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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the Government are committed to the Green Belts and have no current plans to revise the policies set out in Planning Policy Guidance note 2. Adoption of Green Belts and the determination of boundaries are, however, primarily a local matter. Where changes to Green Belt boundaries are proposed, we would expect all non-Green Belt alternatives to have been fully explored.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I declare my interest as chairman of the CPRE. Will the Minister confirm that she is effectively rescinding the statement made by Mr. Richard Caborn, one of her ministerial colleagues, on the "Today" programme on Radio 4 on 30th October that the Green Belt is up for grabs? Nevertheless, does she recognise that there are nine urban centres whose Green Belts are under major threat at present? Can she assure the House that the Government will make certain that any proposal for development in a Green Belt, whether it comes from local authorities or private developers, will be called in so that it can be determined centrally by the Secretary of State with the appropriate national consultation and publicity?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am very happy to make clear to the noble Lord the Government's

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commitment to the Green Belt and to reiterate it. There remains a presumption against inappropriate development in Green Belts, and the Government's policy is as set out in Planning Policy Guidance No. 2. The fundamental aim of Green Belts is to keep land around urban areas permanently open and to prevent urban sprawl. It has been made clear--and I reiterate this--that Green Belt boundaries should only be changed in exceptional circumstances. Any changes proposed by a local planning authority would need to be subject to full public consultation. In addition, the department would need to be satisfied that all opportunities for development within the urban areas contained by, or beyond, the Green Belt had been fully considered. It is within that framework that any proposals for change would be viewed by the department.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister recall that in a debate earlier this year she told the House that her department was preparing a list of available brown-field sites with definitions and targets for their use? Is my noble friend in a position to say whether this review--if I may use that term--will shortly be available?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, we are certainly looking at the possibility of using more brown-field sites for development than was previously the case. Any sensible government committed to revitalising inner cities and making them vital and attractive places in which to live, and indeed to protecting the countryside, would be committed to using the maximum number of brown-field sites available. We are considering our policy on planning for household growth, which will take into account the public consultation earlier this year. We hope to be able to announce decisions in that respect in the new year.

Earl Peel: My Lords, is it not striking that the Government's plans to increase rural building come only a few days after the Deputy Prime Minister announced the emasculation of the Rural Development Commission, which many of us on this side of the House in particular very much regret? Further, does the Minister agree that it was quite deplorable that the Deputy Prime Minister remarked in another place, when announcing the changes, that,

    "the rural areas will be better off without him".--[Official Report, Commons, 3/12/97; col. 361.]--

the "him" being my noble friend Lord Shuttleworth, who chaired the Rural Development Commission with such great distinction?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I believe noble Lords will recall that I was asked a question from the Front Bench opposite about the resignation of the noble Lord, Lord Shuttleworth, and that I answered it during the discussion on the Statement regarding regional development agencies. In repeating that Statement, I tried to make clear the Government's commitment to the health and well-being of rural areas. I also tried to make clear that our decision to include the regeneration

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budgets of the RDC within the RDAs was because we believed it would be to the benefit of rural areas. I accept that not everyone in the House or elsewhere shares that view. However, it is shared by many other organisations; and indeed, by many of the people who responded to the consultation on RDAs regarding the proposal that regeneration budgets for rural areas would be ring-fenced in terms of the budgets within the RDAs, and that there would have to be members of the RDAs with experience of rural matters.

I should make clear to the noble Earl that there are no plans to increase rural building. The Government have not taken any final decisions on what the targets might be to meet household growth figures. In the meantime, I should point out that the previous government's target of 50 per cent. on brown-field sites is one to which we are keeping.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that most of the larger conurbations are totally against this type of development outside the cities? Where such development has taken place in the past, it has had a tremendously detrimental effect on other conurbations which are trying to restore their city centres. Is that still one of the Government's priorities?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I can tell my noble friend that it is still a priority to restore the vitality of city centres and make them places where people will want to live, work, shop and enjoy leisure facilities. That is why the very clear guidance in terms of out-of-town developments and shopping centres is being adhered to by the Government. We are looking first and foremost at town centre alternatives rather than out-of-town alternatives for development.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, in view of the reported statement of the planning inspectors that it would be detrimental for the environment if more houses were built in West Sussex than those prescribed by the county structure plan, can the Minister explain how the Government can, on the one hand, organise and ask that 13,000 houses above the Sussex plan be built and, on the other, say that they are a friend of the environment?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I believe that the Government's credentials as regards being a friend of the environment will be proved in many areas of policy throughout the lifetime of this Parliament, and beyond. In terms of West Sussex, it is correct that there was an intervention in the structure plan regarding the planning for household growth. I understand that those concerned in West Sussex have now announced that they are seeking a judicial review of the Secretary of State's

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decision to intervene. Pending that legal action, I am sure that the House will understand that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.


2.56 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Written Answer given by Lord Gilbert on 12th November (WA 38) referring to the Government's commitment to achieving verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons means that they have withdrawn from their earlier commitment to work urgently for the elimination of these weapons.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): No, my Lords. As we promised in the manifesto, we will retain Trident and press for multilateral negotiations towards mutual, balanced and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons. When satisfied with verified progress towards our goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons, we will ensure that British nuclear weapons are included in multilateral negotiations.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that response. I am very glad to know that the Government have not withdrawn their commitment to press for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Is my noble friend aware of the information that has come recently from the United States? That says that criminals are now in possession of a tactical nuclear weapon. Does that not press the case that the only way to ensure that we are not blackmailed by groups of criminals from all over the world who have nuclear weapons is to get rid of the things entirely? Surely we should make it impossible for anyone or any government to be able to hold any other part of the world under duress. In those circumstances, does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is urgent to press on with the matter and to seek a meeting of nuclear states so as to take forward such a policy urgently?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware of the reports highlighted by my noble friend in his supplementary question. We take all such reports seriously. However, we have no reason to doubt that the nuclear weapons states are able to ensure the security of their weapons. Our work to prevent nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands is part of a wider commitment to prevent proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction.

My noble friend also asked about implementation and about the urgency of the matter. Our examination of how best to implement our commitment to press for multilateral negotiations on nuclear weapon reductions will include an assessment of what action we might take

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at the conference on disarmament in Geneva, which next meets in January. We are examining all these questions in terms of the strategic defence review.

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