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So what should we do? The answer is not easy as far as eastern European immigrants are concerned because there is very little that we can do; we can limit temporarily the number given permission to work here, but we cannot stop those without permission to work coming here and working anyhow. However, we can do something about people coming from other parts of the world. Since 2004, 406,355 work permits have been handed out to non-Europeans, but it is clear from the fact that over the same period 896,000 national insurance cards were issued that the true figure of those who have come here to work is

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approaching a million. One has only to look down the list of countries from which they have come to see that they cannot all be filling vacancies that cannot be filled from the domestic or European labour market.

What is needed is for the Government to declare an annual limit on immigration and then enforce it. The introduction next year of a points-based system for other than EU citizens is a wholly inadequate response to the present situation and, without basic border controls and action against illegal work, the Government’s plan is doomed to failure. I beg the Minister to go away and tell his colleagues that if ever there was an area where joined-up government is required it is in this area of immigration and housing need. From now on, no decision should be made as to how many houses should be built without careful study of how the number might be reduced by sensible immigration control. If that is accepted, we may be on the road back to sanity.

5.36 pm

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the language on these occasions is often the same and our task is to examine whether the Government’s actions fulfil the promise of the language used, words such as accountability, engagement, trust, renewal, regeneration and, of course, community—which covers a lot, including care for our fellow citizens, including those who have recently come to our country and who contribute so much. The jargon can slip easily off the tongue. The legislation sometimes comes rapidly out of Whitehall, and I do not want to suggest that legislation cures all, as the Government often seem to think, although it may cure some. Let us not confuse legislative action with progress. The subjects we are covering today do not divide neatly and if I do not cover them all, which is impossible in the time, that does not mean that I think that matters of sustainability, climate change and so on are not matters for CLG; of course they are. Indeed, the impact of buildings—my noble friend Lord Teverson referred to this—transport and other infrastructure related to housing development comes at different levels and may be good or bad.

I want first to say something about what is not in the gracious Speech in the constitutional area: accountability and engagement. What are we to expect about regional assemblies? This is not to reopen the debate about regions and subregions—although I do not think it will go away—nor to set regionalism against localism, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, suggested. We are told that regional assemblies are to go. There may be little mourning for them, but they do include large numbers of elected councillors. What is to replace them? What will the function and role of the replacement be? We will need some mechanism to scrutinise the regional development agencies, and not just because the RDA Act says so. We have, again, Ministers for the regions and there will be arrangements in the Commons—we believe there will probably be a Select Committee. Is this House to have any role other than our normal one of Questions and debates? Do the Government recognise that having put in place a particular constitutional settlement in one region—London—there is the possibility of considerable confusion

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about who is holding who to account? I can well see that a Select Committee could scrutinise the activities of the Government Office for London, but I can also see the scope for confusion if it extends to the mayor.

Constitutional questions are also relevant in the context of planning reforms. By the time we see the Planning Reform Bill, I hope we will be clear about the process of developing the national policy statements on which the planned reforms will depend. What scrutiny will there be? How can those who are interested contribute? What notice will be taken of them? There are issues of consultation, democracy and accountability. I assume that the Bill will reflect the White Paper, but I understand that there have been about 32,000 responses to it, so the Bill may be rather different. We wait to see the Government’s analysis. The Statement made when the planning White Paper was published mentioned that:

I do not think that is a false choice, or at least not as I understood what was meant. Interest groups, very often comprising volunteers, need time and space to express their views. That will be relevant to the statements; it will be relevant to the work of the independent planning commission. It is terribly difficult—no doubt other noble Lords have this experience as well—to engage people until there is a real planning application with its location known. That is when people begin to understand what is proposed.

Conversely, there is a false choice between quantity and quality of housing. I very much welcomed what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said about that. There are 1.6 million families on council waiting lists; repossessions are rising uncomfortably fast; housing—a home, a basic need and a right—is becoming out of reach. That means misery now and misery to come. We will soon see how well the Housing and Regeneration Bill addresses those issues. I very much welcome the greater number of noble Lords who have taken part in housing debates recently. It is clearly a matter that noble Lords take extremely seriously. The much wider range of debate is in great contrast to the position a few years ago.

Yesterday, I was told of a woman who, having the wealth to do so, bought a couple of big plots of land, developed them and sold the housing using a scheme that enabled her to sell them at cost and for the increase in value to be shared with the owners and for them to be retained as available as low-priced housing. I applaud that. I hope that more public bodies, using a form of community land trust, can do the same. We need imagination in this area at all sorts of levels. I will put in one plea for a very small thing. That is promotion and assistance from government in establishing small housing associations for groups of friends who, as they become older, would like to live together and give one another mutual support. The noble Baroness is nodding. We perhaps need less imagination on the part of those who provide so-called equity release schemes but really diddle—is that the word? It is worse than that—older people who are desperate to fund the needs of old age.

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Time does not permit me to ask the questions that I would like to ask about the supplementary business rate, but I hope the Government will recognise that if they trusted local authorities, they might be able to get on with what the business rate could enable them to undertake.

We will judge the Government's programme by measures such as trust, engagement, community, democracy and, of course, by its effectiveness. That measure is the quality of life.

5.42 pm

Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I broadly support what the Government are proposing under the headings of housing and planning. My remarks this afternoon fall under the heading of transport.

I speak as a motorist and as someone who still believes that the freedom to get into a car and go anywhere at any time is part of the quality of life. I realise that that is a romantic view and that it struggles to compete with congestion and carbon emissions, but if it is hard to sustain in today's world, I nevertheless feel that the Government must not be allowed to leave the road system to its fate. Of course, the Government have a duty to promote public transport services by bus and rail, but that must not be at the expense of maintaining and, one hopes, improving the road network.

The Local Transport Bill is concerned with the imposition of a variety of unspecified charges on motor vehicles that will not in themselves improve the road network and are unlikely to find favour with road users. Motorists like to feel that any charges or tolls that they have to pay are being ploughed back to the benefit of the road system. That is assumed to be the case with toll charges on continental motorways, and I imagine that tolls on our motorway system would be more acceptable to motorists than, say, urban congestion charges.

One other lesson that the Government might take from our neighbours across the Channel is on road maintenance. Road works are managed there with the smallest possible impact on traffic movements, which is certainly not the case on our roads, where road works seem to be designed to cause the maximum traffic disruption. For example, driving up to London from Hertfordshire yesterday, I experienced a huge queue and long delays which, it turned out, were caused by red cones reducing to a single lane the two-lane carriageway in both directions for a distance of about a mile. Surprise, surprise, there was not a sign of any work in progress or of any service vehicles or workmen in the cordoned-off lanes in either direction.

Given the fact of an ever-growing population of car owners, it is obviously impossible to eliminate congestion, but I am sure that we all know of situations where it seems obvious that traffic flows could be improved by appropriate investment. One such example is the daily afternoon congestion of northbound traffic at Junction 6 of the A1(M) on the approach to Stevenage in Hertfordshire. It is caused by the narrowing of the motorway from three lanes to two at Junction 6. The motorway reverts to three

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lanes at Junction 8, just north of Stevenage. The obvious solution is to widen the motorway to three lanes between the two.

Here, I declare an interest as a resident of north Hertfordshire and the owner of a tourist business in the area. Widening the motorway between Junctions 6 and 8 has been the subject of a recent public petition to the Prime Minister, to which the Government have responded by quoting from an earlier London to South Midlands multimodal study that,

To all who know the area, that seems a weak excuse. Some traffic would exit to Stevenage at Junction 7, the motorway reverts to three lanes at Junction 8, and Junction 9 is the big exit for the A505 Baldock bypass to Cambridge, so there is no obvious reason for congestion. I apologise for going into that detail, but, on behalf of all those who signed the petition, I ask the Minister to look again at that example, which I am sure is one of many similar situations throughout the country.

In conclusion, it is clearly a major responsibility of government to promote optimal public services by bus and rail, but it must not be at the expense of maintaining and improving the road system.

5.47 pm

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, the commitment to build 3 million homes by 2020 is an opportunity unparalleled since the 1960s, and I congratulate our new Government on the foresight and vision to give housing that much needed priority.

In the 1960s and 1970s, some deeply damaging mistakes were made: estates whose consequences in fostering crime and sheer lack of amenity are still with us. Long before that, though, this country pioneered innovative housing for ordinary people, with Robert Owen's model housing and then the garden cities, admired all over the world. We would not want to replicate them now, but we can harness that same innovative capacity to the needs of our time.

Some good housing has been built over the past decade. We have the benign influence of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), for whose briefing I am grateful, set up in 1999 by my noble friend Lord Smith and Geoff Mulgan. Post 2004, we have a strong regulatory framework. Planning policy statement 3 is a huge advance.

Provisions for design quality need to be robust enough to be measured. I hope that we shall hear what monitoring is in place for quality, not just speed and numbers, and how the new housing and planning delivery grant will operate to assure quality. The reality so far is that CABE found that nearly one-third of housing schemes in the past five years was so poor that it should not have received planning permission. According to the Royal Town Planning Institute, two-thirds of applications for building schemes still do not involve a qualified architect. Urban design is not yet, or not again, firmly in the planning system, authorities do not all use design review panels, and planning authorities may not all be resourced to employ urban designers.

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Local partnerships need more than representatives from health, education, police and transport. They need a strong design presence to turn meeting these social needs into beautiful places to live—into, as my right honourable friend Hazel Blears said in response to the gracious Speech in another place,

I hope there will be strong voices on the new Planning Commission to assure architecture and design quality.

Should CABE, with its wide regional presence, be consulted on all large housing planning schemes, private or public? What about design champions for every region, as RIBA and the Barker report proposed? They could make widespread use of the CABE Building for Life criteria. What about architects themselves? As my noble friend Lady Andrews said, we now have many good architects and some outstandingly beautiful new civic and commercial buildings. But as far as ordinary homes are concerned, there are still architecture schools that focus on just the house, ignoring its setting in a community and the deep impact of design, or the lack of it, on the way we go about our lives. I hope that RIBA can be active here. Perhaps the Prime Minister’s better buildings awards could focus more on homes. I hope that the DCMS will celebrate and showcase our best housing architects. I hope that developers will come on board, too.

Before today, there has been almost nothing on these matters in debates in this and another place, apart from what my right honourable friend Hazel Blears has said. The excellent Green Paper on housing hardly mentions architecture. The Select Committee on the DCLG’s recent questions to my honourable friend Yvette Cooper did not touch on it. It is time to change that, and I hope my noble friend can say something about how we can make it clear that design is as important as numbers and that, indeed, it will enable the numbers of homes that we need to be sustainably built.

I congratulate my noble friend on the promise of security of tenure for Gypsies and Travellers in the Housing and Regeneration Bill. I hope that my noble friend can confirm that the most welcome proposed Homes and Communities Agency will include the needs of Gypsies and Travellers for affordable and socially rented accommodation in its remit. Fair treatment for Gypsies and Travellers, our oldest indigenous minority, can still be astonishingly bypassed. The inhabitants of Clays Lane, an issue which I raised last July, are now, they say, living on,

Families with young children are living in these conditions. What pressure can be brought to bear on the Olympic Delivery Authority with regard to this terrible situation?

5.52 pm

Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords, I am very glad to take part in this very interesting debate. I apologise for the fact that my subject relates to the constitution rather than to housing, as I could not be here yesterday.

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That subject is the consideration that the Government are giving, and are inviting us all to give, to the future role of the Attorney-General and who should exercise that role. Possible changes might be included in a draft Bill. Suggestions for change have come from the House of Commons Select Committee, and include the suggestion that all or part of the role might be taken by a senior public official. I have written to the Attorney-General, and I will give a proper formal response to her consultation by 26 November. No doubt that might be published at some point. I should like to put on the record the key points that should be borne in mind. There is some quite profound constitutional misunderstanding, even in the very high reaches of government, about this very important but not always widely understood office.

The Prime Minister said in July that among the 12 executive powers that he might hand back might be the role of the Attorney-General in taking prosecuting decisions. This is a huge misunderstanding. When the law officers have any role in giving advice or taking prosecuting decisions, they are acting not as members of the Executive but as the independent law officers of the Crown. They are appointed by the Prime Minister and can be sacked by him, but no law officer worth their salt—and I exclude none from the category—can be told what to do contrary to their legal knowledge and professional conscience. Furthermore, it was said that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, in whom I have the very highest confidence and for whom I, like the House, have very high regard, had said that she would take no prosecuting decisions other than those required by law.

I wondered what was going on in the Cabinet Office that the Prime Minister should have said such a thing. No law officer during my 27 years of quite close association with that office going back to 1979 has ever taken any prosecuting decision that he or she was not required to take by statute. Such decisions are taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the director of the Serious Fraud Office, the head of the other many prosecuting authorities or their officials, or the Crown Prosecution Service. We must understand that that is how it works.

The great importance of the law officers of the Crown lies in the fact that they are independent. It is sometimes said by academics that we lack the proper separation of powers in this country. That is not true; we believe profoundly in the separation of powers. We require Ministers such as the Lord Chancellor exercising those functions and the other law officers to hold those powers separately within themselves and to be answerable in both Houses of Parliament for doing so—a far more powerful check and balance than can be achieved by having a public official occasionally, or even fairly frequently, come to a Select Committee.

It is said that the problem is one of perception; the examples given are the advice given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, on the war and the controversy over the withdrawal of the British Aerospace prosecution. I support and speak up for the noble and learned Lord in his very difficult role in both those aspects. On BAE Systems, my own view, so

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far as anyone can see outside the office, is that he was absolutely right, and any suggestion that he should be replaced by a public official is made pretty good nonsense when one realises that the decision was actually taken by the director of the Serious Fraud Office on the advice, which was given three times in long telephone conversations, of our ambassador in Saudi Arabia. I do not believe that either of those senior public officials—I know the director of the Serious Fraud Office quite well—would have dishonoured themselves by taking a decision if they did not believe that they were doing something that was true and proper and in the public interest. The noble and learned Lord was quite right to support them. What is more, he was quite right to look carefully into the case because there was much more to it than met the eye, and I very much doubt, as he said, whether it would have ever come to a successful conclusion. That is all that I can say, given the short time that I have.

On the war, there is a serious case in due course for a public inquiry into the legalities and how the decisions were taken. This may be controversial, although I do not think that it is too controversial, but I believe that the Prime Minister’s assurance that our immediate national interests were threatened was crucial to the noble and learned Lord’s decision. He bravely and wisely said that regime change was not a justification, but took the decision when told that our immediate national interests were threatened. We are of course back to weapons of mass destruction and so on—a highly controversial area; there will be a time to look into this. This great public office has stood the test of time, and it should not be dismantled.

6 pm

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I should like to bring us back to the subject of today’s debate. I congratulate the Minister on the interesting and constructive way in which she introduced it. I associate myself with the remarks on housing made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who is not in his place. However, I shall look at things from a grassroots perspective, particularly that of east Lancashire or, as it is now rebranded, Pennine Lancashire; that is, Blackburn, Hyndburn, Burnley, Rossendale and last but far from least Pendle. I remind the House that I am an elected member of Pendle Council.

I shall talk about the promised Housing and Regeneration Bill, the Planning Reform Bill and an interesting document published by the DCLG entitled, An Action Plan for Community Empowerment or, as I would prefer to call it, an action plan for involving people. Perhaps I may start a little cynically on community empowerment. For much of the past 40 years I have been a passionate advocate of involving people at a local level in the decisions that affect them and the future of their communities—or, as the Government now call it, place-making. For much of that time, I have fought strongly members of other parties, particularly the Labour Party, who do not agree that this is the way ahead.

I am always willing to welcome converts and I notice that the Government are now going about this with the zeal of a convert, which I am not against.

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However, I warn the Government that those of us who have been doing it for a long time are in a position to understand some of the pitfalls and difficulties. Certain members of the Government, in economic terms, used to be Stalinist in their views—certainly, state socialists—and now are passionate advocates of the free market, but they do not seem to understand that the free market has lots of problems as well as being generally a good thing. The same applies to community involvement.

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