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Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Rightly and inevitably, the shadow of Rwanda and Bosnia hangs over us, and the situation in Darfur is unbelievably dire by any standards. However, if at some point military intervention is desirable and advisable, it should come from the African Union. I cannot conceive of circumstances in which it would be right and proper for our troops, who are already heavily overstretched, to be in that particular theatre.
Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman offers considerable wisdom to the House, and we are indeed working with the African Union. I spoke to one of the AU's leading Foreign Ministers at the weekend, and for mostbut not allmembers of the AU, there is greater anger at what has happened in Sudan than exists even in this House or in the continents of Europe and the Americas. There is real, profound angernot only among the non-Arab African states, but among many of the Arab Muslim states as well. They see it as a great test of the African Union itself. We should not put them to the test, but allow them to make their own test for themselves and help them in every way that we can. We are doing so through provision of some monitors and the facilitation that we have already provided to move in, for example, Nigeria's armed forcesand not only a couple of companies, as we have said that we stand ready to provide for many more troops to be moved there. There are already troops from Rwanda and Nigeria in the country. If the African Union asks for our logistical or financial help, by God we are ready to provide it, as are many members of the European Union.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con):
In view of the daily death toll, the murders, rapes and brutalities,
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matters are urgent and there is a growing sense of anger throughout the House and outside it. Which are the countries on the Security Council that understand the need for urgent action by the international community, and which are the worst offenders that are holding it all back? I need to be able to tell my constituents why the Government are well intentioned but nothing happens.
Mr. Straw: It is not adequate, but a good deal has happened as a result of the passage of resolution 1556, as I set out in my statement. I am not here today to name names on a contingent basis: we have not reached the point of discussing the terms of the new resolution in open Council. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that, as a result of intensive diplomacy by the United States Government and the UK, we managed to achieve a position on 31 July where 30 member statesall the European countries, American countries and all three relevant African countriesvoted in favour of 1556 and two abstained. The abstainers were China and Pakistan, and he should seek their explanations for the way they votedit is for them, not for me, to explain. However, it was not because they lacked concern about the situation, but for other reasons.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): The Foreign Secretary referred to UN resolution 1556 as being tough when he spoke to the House earlier, but is he satisfied that it has sufficient teeth so that the necessary international action can be takenfor example, in policing a no-fly zone?
I am satisfied that it was tougher than the Government of the Sudan anticipated at the end of July, because it certainly came as a shock to them and put greater pressure on them. Resolution 1556, as the hon. Gentleman would see if he read the text, does not of itself lay down what sanctions are to be taken. It simply lays down in operational paragraph 6 that the Security Council is ready to consider measures under article 41. It remains to be seen what measures, including the policing of no-fly zones, would be taken. Any such measures would require further specific authorisation by the Security Council under chapter VII.
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Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The standard practice is to give the House notice of two weeks' business in advance. So far, however, we have details of business only for this week, although it seems that every national newspaper has been briefed and reported what we will be dealing with next week. In those circumstances, have you had a request from the Leader of the House to make a business statement today? If not, will you confirm that that is not in accordance with the practice of the House and that the Leader of the House should make such a statement? Modernisation should not apply only when it suits the Government.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the case that we should receive information about the subject for Opposition day debates two weeks in advance as well?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I am not entirely sure how far that supplementary point of order was helpful and I must say to the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) that that matter has been aired before Mr. Speaker in the past. It is a question of balance between topicality and longer-term planning.
I am sure that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) will appreciate that announcements on the business of the House are not a matter controlled by Mr. Speaker. No notice has been given of any intention to make a statement on next week's business any earlier than the usually predicted time. Indeed, it is the Chair's understanding that it is often the hon. Gentleman who receives earlier notice than anyone else of these matters.
Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) (Lab):
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In a previous life, I was a trade union official and took much interest in questions of health and safety. I must admit that, on returning to the House today, I would condemn the
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conditions that obtain here and that I would not let anyone work in this environment. Worse still, staff have been expected to work here all summer, when the temperature in the offices has sometimes reached 38° C. Surely something must be done to protect everyone who has to work in this environment.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman giving notice that he wished to raise this subject. Obviously, it is a matter of great difficulty for hon. Members and for the staff of the House. Necessary long-term work has to be completed and hon. Members were given notice that there would be some inconvenience in the short term, and that it would be impossible to get the building back to normal in time for the September sitting. In certain instances, conditions may have gone beyond what is normally acceptable, but I obviously do not know the details. If the hon. Gentleman is aware of specific concerns, they should be brought to the attention of the Clerk of the House and the Serjeant at Arms so that they can be investigated. I am sure that the whole House will agree that everything possible must be done to safeguard the interests of our staff, and of those who are working on a temporary basis, and to put the building to rights. Ultimately, that will benefit us all.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I draw your attention to today's Order Paper, and to the 17 written ministerial statements listed on page 2374. Those statements are due to be given today, and they include twoNos. 12 and 13that are listed to be made by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. However, my understanding is that that person resigned yesterday, so how can he make a statement?
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
It is a constitutional feature that Secretaries of State are interchangeable. Indeed, legislation only ever refers to one Secretary of State, even though several in fact exist. However, I am sure that there are adequate deputies in the particular Department of State to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, and it may be that the statements will be made in their names on this occasion. I suspect that the large number of statements being made today is because there has been an accumulation while the House has been in recess over the past few weeks.
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That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable the Secretary of State to require public bodies to hold design competitions when drawing up planning briefs in respect of the disposal of publicly-owned land and property.
The purpose of this Bill is to introduce a systematic and informed approach to the disposal of publicly owned land and property. Most hon. Members will know of cases where public land has been disposed of by central or local government, or by a public body such as an NHS trust. In some cases, that property will have been developed sympathetically, but in too many others, subsequent development will have been poor. Until this Government introduced stricter criteria for their disposal, many school playing fields were lost, and buried under anonymous, badly designed housing. We have all passed examples, and I am sure we have all thought, "Surely that could have been better designed. What a wasted opportunity!"
Such regret is pointless. It is rarely possible to remedy development mistakes, as to do so is always time-consuming and often expensive. The Government now plan to secure £30 billion from the sale of public assets. My Bill is designed to avoid future mistakes, and to make sure that the assets are disposed of in a way that enhances the quality of urban design and of our environment.
The Atkinson Morley hospital site in my constituency is currently owned by the St. George's NHS trust. In 2002 the hospital vacated the site to move to the new Atkinson Morley wing at St. George's hospital. The site comprises a large range of Victorian and more recent health buildings, standing in 17 acres of open land. Initial proposals were put before the local planning authority to convert the existing buildings into residential units and to add a number of new homes. That not only sparked enormous concern among my constituents in relation to the loss of precious open space, but gave rise to the feeling that the current proposals did not do justice to the site and that something better could be done.
I declare an interest as the honorary president of the Wimbledon civic forum, which has established a taskforce bringing together the trust, potential developers, the local authority and other interested parties. I am grateful to the forum for all its hard work, and in particular to its chairman Marcus Beale, an architect who gives me valuable advice on such matters. Marcus and our forum colleagues, including Sir Jack Zunz, established a taskforce that has worked with the London borough of Merton on drawing up a planning brief. I commend the local authority for listening carefully to our views, as well as to other Wimbledon residents and to amenity associations such as Lung and the Wimbledon Society.
In the face of that positive process, the former trust management launched an unsuccessful and expensive challenge to the planning brief and metropolitan open land designation, at a public inquiry held at enormous public cost. It commissioned its own architects to
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develop proposals for the site, which were inappropriate. Eventually, those plans were thrown out and two years were wasted.
Like the civic forum and local residents, I want a solution that preserves the integrity of the land and achieves an appropriate development sensitive to local needs. The initial proposals from the trust met neither criterion. The overriding duty governing the disposal of public assets is surely the duty to secure best value. In the bad old days, that simply meant trying to get as much money as possible. Now, I am happy to say, a more enlightened spirit is abroad. Best value should be taken to encompass a range of other factors that are not always as readily measurable as pure cash, such as environmental quality, urban design, educational or cultural provision, and the enhancement of public space.
There are encouraging signs. In relation to general issues, the Government are pointing in the direction in which I would wish them to go. Their regeneration body, English Partnerships, has worked well with good developers to leave a mark of quality on former publicly owned land. The millennium village on the Greenwich peninsula, of which my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and his colleagues are justly proud, is a great example of how the system can work well. Sadly, however, such casesparticularly those concerning local government assetsare usually the result of happy accident and rely too much on a senior figure who can champion good design being in the right place at the right time. In my constituency example, it was only when new managementa new chief executive and chairmantook over at the trust that new proposals were made that took better account of residents' concerns.
Communities are rarely involved in decisions about the disposal of public assets until it is much too late. There is a fundamental issue of legitimacy, and it is little wonder that local people feel disfranchised when public property is gobbled up by development that they have no desire to see, and in a process in which they seem to have no say. Is it any wonder that local people so often treat development in their community with suspicion? Is it any wonder that local people so often say, "We don't want thisnot in my backyard."?
I believe that there is a desire within communitiesoften latent, but it certainly exists in my communityfor better-designed buildings and public space. People want an improved sense of place, and this Bill can give them that. We cannot leave it to chance to answer that demand. We need a systematic approach, and that is what my Bill would seek to achieve in relation to surplus public land and property.
The public sector is one of the biggest architecture clients in the country, and its record as a client has certainly improved. In 2001, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched the better public buildings initiative and committed Ministers to seeking higher standards in public building programmes and becoming champions of good design. Thanks to the assistance of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, a great deal of progress has been made, but the Government are also one of the UK's major
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landowners, and informed disposal is a critical issue, alongside informed commissioning. My Bill would enable government at all levels to lead by example. It would avoid the sense of disfranchisement and frustration felt by many communities when local public amenities are disposed of, and it would avoid wasted opportunities to involve them at an early stage. Design competitions offer a flexible, well-structured, transparent and auditable process. Community representatives can work alongside other interested parties and experts in drawing up a competition brief, sitting on selection panels and aiding selections. A well-publicised and well-organised competition can include opportunities for the wider community to have its say through consultations, exhibitions and workshops.
The Royal Institute of British Architects runs the most respected and experienced architectural competition system in the country. Iconic buildings such as the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and the Evelina children's hospital across the Thames at St. Thomas's are the results of RIBA-organised competitions, alongside many projects of every size and type around the country. That is a record of success that ought to be spread as widely as possible. The competitive process can be used to throw up a range of innovative design concepts, master plans or detailed solutions for particular sites, involving the local community at every stage. Alternative visions can be set out, debated and discussed. By exploring possible options, we can avoid embarking on a course which all involved may later live to regret.
How would my Bill work in practice? There would have to be a trigger for a competition. First, the property would have to be on a public asset register of the kind that already exist. Thereafter I envisage a system analogous to the call-in powers enjoyed by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister in respect of individual planning decisions. Acting on advice from local planning authorities or other statutory adviserseither the CABE or English Heritagethe Deputy Prime Minister would then have the power to order a competition.The Secretary of State should have discretion, but for the most important or sensitive sites I suggest a presumption in favour of ordering a design
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competition. Elsewhere, his decision would be affected by the weight of advice coming from his statutory and other advisers.
Some developers may resent and resist such an initiative, but enlightened developers are already welcoming public involvement and community ownership as important factors for the success of their project. My Bill is all about flushing out bad development, which should not go ahead, before it is too late. Surely a well-thought-out development would stand up to the public and critical scrutiny afforded by the design competition process.
Had the proposed measure been applied to the Atkinson Morley hospital site, a great deal of time and money could have been spared, the local community could have been properly involved in the disposal of a public asset, and we could have ensured that the resulting development was the best possible solution in terms of its designsomething that we still hope to achieve. A good design, which made the most of the site and enhanced its setting, would deliver value and be seen to have done so in a transparent and accountable way. Such competition would not only add value to the disposal of sites but save money because the disputes that often occur as a result of divisions and contention over the disposal of a site can weigh heavily on the public purse.
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