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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I said that 70,000 extra social lettings were being made; of those, 52,000 lettings will be created either by new construction or by refurbishment funded by the Housing Corporation and local authorities. A further 17,000 will be made available through cash incentives or do-it-yourself shared ownership. Therefore, although one can always say that there should be more, refurbishment is taking place.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, would the noble Earl be gracious enough to consider another important aspect of this subject? I refer to the fact that, although it may be urgently needed, we cannot have new housing or any other form of building without our building trade operatives and skilled artisans, who, as my noble friend Lord Dean suggested, need security. Without them, we could not have a proper building industry. I feel sure that the noble Earl will take that point into account.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I shall certainly take that into account. I quite accept that without an adequate number of skilled people we shall not get done the job which we should get done.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, do the noble Earl's moderate replies to the Question indicate that the Government have ruled out any means of stimulating the housing market?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I have tried to explain that we have actually done quite a lot. One comes back to the basic thing that if you want to encourage building then you have to have the economy straight. The noble Lord asks what we are doing about that. I tell him that the average monthly cost of the mortgage has dropped by no less than £130 since October 1990 because of the fiscal policies adopted by Her Majesty's Government.

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Lord Peston: My Lords, perhaps I may declare a financial interest. I currently live in a flat the value of which is less than when I paid for it. It is important to bring such matters to your Lordships' attention. Do I understand that the Government do not accept the view that a fall in interest rates in the very near future would be about the best possible way of stimulating the housing market as it always has in the past?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I feel so sorry for the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I am sure everyone else shares my sympathy.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Richard, not point? It is very unseemly. I was only trying to sympathise with his colleague. If he would rather I did not, of course, I will let him stew in his own juice. The noble Lord asked a pertinent question but I am bound to reply to him in the way I replied to my noble friend Lord Rippon, whom, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, we are delighted to see back. The noble Lord must wait for the Budget to hear about these desperately important matters.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister consider suggesting to the Government a change in the planning laws to make it easier for people to convert office blocks, of which there are tens of thousands empty all around the country, into dwellings?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am certainly prepared to consider that, but I am bound to say that I am not sure what the position over that is at the moment. I shall certainly look into it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a terrible waste of public expenditure with thousands of people qualified to work in the building industry being a drain on public expenditure because of the high cost of keeping them unemployed, and that, if the Government were to look logically and with financial prudence at the way they are spending public money, putting the building materials and those people unemployed together with the housing needs and the capital receipts would make sound economic and social sense?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, we need to do everything we can to ensure that the housing and construction industries succeed. We would have a worse position if we had a minimum wage.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl two questions? First, are the Government seriously considering abolishing or lowering stamp duty on housing transactions? Secondly, have the Government any influence with the building societies to persuade them not to spread doom and gloom every month by announcing, sometimes with conflicting figures, that negative equity is increasing, people are in danger of being thrown out of their houses, and that house prices are falling?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I was just jotting down a fascinating answer to the noble Lord's second question. He will have to wait until the Budget for an answer to

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his question about stamp duty. I could not pre-empt that. He asked also whether the Government had any influence over the building societies to stop them spreading doom and gloom. All I can say is that we have a great deal of influence over a great many people but we do not seem to have too much over the party opposite. If it stopped spreading doom and gloom, we should get on very much better.

Professor Rotblat: Nobel Peace Prize

3.15 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will carry out proposals A, B, C and D, under the heading "Towards a Nuclear Weapon Free World" on pages 62 and 63 of the Pugwash Report entitled Does Britain Need Nuclear Weapons as a mark of esteem towards Professor Rotblat and his colleagues on their award of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we congratulate Professor Rotblat on his award. We do not believe that his proposals represent a realistic approach to nuclear arms control. We do not consider that his project for nuclear disarmament would be consistent with our national security requirements, or those of NATO.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is the Minister aware that she has just thrown away the chance of winning the next general election? Is she further aware that there is now, for the first time, internationally and nationally a real tide towards nuclear disarmament? That is particularly taking place in the South Pacific, and one can now pick out pretty easily the countries which are pro nuclear weapons. This country is one of that decreasing number. I am therefore, in a way, not too sorry, but I wish only that the Front Bench in another place of the party I represent were a little more eager to seize the opportunity which is before it, and I hope that it will take it.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I see that the noble Lord is another gloom and doom merchant today. If I were to agree with him, or, indeed, with Professor Rotblat, who is an eminent scientist, and who has contributed a great deal to our understanding of nuclear physics, I should not merely be in disagreement with my own Front Bench but with the noble Lord's Front Bench. I noticed two weeks ago that Dr. John Reid, an Opposition defence spokesman in another place, said that calls to scrap Trident, something for which the noble Lord has called, were "pious slogans". He went on to say on an anti-Trident Motion that it was pretty useless,

    "because it is one-sided disarmament and by definition it places us outside world moves towards de-escalation".

This Government are working for nuclear disarmament and a comprehensive test ban treaty. We are playing a major role in that. Following the noble Lord's advice, he will be in conflict with his own Front Bench and he will certainly be going against common sense.

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Lord Beloff: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Pugwash conferences were methods by which Soviet propaganda against our nuclear deterrent was disseminated? They never at any time suggested the reduction or abolition of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union itself. The idea that they should share a peace prize is one of the oddest things that has happened during a very odd period of politics.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I cannot but agree with my noble friend. What has been extremely interesting is that, while we have been working away for the comprehensive test ban treaty, others seem not to have been working in the same direction. We are already reducing the number of our deterrents to take into account new minimum security requirements. It is important that we set priorities for reductions which reflect the levels of arms that we and others hold. But I have to say, in agreement with my noble friend, that we shall be realistic and we shall work for a comprehensive test ban treaty. Frankly, I cannot see that following the ideas of the Pugwash conference will advance that, but our work certainly will.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, was not the Minister perhaps going a little far in joining in the vigorous condemnation of the Pugwash organisation by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff? Does she agree that, on balance, unlike the campaign for nuclear disarmament, the Pugwash organisation probably made a positive contribution during the Cold War? What progress have we made towards agreement on a text?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I thought that I had made it clear in the answer to the first supplementary question that we recognise that Professor Rotblat has been a distinguished scientist with a long record of applying science to public affairs. While we share the goal of nuclear disarmament, for which he has fought, we cannot agree with the means that he proposes or with the time-scale that his arguments imply. If I am critical of the Pugwash conferences that have been taking place since 1957 it is perhaps because they do not seem to have made much progress in that time as they have not been based on a realistic assessment of the situation. That is why I am not critical of Professor Rotblat, as I said previously. We want nuclear disarmament which is sustainable and to make it sustainable we must have all the countries involved in a meaningful way.

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