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Social Exclusion Unit

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My right honourable friend the Prime Minister yesterday launched the Social Exclusion Unit at Stockwell Park School, Lambeth. Social exclusion is a shorthand label for what can happen when individuals or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown. The Government have policies that are targeted at reducing all of these individually, but

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government programmes have been less good at tackling the interaction between these problems or preventing them arising in the first place.

The purpose of the unit is to help break this vicious circle and co-ordinate and improve government action to reduce social exclusion by first improving understanding of the key characteristics of social exclusion, and the impact on it of government policies; and, secondly, by promoting solutions, encouraging co-operation, disseminating best practice and, where necessary, making recommendations for changes in policies and machinery or delivery mechanisms. The unit will not cover issues which are of interest to one department only, or duplicate work done elsewhere. It will focus on areas where it can add value and address the long-term causes of exclusion.

The Prime Minister has asked the unit to focus on the following priorities in its first phase to July 1998:

    Truancy and school exclusion: to make a step change in the scale of truancy and exclusions from school, and to find better solutions for those who have to be excluded--with a report to Ministers by Easter.

    Street living: reducing to as near zero as possible the numbers sleeping rough in towns and cities--with a report to Ministers by Easter.

    Worst estates: developing integrated and sustainable approaches to the problems of the worst housing estates, including crime, drugs, unemployment, community breakdown, bad schools etc.--with a report by June.

The Prime Minister will chair one summit involving key interests on each of these topics, starting with one on school exclusion and truancy at Stockwell Park School this morning.

In addition, in its first phase, the unit will also focus on improving mechanisms for integrating the work of departments, local authorities and other agencies at national level and on the ground, so money spent on excluded groups is used more effectively and has more chance of meeting its objectives. There will be a first report to Ministers by the end of June next year. Secondly, it will feed in to the Comprehensive Spending Reviews any recommendations for redirection of priorities arising from the unit's initial work. Finally, it will draw up key indicators of social exclusion, recommending how these can be tracked to monitor the effectiveness of government policies in reducing social exclusion, and will report to Ministers by the end of June.

The unit should draw on its experience with these first tasks to make recommendations on possible targets for the second half of 1998. Particular areas could include identifying key preventive interventions with children and young people, probing aspects of exclusion which disproportionately affect particular ethnic minority groups; options for improving access to services, public and private, for low income areas or individuals; and ways to encourage and focus individual and business involvement in tackling social exclusion. The unit will discuss those and other areas with interested groups before making recommendations.

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The unit is part of the Economic and Domestic Affairs Secretariat in the Cabinet Office. It will report to the Prime Minister and work closely with the No. 10 Policy Unit. It will be staffed by civil servants from other Whitehall departments and secondees from local authorities, voluntary bodies and other main agencies. It is being set up for an initial period of two years and its future will then be reviewed. The Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will consider how best to tackle social exclusion, taking account of the particular needs and characteristics of their respective communities. The Social Exclusion Unit will work closely with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish offices and the unit's findings will be made available to these departments.

The Prime Minister will steer the work of the unit personally and chair regular meetings with relevant Ministers to review the initiative. Policy decisions will be cleared through the appropriate Cabinet Committee, and implemented by the departments. The Prime Minister will report to Parliament next summer on the work of the unit and on the forward agenda. Any policy changes proposed will have clear targets and evaluation plans. To build on the unit's cross-departmental focus, the Prime Minister has nominated a network of Ministers in the departments most affected to draw together exclusion issues in their own departments and to help present and guide the unit's work, as follows: Hilary Armstrong DETR, Keith Bradley DSS, Stephen Byers DfEE, Tessa Jowell DoH, Peter Mandelson CO, Alun Michael HO, Geoffrey Robinson HMT, Barbara Roche DTI.

The unit will draw extensively on outside expertise and research, and lock into relevant external networks to hear views from local authorities, business, voluntary organisations and other organisations/individuals with experience of dealing with exclusion. The unit will adopt an outward-facing and open approach, participate in relevant seminars and conferences, seek out existing good practice and encourage its wider dissemination.

Copies of a leaflet setting out the purpose, priorities, working methods and staff in the unit have been placed in the Library.

Zimbabwe: Land Acquisition Programme

Lord Vivian asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider a ban on future overseas aid to Zimbabwe if President Mugabe continues with his proposed land redesignation policy.

Lord Whitty: We have told the Government of Zimbabwe that we cannot support the programme of land acquisition on which they have embarked, but we are open to discussions on land reform which would

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benefit poor Zimbabweans. We will be discussing with the Government whether we are able to establish a partnership with them on the basis explained in the White Paper on International Development as a foundation for future aid commitments.

Water Abstraction

Lord Onslow of Woking asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish the responses to their review of abstraction licensing; and whether this will take the form of a further consultation document.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): The Government is currently conducting a review of the water abstraction licensing system in England and Wales. Following a preliminary request for representations, a consultation paper is being prepared for publication early in the new year.

Regional Development Agencies

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to their statement on Regional Development Agencies, whether a specific sum from each agency will be ring-fenced for the express purpose of development within the rural areas.

Baroness Hayman: Resources which the Regional Development Agencies inherit from the Rural Development Commission's rural regeneration programmes will be ring-fenced for use in rural areas. The exact sums involved will not be known until the public expenditure plans for 1999/2000 have been settled.

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New Housing

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will afford greater priority to the use of land within urban areas or on brownfield sites rather than encourage or enable housing development in rural areas, especially where public transport provision is inadequate.

Baroness Hayman: The Government have not yet taken a final decision on what target might be appropriate for the amount of new housing to be built on previously developed land. In the meantime, the previous Government's target of 50 per cent. still applies. We are considering our policy on planning for household growth, taking into account the public consultation earlier this year, and will announce our decisions in due course. We remain committed both to protecting the countryside, and to regenerating our towns and cities by encouraging local authorities to make the best possible use of previously developed land. The presumption against inappropriate development within Green Belts remains in place.

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their estimate of the number of houses built in the rural areas of England and Wales during the last decade and what proportion of the total houses built this represents.

Baroness Hayman: Information is not held centrally in the form requested. The table below shows new housebuilding in the predominantly rural local authority areas of both England and Wales. Housebuilding data are collected at local authority level and do not differentiate between dwellings built in rural and urban areas within a local authority area.

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New housebuilding: Completions

England Wales
Rural local authorities TotalPercentage of ruralRural local authorities TotalPercentage of rural

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