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8.23 pm

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, first, I declare an interest as chair of the Circle 33 Housing Association and a trustee of Shelter, the housing charity. Like others in this debate, I welcome the Housing and Regeneration Bill. The scale of the proposed investment offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address the complex jigsaw of housing need being confronted by the housing providers and campaigners I meet on a daily basis. However, I am concerned that the scale and urgency of the proposed expansion could short-circuit a necessary debate about the kinds of homes and neighbourhoods we aspire to in the 21st century. That is what I should like to concentrate my comments on today.

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I am pleased that the Minister mentioned garden cities in her opening statement, because this summer I had the opportunity to visit Letchworth, which was the first garden city in this country. More than a century from its original conception, it remains an icon of inspirational design and intelligent planning. Its creator, Ebenezer Howard, was not a planner, a designer or an architect: he was employed as a Clerk in this House. But he articulated a vision of a new kind of living to rescue families living in poverty out of the Victorian slums. His passionate belief in the interaction of physical, social and economic objectives enticed some of the most respected planners and architects to create a new town built on revolutionary principles for its time.

The garden city movement understood that good housing was more than a physical structure; it could also impact on people’s social and emotional well-being. The success of the Letchworth model inspired the architects Parker and Unwin to build landmark homes for working people in many other parts of Britain as well. I mention this not because I want a housing policy based on nostalgia or on building replicas of the past, but because I am concerned that the massive and welcome housing expansion now being planned lacks the leadership of a new generation of design visionaries capable of creating excitement and debate. Nothing I have yet read or heard about the Thames Gateway development has inspired me to think that a radical new approach is really being developed there. That leads me to question whether the very delivery bodies that we are setting up are by their nature somehow stifling creativity. While I accept that it is impossible for every building and every town to be iconic, we know from our history that examples of innovative design ripple out and shape future development on a much larger scale.

There is one area where the Government quite rightly have taken a radical stance, and that is in their commitment to environmental standards and new eco-towns. I recently visited the BedZED development, a well-known landmark which has become a leading voice for sustainable living. The developers’ belief is that to be effective, sustainable lifestyles have to go hand in hand with sustainable buildings. In other words, while it is important to use the latest energy-efficient building materials and maximise the use of recycled and reclaimed materials, real success depends on people changing the way they live and use those properties. So, a development in my home town of Brighton will have a zero waste policy and composting facilities provided on site; there will be no car parking spaces and instead residents will be given automatic membership of the local car club. There will be mini allotments on the roof and a communal garden. These are small examples, but they are essential if we are to change people’s behaviour and curb carbon emissions. The experience so far for such eco-developments is that they cost more than conventional build. This will inevitably be a real dilemma for the Government. I hope that they feel able to take a longer-term perspective and recognise the ultimate imperative of using scarce resources wisely.

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As a housing campaigner for many years, I would hate this to be interpreted as the concerns purely of the middle classes. One of the lessons of the garden city movement was that working-class people longed for the opportunity for decent housing as well, and we now face new challenges to provide quality housing for a new generation in desperate housing need. For example, it is estimated that more than half a million households live in overcrowded accommodation, of which around two-thirds are families with young children. There is a pressing need for more family-sized homes to be built. Yet I know from the experience of my own housing association that the current planning constraints and the perverse grant system encourage even organisations like my own to build one and two-bedroom properties at the expense of larger family homes.

It is also crucial that a proportion of the 3 million new homes provide routes out of the social housing ghettos which John Hills described so starkly in his recent report. He highlighted the spiralling deprivation on many large estates where unemployment is endemic and social cohesion has broken down. It seems that the very fact that people are in receipt of subsidised social housing has trapped many of them so that they are then unable either economically or physically to move on. There is one further sector which needs urgent attention, the area identified by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who persuasively argued the case for the reform of the private rented sector. I shall not repeat his comments.

Finally, I welcome the fact that the Government’s proposals are on a scale which can radically impact housing need and change the face of housing provision in this country. These opportunities are rare and precious, but I hope that in the dash to build, we also find time to listen, to engage and to nurture ideas about a new vision for quality homes for working people in the 21st century so that we can build a lasting legacy that will make future generations proud.

8.30 pm

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, I welcome the Climate Change Bill which includes powers for councils to introduce financial incentives for recycling. The Government should look again at their recycling policies. Only last week they published figures showing that householders are recycling more than ever—30 per cent. This is good news and householders should be congratulated. But no, the Government now plan to introduce a “pay-as-you-throw” tax. This cannot be the right answer. It will penalise larger households, be extremely expensive to set up and administer and, rather than pay the tax, some householders will illegally fly tip or start garden bonfires. It is the retailers and manufacturers which have yet to receive the message, not the householders.

The Government are further increasing the target to recycle from 30 to 40 per cent of all household waste by 2010. While I am certain that householders will rise to the challenge, the Government must ensure that once waste has been collected for recycling it is recycled in a green and commercially friendly way. To

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me, this is the kernel of the issue. It is all very well collecting all this waste for recycling, but what happens to it all after it has been collected? One of the problems is that there is not a developed market for recycled goods in the UK, so that a large proportion of recycled waste is exported. Half of all recycled paper is exported, 20 per cent of all recycled waste goes to China and an alarming proportion goes to landfill as being “too difficult” or not commercial. This rather negates the very reason for recycling in the first place. The Government must ensure that recycled waste is put to a greener and more commercial use.

Even if the 40 per cent recycling target is reached by 2010, what are we to do with the remaining 60 per cent? Burying it in landfill is not the right answer, although the ratcheting-up of landfill tax has helped change attitudes. I favour incineration. Not only can it accommodate virtually all the residual waste but it also produces much needed non-fossil fuel heat and energy with virtually zero emissions.

The Climate Change Bill will set binding statutory targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions. What worries me is the Government setting themselves targets. They are very good at setting others targets but not so good at meeting those they take on themselves. Here I mean the Kyoto targets whereby this country should have 10 per cent of its energy requirement met by renewables by 2010 and 20 per cent by 2020. Since the late 1990s, the march of renewables has been disappointing and it now contributes only 4 per cent of electricity in the UK. The Government have just three more years to add a further 6 per cent of renewables to meet their 2010 target. It seems very doubtful that the Government will meet this target.

Indeed, this realisation of failure has at last dawned on some members of the Government. The Guardian newspaper recently reported, so it must be true, that leaked documents between Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister, and John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, showed that the Government were abandoning their energy renewable targets as being too expensive and encumbered with severe practical difficulties. This is surely an admission of failure and can bring only considerable damage to the Government’s credibility. On the one hand we are being told today that the Government think that climate change is so important that they propose to introduce a Bill to reduce CO2 emissions, and on the other we are now told that the Government are giving up on their previous commitments for renewable energy. If the Government are so keen to reduce CO2 emissions, surely meeting their own renewable targets would have been a good way to prove it.

Will the Minister clarify what the Government’s position is now with regard to renewable targets? If they are still committed to meeting their targets, what measures will they put in place to ensure that the necessary extra 6 per cent of renewable energy is achieved by 2010? If, on the other hand, the Government are no longer committed to those targets, why not?

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I have heard the argument that “Brussels did not specify that all EU members had to meet the targets so long as it was achieved across Europe as a whole”. I am tempted to say, “Pull the other one”. This is not a good argument. The Government have had 10 years for the UK to meet its targets. Surely they cannot expect the 10 new EU members to carry Britain in this regard. I am sure there are other arguments but, rather than making lame excuses, the Government should own up to their failures and admit they are throwing in the towel.

8.35 pm

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, it has been an interesting debate. I detect a step change, particularly in relation to agriculture and food production. I wanted to speak yesterday on the constitution and indeed the Barnett formula but, speaking as an agriculturalist, the issues currently facing agriculture are enormous.

There is a lack of understanding between the metropolitan communities and the countryside on the issues of food production. I can illustrate that immediately. This time last year a badger jumped out in front of my car. Unfortunately I hit it and the car was damaged. I had an estimate for the damage and rang the insurance company. I reported to the lady at the other end that I had hit a badger. She responded, “This budgie—how much damage has it done?” I cannot give a better illustration of that lack of understanding between one community and another. I explained that a budgie could not do £1,100 of damage.

There is a crisis in livestock farming, with foot and mouth and bluetongue. There is a panoply of issues that would probably take 12 hours to cover. There are doubts now about UK food security. Climate change is having a global impact on food production. In the UK, supermarkets control 80 per cent of the food market and 1,700 dairy producers have left the industry every year for the past 10 years. The disaster that has now struck the sheep industry with foot and mouth is there for all to see. Yet agriculture appears nowhere in this Queen’s Speech.

With regard to the environment we have the Climate Change Bill. That is excellent and I praise it. At the moment, however, a Marine Bill remains just a prospect although some species of fish are facing extinction in the short term. Along with agriculture, animal health is a vital issue, and both are in crisis.

I have written a very long speech but have decided that I cannot possibly deliver it in the time. However, in the Queen’s Speech there should have been Bills to tighten animal health security and to make it illegal to sell produce at less than the cost of production for primary products, whether they originate in the UK or in the Third World. We have to rein in the activities of the supermarkets. From what I have heard of the Competition Commission report it looks like another whitewash; of course consumers get a good deal, but what about the producers?

It worries me that UK food self-sufficiency rates have dropped from 82 per cent to 73 per cent in the

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past 10 years. I am pleased that the Prime Minister is now turning his attention to that vital issue. Supply-and-demand economics have doubled the price of wheat for all the reasons that have been given in this debate. We need new marketing Acts in the UK to ensure that our products can compete against the Dutch and the Danes, who have co-operatives that control 85 per cent of their markets, all within the EU.

However, occupying my mind most of all is the pollution disaster at Pirbright. It is clear that more legislation in animal health will be required in the future. Pirbright is a research station and it had broken drains. Defra has tried to brush off its responsibility for this disaster, with the honourable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who I know has worked hard, as have his staff, to mitigate the overall effects of foot and mouth. None the less, it was a disaster. Some of the statements that have been made would be sufficient for setting up a website with the name The Government do not run the research station, but they are responsible for regulation and funding the research council. They have recently cut funding to these research establishments.

There are two line management units on the site. One is a research station, the other, a private company. All of it is a result of near-market research put in place by the previous Conservative Government.

The sheep industry is suffering; producers are on their uppers. Defra should fund the full cost of welfare schemes in Wales and Scotland. It should introduce a welfare scheme for sheep stranded on Romney marsh, where the water table is coming up. It should ensure also that more than half of the industry’s £520 million losses are paid in compensation by Defra to ensure that we have a sheep industry next year. It is short-term help, because supply-and-demand economics in food will solve the problems from next year, but the current situation is chaotic. This assistance is vital to sustain our agriculture.

The director of the Pirbright station should resign. If he will not, he should be sacked for inappropriate management and incompetence. We need to sharpen up our act in the research stations and produce the goods to tackle the challenges in food production that face us in the United Kingdom.

8.42 pm

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I know that the House, not for the first time, has waited eagerly for this speech—the last from the Back Benches, not because it is from me. I congratulate the Minister and members of her team on having the courage to nail their flag to the masts in this debate. We are where we are. We could regurgitate the history of the past 20, 30 or 40 years but we would not get very far.

The passion and ambition shown in the speech of my noble friend Lady Andrews augur well for the future. She more than once used the words “challenge” and “challenging”, and they have a certain resonance. I know that not only the Minister’s many friends but those who are not very friendly will be watching closely for delivery as well as for promises and vision in these matters. I am confident that there will be

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delivery because, after a period of great dissatisfaction with many aspects of environmental policy, including housing, the hard choices will have been made. It is all very well for the Government to have policies and for this House and the other place to pass legislation, but at the end of the day the Government are not silly enough to believe that that is all that is needed. There needs to be collaboration, consultation and possibly compromise.

Looking at the speakers list, I was interested to see the names of six people who share my experience of having been a Member of Parliament. The noble Lords, Lord Waddington and Lord Crickhowell, and other colleagues in this House have had the same experience, although my time as a Member of Parliament was more than 20 years ago. Things may have changed, but not very much. I recall that the worst aspect of my job was to sit in a committee room and to have ushered into my presence a constituent—or two constituents, if it was a man and his wife—in desperate straits over housing. Sometimes they did not have any accommodation; sometimes they had very bad private accommodation; and sometimes they had very bad council accommodation. I learnt very quickly that, when I looked at them, I was looking not just at a man and a wife but at a family. By the time I talked to them I realised that they were suffering—as every parent must—from the desperate need to do their best for their children but which they could not do.

It is all very well for the noble Lord who opened for the Conservatives to say, rather sadly, that there is a desperate shortage of housing in rural areas. He ought to know that the main culprit in that was the sale of council houses. Although there were good aspects to the sale of council houses, it is no good coming to this House 20 or 30 years later and crying at the consequence of a policy that affected not only rural areas but many other areas as well.

Land is the key. The Government need to beef up and create new land use, reference to which has been made more than once in this debate. I am particularly glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Best, is in his place, because he drew attention to the fact that in the community of private landlords, there are many unscrupulous people. As the secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Welfare of Park Home Owners, or mobile homes, I have some experience of this aspect of housing. Living in mobile homes seems ideal as there are 1,600 parks on which more than 200,000 people live. The majority of them are well run, with good relationships, but there are some unscrupulous site owners, just as there were in the time of Peter Rachman, and the same tactics are being used. The park home nexus lost a very good friend when my noble friend Lady Andrews took on other responsibilities—but she was sympathetic. I pay tribute, too, to Yvette Cooper, the Minister who brought through many changes in the Housing Act 2004. But the sad fact is that the unscrupulous site owners are bully boys who are taking advantage of the fact that many people living on their sites are elderly and frail and not capable of standing up to them. I very much look forward to the Minister, Mr Iain Wright—whom I have met and who I believe

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has the right credentials for tackling the job—doing the job of work that is to be done there.

The people in this country will say yes to more houses, yes to speeding up planning procedures, yes to transport reconfiguration, yes to tenant-oriented housing policy and yes to making planning and building relevant to communities and not just driven by profit. We are at the beginning of an age, which I hope I live long enough to see, when there is a turn in the satisfaction and response of the people of this country to a Government who are well versed, well experienced and determined. What we want is passion, guidance and drive, and I believe that we will get that from this Minister. I rest my case.

8.49 pm

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, last night I visited St Pancras station. I congratulate the Government on building that most magnificent station. I pay tribute to the people at Butterley who made the structure 140 years ago, to Sir John Betjeman who saved it and to John Prescott—who is rarely accoladed here or anywhere else—who drove the project through. We all ought to be eternally grateful to him for that. I am sure that most of the people in the country will be. The only trouble that the Minister faces is that people want more such projects.

My noble friends Lord Mar and Kellie and Lord Glasgow spoke for a lot of people who are very dissatisfied with the document which came out from the department at the end of October, entitled Towards a Sustainable Transport System, which presages years and years of studies and model building but no action. I hope that the Government will build on the work featured in the Green Gauge document and go ahead with something which we all know is necessary. We do not want to construct a system based on the consultants’ reports which no doubt will be generated between now and 2014, because we could be on the way to starting it. People in Birmingham, people in Manchester, people in Liverpool and people in Leeds want it and they want it now.

Reference has been made to rolling stock. I characterise the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, as being in the blue corner. His party privatised the railways and gave us the rolling stock companies which were going to be enterprising and buy rolling stock. What are they? They are conservative bankers—more conservative than the people in the department ever were—and there is a desperate shortage of rolling stock. So much for the enterprise that the Conservatives talk about.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that passenger numbers have risen enormously? I know that he is a great fan of the railways but it is the programme of which he spoke that has led to the increase in passenger numbers.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, that I do not accept at all. If you study any time-series graph, you will find that the prosperity of the railways is based on the fact that the economy has grown steadily for 10 years. It was only during the slumps engineered by the noble

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Lord’s honourable friends when in government that the use of the railways went down. Congestion has obviously played its part in that process.

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