension of the decision-making process could be dealt with by saying that when an authority makes a decision that is wholly in line with its local plan, the applicant should not have a right of appeal. If Ministers addressed that point, they could do away with many appeals and give democracy back to local councils that act wholly in line with their local plans. I hope that we will be able to debate such issues further when the Bill comes back on Report.
I look forward to seeing the wording for the new arrangements for the payment of fees. At present, section 106 agreements are negotiated for the provision of social housing by a private developer and the social housing is integrated into the scheme, but if the private developer simply has to pay a fee the social housing could be removed off site or to the back of the site, with an exclusion zone separating the private housing from the social housing. We had some assurances on that point from my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and I look forward to seeing the wording.
I welcome the housing Bill and I especially support the Government's attempts to provide additional resources for social housing. We in Sheffield have benefited from that and my right hon. Friend will visit us shortly to see how the local council, in a genuine consultation exercise with council tenants, has raised money to meet the decent homes standard. One possibility is a city-wide arm's length management organisationor ALMOand some tenants have voted for that. It is a genuine consultation process. That is the proper way to hold a conversation with people, and the Labour party nationally might learn from that.
I also welcome the provisions on the licensing of houses in multiple occupation, which many hon. Members have advocated for many years. I remember sitting on a Committee several years ago with the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), the then Minister responsible for housing. I asked the previous Government to introduce licensing for HMOs, because it would do so much to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society who often live in some of the worst housing. I hope that Ministers will look carefully at the details of any proposals. In principle, licensing is right, but if the detail is wrong enforcement will be very difficult. The Committee that considered the draft housing Bill said that it thought that the definitions
I welcome the new proposals for the licensing of landlords in areas of low housing demand. Many of us have pathfinder schemes in our constituencies, and Darnall and Tinsley in my constituency fall in one such area. None of us who went on the Committee's visit to Burnley and parts of Lancashire and saw the appalling abuses by many landlords could fail to support the Government's proposals.
We had an interesting debate about the sellers' pack. I was fairly neutral about the idea and the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister tried to undertake a genuine investigation into the scheme. In my view, the Select Committee thought that it had some good points. It particularly liked the idea that people could fall back on the fact that houses would be surveyed properly before they bought them. To some extent, the Government have a responsibility to protect people from their own worst excessesfor example, people sometimes skimp on an initial survey and later rue the cost of doing so.
The Committee was concerned about the practicalities of implementing the scheme all at once. For example, we were concerned that next year the Government would simply say, "This scheme will come into effect at the same time throughout the country", but we have had welcome commitments from Ministers that the scheme will be rolled out regionally. We have also been assured that inspectors will be thoroughly and properly trained and that enough inspectors will be in place before the scheme gets the go-ahead.
We have had assurances that there will not be one big bang before sufficient inspectors are trained and that, in many respects, the scheme will be easierthere will be only one search and one survey on which everyone will be able to rely. We have also been assured that the buyer will have redress against the inspector, despite the fact that, technically, the seller pays for the inspection. That point has apparently been cleared up.
Estate agents will clearly become increasingly important in buying and selling houses. The Select Committee felt that there is a case for licensing estate agents, and I hope that the Government will take another look at that. We do not allow unlicensed people to sell financial products to consumers, so when people are buying something as important and expensive as their homesprobably the biggest, most expensive purchase of their livesthey ought to be able to rely on
I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, that a proper tenancy deposit scheme should be introduced at some point. Whether the Government do so as part of the housing Bill or whether they wait to consider the whole issue of tenants' rights and provide one type of tenancy agreement for all forms of tenure throughout the country is a moot point, but we need to protect tenants in the very near future. The cost-benefit survey on tenancy deposit schemes said that there were costs and benefits. The sums involved may often be very small to the large landlords involved, but they are very significant to relatively poor tenants, who can lose out because of unscrupulous treatment by landlords.
I very much agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said about the fact that the Queen's Speech does not mention the bus transport industry. I have spoken in the House before about bus transport. Although the newspapers and the rest of the media concentrate on rail transport, the reality is that most of my constituents who use public transport travel by bus or, indeed, tram in Sheffield, rather than on the rail system. The tragedy is that, apart from in London, the number of people who use buses has fallen in each of the 10 years since deregulation. In Londonthe one place where the bus transport system is regulated1 million more passengers a day now use the buses than three years ago. That is not so in Sheffield, where passenger numbers continue to fall, which is not surprising given the fact that bus passengers want consistency.
People want to know that they can catch a bus to and from work, to take their children to their grandparents as part of their child-minding arrangements or to visit an elderly person in an old people's home. If, however, at 42 days' notice, their bus service is changed or stopped altogether, there is not the consistency or reliability of service that ensures that they will regularly use buses even if they have cars available. That is one of the main issues that we have to consider.
Why are local authorities not using the quality partnership or quality contract arrangements? I urge more local authorities to have a go at using them, but they seem to think that they are far too bureaucratic and complicated. Certainly, one of the criticisms is that the quality contract arrangementsa form of regulationtake more than two years to implement and that, meanwhile, an area's bus services can disintegrate completely. I ask Ministers to consider introducing either regulations that could shorten the time taken to introduce quality contracts, which the Scottish Executive have done, or a completely different systema form of franchising, as in London, or even area franchisingthat will provide stability and reliability and ensure that public authorities lay down the service framework and the fare pattern and quality of buses provided.
I accept that some good things are happening in the bus industry. On Friday, I launched a new fleet of buses that First Mainline purchased for one of the local routes in Sheffield. Of all the public services that were privatised by the previous Conservative Government,
I very much welcome the new pensions measures and the protection for those workers who, through no fault of their own, find that their pension entitlements have been removed altogether or substantially reducedoften when they are in their 40s and 50s and can make no alternative provisionfor the simple reason that their firm has gone out of business. Those measures are very welcome, as were the previous changes in regulations to protect would-be pensioners whose employers decide to terminate their final salary scheme. The issue remains, however, of those workers whose firms have already gone out of business or whose schemes have already been shut down, who are not covered by the new regulations and will not be covered by the new legislation. Is it not possible for the Government to find some way to help them at least partially? When people are coming into our surgeries who are 55 years of age and who thought that they would retire on a pension that was around half their salary but who find suddenly that they will get less than half that and that all their plans for the future are being thrown out of the window in one go, we must address that. The Government are right to introduce the pensions Bill, but that unsolved problem needs to be addressed.
I signed the early-day motion on top-up fees, and I have reservations. I agreed with some of what the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said a few moments ago. I do not agree that we should not be trying to expand the numbers going into higher education. I want more of my constituents to get into higher educationstandards in my secondary schools are improving, and many of them will be well able to meet the challenge. I do not think that 50 per cent. is an unreasonable target. It is an acceptance of our failure as a nation if we cannot manage to deliver places for 50 per cent. of our young people to go on to higher education. I do not agree with the Lib Dems' position eitherthe House would probably not expect me to do soand if we are to have a successful numeracy strategy we should at least try to include the Lib Dems within it. Their Front Bench's answer to everything is: we will pay for it out of taxation. Of course, they never cost all the promises that they make, and they never add them all up and explain to us the percentage increase in income tax that would result.
I accept that we must find a way whereby those who benefit from a university education make some extra contribution. I am worried that the student fees and the loan element that that will produce will deter some people. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe was right to say that it will deter people in the middle-income groups. We can probably help the poorest, and it will not really concern the rich. The people in the middle are the ones who will probably be put off and will probably suffer. My concernI would like to have a proper debate and a conversation about the alternative idea of some form of graduate taxis that if people are to pay more, it should be related to
I have read the press this weekend and the Government are probably now listening and starting to address some of those concerns, but the one concern that they are not addressing is the differential element of fees. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe was again right to say that that will not stay at £3,000 but will be extended and extended. At the top end, universities could charge £10,000, and at the bottom there will be a struggle for people to pay £1,000 for a course at a different institution.
There are problems with the proposals, and I hope that the Government will listen, as there are great concerns among Labour Members. I hope that they will be willing to consider alternatives. We should keep the 50 per cent. target, and people who benefit from university education ought to pay more. There may be other ways of doing it, however, and I hope that the Government are in listening mode.
Having expressed a few concerns about some issues in the Queen's Speech, I should say that I thoroughly support many other proposals, such as those in relation to planning and housing, and I hope to make further contributions when those Bills appear for their Second Reading.