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Lord Swinfen: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the Government have plans to change the right to buy in respect of properties specially adapted for people with disabilities?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I repeat the absolute blanket commitment given by my noble friend Lord Rooker. A mere 10 days ago, he said that we were not planning any change in the right to buy. If there were to be any exceptions to that, he would have made that clear when he spoke at the Empty Homes Agency conference on 29th November.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, from these Benches, I welcome the Minister to his new role. We are delighted to see him.

Does he agree that home ownership on estates where properties have been sold into private hands—whether to first buyers or second buyers—has resulted in greater involvement of occupants in the maintenance of standards and security on such estates?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for her warm welcome. I agree with the statement she has just made. The more community awareness there is, in the regions and in London, the better the estates are.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I am sure the House was glad to hear my noble friend's expression of the Government's concern about the shortage of social housing. It is a particular concern in rural areas. Have the Government any plans to tackle the problem?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, we recognise the importance of affordable housing in maintaining balanced and successful rural communities. We have already taken substantial measures to help to alleviate housing pressures in rural communities, as outlined in the rural White Paper. Through increased Housing Corporation investment and subject to local authorities' investment decisions and use of planning powers, we expect to deliver 9,000 affordable homes in rural areas annually by 2003-04. That will include 3,000 in small rural settlements.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, it will come as a welcome surprise to many of us to hear the Minister say that any change in policy must be evidence-based. Given that he made that remark—it is, I hope, a view that he will sustain throughout his career in the Government—can the Minister say whether the Government have any evidence as to the time the original owners of right-to-buy properties remain in those dwellings?

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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, my naive view is that any change of policy that is not evidence-based is probably a mistake.

A noble Lord: You won't last!

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: Right! In answer to the noble Lord's second point, I do not have the figures. If I can obtain them I shall happily write to the noble Lord. When we talk about abuse of the right-to-buy policy, we are talking about a comparatively small number of people. We can assume that the right to buy has helped many thousands of ordinary people to realise their aspirations to own their own homes and create mixed-income communities.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on his new responsibilities. Do the Government have plans to introduce schemes to enable tenants of social properties to move into home ownership?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, if my noble friend is referring to the right to acquire, I can tell him that that facility is available in 50 per cent of local authorities. However, the take-up has been small; about 70 sales since 1997.

English Heritage: "Images of England" Project

2.51 p.m.

Lord Burnham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What arrangements are being made by the Heritage Lottery Federation to photograph all listed dwellings in the country and what exemptions will be allowed for house owners who do not wish their property to appear on a website.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, English Heritage's Images of England project is taking an external photograph of each of England's 370,000 listed buildings. Most of the photographs are being taken from public land and will be published on the project's website. Where it is impossible to take a photograph from publicly accessible land, the owner's consent will be sought. If it is refused, no photograph will be taken.

There will be an exemption scheme for those who object to photographs of their houses being placed on the website. Details will be available shortly.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, does not this constitute a burglars' charter, certainly in respect of all those who live within sight of a road or public footpath and who cannot prevent such a photograph being taken? A 10-year limit is planned to any exemption, but is that

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not quite unsatisfactory as the people concerned may have forgotten about it by that time and may then be burgled?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I do not believe that this is a burglars' charter, although I understand the concerns of some people that having their property photographed and put on the website might encourage burglars. However, I know that English Heritage received advice from the security industry and insurance companies which did not believe that the project would lead to more burglaries or was likely to be a problem.

As regards the length of an exemption and whether at the end of the period there should be an automatic decision to put the photographed listed property on the website, further details are still being discussed and considered.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, do I understand from my noble friend that English Heritage can take photographs without permission? Is not that rather presumptuous?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, perhaps I should explain that information about listed buildings is already publicly available to anyone who wishes to obtain it. It can be found in libraries and in the records offices of local authorities. It is available to amenity groups, historians, local history clubs, schools, universities and a wide variety of other potential users. The aim of the project, which was a millennium project, was to have a snapshot of our heritage in approximately 2000 which could be used not just today but in the future.

The photographs are, for the most part, being taken from the street where anyone can take a photograph of anything—it is a free country. Where they cannot be taken from a public place, permission is of course sought from the owner.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be a pity if a message went out from this House that there was a criticism which ought to be met as regards the use of lottery funds for our heritage? Does she further agree that this is one bright spot of lottery funding? More than 9,000 projects have been funded and at no stage—certainly in my lifetime—have the public been more aware of their built and natural heritage. The work done by the Heritage Lottery Federation has been outstanding. I am sure that the Minister, with her colleagues, has the wit to solve the problem, which I acknowledge exists.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount. I entirely accept, agree with and endorse his comments about the invaluable work of the Heritage Lottery Federation in funding many projects that have supported our heritage. This is just one such project that makes it possible for people in future as well as today to have a better understanding of the extent and range of our extraordinary heritage.

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I am sure that the issue can be sorted out. I also accept that some people will be concerned. I believe that about 7 per cent of those who have listed properties have made their concerns clear.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I confess that I am the owner of a Grade II starred listed building and received nothing when I thatched it. Does the Minister believe that in return for having our properties photographed there might be the possibility of the odd little grant to help?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is extremely fortunate to be the owner of a Grade II starred listed property. Many people must be very envious of him. I am sure that when he needs in some way to improve the quality of his Grade II starred listed property, if he is eligible for a grant and applies, he will receive one.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, are there restrictions on photographs being taken of these properties from the air?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, as regards this scheme, I am not aware of photographs being taken from the air. The vast majority are being taken by volunteer photographers who have been suitably trained for the task and have received an identity card. However, I am not aware of photographers applying for a pilot's licence and going up in the air to take photographs.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, has the Heritage Lottery Federation written to all the owners of the properties it has photographed? When will further information be available, bearing in mind that this was supposed to be a millennium project?

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