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There is no doubt that there are areas in which it is difficult for the Government to act against excess. We all recognise the great difficulties in any international market in this respect. There does need to be a moral force in society and a requirement that wealth faces up to the responsibilities that it enjoys because of the power that it conveys. When that wealth is reckless and heedless of the greater good of society, excess may be to the severe detriment of the economy and the welfare of society. Indeed, aspects of the present financial situation reflect this. It is therefore important that we ensure that people who hold responsible positions in society act responsibly. In the private sector, that goes for the remuneration committees which deal with bonuses that may reflect contributions to society that are not necessarily for the general good. That does not, however, alter the fact that the Government recognise that we operate in a condition-free market in which a great deal of wealth is generated by the private sector but in which there are also responsibilities. One responsibility is the Government’s: their management of resources and the decisions that they take on behalf of society.

I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who stayed true to the philosophy that has underpinned his contributions in this House and in his previous career with regard to the free market. He will have noticed, however, that he was almost the only noble Lord in this debate who mentioned public services—I shall come in a moment to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, who supported his noble friend on this, if I have time. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, indicated that we need to keep taxation low and that little good may come to the wider society through public resources. How can we talk about equality or inequality in our society without mentioning the National Health Service? One of the great distinguishing features between our society and that of the United States of America is reflected these days not so much in the distribution of income between the top and the bottom but in the distribution of a public good in terms of a free health service, which is of great importance to equal rights, equal opportunities and equality in our society.

I stress that the Government’s public expenditure on health services and education and in other areas has contributed to a fairer society—a concept that has underpinned so many contributions to this debate. In stressing that, I come to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. We have been running an economy that, as he has freely recognised, has been successful for more than a decade in controlling inflation and producing necessary economic growth, which means that real household disposable income has grown substantially in the past decade. There has been a significant reduction in the number of children in poverty. Some 600,000 children have been taken out of poverty.

The concern has also been articulated that the Government are wedded to a target, but the target to reduce child poverty totally by 2020 and to halve it by 2010 is an estimable one. I know that it leaves us vulnerable to the charge that we are having difficulty hitting it. We all know that we need to redouble our

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efforts in order to tackle child poverty, but we should recognise the success that has been achieved. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Haskel, who did precisely that.

I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, on the pensions position. I recognise that we have to make progress with regard to an increasing number of older people in our society and to pensions, which are a crucial issue for so many of them. In addition, we must consider a flexible working age and the ability of people to sustain themselves when they still have a contribution to make to society. However, the number of pensioners in poverty has reduced by more than a million under this Administration.

The last major point that I want to respond to—I hope I will also have the opportunity to reply to other detailed points that have been made—was the one on which my noble friend Lord Giddens reflected. Employment is crucial to reducing poverty. The opportunity to get and to hold a job is a critical escape route out of the irretrievable poverty that settles on the workless. This Government take pride in the fact that there are record employment rates for lone parents in our society. Indeed, we have the highest number of employed people in any significant economy. These measures help us to respond to a debate which I recognise challenges the Government on issues that are fundamental to a fair society. Nevertheless, it would be remiss of me not to assert with considerable pride from this Dispatch Box the achievements that have been made, or to recognise that the debate has highlighted how much needs to be done.

On the stretching out of differentials in our society, I concede the point made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that those in the top 1 per cent have seen a significant growth in their resources in the recent decade or more, although that is against a background in which all incomes have risen significantly. There is a slightly wider measure than that. The growth in income of those in the top 10 per cent is not greatly above the median growth of incomes across society. It might be said that that is no answer to extremes of wealth—when has it not been?—but it might also reflect the fact that we can exaggerate the influence of the few when perhaps we should look at the quality of distribution over greater numbers than those in a restricted category, into which we put the hedge fund managers and the few who, with their reckless behaviour, have plunged us into considerable financial difficulties. Their impact on the real economy is quite limited.

In the same way, I am not sure that noble Lords can sustain the argument—the noble Lord, Lord Newby, raised this topic—that the large numbers of working people who go to football matches resent the earnings of footballers, except when they fail. It is all fine and dandy if their side is successful and at the top of the league. We can exaggerate the politics of envy that might sometimes creep into some arguments about income distribution, and I am not at all sure that it stands up to real analysis. I was therefore grateful to both my noble friend Lord Desai for

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congratulating us—he rightly should do—and to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for sketching out the main issues in the debate so brilliantly in his opening speech. My noble friend Lord Desai also said that the important thing for a Government to do on the question of distribution was to eradicate poverty. That is the moral case, the one that ought to drive government objectives, and is the one that will continue to drive this Administration against a background, as I have said already, where we have made substantial progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, introduced an extra dimension to the debate and was followed, as far as the Welsh perspective was concerned, very closely by his noble friend Lord Roberts. The right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Liverpool and the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds brought out regional dimensions and the fact that communities in other parts of the country did not enjoy some of the more obvious extremes of wealth that are seen in London. However, I always say to my colleagues in the other place that one of the great distortions that Members of Parliament can have is that, when they think of London, they think of the arrival at a railway station and travel through the West End to the Houses of Parliament. If they went a little closer to Hackney and the East End of London, they would see the same regional deprivation that obtains in other parts of the country. That does not alter the fact that there is an argument about regional distribution and I emphasise that the Government are increasing their support to regional development agencies. They do very good work and I was in conversation only yesterday with someone who marked out the fact that employment in South Wales for one company was directly due to the incentives given and work done by the regional development agency. Good work can be done there, and we intend to increase resources to the agency.

My noble friend Lord Giddens gave us the concept of trends. He is absolutely right: we cannot talk about issues of distributions as a snapshot, we have to look at trends of policies. There are aspects of the Government’s policies that we never conceived could be fulfilled within the narrow framework of the four-year perspective that the parliamentary election cycle tends to determine these days. Nevertheless, he indicated that, while there are trends concerning aspects of the work of the Labour Government since 1997 that he castigated as being too timorous, considerable work had been and is being done to conquer poverty. I agree with him, of course: we cannot concentrate on limited groups of the poor alone, although they are undoubtedly the most important.

I am greatly restricted on time, not least because noble Lords also pushed their time limits to a greater extent and were not entirely in keeping with the clock, but I promised the noble Lord, Lord Patten, a response. We do publish examples of measures and gains from the Budget. There are clear illustrations of the position as regards couples and lone parents. I will be happy to discuss that with him subsequent to the debate. He will recognise the constraint that I am under now and he will forgive me for that.

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I can see the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, shaking his head at me because I have not really talked about taxation or responded to the question on benefits posed by his noble friend Lord Skelmersdale. I am all too well aware of the fact that with so many participants in the debate, some noble Lords are disappointed with my response today. I can say only that there is a second round to the debate.

However, I want to emphasise that we have set out some quite critical objectives. We have established increased opportunity for work. We are concerned that work should be the option for people to get off benefits. We have introduced a national minimum wage, mentioned by some in the debate but certainly a critical factor for fairness in society. We have introduced pension credit, which has helped transform the lives of many pensioners. We have been concerned, through child tax credits and working tax credits, to deal with child poverty. These are solid achievements of a Labour Government. It is redistribution in action. There is a great deal to do and we intend to carry on with that work.

2.05 pm

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, it remains for me only to thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, and not least the Minister. What has been particularly valuable is that we have had perspectives from so many different areas of life, from Wales and the different regions of the UK, and from the City and industry. We have heard about the impact on older people and the dire consequences of debt. All that has helped us to face the many-faceted aspect of this problem that needs to be treated at both a macro and a micro level. As some noble Lords have brought out, even within the City, we need to pay attention to the very sharp differences within a few miles.

The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, talked about an equality of respect. I think that we would all agree about its importance, but I am left with the question as to how far our present situation favours or undermines such equality.

I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


2.07 pm

Lord Howarth of Newportrose to call attention to the case for encouraging high-quality architecture in the United Kingdom and for ensuring that design quality is taken into account by local planning authorities; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are projecting a vast amount of building in this country: healthcare facilities and schools on an unprecedented scale, Olympic facilities, regeneration of the Thames Gateway, 10 ecotowns, 2 million homes by 2016, and 3 million homes by 2020. That is a huge opportunity for good or, indeed, for ill. We should be determined to create fine buildings and we should never build less than well.

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Great architecture occurs when patrons and architects are inspired to create beautiful buildings, but government can create conditions in which architecture can flourish. By establishing CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the Government have facilitated advice and assistance from some of the best minds in Britain for those who aspire to build well. Tony Blair affirmed his ambition that, in our generation, we should leave,

Hazel Blears has said this week that:

Rightly, the Government encourage fine architecture, though they cannot command it.

Urban design is much more susceptible to direct influence by public policy. As defined in By Design, urban design,

Nick Raynsford and Stuart Lipton said in their foreword that:

Terry Farrell has said that “place is the client”. English Heritage rightly insists that:

Better Public Buildings explained that good design adds value and reduces whole-life costs; creates flexible, durable, sustainable development for the community; minimises waste of materials and energy, in construction and in use; provides functional, efficient, adaptable spaces; is attractive and healthy for users and public; contributes to construction which is quick, safe and efficient; and produces buildings which are safer and easier to clean and maintain. Good design enhances people’s lives and transforms how they feel and behave. It can revitalise neighbourhoods; reduce pressure on the countryside; uplift and bring hope to neglected communities; reduce crime, illness and truancy; and help public services—hospitals, schools, housing and transport—to perform better. The Government have now rightly committed us to a zero-carbon standard for new buildings. There are empirically tested ways to achieve good design and there is no excuse for bad design.

The costs of bad design are disastrous. In Utopia on Trial, Alice Coleman examined 15 design variables in 4,000 blocks of flats and correlated these with the behaviour patterns of residents. She found that as the design values worsened, litter, graffiti, vandalism, pollution and the incidence of children in care correspondingly deteriorated. Bad design leads to higher management and maintenance costs, earlier replacement costs, environmental costs and poor quality of life, worse educational attainment, worse stress, worse health, worse crime rates, social exclusion, and all the economic costs associated with these. In Estates: An Intimate History, Lynsey Hanley has written movingly of tower blocks that,

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Bad design is utter waste.

In 1918, Lloyd George declared that there must be “homes fit for heroes” and, by 1939, there were more than 1 million council houses. The Tudor Walters standards stipulated generous scales and good materials. Aneurin Bevan insisted that quality should have precedence over quantity in public housing, as well as insisting on what he called,

the avoidance of physical segregation by class.

But then mistakes were made. In 1951, the new Government gave precedence to quantity over quality in housebuilding. There was also the cult of the tower block. Le Corbusier was a great architect, but a disastrous social theorist, and many of his disciples were disastrous architects. Modernist architects were messianic. As Philip Johnson later said:

The prophets and architects of utopia swept aside the survey evidence that people did not want to live in flats. Local authority leaders were enchanted by utopian visions for their cities. Paternalistic chief planners and city engineers saw that they could quickly and cheaply rehouse wholesale. Big builders made a fortune. Central government not only endorsed but intensified the utopian disaster. The Housing Subsidies Act 1956 rewarded local authorities with a bigger subsidy the higher they built.

Other forces also militated against good-quality design and construction. Stop-go economics destabilised architects’ practices and contractors’ workforces. Systems building required little craftsmanship and there were fewer apprentices. The free-market ideology of the 1980s led to the dismantling of local authority architects’ departments, weakened planners and allowed shoddy builders a clear run. Oppressive central control and audit stifled creativity in the public sector. Capital gains tax exemption for owner-occupied homes and inflation led to properties increasingly being regarded as investment units to be traded rather than as homes. The mediocrity and meanness of much housebuilding generated public antipathy to development. Wanton destruction of built heritage produced an aversion to the modern and the different. Subordination of other design considerations to the imperatives of the motorist dehumanised environments.

Much that was good was built in these decades, but we must learn from the bad experience. Since 1997, this Government have made serious attempts to improve the quality of planning and design.

CABE was set up to work for improvement in quality of life through good design. It champions well designed buildings and public space, runs public campaigns and provides expert, practical advice. It works with planners, designers, clients and architects. Although it exercises no statutory powers, CABE has become an influential and creative force within Whitehall and across the country.

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The Office of Government Commerce, which is responsible in the Treasury for public procurement policies, no longer insists on the cheapest up-front price, but now propounds the importance of economy in whole-life costs. The National Audit Office also supports far-sighted policies in the procurement of buildings. Although the picture of PFI remains very mixed and the contracting process is often unsatisfactory, there are signs of a better recognition that initial expenditure on design and quality will abundantly pay for itself in lower maintenance costs and better outputs of public goods, such as health and education. The concepts of social inclusion, intergenerational equity and sustainability—language that we have come to use in recent years—are all serving to engage us in better thinking about design.

In 2005, planning policy statement 1, Delivering Sustainable Development, said roundly:

Paragraphs 33 to 39 say, in brief, everything that one would want in government guidance on the principles of good design. Planning policy statement 3, on housing, issued in 2006, is equally to be welcomed. To help translate the maxims of the planning policy statements into actual good practice the Government and CABE have promoted the appointment of design champions within Whitehall, local government, the health service and the housebuilding industry. Design quality indicators and CABE’s “design for life” standard are helping to establish a common language and reference points for design quality. Pre-application discussion and design review panels are improving the planning process. Changes to the planning rules have given councils more scope to demand higher design standards. The Barker review of land-use planning and the Callcutt review of housebuilding delivery have emphasised the importance of design, as have the housing and planning Green Papers.

All that is no less than is needed. In 2006, Richard Simmons, the chief executive of CABE, reported in The Cost of Bad Design:

CABE’s 2007 housing audit found,

Only 18 per cent of developments were classed as “good” or “very good”. The quality of 29 per cent was,

CABE has also found that too many local development frameworks,

So, as we head further into this period of intense building activity, what is needed?

We need a drive to improve skills. Among transport planners only about two-thirds have had any formal urban design training. The planning policy statements require high-quality design, but we still will not get it,

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unless we are lucky, if planning officers and members of planning committees have a poor understanding of design or lack the confidence to reject inadequate design. In 2004, a skills survey by the LGA found that 52 per cent of local planning authorities admitted a lack of design skills. More planning, one might suppose, is being done by consultants working for developers than by local authority planners. Local authorities need more firepower. Just as Sir Terry Farrell is the master planner for Edinburgh and my noble friend Lord Rogers advises the Mayor of London, should not more architects be assisting other local authorities as planning and design gurus? Planning inspectors need the design skills to ensure that poor-quality designs are dismissed at appeal.

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