Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we have certainly learnt from experience, which is why we will not, for example, build housing estates that do not have community facilities and a community spirit and that were such a problem in the 1960s. We can learn from the new towns, but this is the challenge that we will meet in our generation: to build sustainably and to

2 Jun 2008 : Column 8

the highest standards. We will work towards zero carbon, for example. Each eco-town will be exemplary in one particular aspect of environmental sustainability, such as water. We will not build on the green belt. There will be instances where it may be sensible to build on greenfield sites, but most of the 15 sites that have been proposed are brownfield or a mixture of brownfield and greenfield.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there may be a danger of losing the support of the public if eco-town proposals are in essence repackaged projects that were rejected on planning grounds? I am thinking particularly of Pembury. On a more technical point, do the Government have a view about the optimum population size of eco-towns, for instance to ensure a good range of employment to reduce travelling elsewhere?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we are not looking at failed or recycled schemes. The schemes must be genuinely innovative. On the noble Baroness’s point about size, the important thing is that these are new towns, so they must support the population by providing business, employment, retail, community and leisure. This is critical; that test must be satisfied.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, although I welcome eco-towns generally, will my noble friend assure the House that there will be proper provision of public transport in and to the towns, particularly rail, light rail and trams, which would reduce the carbon footprint significantly?

Baroness Andrews: Yes, my Lords. One of the five key principles is that the towns will be walkable, so by implication we want a high degree of public transport. They will be connected to local settlements. The whole point of them is that they will be sustainable, which means that we must invest in the infrastructure and avoid unnecessary pressure on car ownership and use, not only in the towns but in the surrounding areas.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government are bypassing the local development framework in PPG12—I am sorry to throw another number into the pot—thereby ignoring the requirement on a local authority to use best evidence to decide the strategic location of a development?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we are not bypassing the local development planning processes at all. In most cases, local development plans will be in operation. They are the supreme document. We always take material consideration of other planning documents on funding, sustainability or whatever. These towns will be planned within the framework of the planning system, which is very robust. They will be fully consulted on at each stage. Indeed, they are being consulted on at great level now. Evidence is what the planning system is based on.



2 Jun 2008 : Column 9

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, has the Minister considered the possibility that the eco-towns are conceptually unsound and that the new towns built after the war were arguably one of the great errors as they pre-empted resources that should have gone into developing the city centres, a failure from which we have suffered ever since? Many of them, such as Peterlee, were badly designed and shoddily built. Will she at least take comfort from the fact that the welcome shakeout in housing should enable the Government to come to a more realistic assessment of housing demand?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we need a balance in our policy for housing the nation. Certainly, something can be learnt from the new towns experience. These eco-towns are not conceptually flawed. They act as exemplars for what we should all realise is the great challenge of our generation: to meet sustainability in the face of climate change. On what is happening in the housing market, we cannot sacrifice long-term interests to a short-term difficulty. That would not make houses more affordable or reduce the demand for houses, much of which is being driven by an ageing population.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is not the concept of eco-towns—

Lord Elton: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that, unlike many new developments in the south-west regional strategy, no eco-town will be planned for a flood plain?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, PPS25 is clear. Although we cannot say that we will never build on flood plains, because of the state of our country and the needs of the population, we have a robust sequential approach for identifying flood risk. The Environment Agency advises us on this. We are in a very much more sensible and clear position with regard to the judgments that we have to make.

Visas: Performing Arts

3.06 pm

Lord Low of Dalston asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Home Office published statements of intent setting out the detailed policy for tiers 2 and 5 of the points-based system on 6 May. These were accompanied by full impact assessments. The proposals were developed in close consultation with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and with key stakeholders in the arts and entertainment sector, including those from the performing arts.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Of course he will be aware that stakeholders have welcomed the Home Office statement, but he will also be aware that concerns remain regarding the application of a points system

2 Jun 2008 : Column 10

to artists. Given all the different categories of artists who will be affected, will he undertake to review the criteria governing tier 2 of the new rules for the issuing of visas to make sure they are neither too restrictive nor too lax? As I understand it, as things stand, even top dancers, for example, will not have enough points for tier 2 status.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I was not aware that top dancers would not have enough points for tier 2 status. However, we keep these matters perpetually under review. We are in close engagement with the arts and culture world, and we are very sensitive to the issue that the noble Lord raises. We would not want to damage in any way the sports and cultural sector. For that reason we made the announcement that we did, and I think it has broadly been welcomed by the cultural and sporting communities.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I am delighted to hear the Minister’s sympathetic noises, and the exception for festivals also is very welcome. However, the fact is that that will cover only a small proportion of performing artists. Visa costs have risen enormously over the past few years. Will not the new tier 5 proposals for overseas nationals add massively to the costs for production companies and cultural organisations and for the performing artists themselves, not least because of the new requirement for sponsorship certificates?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am not sure that that will be the case, because it will be possible for group certificates to be issued to sponsors. For instance, an orchestra of 100 will need only one sponsorship certificate, at a cost of just £10. So I do not think that the costs will hit the sector in the way in which the noble Lord describes.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, surely my noble friend is aware that, night after night, throughout the year, concerts of superlative quality are performed in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle with many musicians coming in from abroad on visas which have been obtained hitherto through a system that has been manageable for all concerned. In increasing the visa costs for a large orchestra by some £15,000, in requiring that every individual musician attend a British consulate in person to obtain a visa and surrender their passport for some days, and in requiring that visas should be renewed after six months, does the Home Office understand that it risks killing one of the cultural glories of this country? My noble friend referred to consultation between the Home Office and DCMS. What advice did DCMS give to the Home Office, and what notice did the Home Office take of that advice?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that the DCMS advice was listened to very carefully because we, too, are exercised in the way in which the noble Lord describes. As I said, we do not want to undermine the cultural industry in this country or the great benefits of an active sports sector. We carried out a detailed consultation and ensured that we protected

2 Jun 2008 : Column 11

the permit-free concession for entertainers, including permit-free festivals and so on. As I understand it, part of the visa fee regime will be reduced from £99 to the current visitor fee of £65 when the process is complete.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many young artists need to be in this country for a certain length of time? I refer in particular to Joan Sutherland, who arrived here as an absolute unknown. Under the present system she could not have stayed here long enough to reach the world status that she has achieved. Should this not be taken into account?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that that is the sort of issue that is taken into account. The noble Baroness is right to draw attention to the fantastic contribution made not only by Joan Sutherland but by many other individuals who come to the United Kingdom to ply their trade. They give great pleasure to us all.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that such groups will form part of the points-based system. Do we have qualified people who can evaluate such group visa applications made from posts abroad?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the quality of our Immigration Service and border security arrangements has been improving so that judgments and assessments are being made much more rapidly and accurately. The system is working well and is much better managed than it has been for a long time.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, we are right in the middle of the festival season and the Edinburgh festival, the largest of them all, will soon be upon us. In view of the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, can the Minister assure the House that festivals will be specifically exempted from the new regulations?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, very detailed negotiations have been going on with the major festivals, and not just with Edinburgh. As the noble Viscount will know, I have a rather strong place in my heart for the Brighton festival. It may not be as big as Edinburgh, but it is certainly moving in that direction. He can rest assured that representations have been made and understood.

Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, the ethnic restaurant industry has contributed a huge amount to this country. Indian food, for example, has become a way of life. However, the industry is seriously concerned about the points-based system, which will make it very difficult to recruit skilled staff. Are the Government aware of this and are they planning to make some exceptions?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the points-based system is designed to benefit migrants with high levels of skill who seek to come to the United Kingdom.

2 Jun 2008 : Column 12

I understand that we have not seen any major problems in the highly skilled sector at all. The points-based system, which is based on the Australian model, is fairer, offers a transparent process and ensures that applicants can carry out a self-assessment and understand exactly where they are in the points system. I am grateful to the noble Lord for pressing the point, but I urge the House to take a more rounded view of the way the points-based system will work.

Constitutional Renewal Bill: Joint Committee

3.14 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That, notwithstanding the resolution of this House on 6 May, it be an instruction to the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill that it should report on the draft Bill by 22 July 2008.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was sent to the Commons.

Energy Bill

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Grand Committee to which the Energy Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 36

Schedule 1Clauses 37 to 41Schedule 2Clauses 42 to 74Schedule 3Clauses 75 to 96Schedule 4Clause 97Schedule 5Clauses 98 to 102.—(Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [HL]

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Employment Bill [HL]

3.15 pm

Read a third time.

Clause 18 [Exclusion or expulsion from trade union for membership of political party]:

[Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 not moved.]



2 Jun 2008 : Column 13

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 3:

(a) a rule of the trade union, or(b) an objective of the trade union. (a) in relation to an exclusion, if it is not reasonably practicable for the objective to be ascertained by a person working in the same trade, industry or profession as the individual;(b) in relation to an expulsion, if it is not reasonably practicable for the objective to be ascertained by a member of the union.(a) in relation to an exclusion, if at the time of the conduct it was not reasonably practicable for the objective to be ascertained by a person working in the same trade, industry or profession as the individual;(b) in relation to an expulsion, if at the time of the conduct it was not reasonably practicable for the objective to be ascertained by a member of the union.(a) the decision to exclude or expel is taken otherwise than in accordance with the union’s rules;(b) the decision to exclude or expel is taken unfairly;(c) the individual would lose his livelihood or suffer other exceptional hardship by reason of not being, or ceasing to be, a member of the union.(a) before the decision is taken the individual is not given—(i) notice of the proposal to exclude or expel him and the reasons for that proposal, and(ii) a fair opportunity to make representations in respect of that proposal, or(b) representations made by the individual in respect of that proposal are not considered fairly.””

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on Report I said that the Government planned to bring forward proposals at Third Reading to implement the approach to the ECHR judgment in the ASLEF v the United Kingdom case which was specified in Option B in last year’s consultation document. I also said that our proposals would contain texts on the three types of safeguards which, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, and my noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth had sought. These proposals are set out in Amendments Nos. 3, 8, 9 and 10. I shall speak also to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Henley.

I shall first speak to Amendments Nos. 3, 8, 9 and 10. The European Court’s judgment in the ASLEF

2 Jun 2008 : Column 14

case is clear: the issue centres on balancing the conflicting rights under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the freedom of assembly and association—that is, between the right of an individual to belong to a trade union and the right of a trade union to determine its membership. The current wording of Clause 18 implements Option A in last year’s consultation, which was deregulatory and removed all references to protected conduct from Sections 174 and 176 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

Many Members have expressed concern that Option A tips the balance too far in favour of the trade unions and so, having listened to the arguments over the months, and in a spirit of compromise, we have decided not to pursue Option A. Through consultation with Peers of all parties and on all sides of the House, we have sought to find a wording which secures the correct balance in response to the court’s judgment. Amendment No. 3 therefore restores the provisions relating to protected conduct which the current version of Clause 18 repeals.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page