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House of Lords

Tuesday, 15 January 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.


Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government’s existing targets are to increase the number of adults from priority groups participating in moderate intensity level sport at least three times a week by 3 per cent by 2008; to increase the percentage of schoolchildren in England doing a minimum of two hours of high quality PE and school sport a week to 85 per cent by 2008; and to get 2 million more people more active by 2012.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, after the resignation of Derek Mapp as the chairman of Sport England, the Government’s plan for a sports and activity legacy for the 2012 Olympics appears to be in some disarray. Sport England is now no longer concerned with achieving the challenging target of 2 million people indulging in greater physical activity which the Minister mentioned. Who will take this forward? Is there a cast-iron guarantee for funding from the Department of Health or from the Department for Children, Schools and Families? Given the resignation, it is important that we should know.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we all pay tribute to Derek Mapp’s contribution to sport over the past few years. I do not think that too much should be read into this matter. If resources would be a real consolation to the noble Lord, the strategy on that front and with regard to that target will be led by the Treasury. It will co-ordinate the work of other departments to hit that target. I do not think the House will find a better place to locate that responsibility in terms of resources.

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, in addressing these targets, what are the Government doing to co-ordinate their efforts to tackle obesity, particularly among young people?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a real issue which will be taken into account with regard to the third target that I mentioned. The noble Lord will appreciate that a number of departments have a keen interest in obesity, predominantly led by the Department of Health. As I have indicated, however, the overall

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strategy on this target will be under an official from the Treasury, with participation from the Department of Health and others with a keen interest in obesity, such as the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is no age limit on physical activity? Some hospitals—I attend the Chelsea and Westminster—have excellent activity classes and groups for older people. I am by no means the oldest in the class. This is of great benefit in keeping people more active and mobile. That presumably comes out of the health budget. Does it?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point out that one of the best ways of safeguarding the health of the elderly is their participation in exercise. Very many of our fellow citizens do so. However, as I said in my reply to the earlier question, obesity among young people and those who need to correct their strategies early is most worrying for the Government. That is why there is great concentration on that. However, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for drawing attention to the priorities for the elderly.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that setting an example is important in this respect? I am sure he goes to a gym elsewhere. I have not seen him in the Westminster gym. It is a pretty good gym near Portcullis House. Will he urge as many Members as possible to take their exercise there as a way of setting an example to the rest of the country?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am all in favour of encouraging Members of both Houses to participate in the Westminster gym. However, I hope that registration there does not consign the rest of us to the scrapheap of fitness. Many of us take regular exercise but not under the auspices of the Westminster gym, meritorious though that body is.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, does the Minister agree that safe cycling is also a physical exercise?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, one of the issues that we are seeking to confront with the new strategy is cycling that needs to be encouraged in order to perform well at elite levels. We have high hopes for our cyclists at the 2012 Olympics and at the 2008 Olympics. In addition, cycling is an exceedingly healthy exercise and ought to be a safe one as well. That involves consideration of others.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I was interested in what the Minister said initially. Can I take it that the Treasury will be making sure that local authorities that do not invest in enough space for recreational activity will do so in future and will reactivate stuff that has been set aside so that it can fall into disuse and be sold off?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, local authorities will also play their full part with regard to elite sports. I hear what the noble Lord says about the necessity for a co-ordinated approach with regard to the demanding target in 2012. It is the one that brings the greatest overall benefit to the nation, and the Treasury will need to take into account the points that the noble Lord has made.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that one of the cheapest forms of exercise is walking? It requires no capital expenditure and can be done by anybody until a great age.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is so. A combination of walking and running up Tube escalators is an excellent form of exercise.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, can the Minister tell us today when the Government intend to publish their obesity strategy report? Does he accept that the approach in terms of the Question asked is about exercise and diet?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it certainly is. The fitness of the nation depends on both factors. It will be recognised that my department is primarily interested in the fitness regime. The report is to be produced in the near future. We are all too well aware of the interest that has been stimulated by a series of indices over the past year. The House has had debates and Questions on this matter, which the department takes very seriously.

Conservation: Public Sector Buildings

2.44 pm

Lord Howarth of Newport asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, a number of government agencies are working to find appropriate solutions for these buildings, including the Government Historic Estates Unit, based at English Heritage, and English Partnerships. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s guidance on the disposal and reuse of redundant government-owned historic buildings applies to the 17 government departments that own such assets. For local authorities, other guidance is available in the joint English Heritage/former ODPM publication, Managing Local Authority Heritage Assets.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Severalls Hospital in Colchester, Cane Hill Hospital in Coulsdon, the Bonner Street school in Tower Hamlets and the Old Street Magistrates’ Court are some current cases among too many buildings of significant architectural quality and historic interest, owned in the public sector but no longer required for the provision of a public service, that have been allowed to deteriorate, sometimes so badly that demolition becomes inevitable? Does the guidance on such buildings from the Treasury and the DCMS need strengthening, or does the Government Historic Estates Unit need stronger enforcement powers?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his work in raising the profile of historic buildings, especially government ones, and his original work in helping to frame the guidance in 1999. Following the Select Committee hearings in 2006, it was decided that there would be a review of the guidance. The Government Historic Estates Unit is undertaking consultation on that review. The objective of the review is precisely to strengthen current guidance, because we all recognise that more could be done to ensure that those buildings are properly protected. It is perhaps worth adding that the record is improving. Certainly since 1999, the at-risk register, if you like, has decreased by about 17 or 18 per cent in the number of buildings considered to be at risk. So we are making progress and the disposals programme is now much stronger.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, was a Minister he commended English Heritage's Power of Place report, which recommended that government should take a lead and that plans need to be drawn up for buildings owned by large public sector bodies whose pattern of service provision has changed radically. Have the Government at any time during the past eight years followed that advice in any detail? Why is there nothing in the heritage White Paper?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have followed that in detail. Just as I was explaining a moment or two ago, the number of buildings on the at-risk register has significantly reduced by about 192 since 1999. Recently, in the report commissioned from Green Balance, the National Trust stated that there has been:

That is a very sound third-party endorsement.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, does my noble friend acknowledge that, as we become an increasingly secular society, a public duty will fall on all of us to find new and complementary uses for redundant or under-used churches and other places of religious worship?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I agree. I am fortunate enough to live in Brighton, where we have a large heritage of church buildings. There, as, I am sure, in other places, the local authority has been very active in trying to pursue satisfactory outcomes in recycling and making good use of that historic building stock.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is there any method by which, if historic buildings are to be sold, the public is made aware of that? In the example of Bow Street Magistrates’ Court, no one knew that it was not going to remain in the possession of the police until it was sold to the Irish. That seems to me to be an ideal building to have kept going, but no one knew until it was too late.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the department responsible for that building would have had to follow the guidelines very carefully. I am not aware of the outcome with that building, but I can cite other examples of similar buildings in the court estate, which is one area where there are many historic buildings to be disposed of from time to time. The department would have had to have regard to those guidelines. Now we are returning to the issue and attempting to strengthen those guidelines to ensure that they are more closely adhered to.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a number of buildings of this sort have been brought back to life very successfully as centres for the arts, often for the performing arts; that they have become very important, often to performers at an early stage in their career; and that that is a good use for these buildings and should be encouraged?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I completely agree with the noble Baroness; she makes a very good point indeed. It is something that local authorities in particular can pay close attention to. We need to work much more with local authorities to ensure that they get a satisfactory community outcome for buildings that could have a great future.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, in many places, buildings of local historical importance have fallen into the hands of private sector owners who are unable or unwilling to do anything about them and they are just left. I refer specifically to Shackleton Hall, the former Co-op headquarters building in Colne in Lancashire, but there are many others throughout the country. The answer seems to be for the local authority to serve a listed-building repairs notice requiring the building to be brought back into at least a reasonable condition. The problem is that the owners can then serve a notice on the local authority requiring the local authority to purchase the property but the local authority does not have the resources to purchase it and do the necessary work. Would it not be a good idea if English Partnerships and such bodies regarded such locally important buildings as a high priority?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great knowledge of local circumstances, and he gives a very interesting example. He also makes a perfectly respectable point, and I agree. That is something that bodies such as English Heritage and English Partnerships need to take very careful note of.

Murder: Law Commission Report

2.51 pm

Lord Lloyd of Berwick asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we announced the next stage in the review of the law on homicide on 12 December last year. The Law Commission’s recommendations and ambitions were wide-ranging. We will therefore proceed on a step-by-step basis and look first at its proposals for reforms to the law on diminished responsibility, provocation, complicity and infanticide. We are now seeking views on these issues. We will publish draft clauses for consultation in the summer.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. The House will be glad to hear that the Government have at last begun to consult on at least some of the aspects of this important report. Does the noble Lord agree with the Law Commission that the law of murder as a whole is in a mess? If so, when will the Government consult on the central recommendation in the report that there should be two degrees of murder, only one of which will carry the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment, and when will they consult more widely on the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment on which so many of the difficulties turn and on which so many injustices occur?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is right to point to the core conclusion of the very important Law Commission report which has made it clear that the law governing homicide has developed over centuries. It has not kept pace with modern society and the current definitions are not the product of legislation enacted after wide consultation. It is a very persuasive and important report. I do not apologise for the time the Government have taken to announce the first stage in their review. We will want to work on the matters that I have just discussed. I will take account of the points the noble and learned Lord has made and we will come back to the core recommendations on offences at the end of the review that I have just announced.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the Law Commission was not permitted to look at the mandatory life sentence at all. Are consultees being permitted to look at the mandatory life sentence and will we be able to discuss it in the parliamentary seminar which the Minister has promised us?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is not for me to dictate to consultees what issues they wish to raise with the Government but I ought to make it clear that the Government are firmly committed to retaining the mandatory life sentence for murder. They believe that murder is such a serious offence that that is required and indeed is what the public would support. That is why that matter was not put in the terms of reference to the Law Commission. This matter was fully discussed in your Lordships’ House during the passing to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and was disposed of. We are not minded to change it but of course we will always listen to comments that are made in any consultation.

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