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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, as the Minister said, there has been universal support for the Government's parallel activity of setting up the national committee of inquiry. In that context, the Bill has been described as unnecessary and ill-timed. It does

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nothing to address the immediate crisis facing our universities and colleges and this coming year's Budget means that by 1998-99 £550 million will have been removed from the higher education sector. Further education faces a cut of almost two-thirds in its capital budget during the next three years and 5 per cent. per annum in terms of current expenditure.

Even in the context of the Bill, Ministers cannot ignore the problems and wait for the report of the committee of inquiry. The Government should be addressing these problems now in addition to the concerns expressed by Members on all sides of your Lordships' House about the acute problems faced by staff and students. In that context the Bill is not relevant.

However, I wish to thank the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, SKILL and the National Union of Students for their helpful briefings. I wish to place on record our thanks to Clare Cozens for her indefatigable work on behalf of us on these Benches.

We welcome the progress that has been made in the course of debates. Progress has been highlighted and welcomed by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals as regards payment for the administration of loans by universities. The Government amended the Bill in response to the universities' concerns regarding payment for their work in administering the new private loans. That is welcome but the universities will wish to be consulted about the detailed arrangements of the scheme once they have been agreed with the financial institutions.

In relation to parliamentary scrutiny of the detailed arrangements for the Bill, the Minister announced at the Report stage that he envisaged a Statement to the House as the best way of outlining those detailed arrangements. He referred to that again tonight. We on these Benches share the views of the CVCP that both Houses of Parliament should be provided with an opportunity to discuss them. Like the CVCP we too believe that before next year's student loan regulations there should be consultation on the vexed problems facing medical, dental and veterinary students.

The Minister has been courteous and as helpful as he has been able during the passage of the Bill. I thank him on behalf of those on these Benches, especially on behalf of my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris who, unfortunately, is unable to be present today. I know that the custom is that at this stage we wish the Bill success. However, in the light of the criticism received from all sides of the House as regards paying financial institutions to set up an entirely new administrative system based on the mortgage method of repayment with no support, that is asking too much. Higher education is too important to individual students and to the economy to be treated in this way.

However, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the points of great concern raised and supported from these Benches. I thank in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth and the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I thank also the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Addington. Last but by no means least, I thank my noble friends for their support

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at all stages during the passage of the Bill. Their help and support has been invaluable, in particular to me this evening.

Lord Addington: My Lords, it falls to me to make the final comments on the Bill. The Bill is a missed opportunity. However, I believe that that is combined uniquely with it being something which will probably never come to pass. I say "probably" because there is a vague chance that it may come to pass. But to do so it must survive a general election and a review. One or other of those occurrences may well do this Bill down.

The scheme was originally rejected by the private sector and I suspect that a similar fate may well await the Bill now, even if it overcomes those other hurdles. We did not manage to improve the Bill fundamentally. The amendment on which we divided sought to improve it in relation to the individual status of students and we failed. That sums up the whole Bill.

Having said that, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, was his usual courteous and charming self while disagreeing with most of what we said. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, provided interesting and stimulating comment for the whole debate, as did other noble Lords. I should mention in particular the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who often stirs things up to a very interesting pitch. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and the entire Opposition Front Bench team made extremely interesting contributions, as did my noble friend Lord Tope. On these Benches, we have not so much had a team as a relay effort. I could not be here for the Committee stage and my noble friend Lord Tope is unable to be here this evening.

If the Bill ever reaches the statute book, I hope that it proves to be vastly more successful than I can foresee it being at present. I hope that it is not merely a continuation of the current loan scheme about which we can all stand up and say rightly, "I told you so".

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Bill [H.L.]

8.12 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 122 [Power of Secretary of State to give financial assistance for regeneration and development]:

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 218:

Page 72, line 14, at end insert ("and to more environmentally sustainable patterns of development and living.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 218 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs and it may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 220 and 224. We embark now on another part of this rather complicated Bill. Part IV deals with grants for regeneration, development and relocation. In Clause

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122, certain activities are specified as being contributory to regeneration or development in the sense of the Bill. We believe that there is one primary activity which has been left out and which, indeed, should be the primary purpose of this part. Amendment No. 218 refers to,

    "more environmentally sustainable patterns of development and living".
That is not an idle phrase. It is designed to ensure that any regeneration or development should not just simply do what is prescribed in subsection (2) of Clause 122 but should, as a primary purpose--that is why we wish to insert it in subsection (1)--introduce the notion of environmentally sustainable patterns of development and living.

Amendment No. 220, again in the name of my noble friend, is in a sense subsidiary to Amendment No. 218. It seeks to add to the objectives of subsection (2):

    "preventing land from becoming derelict, contaminated, neglected or unsightly",
and, perhaps more importantly, in paragraph (k),

    "assisting the development of urban land as an alternative to rural land".
In other words, urban land as at present conceived should be considered not just as houses and roads but as part of the rural landscape. If we are regenerating an inner city, there should be some element of considering that land which is being regenerated as though it were rural land in the way in which the Committee normally understands that. It should not be simply thought of as urban land; in other words, building new houses where old houses existed.

Amendment No. 224, which is consequential, provides:

    "Financial assistance under section 122 shall only be given following an assessment of the likely significant environmental effects of any assistance and the consideration of options and alternatives".
I hope that the Committee will realise that in speaking to these amendments and in moving Amendment No. 218, I am placing at the top of the agenda for Part IV the whole question of sustainable development not just in the context of the regeneration of inner cities but in the context of ensuring that the regeneration of inner cities should contribute to the "ruralisation", if I can use that word, of what we are trying to regenerate. It should not just be a question of--I use the old-fashioned expression--slum clearance. It should have a much wider role than that and it should be environmentally sustainable. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: I support all three amendments. It is a particularly appropriate context in which to raise the issue of environmental sustainability. I appreciate that that term has overtones which could give rise to several hours of debate. I do not intend to try to analyse the word "sustainable". But I do not believe that environmental sustainability can be separated from economic or social sustainability. The three concepts go hand in hand and must do so if any of them is to be successful.

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Therefore, in the context of the part of the Bill which deals with regeneration, it is appropriate and, I think, absolutely necessary to refer to environmental sustainability as a necessary criterion which is fundamental to any regeneration.

The wording of Amendment No. 218 is interesting. It refers to "patterns of development and living". Again, that is extremely appropriate in this context. After all, the object of regeneration is likely to be relatively large-scale or, at any rate, medium-scale. Therefore, it can certainly assist in changing patterns and is not simply a small discrete area of development.

I must say that I read paragraph (k) of Amendment No. 220 slightly differently. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, was going to talk about the importance of regenerating brown-field sites and not spilling on to green-field sites. The notion of "green land", if I may use that term in its widest sense, that he mentioned as part of the urban landscape contributing to the urban framework is a most interesting and important one. Urban quality is essential for urban life.

I mentioned that, in my view, environmental and economic sustainability are inseparable. If our cities are to be economically successful as well as being pleasant places in which to live, they must indeed be pleasant places in order to attract people and inward investment. That is particularly true of the City of London. As regards Amendment No. 224, there is reference on the face of the Bill to the assessment of environmental "effects", so that should not need saying. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and his noble friend Lord Dubs are right to say that it does.

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