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Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a difficulty is caused by the lack of house build? Does he also agree that this Government have presided over the lowest level of housing stock to be built since 1925? That obviously has an effect on the proportion of housing available under the Starter Home Initiative. Will the Minister comment on that andhe referred to the South Easton how the situation affects rural areas?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, that question is a little rich. The reason why house-building is now at its lowest level since 1925 is because of the extreme reduction in money that was made available until 1996 by the previous government. We have now turned round that situation and have increased the funds available. However, as noble Lords know, one cannot, simply by turning a tap, change the amount of house-building that takes place. Perhaps I may say that that was rather a bold question.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, is the Minister aware that an increasing number of former council flats in central London are reaching well in excess of a quarter-of-a-million pounds? Is he aware that this is an urgent problem of an order of magnitude different from that affecting the rest of the country?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree that there are problems in relation to the price of housing, including ex-council housing, in central London. However, a very similar problem can also be found in, for example, Cambridge. As a result, people who were previously able to get a foot on the house-buying ladder can no longer do so. We need to consider that issue because the effect of being unable to house such people directly affects not only those people but the economy as a whole.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I declare an interest as a board director of the NHBC. Is the Minister aware that the main constraint on house-building is the planning authority? Is he also aware that inflation in the house-building industry is running way ahead of national inflation, based largely on the cost of manufactured products, which relate to fuel costs, and aggregates and landfill costs? Will the Minister comment on both the planning situation and those increased costs?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the planning system is not fast enough, not consistent enough and does not engage the community enough. People from all across the spectrum are fed up with the way that the
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister to answer the Question put by my noble friend Lady Maddock; that is, at a time when there is such a shortage of housing for public sector workers, why are the authorities selling off nurses' accommodation and police accommodation? The problem with giving extra money by way of help is that that is just more money chasing after a given stock of housing.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, in many cases the reason why the police or the National Health Service, for example, sell off land is to use the money to provide more policing or health facilities. There is an issue of priorities, which needs to be addressed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, there are a number of concerns about illegal importsanimal disease and public healthand concerns about endangered species. Different considerations apply to illegal meat brought in by passengers and illegal meat hidden in bulk commercial imports. It is essential that in all those areas there is effective co-ordination between the various agencies on intelligence gathering and enforcement action. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is calling a summit meeting at the end of this month to discuss the next steps for intensifying our efforts.
Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, especially as he admits that there are acknowledged concerns over this awful trade. We have heard about the discussions which are to take place. However, can he tell the House what action the Government are taking? For instance, how many checks occur at Heathrow in one week? How many more sniffer dogs, which are used so well in many other countries, will there be? How many new x-ray machines, also used well in other countries, will there be? How many more government-trained personnel are being introduced at port authorities to catch illegal meat coming into this country?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, primarily, the situation is one of co-ordination and prioritisation rather than one of resources. Clearly, a number of public authorities are involved. Random checks are made on particular
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, does the Minister support the campaign currently being run by London Zoo to make the public aware of the danger posed to endangered species by the importation of bush meat? Can he tell the House whether the Government plan a more general campaign of education in marketplaces in which such products are sold?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government are opposed to the import of all illegal meat. We have particular concerns about endangered species and, in that sense, welcome the campaign to which the noble Lord referred. However, it is important to recognise that only a small proportion of what we refer to as illegal meator even of that proportion of illegal meat which is referred to as bush meatis from endangered species. Obviously we want to bring that figure down to zero. However, it is only a small part of the problem.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is it not the case that it is now more than a year since the amount of meat coming into this country illegally was pointed out to us? Why is this taking so long? Nine checks demonstrate the huge quantity of meat being imported. Has the Minister thought about using Labrador dogs, who think only of their tummies and have an excellent sense of smell?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, at present we do not use dogs to detect meat imports into the UK. We use them for other purposes. We are about to co-operate with the New Zealand Government in an experiment to see whether dogs can be used in this respect. It is also important to recognise that almost certainly by far the largest and the most dangerous amounts of illegal meat do not come in by passenger transport but by being hidden in consignments of container meat or as goods which are wrongly labelled as something else and have probably entered the European Union at a different point from the UK. It is therefore important that we focus on where the problem is likely to be most acute. That is why we have commissioned a new risk assessment to identify where such imports are coming from and where they pose the highest risk.
Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords. I have always stressed that while illegal import minimisation is important, the reason that we were in such a disastrous situation in relation to foot and mouth was the rapid spread of that disease in the early stages. That was because of uncontrolled movements of animals within the country. It is important that we do not take our eye off the ball when considering imports and do not ignore or move away from ensuring that such movements internally do not spread the disease.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how much illegal meat has been seized coming through Heathrow in the past six months? As regards the other meat to which he referred, what proportion has been imported illegally through other food sources in containers rather than through Heathrow? Why on earth cannot sniffer dogs be used in this respect? Is it because one department owns the sniffer dogs and therefore another department cannot possibly use them? If they are based at the airport it seems bizarre that they cannot be used for similar purposes.
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