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Housing: Market Renewal Partnerships


3.06 pm

Asked By Lord Greaves

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I remind the House of my interest as a member of Pendle Borough Council.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. Due to the unprecedented deficit, the Government announced savings of £6 billion to government spending in 2010-11. Much of the housing budget is already committed, and as such the necessary cuts will fall on areas where less has been committed for 2010-11. As part of the £6 billion savings package, therefore, the Government are consulting with pathfinders on achieving a saving of £50 million, approximating to a 17.5 per cent reduction across the pathfinders programme.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Minister on her appointment. We had some good campaigns together in opposition and I hope that we will have some good campaigns together on this side of the House.

I understand the problems that the Government have and the position that the country and the Government are in and the need to make savings. However, does the Minister understand that the £50 million of savings required from the housing market renewal pathfinders and the councils in those areas are, in the proposals put forward to the pathfinders and councils, concentrated entirely on the capital programmes on the investment for the regeneration side of the pathfinders rather than on the revenue? The revenue is much smaller, but would it not be sensible to allow pathfinders and councils to make savings in revenue spending, which goes partly on administration and, in my view, on some top-heavy and unnecessary bureaucracy, rather than in all cases in the investment in regeneration projects, which the pathfinders are about?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, capital is capital and revenue is revenue in local government terms, and seldom the twain shall meet; there really is not an option to move between capital and revenue in this instance. That will not provide flexibility. However, the Government announced on 9 June the removal of ring-fencing, so there will be flexibility in local government to deal with issues such as this.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, will the Government require housing market renewal partnerships to desist from pulling down old houses to which people are very much attached and which it would be less disruptive and cheaper to refurbish rather than replace?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, this has been an issue ever since the pathfinder programme was set up under one of the previous Secretaries of State, John Prescott, when there was a great overexuberance in some parts of the country for felling old houses. It is entirely up to each pathfinder and local authority as to what they do, but the message must have gone out very clearly that some people love old houses. If they can be put right and the neighbourhood maintained, that would seem to be a reasonable answer.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, what progress is being made in reducing the number of families in temporary accommodation? I ask, in the context of these cuts, whether those families are still being given priority.

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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, that went a bit wider than this Question. If the noble Lord will forgive me, I shall reply in writing.

Lord Rosser: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on her appointment. In the light of the cuts announced in the Homes and Communities Agency's budget, what has changed about the demographics of the United Kingdom which means that fewer people need affordable housing? Is cutting back on affordable housing an example of the shared values of the coalition Government?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, we keep mentioning the situation of which the noble Lord will be aware, whereby the previous Government left us with an enormous hole to fill. Unfortunately, there are areas where savings will have to be made to these programmes. Social housing remains high on the agenda and will continue to be built under the new regime. The way that those funds are allocated may differ slightly, but I can assure noble Lords that there is no relaxation on social housing.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, why does the Minister keep repeating this nonsense about the inheritance, given that the Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out clearly that the deficit inherited by the Government is far less than was predicted? Will she give an estimate of how many jobs will be lost as a result of this announcement? What will be the effect on the need to achieve growth in the future, which was the one area that the Office of Budget Responsibility said was absolutely necessary?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I shall stick to the Question that I was asked, which was about pathfinders. The noble Lord is making trouble for me and I shall not fall into his trap. The proposals for a 17.5 per cent reduction in relation to the pathfinders will be considered, they are out for consultation and I anticipate that there will probably not be much drawing back on the programme as a result.

Lord Naseby: Will my noble friend remind the House of what happened to affordable housing production since the previous Government came into office in 1997? I seem to remember that it began to decline as soon as they took power.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I do not have the figures in front of me, but I believe that the previous Government's efforts on affordable housing throughout their time in office resulted in less housing being built than during the previous 10 years.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that people need affordable housing not just in cities, and that young people in rural areas find it extremely difficult to find any sort of accommodation, let alone affordable housing? What specifically is being done for them?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, there is a clear recognition that country areas suffer quite a lot from reductions in housing and other things that make it difficult for young people to stay. Policies are being developed relating to housing on farms, which will be ready for discussion in due course.

15 Jun 2010 : Column 902

London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [HL]

Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [HL]

Revival Motions

3.14 pm

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

Motions agreed.

House Committee

Liaison Committee

Membership Motions

3.14 pm

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

House Committee

Liaison Committee

Motions agreed.

Arrangement of Business


3.14 pm

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, at a convenient point after 3.30 pm, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde will repeat a Statement on the Saville inquiry.

15 Jun 2010 : Column 903

Korean Peninsula: Human Rights

Question for Short Debate

3.15 pm

Tabled By Lord Alton of Liverpool

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I greatly welcome the opportunity to question the Government about recent developments on the Korean peninsula, especially as they relate to security and human rights questions. In doing so, I express my thanks to all noble Lords who will participate in the debate and I remind the House of my non-pecuniary interest as chairman of the all-party group that considers North Korean issues.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula. That war led to the loss of between 2 million and 3 million lives, including the lives of 1,000 British servicemen. The immediate cause for seeking today's short debate, however, was the sinking in March of the South Korean naval vessel "Cheonan" with the loss of 46 lives. This was a shocking and tragic development, which has led to a massive deterioration in relations between South Korea and North Korea; it was reckless belligerence, which could have calamitous consequences. The folly of indifference-this is a faraway country about which we know very little-is self-evident.

History rarely repeats itself exactly, but we need to see the dangers for what they are. The sinking of the "Cheonan" represents one of the worst breaches of the armistice that ended the Korean War 57 years ago. Before this unprovoked attack, the Korean peninsula was already a tense and dangerous place. North Korea has the world's fourth-largest standing army, comprising over 1 million troops, who are on a war footing. There is the added danger of nuclear capability.

In this jittery climate, it is easy to see how the two sides could slide into combat. America has an estimated 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea, who would be sucked into the conflict, while simultaneously China might find itself in a stand-off against the Americans and South Koreans. That would make the Korean peninsula the most dangerous place on earth. The prospect of two great world powers being dragged into direct conflict should give us all pause for thought.

In assessing these events and what to do about them, the United Nations Security Council and the British Government must not countenance impunity. That would merely tempt the North Koreans to go further. Crucial to finding a way forward will be the leadership and involvement of the Government of China. With China's active involvement, we should seek the establishment of a United Nations commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity. We should press for a referral of the sinking of the "Cheonan" to the International Criminal Court and we should call for an evaluation of the egregious violations of human rights in North Korea. I hope that the Minister will spell out to us today precisely how we have used our seat at the Security Council and what we have done to engage the Government of China.

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When on 2 June I pressed the Government to say whether they would instigate a referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, replied:

"North Korea is not a signatory to the ICC".-[Official Report, 2/6/10; col. 250.]

Sudan is not a signatory either, but that did not prevent the indictment by the ICC of a sitting president, Omar al-Bashir, for crimes against humanity in Darfur. Furthermore, this crime was committed against South Koreans in South Korean territory and South Korea is a signatory to the ICC.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, also doubted whether China would be willing to support joint international action. However, if North Korea went into freefall or if there were to be a new war, China would have more to lose than anyone. Millions of refugees and the danger of two world powers being sucked into such a vortex would threaten China's stability and development.

The international award-winning human rights lawyer Jared Genser, writing in the Wall Street Journal on 3 June, addressed the issue of the ICC's jurisdiction. I sent a copy of the article to the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock. Genser says that a case can legitimately be brought before the ICC because one of the war crimes that can be prosecuted in the ICC is,

He says:

"Merely conducting a sneak attack itself is not considered treachery under the laws of war, as surprise is often used in wartime. What was actually 'treacherous' is that North Korea signed the 1953 armistice and committed unequivocally to 'order and enforce a complete cessation of hostilities'".

He argues that:

"In this case, North Korea invited the confidence of South Korea that the armistice was in force ... That confidence was intentionally betrayed to sink the vessel and kill its crew. The laws of war make very clear that while an armistice merely suspends active fighting and can indeed be broken, notice must be provided to the other side first".

I repeat that, although North Korea is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, South Korea is, and this offence took place against South Korea and against a South Korean vessel. The United Nations special rapporteur on North Korea, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, who will be speaking at a meeting in your Lordships' House on 21 June, has also called for a referral to the ICC. As in the case of Omar al-Bashir, the ICC's investigation would underline the ultimate accountability of all political leaders before judicial authorities, demonstrate that there is no impunity and leave open the possibility of a day of reckoning.

Thus far, China has been right to urge restraint, but it would help if she were more outspoken and insisted that those responsible are brought to justice. China correctly described North Korea's decision to test a nuclear weapon as "brazen" but this is of a similar order. Both our countries must stand with the victim and condemn the aggressor. A common front could transform the situation in North Korea and deliver reform and hope for its beleaguered citizens-and they are beleaguered. The BBC journalist, Sue Lloyd-Roberts, was recently in North Korea and South Korea.

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Among the defectors that she traced and interviewed-and others whose lives are documented by Barbara Demick in her brilliant new book, Nothing to Envy-were men and women who gave first-hand accounts of enforced disappearances, executions and arbitrary detentions. Here are the stories of religious persecution, the lack of freedom of movement, the lack of labour rights, the non-implementation of legal codes, the lack of a fair trial, the lack of judicial oversight of detention facilities and the severe mistreatment of repatriated persons-mainly repatriated from China, which remains reluctant to give the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to the border areas.

The violence against women in detention facilities is appalling, and the accounts of life in prisons and labour camps are chilling. The individual stories bring home the enormity of the suffering that lies behind individual statistics: the 2 million people who died in the famine during the 1990s, and the 300,000 people who are estimated to be in the gulags today. One such story was recounted here in the Moses Room, at a meeting which I chaired, by a remarkable young man whom I invited to Westminster. Shin Dong-Hyok, who is 26, was born in, and spent the first 23 years of his life doing forced labour in, North Korea's political prison camp 14. He watched as his mother and brother were publicly executed.

When the Minister replies, perhaps he can tell us what is known about current conditions in North Korean prisons and camps; what individual cases we are pursuing; what is known about food supplies and the humanitarian situation; and what discussions we have had with China about refugees.

Finally, we should reassess the strategic approach being adopted by Her Majesty's Government and our allies. The 1994 US framework document, the more recent agreements brokered during the six-party talks, and the stop-start initiatives of the Bush Administration have all been too narrowly focused on arms control issues alone.

When, with my noble friend Lady Cox, I first visited North Korea in 2003, among the recommendations in our report, Finding a Way Forward, was the need for a Helsinki-style approach which links security and human rights issues. We called for the formal ending of the Korean War, the creation of an American diplomatic presence in Pyongyang, and a sustained elevation of human rights concerns. In 2009, after our second visit and our report, Carpe Diem-Seizing the Moment for Change, we reiterated these recommendations along with a series of other proposals.

Making human rights a pivotal issue has also been advocated by the American North Korea expert, David Hawk. In his 2010 report, Pursuing Peace While Advancing Rights: The Untried Approach to North Korea, he says:

"It is the approach that has yet to be tried in North Korea".

Throughout the Cold War, alliances were formed between dissidents, religious leaders, democrats and human rights activists. The Helsinki principle of critical engagement, dialogue, strong deterrence of attempted aggression and the insistence of respect for human rights defeated tyranny. We need Helsinki with a Korean face.

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I believe that there is a Korean proverb, Karure tanbi, may there be sweet rain in a drought-the cherished hope that something longed for may come about. For 60 years, the Korean peninsula has longed for a lasting settlement based on justice, peace, reconciliation, coexistence and mutual respect. Instead its people have experienced suffering, division and threats. In this 60th anniversary year of the outbreak of the Korean War and in the aftermath of the terrible loss of life on the "Cheonan", we should redouble our efforts to bring about a lasting settlement. I beg to move.

3.25 pm

Lord Bates: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. His knowledge and his work in the area of the conflict and the situation in Korea is acknowledged and respected by the whole House. If Her Majesty's Government or the United Nations were ever looking for an envoy to dispatch to the Korean peninsula, his would be a fitting name to put forward.

I also welcome my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire to the Front Bench. We are looking forward to his contribution not only in this debate but also in future debates on this matter. I have two points to raise: the first is a specific case of human rights and the second relates to some of my own thoughts about the way forward on the Korean peninsula and some of the issues faced there.

I want to ask the Minister specifically about what more can be done to ensure that human rights abuses in North Korea are put firmly on the international agenda. The House may remember that Robert Park, a 28 year-old American human rights activist, was arrested after entering North Korea on Christmas Day. Happily, as a result of international representations and after being detained for 43 days, he was released. Park had crossed the border from China, carrying a letter to North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il. He had attempted to draw attention to tens of thousands of political prisoners held in the communist state.

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