My Lords, we return to the debate on the Address. My comments relate to the Housing and Regeneration Bill and I declare an interest in a plethora of public and voluntary sector issues that the Bill covers. I also chair the Private Rented Sector Policy Forum which draws together landlord and tenant organisations. In view of our six-minute quota, regretfully I will confine my remarks to that sector. But, first, I give a hearty welcome to the underlying objectives of the Bill, in particular its intention greatly to increase the number of new homes built each year, as so well spelt out by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews.
I should like to speak about the Bill's provision for a new housing regulator—the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords—initially for the housing associations but in a couple of years also for council housing and the arms-length management organisations (ALMOs) that look after a lot of local authority housing stock. I welcome the Government's proposals for an independent new body and I suggest that this regulator should cover private landlords too.
Over the past 30 years the regulation of housing associations by the Housing Corporation has been enormously successful in ensuring an absence of scandals and mismanagement, without bankruptcies and losses of public or private investment. This sector, as well as being subject to heavy scrutiny by Audit Commission inspectors, benefits from a well-respected housing ombudsman service that considers tenants' complaints and provides redress. The new regulator, with a strong tenant emphasis, will be able to build on this success story and, indeed, relax some of the regulatory burden on the best-performing organisations.
Meanwhile, in stark contrast to the position of the non-profit sector, the private rented sector—the PRS—falls outside the remit of any regulator. The constraints, safety nets and quality controls for the social landlords do not apply to the private landlords; lettings agents, who act in the place of the landlords, will not be covered by the new Consumers and Estate Agents Redress Act—and there is no compulsion on private landlords or their agents to join any kind of ombudsman scheme.
Hundreds of thousands of new landlords have entered the sector over recent years. They have borrowed something over £120 billion in buy-to-let mortgages and invested billions more of their own money, but they have not had to pass any tests of competence, demonstrate any understanding of landlord-tenant law, prove their honesty or financial probity or absence from criminal convictions, let alone have any experience in this field. Any drug dealer can set up as a landlord or, indeed, as a letting agent, overnight.
The buildings owned by private landlords are now meant to comply with the basic standards for health and safety redefined by the 2006 housing Act, but these steps to improve physical conditions in the worst stock do not relate to the management, the owners and their agents, of privately rented properties. It is here the tenants face the most problems—and without any means of combating injustices except through complex and costly recourse to the courts. It is excellent that measures to provide protection against landlords unfairly failing to return tenants' deposits was incorporated into the last housing Act, but that is only one hazard faced by tenants who feel cheated by their landlord when repairs never get done, complaints are never answered, absentee landlords do nothing about the noise and disruption of their tenants next door, as well as far worse abuses. Moreover, tenants who take their landlord to task can be the subject of what Citizens Advice calls "retaliatory eviction". Since few tenancies any longer offer the protection of security of tenure—I would not advocate a return to the Rent Act protections of yesteryear—unscrupulous landlords can simply terminate the tenancies of anyone who complains.
What of the anti-social phenomenon of "buy-to-leave", whereby the investor acquires property and leaves it empty? This treatment of housing as an asset like gold or Old Masters, despite, or perhaps because of, the numbers of people desperately needing somewhere to live, is truly shocking. Should local authorities be levying council tax at 10 times the usual level on those apartments, as some have suggested?
Fortunately, bad landlords are as unpopular with the relevant professional organisations and reputable trade associations as they are with those who champion tenants' rights. The honourable bodies representing reputable landlords are as keen as anyone to promote sensible codes of conduct and schemes of accreditation. But the absence of any compulsion on landlords to join such schemes and adhere to any agreed standards undermines the work of respectable institutes, federations and associations: bad landlords simply refuse to join.
The reason for the lack of regulation for the private rented sector is that for decades there has been a deep concern that this would deter much-needed investment in the sector. All of us, anxious to attract new investment, especially from the big financial institutions, to enhance and expand the sector, have studiously avoided advocating anything that could possibly be interpreted as a return to rent controls or Rent Act security of tenure. But now the world has changed: it would no longer be a problem to frighten off additional speculative amateur landlords who do not want to adopt industry-wide good practice.
Too much money chasing the available homes for sale—with buy-to-let and overseas landlords acquiring the majority of homes in some new developments—has been a significant contributor to the dangerous inflation of house prices. Too many landlords outbidding would-be homeowners undermines aspirations for owner occupation, with a dramatic fall in recent years from about 40 per cent down to little more than 25 per cent of new homes going to first-time buyers. The rapid growth of the sector, from about 9 per cent to around 12 per cent of the nation's homes, has been very helpful, particularly in soaking up the backlog of demand from mobile young professionals, but in many areas that market is now saturated. Today, discouraging more new speculative landlords would seem to be a positive, beneficial outcome from introducing proper regulation to the sector.
The Housing and Regeneration Bill provides a perfect opportunity at precisely the right time. It allows for the extension of the new regulator's remit to cover not just social landlords but private landlords. In commending the Bill, I ask Ministers to seize this chance to introduce, at last, proper regulation of the private rented sector.
My Lords, on these Benches, we shall look at various aspects of the rich agenda laid before us this afternoon by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I join other noble Lords in thanking and congratulating the Government on being the first in the world to introduce a Bill committing the UK to substantial reductions in C02 emissions. We are discussing this matter at a crucial time. As we are debating this matter here, the 27th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting in Valencia. The intention is to release a synthesis report over the weekend, which will sum up the current state of scientific research.
We all know that in historical times the climate has shown variations and that average temperatures have fluctuated. In the 12th century, for example, the century of cheerful cathedral building and the flowering of medieval culture, the average temperatures in Europe were about a degree higher than they are now. That led to warnings to the French nobility not to drink so much English wine. From 1315 onwards, a sequence of rain-sodden harvests and deteriorating climatic conditions exposed a malnourished population to the ravages of the Black Death, with very severe economic and social consequences. We can easily see from experience that climate change is a health issue and, of course, a security issue, since competition for scarce resources and humanitarian crises will have a major impact on prospects for peace in the world.
In the past, climate change has always had an impact on society and there have always been fluctuations in temperature. But, as we all know, the scientific case is proven—what we are witnessing at the moment is quite unprecedented. Next month the UN Climate Change Conference will meet in Bali. The hope is that the representatives of more than 180 countries will be able to set out plans for a global agreement to replace Kyoto. The proposals in the Climate Change Bill should confirm the UK's leading role in contributing to this debate. John Ashton, the UK climate change envoy, has observed that,
"if the first priority of any government is to provide for the welfare of its citizens in return for the taxes that citizens pay, then climate change is potentially the most serious threat to this most fundamental of social contracts".
The draft Bill has provoked some constructive debate, and we heard some details from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. There is a debate about targets and the implications of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in the UK targets. There is a debate about the precise role, responsibility and independence of the Committee on Climate Change. There will be an opportunity to debate these matters in detail when the final version of the Bill is introduced, but for now it is important to welcome a move towards a world in which the human family acts together and not against itself to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The Prime Minister in his Guildhall speech last night stressed the interdependent nature of the 21st-century world. We are all aware that those most at risk from the way we live now are some of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world. The Stern report made the connection very clear. These days, if we are to obey the command to love our neighbours, we should be thinking both of the people next door and the rice farmers of Bangladesh.
I should declare an interest as the chairman of the Church of England's Shrinking the Footprint campaign aimed at reducing the Church's energy consumption. The booklet published in conjunction with the campaign, cheerfully entitled, How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change a Christian?, has been a bestseller in 2007 and shortly will hit the bookshops in the US. Now we are launching a follow-up programme under the risky title "Don't stop at the lights". Among other things, we hope to encourage greater use of Church land to encourage biodiversity. We are also publishing fresh ideas for observing the various festivals of the Christian year and, of course, we have much to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters in reinvigorating the Sabbath. This is an issue which can draw on the deepest spiritual traditions in our world. On Sunday I was briefed on the work of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences.
This is a matter of human solidarity and we pledge ourselves to work closely with other organisations and faith traditions to support the Government's intentions. We hope that the Government will acknowledge and assist the work of those parts of civil society that are aware of the scale of the challenge we face and the need for concerted action.
In Greater London alone, even before the recent arrivals from eastern Europe, sober research suggests that in excess of 630,000 Christians worship in more than 4,000 churches in any ordinary week. If we can inspire this constituency, the impact will be palpable and measurable. From these Benches we stand by to make a constructive, but not uncritical, contribution to the debate on a very welcome initiative. The Foreign Secretary said this year:
"Miliband's first law of climate change is that you've got to get it out of the hands of environment ministers and into the hands of prime ministers, finance ministers and foreign secretaries".
Climate change is not one topic among many, as this debate nears its conclusion, but in reality it has an impact on almost everything that we have discussed.
My Lords, I shall focus on two areas of this vast agenda—climate change and housing—but I will say briefly that I welcome most of the provisions of the Local Transport Bill, although unlike the opposition Front Bench I would go further on road pricing. Also, I regret somewhat the further delay on the substantive marine Bill.
Like others, I sat through the meetings of the Joint Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill, which was a very constructive experience. I have six serious points to make briefly. First, on giving the Bill teeth, not only does the committee have to have the resources, expertise and authority to ensure that targets are met, but the machinery of government needs to ensure that they are met. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the right reverend Prelate said, that has to be central to all aspects of government; it probably requires a significant change in the machinery of government.
Secondly, even if we start with a 60 per cent target, we must allow the Bill to change that target in the light of new information, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. The draft Bill did not allow that immediately. Thirdly, on validation, the measurement of carbon emissions for trading and target purposes is still subject to a lot of blurred edges. That issue must be attacked. We need to establish a robust system of measurement for trading systems and for the purposes of the Bill. I commend to the Minister the letter—signed by, among others, my humble self—in the Financial Times today about establishing a more robust system of measurement.
The fourth issue is how for both target and trading purposes we acquire credits as a result of activity in third countries, mainly developing countries. While I do not exclude that, there has to be a limit as we go forward. Fifthly—wearing my hat as chair of the National Consumer Council—there has to be more effective engagement of consumers in this process, in terms of information, price signals and regulation. Lastly, the Bill needs to cover in more substantial detail the question of adaptation to climate change as well as measures for mitigating climate change.
Relevant to the climate change agenda is the Energy Bill, two aspects of which I will mention. In passing, perhaps I ought also to mention that I am the president of the Combined Heat & Power Association, chair of a company in that area and an adviser to EAGA, the fuel poverty group.
I have come reluctantly to recognise that nuclear power will have a role to play in reducing carbon emissions in this country and around the world. Concomitant with that must be equal resources backing planning facilities for low-carbon technologies and for other technologies, such as combined heat and power and renewable energy. Indeed, there must be a much more decentralised system of heating, where the points of generation and use are much closer. While nuclear may provide much of the base load in the medium term, there must be a more decentralised system.
As we approach an era of higher energy prices, particularly for carbon-based energy, there is also a social dimension. It is important that policy in this area should recognise that the poor cannot afford to pay much more for their energy. Both the regulated tariff structure, in providing social tariffs, and the expenditure on ensuring that homes are well insulated and heated need attention. I have a specific question for the Minister. Will we maintain at least the current levels of expenditure on the reduction of fuel poverty?
As the noble Baroness in particular will know, I have on occasion been somewhat critical of this Government's policy on housing. I therefore welcome the housing Bill and the recognition in her speech that a major part of the problem relates to building more houses. We do so at a point when all sectors of the housing market are in serious crisis. Affordability of new houses for first-time buyers in most parts of the country is now a real problem. There are serious capacity problems within the social housing sector. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, there are serious and growing problems in the private rented sector.
I welcome the Bill's provision of a new regeneration authority and the separation of the role of the regulator from that authority, but I join the noble Lord, Lord Best, in saying that the regulator's terms of reference are somewhat narrow. After all, in a lot of the estates that we are concerned about, there are already multiple forms of tenure: there are some owner-occupiers, some lessees and some sub-tenants, as well as direct tenants of the local authority, housing association or ALMO. They all have problems with the ultimate landlord. In addition, the problems of the private rented sector are not really covered by regulation at all. I therefore hope that the Bill will allow for the extension of the new regulator to all these forms of tenure.
In that context, it is important that the voice of the tenant, and of the residents generally, is more effectively heard. There are currently many attempts at engaging the tenant in decisions about their place of residence, but few reflect what is supposed to be the drive of government policy: to put the consumer at the heart of public service provision. Some of the supposed forms of engagement, such as ballots on stock transfer and renewal of the ALMO provisions, have been, as the noble Baroness will be aware, travesties, which have unfortunately disillusioned a lot of tenants, organisations and others engaged in the process. I hope that part of the regulation of housing looks at the degree of tenant involvement and how tenants' views can be properly represented, not just once but throughout their period of residence in those properties. I hope that the housing Bill can therefore be expanded to take on board some of these points.
My Lords, I am no great expert on local government and have never before spoken on this day of the Queen's Speech debate, but I have just been amazed and shocked that there has been all this talk about the need for more houses without a word from anyone—no word from the Front Bench this afternoon—about the impact of present immigration policy on housing need. Only 15 years ago, Ministers were working on the basis that in the years ahead there would be zero net immigration—that is, leavers and arrivers would more or less balance each other out. However, we are now experiencing the most dramatic demographic upheaval in our country's history.
The Office for National Statistics says that 10 years from now there will be 65 million people in the country and that by 2031 there will be 71 million. What is important for this debate is that 70 per cent of that rise to 71 million will, says the ONS, be a direct result of immigration. New immigration will add to the population the equivalent of 11 new cities the size of Birmingham. Furthermore, says the ONS, that would not be the end of it. Unless immigration is stemmed, this apparently inexorable rise will go on and on, so that by 2081 there will be 81 million human beings jostling for space on our tiny island.
The Government affect to believe that immigration on this scale is good for the economy. GDP has gone up, they say, but as the population has also gone up, GDP per head seems to have gone down. What of the latest ONS figures, which show that, of the new jobs created under Labour, 81 per cent, not 52 per cent, which was the figure previously wrung out of the Government, have gone to foreigners? That surely does not prove that immigration at present levels has been an unmixed blessing. What of the 1.2 million under-25s who are neither in work nor in education? What of the 5 million British adults who are living on welfare payments? Surely if more British citizens were working instead of claiming benefits there would be fewer vacancies to attract people from elsewhere, and that really would be good for the economy. One thing I fear is true: immigration on the present scale is welcome to many employers because it holds down wage levels. Not to put too fine a point on it, it undermines the labour market position of the most vulnerable sections of the workforce, including members of minority communities who themselves were immigrants not so very long ago.
We should not just be looking at the economic consequences of present levels of immigration; we have to look at the social consequences and at the burden that it is placing on schools, hospitals, transport, police, prisons and, of course, housing. I remind noble Lords that the Prime Minister says that 3 million more houses need to be built. The head of the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit says that because of immigration 3 million will not be enough, and the chairman of Natural England, who is supposed to be there to protect our natural landscape, says that we had better start building on the green belt. There is one thing that these three people have in common: no evidence can be found in speeches, statements, reports or articles that it has ever occurred to any of them to question whether immigration at the present level is sensible and whether carefully worked out immigration policies might reduce the demand for housing and therefore avoid the need to cover more of our land with concrete.
Unlike the Government, the House of Commons Library has worked out the effect of forecast levels of immigration on housing need. Even on the basis of the ONS figures before they were revised upwards in the most recent report, if we continue as we are going on now newcomers alone will in the next 13 years require 1.23 million houses, swallowing up 41 per cent of the 3 million houses that Mr Brown has promised us.
So what should we do? The answer is not easy as far as eastern European immigrants are concerned because there is very little that we can do; we can limit temporarily the number given permission to work here, but we cannot stop those without permission to work coming here and working anyhow. However, we can do something about people coming from other parts of the world. Since 2004, 406,355 work permits have been handed out to non-Europeans, but it is clear from the fact that over the same period 896,000 national insurance cards were issued that the true figure of those who have come here to work is approaching a million. One has only to look down the list of countries from which they have come to see that they cannot all be filling vacancies that cannot be filled from the domestic or European labour market.
What is needed is for the Government to declare an annual limit on immigration and then enforce it. The introduction next year of a points-based system for other than EU citizens is a wholly inadequate response to the present situation and, without basic border controls and action against illegal work, the Government's plan is doomed to failure. I beg the Minister to go away and tell his colleagues that if ever there was an area where joined-up government is required it is in this area of immigration and housing need. From now on, no decision should be made as to how many houses should be built without careful study of how the number might be reduced by sensible immigration control. If that is accepted, we may be on the road back to sanity.
My Lords, the language on these occasions is often the same and our task is to examine whether the Government's actions fulfil the promise of the language used, words such as accountability, engagement, trust, renewal, regeneration and, of course, community—which covers a lot, including care for our fellow citizens, including those who have recently come to our country and who contribute so much. The jargon can slip easily off the tongue. The legislation sometimes comes rapidly out of Whitehall, and I do not want to suggest that legislation cures all, as the Government often seem to think, although it may cure some. Let us not confuse legislative action with progress. The subjects we are covering today do not divide neatly and if I do not cover them all, which is impossible in the time, that does not mean that I think that matters of sustainability, climate change and so on are not matters for CLG; of course they are. Indeed, the impact of buildings—my noble friend Lord Teverson referred to this—transport and other infrastructure related to housing development comes at different levels and may be good or bad.
I want first to say something about what is not in the gracious Speech in the constitutional area: accountability and engagement. What are we to expect about regional assemblies? This is not to reopen the debate about regions and subregions—although I do not think it will go away—nor to set regionalism against localism, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, suggested. We are told that regional assemblies are to go. There may be little mourning for them, but they do include large numbers of elected councillors. What is to replace them? What will the function and role of the replacement be? We will need some mechanism to scrutinise the regional development agencies, and not just because the RDA Act says so. We have, again, Ministers for the regions and there will be arrangements in the Commons—we believe there will probably be a Select Committee. Is this House to have any role other than our normal one of Questions and debates? Do the Government recognise that having put in place a particular constitutional settlement in one region—London—there is the possibility of considerable confusion about who is holding who to account. I can well see that a Select Committee could scrutinise the activities of the Government Office for London, but I can also see the scope for confusion if it extends to the mayor.
Constitutional questions are also relevant in the context of planning reforms. By the time we see the Planning Reform Bill, I hope we will be clear about the process of developing the national policy statements on which the planned reforms will depend. What scrutiny will there be? How can those who are interested contribute? What notice will be taken of them? There are issues of consultation, democracy and accountability. I assume that the Bill will reflect the White Paper, but I understand that there have been about 32,000 responses to it, so the Bill may be rather different. We wait to see the Government's analysis. The Statement made when the planning White Paper was published mentioned that:
"Some interest groups promote a false choice between speed and public engagement".—[Hansard, Commons, 21/5/07; col. 980.]
I do not think that is a false choice, or at least not as I understood what was meant. Interest groups, very often comprising of volunteers, need time and space to express their views. That will be relevant to the statements; it will be relevant to the work of the independent planning commission. It is terribly difficult—no doubt other noble Lords have this experience as well—to engage people until there is a real planning application with its location known. That is when people begin to understand what is proposed.
Conversely, there is a false choice between quantity and quality of housing. I very much welcomed what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said about that. There are 1.6 million families on council waiting lists; repossessions are rising uncomfortably fast; housing—a home, a basic need and a right—is becoming out of reach. That means misery now and misery to come. We will soon see how well the Housing and Regeneration Bill addresses those issues. I very much welcome the greater number of noble Lords who have taken part in housing debates recently. It is clearly a matter that noble Lords take extremely seriously. The much wider range of debate is in great contrast to the position a few years ago.
Yesterday, I was told of a woman who, having the wealth to do so, bought a couple of big plots of land, developed them and sold the housing using a scheme that enabled her to sell them at cost and for the increase in value to be shared with the owners and for them to be retained as available as low-priced housing. I applaud that. I hope that more public bodies, using a form of community land trust, can do the same. We need imagination in this area at all sorts of levels. I will put in one plea for a very small thing. That is promotion and assistance from government in establishing small housing associations for groups of friends who, as they become older, would like to live together and give one another mutual support. The noble Baroness is nodding. We perhaps need less imagination on the part of those who provide so-called equity release schemes but really diddle—is that the word? It is worse than that—older people who are desperate to fund the needs of old age.
Time does not permit me to ask the questions that I would like to ask about the supplementary business rate, but I hope the Government will recognise that if they trusted local authorities, they might be able to get on with what the business rate could enable them to undertake.
We will judge the Government's programme by measures such as trust, engagement, community, democracy and, of course, by its effectiveness. That measure is the quality of life.
My Lords, I broadly support what the Government are proposing under the headings of housing and planning. My remarks this afternoon fall under the heading of transport.
I speak as a motorist and as someone who still believes that the freedom to get into a car and go anywhere at any time is part of the quality of life. I realise that that is a romantic view and that it struggles to compete with congestion and carbon emissions, but if it is hard to sustain in today's world, I nevertheless feel that the Government must not be allowed to leave the road system to its fate. Of course, the Government have a duty to promote public transport services by bus and rail, but that must not be at the expense of maintaining and, one hopes, improving the road network.
The Local Transport Bill is concerned with the imposition of a variety of unspecified charges on motor vehicles that will not in themselves improve the road network and are unlikely to find favour with road users. Motorists like to feel that any charges or tolls that they have to pay are being ploughed back to the benefit of the road system. That is assumed to be the case with toll charges on continental motorways, and I imagine that tolls on our motorway system would be more acceptable to motorists than, say, urban congestion charges.
One other lesson that the Government might take from our neighbours across the Channel is on road maintenance. Road works are managed there with the smallest possible impact on traffic movements, which is certainly not the case on our roads, where road works seem to be designed to cause the maximum traffic disruption. For example, driving up to London from Hertfordshire yesterday, I experienced a huge queue and long delays which, it turned out, were caused by red cones reducing to a single lane the two-lane carriageway in both directions for a distance of about a mile. Surprise, surprise, there was not a sign of any work in progress or of any service vehicles or workmen in the cordoned-off lanes in either direction.
Given the fact of an ever-growing population of car owners, it is obviously impossible to eliminate congestion, but I am sure that we all know of situations where it seems obvious that traffic flows could be improved by appropriate investment. One such example is the daily afternoon congestion of northbound traffic at Junction 6 of the A1(M) on the approach to Stevenage in Hertfordshire. It is caused by the narrowing of the motorway from three lanes to two at Junction 6. The motorway reverts to three lanes at Junction 8, just north of Stevenage. The obvious solution is to widen the motorway to three lanes between the two.
Here, I declare an interest as a resident of north Hertfordshire and the owner of a tourist business in the area. Widening the motorway between Junctions 6 and 8 has been the subject of a recent public petition to the Prime Minister, to which the Government have responded by quoting from an earlier London to South Midlands multimodal study that,
"widening on the A1(M) between junctions 6-8 would merely move congestion to other sections of the A1".
To all who know the area, that seems a weak excuse. Some traffic would exit to Stevenage at Junction 7, the motorway reverts to three lanes at Junction 8, and Junction 9 is the big exit for the A505 Baldock bypass to Cambridge, so there is no obvious reason for congestion. I apologise for going into that detail, but, on behalf of all those who signed the petition, I ask the Minister to look again at that example, which I am sure is one of many similar situations throughout the country.
In conclusion, it is clearly a major responsibility of government to promote optimal public services by bus and rail, but it must not be at the expense of maintaining and improving the road system.
My Lords, the commitment to build 3 million homes by 2020 is an opportunity unparalleled since the 1960s, and I congratulate our new Government on the foresight and vision to give housing that much needed priority.
In the 1960s and 1970s, some deeply damaging mistakes were made: estates whose consequences in fostering crime and sheer lack of amenity are still with us. Long before that, though, this country pioneered innovative housing for ordinary people, with Robert Owen's model housing and then the garden cities, admired all over the world. We would not want to replicate them now, but we can harness that same innovative capacity to the needs of our time.
Some good housing has been built over the past decade. We have the benign influence of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), for whose briefing I am grateful, set up in 1999 by my noble friend Lord Smith and Geoff Mulgan. Post 2004, we have a strong regulatory framework. Planning policy statement 3 is a huge advance.
Provisions for design quality need to be robust enough to be measured. I hope that we shall hear what monitoring is in place for quality, not just speed and numbers, and how the new housing and planning delivery grant will operate to assure quality. The reality so far is that CABE found that nearly one-third of housing schemes in the past five years was so poor that it should not have received planning permission. According to the Royal Town Planning Institute, two-thirds of applications for building schemes still do not involve a qualified architect. Urban design is not yet, or not again, firmly in the planning system, authorities do not all use design review panels, and planning authorities may not all be resourced to employ urban designers.
Local partnerships need more than representatives from health, education, police and transport. They need a strong design presence to turn meeting these social needs into beautiful places to live—into, as my right honourable friend Hazel Blears said in response to the gracious Speech in another place,
"well designed houses that people are proud to call home".—[Hansard, Commons, 8/11/07; col. 265.]
I hope there will be strong voices on the new Planning Commission to assure architecture and design quality.
Should CABE, with its wide regional presence, be consulted on all large housing planning schemes, private or public? What about design champions for every region, as RIBA and the Barker report proposed? They could make widespread use of the CABE Building for Life criteria. What about architects themselves? As my noble friend Lady Andrews said, we now have many good architects and some outstandingly beautiful new civic and commercial buildings. But as far as ordinary homes are concerned, there are still architecture schools that focus on just the house, ignoring its setting in a community and the deep impact of design, or the lack of it, on the way we go about our lives. I hope that RIBA can be active here. Perhaps the Prime Minister's better buildings awards could focus more on homes. I hope that the DCMS will celebrate and showcase our best housing architects. I hope that developers will come on board, too.
Before today, there has been almost nothing on these matters in debates in this and another place, apart from what my right honourable friend Hazel Blears has said. The excellent Green Paper on housing hardly mentions architecture. The Select Committee on the DCLG's recent questions to my honourable friend Yvette Cooper did not touch on it. It is time to change that, and I hope my noble friend can say something about how we can make it clear that design is as important as numbers and that, indeed, it will enable the numbers of homes that we need to be sustainably built.
I congratulate my noble friend on the promise of security of tenure for Gypsies and Travellers in the Housing and Regeneration Bill. I hope that my noble friend can confirm that the most welcome proposed Homes and Communities Agency will include the needs of Gypsies and Travellers for affordable and socially rented accommodation in its remit. Fair treatment for Gypsies and Travellers, our oldest indigenous minority, can still be astonishingly bypassed. The inhabitants of Clays Lane, an issue which I raised last July, are now, they say, living on,
"the biggest building site in Europe. Only feet from our homes there is demolition, noise, heavy traffic and dust, and the impact is unbearable".
Families with young children are living in these conditions. What pressure can be brought to bear on the Olympic Delivery Authority with regard to this terrible situation?
My Lords, I am very glad to take part in this very interesting debate. I apologise for the fact that my subject relates to the constitution rather than to housing, as I could not be here yesterday. That subject is the consideration that the Government are giving, and are inviting us all to give, to the future role of the Attorney-General and who should exercise that role. Possible changes might be included in a draft Bill. Suggestions for change have come from the House of Commons Select Committee, and include the suggestion that all or part of the role might be taken by a senior public official. I have written to the Attorney-General, and I will give a proper formal response to her consultation by
The Prime Minister said in July that among the 12 Executive powers that he might hand back might be the role of the Attorney-General in taking prosecuting decisions. This is a huge misunderstanding. When the law officers have any role in giving advice or taking prosecuting decisions, they are acting not as members of the Executive but as the independent law officers of the Crown. They are appointed by the Prime Minister and can be sacked by him, but no law officer worth their salt—and I exclude none from the category—can be told what to do contrary to their legal knowledge and professional conscience. Furthermore, it was said that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, in whom I have the very highest confidence and for whom I, like the House, have very high regard, had said that she would take no prosecuting decisions other than those required by law. I wondered what was going on in the Cabinet Office that the Prime Minister should have said such a thing. No law officer during my 27 years of quite close association with that office going back to 1979 has ever taken any prosecuting decision that he or she was not required to take by statute. Such decisions are taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the director of the Serious Fraud Office, the head of the other many prosecuting authorities or their officials, or the Crown Prosecution Service. We must understand that that is how it works.
The great importance of the law officers of the Crown lies in the fact that they are independent. It is sometimes said by academics that we lack the proper separation of powers in this country. That is not true; we believe profoundly in the separation of powers. We require Ministers such as the Lord Chancellor exercising those functions and the other law officers to hold those powers separately within themselves and to be answerable in both Houses of Parliament for doing so—a far more powerful check and balance than can be achieved by having a public official occasionally, or even fairly frequently, come to a Select Committee.
It is said that the problem is one of perception; the examples given are the advice given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, on the war and the controversy over the withdrawal of the British Aerospace prosecution. I support and speak up for the noble and learned Lord in his very difficult role in both those aspects. On BAE Systems, my own view, so far as anyone can see outside the office, is that he was absolutely right, and any suggestion that he should be replaced by a public official is made pretty good nonsense when one realises that the decision was actually taken by the director of the Serious Fraud Office on the advice, which was given three times in long telephone conversations, of our ambassador in Saudi Arabia. I do not believe that either of those senior public officials—I know the director of the Serious Fraud Office quite well—would have dishonoured themselves by taking a decision if they did not believe that they were doing something that was true and proper and in the public interest. The noble and learned Lord was quite right to support them. What is more, he was quite right to look carefully into the case because there was much more to it than met the eye, and I very much doubt, as he said, whether it would have ever come to a successful conclusion. That is all that I can say, given the short time that I have.
On the war, there is a serious case in due course for a public inquiry into the legalities and how the decisions were taken. This may be controversial, although I do not think that it is too controversial, but I believe that the Prime Minister's assurance that our immediate national interests were threatened was crucial to the noble and learned Lord's decision. He bravely and wisely said that regime change was not a justification, but took the decision when told that our immediate national interests were threatened. We are of course back to weapons of mass destruction and so on—a highly controversial area; there will be a time to look into this. This great public office has stood the test of time, and it should not be dismantled.
My Lords, I should like to bring us back to the subject of today's debate. I congratulate the Minister on the interesting and constructive way in which she introduced it. I associate myself with the remarks on housing made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who is not in his place. However, I shall look at things from a grassroots perspective, particularly that of east Lancashire or, as it is now rebranded, Pennine Lancashire; that is, Blackburn, Hyndburn, Burnley, Rossendale and last but far from least Pendle. I remind the House that I am an elected member of Pendle Council.
I shall talk about the promised Housing and Regeneration Bill, the Planning Reform Bill and an interesting document published by the DCLG entitled, An Action Plan for Community Empowerment or, as I would prefer to call it, an action plan for involving people. Perhaps I may start a little cynically on community empowerment. For much of the past 40 years I have been a passionate advocate of involving people at a local level in the decisions that affect them, and the future of their communities or, as the Government now call it, place-making. For much of that time, I have fought strongly members of other parties, particularly the Labour Party, who do not agree that this is the way ahead.
I am always willing to welcome converts and I notice that the Government are now going about this with the zeal of a convert, which I am not against. However, I warn the Government that those of us who have been doing it for a long time are in a position to understand some of the pitfalls and difficulties. Certain members of the Government, in economic terms, used to be Stalinist in their views—certainly, state socialists—and now are passionate advocates of the free market, but they do not seem to understand that the free market has lots of problems as well as being generally a good thing. The same applies to community involvement.
In the debate in the Commons, the Minister, Hazel Blears, said:
"This Government also want to see an unprecedented transfer of power and influence direct to local people; elected representatives who are not afraid of the views of local people but enriched and strengthened by them".—[Hansard, Commons, 8/11/07; col. 262.]
I look forward to being enriched and strengthened, which, at my age, has to be a good thing.
Last night I went to a Colne Neighbourhood Action Group meeting, which is part of the local neighbourhood management system in the ward I try to represent. If I had gone in and said, "Hello, I have come to be enriched and strengthened. How are you going to go about it?", the people attending may have thought that I was daft. Nevertheless, I understand the meaning of the words. During the first 20 minutes of the meeting we were shown a video put together by young teenagers on how they see the problems of their fellow young teenagers and older teenagers in the area, and quite a lot of older people were interviewed as well. I think that that is what the Government are talking about.
Last Friday, I attended a smaller meeting with community representatives, local organisations, residents and council officers to thrash out the priorities for spending our money on improving facilities and the environment. Together, these illustrate my first major point. Community involvement is a very good thing and all very well, but it needs resources to do it properly. To ask councils to do this at the same time as they have a revenue support settlement which is certainly below the level of real inflation for councils, while at the same time being asked to make 3 per cent cashable "efficiency" savings each year, which over three years adds up to more than 10 per cent of the budget, is very difficult. People will not be interested in being involved if discussing where to make cuts is all that happens. They might organise and campaign against those cuts, but I am not sure that that is the kind of community engagement the Government are thinking about.
It does not seem very long since we were discussing the 2004 planning Act in this House. The new planning system has led to more top-down decision making and more micromanagement from above, as well as detailed planning and detailed micromanagement. If we and the Government are serious about getting local councils to get far more people involved in serious decision-making, the councils have to be free to make those decisions before they can be devolved. You cannot devolve powers to the community or residents if you no longer have those powers because the system is so top-down and so micromanaged.
I would love to talk about lots of things but my six minutes are now up and I am reminded that if we had a chairman in the House of Lords who controlled us, I would be passed a note saying "Your time is up. Please sit down". I shall say one more thing on housing, which is a point I shall raise time and again. There will be 3 million new housing units in the next few years, which is great. Some of us would love to contribute to that. I could contribute a few hundred in my ward where we would love to have new housing to regenerate brownfield sites, old mill sites and derelict land, and have some really good community-based housing regeneration. During the next few years we will spend a lot of time struggling to get the Government to agree for us to do that because the top-down planning system in our area is telling us not how many new houses we have to build but that we cannot build any more at all. There is a contradiction at the heart of the system. In many places where new housing will help to regenerate communities we are not being allowed to build them. There will be lots of interesting discussion on these Bills and I look forward to them.
My Lords, I should like to take a local angle on the gracious Speech. The Isle of Wight, with its population of 130,000, the second lowest wage level in the country and more than 25 per cent of the population on benefits, belies somewhat the general perception given by the wealth of Cowes Week, the largest yachting event in the world.
But more important than these statistics—familiar or unfamiliar—are the plans to become the first eco-island in Europe, as recently announced by the Isle of Wight Council. This would involve using more renewable energy such as tidal and wind power, recycled waste—including that from 5,500 cows to run buses—with cyclists and horses being given the same space as motorists. The island's target is to be carbon neutral within the decade. Sir Terry Farrell, who has developed the world's largest eco-city in China, is involved. Although most waste at present goes to landfill sites, the council is now applying to be one of 25 European "geoparks" because of the island's unique geology, which I am told regularly sees bits of dinosaurs turning up on its beaches after storms. Of course, the island is very proud to be an exclusive haven for the red squirrel.
The chief executive of the council has high hopes for the creation of wealth and the island is becoming a major exporter of green energy from tidal power alone. In that regard, the energy Bill needs to echo some of the words made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, at the beginning of this debate. It needs to be far more robust, as this kind of project will need careful nurturing, particularly as the south appears to have received what I am told is the worst settlement from government in 20 years.
That leads me to Portsmouth, which is full of its usual energy, determination and local pride, but where no less than £18 million has to be cut from the city budget. Rumours about changing the funding formula— one hopes that they will be rebutted—that will further disproportionately affect the south do not help. To pay for each new programme or initiative, the Government are reducing funding to local authorities, which then will have less money to spend on their core work. As the greater part of this money goes on the social care of adults and children, they are always the worst affected. We seem to be approaching the point where some local councils can only afford to do the statutory minimum. I need hardly say that this will put yet further pressure on the voluntary sector where the churches and faith communities are prominently industrious, and have been so for a long time. There is an unfortunate perception, I am afraid, that the local scene is awash with central Government initiatives that never get properly evaluated and are not funded as ongoing concerns after the pilot scheme ends. That is why we shall be watching many of the developments signalled by the gracious Speech with interest.
To take another example, the local strategic partnership in Portsmouth had a consultation with the local community that included many young people. They quickly articulated as the highest priorities the need to improve educational attainment and the need for affordable and accessible transport, which is becoming a chronic problem across the area. The promised freedoms to local authorities over transport lead some of us to think that it might be possible to resurrect the LRT system, involving both Gosport and Portsmouth. Toll roads and congestion charges are unlikely to do the trick on their own.
I want briefly to pay tribute to the work of the churches and the faith communities in their civic engagement in a whole number of ways, particularly the work of civic chaplaincy. I am thinking, for example, of the dean of Portsmouth's relationship with the city council and that of the vicar of Newport and the archdeacon of the Isle of Wight with the Isle of Wight Council. The civic dimension forms an important feature of the consultation process when they are appointed in the first place.
In conclusion, I want to say how much promise the gracious Speech holds out for the future, and I hope very much that the balance of both central and local—we are arguably the most centrally controlled nation in Europe—will be watched carefully and sensitively by all those involved as the new concordat between central and local government emerges.
My last word is a personal one. I have been ill and am recovering. My consultant has encouraged me to get out and about, which for me means coming here. But if it means that for the first time in eight years that I am not present at the end of tonight's proceedings, I hope that noble Lords will forgive my crime.
My Lords, I should also like to discuss aspects of the Climate Change Bill, and let begin by saying that I was heartened by two themes of the opening speeches. The first is that, in terms of its implications, the Climate Change Bill is the most far-reaching for this country and indeed for the rest of the world than any of the clutter of Bills under consideration. The second is that there is at least something approaching a cross-party consensus on this issue. Of course, a lot of detail will need to be discussed and I certainly hope to play my part as all of this unfolds. I am one of those who believe that an 80 per cent target for 2050 is an appropriate goal. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, talk of targets is one thing, but fulfilling them is another. I am not persuaded that enough energy has yet gone into how we will practically realise the targets that are being set. It is said that marriage leaves a lot to be desired, and that is also true of how the Climate Change Bill is currently established.
Technological change undoubtedly will be one way forward. That now forgotten thinker, Karl Marx, said that,
"human beings only set themselves such problems as they can resolve", and I believe in that theorem. I think that there will be an efflorescence of technological innovation over the next 10 to 20 years in which this country should surely play its part. But any student of climate change will recognise that technological innovation will never be enough. We must look at lifestyle change and at the policies which could help us to produce far-reaching lifestyle change not only in our country but also in other countries around the world. It is this issue that I should like to talk about.
We know quite a bit about the conditions under which people can be persuaded to change their behaviour. One of the most famous examples of this comes from North Karelia in Finland. About 20 years ago, the local people consumed a fat-rich diet. There were high levels of heart attack, type 2 diabetes and other ailments that follow such a diet. Over a period of some 15 years, people were persuaded to change their lifestyle habits and diet. In relation to the words of the previous speaker, this was achieved almost wholly through a bottom-up endeavour. Groups all over the country took part in discussions to achieve this end, and it is recognised as one of the most successful examples of lifestyle change.
However, one can recognise that there are particular difficulties regarding the lifestyle changes necessary to meet the climate change targets being set by the Government. I shall briefly list three. The first is one that I am sure I should not mention in the House of Lords because people do not like long terms, but it is what economists call hyperbolic discounting—which I thought might raise a laugh among your Lordships. It means that we all tend to discount the future in the face of the present. People prefer small rewards in the present to large rewards in the future, even if those future rewards are guaranteed. A good way of thinking about what future discounting means is this. Many noble Lords receive invitations to speak at conferences around the world. If you get an invitation to an event a year and a half ahead, you might say, "That sounds like a good idea. I'll accept". But tomorrow always comes and you find yourself going to fulfil that obligation. Anyone who is invited to speak at a conference should always ask themselves, "Would I go if it were being held tomorrow?". Unfortunately, the same principle applies to climate change. People find it very hard to discount present practices even if the threat coming from the future is very substantial. We need to do a lot of work on this because it is a fundamental aspect of human thinking.
Secondly, lifestyle change in respect of climate change is quite different from activities such as giving up smoking. Not smoking affects the individual who has been a smoker. In the case of climate change, all individuals are asked to change their behaviour to achieve a collective outcome. In political science, this famously produces a free-riding issue: everyone thinks that someone else should do it. It is so easy to say, "I am going to go on driving my 4x4. Somebody else must make the change". I have heard people say that this country produces only 2 per cent of global emissions and therefore it is not our problem. That is a way of thinking which we have to overcome. Thirdly, there are many sceptics around, and they can support vested interests. For example, German car manufacturers are currently trying to stop the imposition of speed limits on the autobahnen in Germany.
What do we do about it? I would suggest three things. First, we need more study of the issues. Contrary to what has been said about Defra, I think that that department is in the lead here. Defra has some very interesting research materials which suggest that to change things, you must have a positive and energetic element, not just a negative one. Defra talks of the three Es, which roughly translate as explain, energise and empower. It could be argued that these things were not done with road congestion, and that is why the road congestion programme met its untimely end. Secondly, we must have more hypothecated taxes. The Treasury must be persuaded to drop its opposition to such taxes because otherwise people always say that these are stealth taxes. That was what was said about road congestion.
Thirdly, we should start here in this place. I do not know how many noble Lords read the piece in the newspapers about installing a giant windmill on top of the Houses of Parliament to power the whole building, but why do we not start with smaller changes? I am amazed at how many people leave the lights and the central heating on, or the air conditioning in the summer. People are parking vast, gas-guzzling cars outside the House of Lords. Surely we could have a range of changes that start here. Those who want to lead the country should do so not just by what they say, but by what they do.
My Lords, I shall concentrate my remarks on planning and housing. For more years than I like to admit, I have read about initiatives to speed up the planning process. The pages of Hansard are littered with the good intentions of successive Governments and the pages of our newspapers are equally littered with complaints about how the system still does not work. Let me be clear: this is in no way to decry or to minimise the importance of this latest initiative by the Government. Like many others, I would welcome a responsible speeding-up of the planning process. It is commendable that the Government recognise the problems engendered by such delays.
Over that same period, and almost running in tandem, are the repeated commitments to giving communities and individuals a greater and more meaningful say in the determining of such applications. A fundamental problem has dogged all previous attempts at dealing with this, which is that no one has yet found a satisfactory way of reconciling the two. The simple fact is that a vast amount of the delay in determining an application is the direct result of trying to give communities the greatest say. If you allow objection, consider it properly, explore legal challenges and then explain the reasons for accepting or rejecting it, that is very time consuming. It is exactly that which all too often leads to charges of unreasonable delay in reaching a decision.
Yet to speed that up, to try to short cut local involvement, leads to the counter charges that the people have not been listened to properly. Unless the Government can face up to that dilemma and offer a workable and acceptable solution, they are merely going to perpetuate the situation where either developers complain of outrageous delay or communities and individuals complain of having been steamrollered. Were I the Government, I am certain that before advancing any legislation to speed up the process I would have satisfied myself that this perennial problem is capable of solution. It would be a great comfort to me and, I suspect, to many others in your Lordships' House if the Ministers were able not only to reassure us that they, too, recognise the importance of this but to share with us how the Government have considered this point and how this time they intend to address it.
The idea of a single consent regime for nationally significant schemes sounds so reasonable as to require no debate until one lays down what is and what is not significant. Even if everyone agrees, the problem remains of how the local authority—which, in the end, is the local authority—has its own proper say. Allowing that all that can be addressed, I find it difficult to distinguish such a procedure from the long-practised one of the Secretary of State calling in an application so that he can determine it himself. Is this really any advance on the old system of calling in?
Turning to a more specific project, I hope that when considering planning policy the Government will prioritise and take forward the underserved markets project, which was set up to promote greater retail investment in England's 88 most deprived communities. This listed a number of actions in PPS 6 that local planning authorities must undertake to enhance consumer choice through a range of shopping, leisure and local services, promoting social inclusion, encouraging investment and enhancing the physical environment, which together can do a great deal to regenerate deprived areas of the country. This scheme was based on a United States scheme that transformed parts of the poorer south and Harlem in New York City. I do not know whether the Minister agrees, but it might make sense for the all-party group on responsible business practice or CSR, which I chair, to work with the Government on taking this initiative forward. I would love to do that.
Issues of demographic change are dear to my heart. We know that in this country people are reluctant to move from their homes and that many people, particularly older people, are underoccupying family homes that are larger than they need. We must encourage lifetime housing that adapts to people's needs as they go through the life course. The Government need to make sure that the housing strategy gives access to housing advice, information, financial products and other support for people at different stages in their lives, both those who wish to move home and contribute to a dynamic market and those who want to stay where they are but need help to do so. I was very encouraged by the Minister's obvious commitment to this approach.
A specific point that is worrying, however, is that the Government have recently changed the public service agreement relating to decent homes standards, PSA 7. Whereas previously the commitment was made for 70 per cent of all homes in the private sector occupied by vulnerable people to meet the decent homes targets, this has now been dropped. Although a departmental target remains in its place, and indeed the PSA targets for decent homes for vulnerable people will remain for the social housing sector, we risk the issue of decent homes in the private sector being ignored by local authorities, which will be reluctant to allocate resources to programmes that do not need to keep performance indicators. As private housing is the majority tenure for all households, this is extremely important.
Finally, will the Government give a bankable assurance that they will give a strong steer to all the regions that their regional spatial strategy will recognise the fundamental importance of our demographically changing population in every supporting strategy to which it refers and include a specific overarching commitment to address this that is backed by meaningful statutory guidance?
My Lords, energy and the environment will occupy a great deal of our time in the coming Session and, like others, I regret that they are not down to be debated together. I fear that that represents a lack of joined-up thinking within government.
I served on the Joint Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill. The draft Bill was also examined by two committees of another place. The Government have already indicated that the Bill promised in the gracious Speech will contain a number of improvements. The work that the committees have done has been worth while, not only because of the changes already made but because both Houses will have before them a mass of useful material.
My objective in committee was to challenge the Government's assertion, now repeated in the gracious Speech, that the Bill would introduce a legally binding framework. The committee shared my scepticism about legal enforceability, an issue on which this House is well qualified to adjudicate. One positive result of the argument so far is that the Government have already agreed to strengthen the supervisory role of Parliament.
Moving to consider energy issues, we will need to challenge the realism of the current EU and government commitment that 20 per cent of total energy must come from renewables by 2020. The object of the exercise should be the level of greenhouse gases, not the type of power generation. We will need a combination of solutions that will include nuclear if we are to secure both our environmental and security objectives.
I will concentrate the remainder of my remarks on the report by the Sustainable Development Commission on tidal power and a possible Severn barrage. I am surprised that in its appraisal of tidal stream technologies the SDC made no reference to the important announcement last March that the power company E.ON, in partnership with Lunar Energy, is to develop off the Welsh coast the first commercial-scale tidal stream energy plant anywhere in the world. The plans to build this plant have been submitted to BERR; it is to be sited in the strong tidal currents in St David's Sound, off the coast of my former constituency, with the aim of being fully operational by 2011. If this project is a success, it will be a significant step forward.
Reading the SDC report on the barrage, with its long list of key issues not yet studied, let alone resolved, one finds surprising its positive conclusion that there is a strong case to be made for a sustainable Severn barrage. The report identifies a large number of unknowns, which,
"makes predictions of the ecological response and the impacts on habitats and birds very difficult ... these areas of uncertainty also have implications for considering the effects of development on ports and navigation and flood risk management".
One absolute certainty is acknowledged, which is that,
"a tidal barrage would fundamentally change the nature of the Severn Estuary".
There is another near certainty: it is very unlikely that a proposal for a Severn barrage would ever come forward without significant government involvement. The basic capital cost for the large Cardiff-Weston scheme would be £15 billion, which would generate the same output as would be produced by just over two conventional 1-gigawatt power stations. At a commercial discount rate, private sector investment is highly unlikely.
We are told by the commission that at a low discount rate of 2 per cent the cost of electricity output would be competitive and that a barrage should be publicly led as a project and publicly owned as an asset—in other words, the project is viable only if the taxpayer underwrites and owns it. That, the commission admits, would require a major rethink of energy policy and a fundamental reappraisal of government involvement in the energy sector and the incentives on offer to support all the low-carbon technologies.
The cost figure of £15 billion is by no means the total; it does not include any allowance for the probable large cost of providing compensatory habitat, as would be required by EU directives. The SDC has not conducted an analysis of the compensatory habitat that would be required, even though the commission considers that factor to be of overwhelming importance. The Government's own statutory advisers—the Environment Agency, the Countryside Council for Wales and Natural England—say that they cannot envisage how the required compensatory habitat could be provided to replace those that would be lost, and they are equally concerned about the migratory fish stocks that pass through the estuary to reach the rivers Wye, Usk, Severn and Avon.
The ports in the estuary and the services that they support are responsible for handling around 3 per cent of UK trade. It is estimated that the Bristol and south Wales ports generate over 15,000 jobs between them, with many more jobs held in port-based companies. No detailed studies have been carried out of ship movements in relation to barrage operations.
The commission made two important statements. First, the Government must avoid a "decide and deliver" approach. A number of crucial areas of uncertainty will need to be resolved before a final decision can be made. Secondly, the Government should not rush into a decision; the decision-making process must be transparent. It is alarming that the Prime Minister already seems to be ignoring that good advice. During Prime Minister's Questions on
I take comfort from the fact that BERR has made it clear that the study will assess all the critical questions for which we do not at present have answers, a process that it expects to take several years, with a possible timetable for completion of the whole project, if it is approved, of around a dozen years. Parliament must insist that the undertaking that there will be full and transparent consultations is honoured in full. The Government must not stampede us towards a decision.
My Lords, I hope to speak about rail transport and, if there is time, about the constitution.
We must view the transport legislation proposals in the light of actual needs and see how the legislation will deal with them, if at all. The first challenge to be met is overcrowding and congestion, both on trains and in station car parks. As demand rises, it should be met. We are regaled with the 1,300 carriages that the Department for Transport promises to deliver, once the order has been sorted out, but they are unlikely to be in service until 2011, if indeed that early, and they are needed now. Why the prevarication? In any case, as demand for passenger rail travel grows, even more carriages will be needed by the time the initial 1,300 have begun to arrive.
There is also a need, albeit a second-order one, for a new class of trains for scenic lines where the windows and seats are aligned and the windows are larger. I am impressed with ScotRail's conversion of some Class 158s to work the far north line to Wick and Thurso with aligned seating, albeit with fewer seats, and greater bicycle capacity. These should be the forerunner of improved passenger services on rural lines throughout Britain.
The development of high-speed lines is essential. Congratulations are in order on the Channel Tunnel rail link, now sensibly described as High Speed 1. More high-speed lines are needed to combat overcrowding and to close down domestic air routes. It is the depressingly slow process of appraisal that is failing us; it could take 20 years, but the lines are needed now. I will certainly be looking for High Speed 2 to link London and Heathrow with Birmingham and Manchester. Direct rail services from Birmingham to Europe must be a priority. Multi-billion pound costs are quoted at us—but then we can apparently find £10 billion a month for the National Health Service in England, so it can be done.
The next focus must be on Crossrail, which is needed in the London area. However, it is clear that more work needs to be done to sort out how Crossrail will enable freight to cross London. While the core route is well thought through, there must be serious doubts about the terminals. Surely these need relocating, particularly from Maidenhead to Reading.
The Channel Tunnel must be used by more freight trains. It is a tremendous strategic asset, but it is underused. Having only one freight train a day is a disgrace. Will the Department for Transport give a commitment to enable more freight trains to use the tunnel?
Finally, attention needs to be given to the franchising process and its suitability for purpose. We are about to see significant new franchises on the east coast main line and the cross-country route. The criticism of all the franchises is that they are too short in duration and too closely specified by the Department for Transport and hence unable to demonstrate entrepreneurial flair or to develop new routes and services. The same short period also affects the training of staff at all levels. Only longer franchises will deliver the value of better training.
These Benches continue to advocate rolling franchises, whereby an effective franchisee has the franchise extended by performing well. At the same time, I accept that a franchise competition is necessary when the network is reorganised—such as, for example, the reorganisation that led to Arriva winning the new cross-country network franchise. The treatment of good franchise performers needs to improve. Surely a system should evolve that weights the refranchising appraisal of a good operator.
Those are some criteria for railway improvements. However, bar the Crossrail Bill and the rather technical Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill, there is no legislation for the railway this year. We can only hope that the Department for Transport can incorporate these ideas into its plans for the next legislative programme.
Only a wee bit of time remains, so I will give your Lordships the short version on the constitution. The UK Government in general and the Scotland Office in particular need to become substantially more open to the desire of those who live in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom to find a new and more sustainable political settlement. The union of 1707 has run its course and is being distorted by devolution and the West Lothian question. I hope that the Scotland Office will end the unionist propaganda and start discussing the future with those who live in Scotland.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the gracious Speech and, in particular, its commitment to the housing programme. I declare an interest: I recently became the chair of the Midland Heart housing association. Perhaps I should declare another interest, because my starting point in the housing debate was arriving as an immigrant in Birmingham at 16, not to a home or to a multi-occupied house, but to a multi-occupied room. It is no fun waking up in the morning in a room full of strangers and not even knowing how and when they entered the room.
I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is not in his place, because I would remind him that, as we have heard today, some things never change. The argument in my day as a young immigrant in Birmingham was, "Immigrants are taking all our homes and they are taking all our jobs", but I would remind the noble Lord that, as an immigrant, I have taken only one job from the host community, that of general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, which I kept for 12 years.
I was disappointed that the gracious Speech did not mention the constructive contribution of immigrants to the UK economy. If we are to build those 3 million homes, we will need those Polish plumbers and many more. I strongly welcome the Government's commitment to the new homes target. It represents a generational shift in social housing provision. Three million new homes will be built by 2020; it will be a costed, affordable programme; 70,000 new, affordable homes will be built per year—not for immigrants, but for those in housing need.
It is an indictment of our society that essential workers—hospital and emergency workers, bus workers, teachers and many others—cannot afford to live in the communities where they work. It is an indictment of our society that rural communities are dying because local people cannot live in the area where they grow up. As a result, they cannot work in or contribute to their local economies.
The housing programme presents us with a real opportunity to avoid the housing mistakes of the 1960s, when the culture was to build homes cheap and high. Those homes are no longer fit for purpose, and many of them should be demolished. New houses must meet the needs of this generation and those which follow. We must look for sustainability as well as affordability. The new programme must not be just demand-led, but quality-led, meeting the decent home standards.
Encouragement of diversity of ownership—a mix of social housing, affordable housing and shared equity—is welcome. The voice of tenants must be paramount. By those means, we can meet our housing needs and rebuild communities for everyone—mixed communities for single people, couples, families, senior citizens and those who are vulnerable.
I welcome the 10 eco-towns as a contribution to reducing our carbon footprint, but our objective and our ambition should be that all new homes make some contribution to that end.
The housing programme gives us a real opportunity not just to build houses, but to find housing solutions, to rebalance the lack of cohesion in our communities and our society, and to build social capital to which we can all contribute. A decent home determines life chances. It should not be a lottery; it is an essential human right.
My Lords, most of the Government's proposed legislation in the areas that we are considering today, I welcome. It draws successfully from studies by Lyons, Stern, Eddington and Barker. However, I care about implementation. Work does not stop with the press conference or when legislation clears Parliament. That is when the real work starts.
East of here, delivery of the Olympic spectacle is in good hands: it will be fabulous. But what about the much vaunted legacy—in particular, physical regeneration of the area around the Games in east London, which is essential if the Olympics are not to be an isolated white elephant? That deprived neighbourhood sits in the Thames Gateway, Europe's biggest regeneration site.
East London is a test bed for whether this year's legislative proposals deliver for real. With the Olympics as a catalyst, how do we deliver higher community aspirations, a thriving economy connected to the City and to Europe, and a world-class leisure destination? We do so with vision, leadership, resource and appropriate governance. I would have trouble ticking any of those boxes, let alone all of them.
The public sector has many plans for the area, but does it have vision? What is vision without funding commitment for infrastructure? Billions needed to prepare the 2012 park means billions needed to unlock wider regeneration in the area.
The planning process regulates delivery. The Government promise democratic consultation before making strategic commitments to large-scale projects. That, with fast and effective planning procedures, will please most, though perhaps not planning lawyers. East London housing provision might benefit, too. Developers are ready to invest where they are confident that roads, bridges, schools and health centres will be built. The Government's new planning gain tariff clarifies developers' contribution towards infrastructure costs. The organisation which I lead, London First, worked with the property industry to develop this solution.
What blocks housing schemes also handicaps commercial development. Resources are as important as principles. Many local planning departments have neither capacity nor expertise to deal with large, complex developments. East London needs Sir Michael Lyons's "place shaping" big time.
Nationally pooled business rates provide little incentive for authorities to encourage new commercial development. If authorities are to shape rather than frustrate development, they should keep more of their new business rates and use them to strengthen their planning departments.
East London will be linked to the rest of London by Crossrail. Thanks are again due to the Government for finally committing in October to a funding package. However, a project that takes two decades to agree is not exemplary, and agreement still has to translate into trains and tracks. After the jubilation, I learnt that both the Treasury and the Department for Transport will scale down their Crossrail teams. The biggest construction project in northern Europe is still being legislated for, let alone begun—and where was Crossrail funding legislation in Her Majesty's Speech? Business, as a major funding partner, should have a seat at the Crossrail top table alongside the Transport Secretary and Mayor of London, to ensure that the appropriate governance and risk management are put in place.
The Climate Change Bill has the laudable goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. We need a legislative and tax environment which captures the full cost of environmental impact. The more that any tax raised can be hypothecated to tackling climate change, the better. The Government rub their hands at the prospect of more air passenger duty, but where is the conversation about investing it in environmental solutions?
Shrill media and pressure groups make aircraft the only villains. Greenhouse gases from all sources need to be equally addressed. We need carbon reduction targets and emissions trading schemes operating within these, but Stern did not advocate using the planning system or any other to restrict flights. The answer for the environment and for UK competitiveness is not artificial handicaps on either Heathrow or, for that matter, City Airport in east London.
The UK's cars and lorries produce three times more CO2 than aviation, and congestion makes London Europe's slowest city. Road charging must be at least part of the solution. For instance, London's congestion charge reduces traffic and emissions, and increases investment in public transport. To gain trust, schemes must make visible contributions—economic, environmental and social—to their local areas. Also, an independent body should regulate charges to avoid multiple and confusing charges and to ensure value for the charge payer.
In central London, despite 70,000 fewer cars a day entering the zone, congestion has recently increased, mainly due to road works. We need a step change by the Greater London Authority and London boroughs in their strategic management of roads. The Traffic Management Act 2004 placed a duty on highway authorities actively to manage congestion. Frankly, I do not see it—and the legislation is only partly implemented. This is a fitting final example: the legislation is three years old, and the Transport Secretary should implement it. Go on, Ms Kelly, spoil us. Make it do what it says on the tin!
My Lords, 2007 has been, and is still, a difficult year for many people. Rising interest rates have resulted in loss of income, council taxes and fuel prices are at an all time high and, partly as a result of changes in the weather pattern, the cost of food is going up. Today the Prime Minister launched a wide-ranging investigation into the security of the nation's food supply. My goodness, where has he been for this past 10 years—and how many of us have been raising our concerns about the downward trend of the UK's self-sufficiency in indigenous foods? We welcome the move away from Mrs Beckett's well-remembered saying that there was actually no need for self-sufficiency and that it was neither necessary nor desirable.
So what are the Government's plans for the people of this country? I had hoped that this gracious Speech might be the one to free individuals from central control, enabling them to get on and improve their lives according to their own priorities, but I was disappointed. Moreover, some of the proposed Bills will bring greater regulatory burdens. I was disappointed, too, as other noble Lords have said, at the lack of the long-promised Marine Bill, and I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us how that draft will be moved forward.
Today our debate concerns mainly the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Transport and Defra. Within that context, the Climate Change Bill will affect all government departments and will, I understand, start in this House very shortly. It is an important Bill, which I readily support, and it has already been through much consultation and scrutiny. The housing and planning bills are important, too, but while the Housing and Regeneration Bill gives local communities a greater say in the future growth of their housing plans, the Planning Reform Bill does exactly the opposite, giving the Government powers to push through projects sometimes even perhaps when there is a lack of local support. Again, I hope that we shall be reassured about consultation on those matters.
On housing, I should like to refer to the Rural Housing Trust, which was formed some 30 years ago and has enabled affordable rural housing to be built in some 330 villages. Its success is due to its flexibility. Like the noble Lord, Lord Best, I should like to look further at the whole question of the rented sector, too.
The Climate Change Bill, the Energy Bill and the Local Transport Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said earlier, are interlinked—and I, too, am dismayed that we are not discussing them at the same time. If we are to succeed in reducing C02 emissions and move away from wasting energy, our transport systems must be better used. I hope that when we come to debate that subject, the Minister will take into account the needs of rural areas, where there is often little or no public transport and where much daily living is dependent on the use of a car.
I hope that the Energy Bill will address all aspects of provision of energy, from nuclear to wind and wave, from biofuels to microgeneration and from biomass to the Severn barrage. It must take this opportunity to consider them all, unlike the previous Energy Act, which dealt only with the decommissioning of nuclear plants and the construction of offshore wind farms. That was definitely a wasted opportunity. I hope, too, that the Bill will include measures to encourage energy efficiency by individuals, businesses and government departments. With 3 million new homes to be built, it is surely the right time to look at new technologies that provide for local needs and move away from the total reliance on central supply through the national grid.
The Climate Change Bill overarches all departments. Some commentators have suggested that the Government's target reduction of 60 per cent in carbon emissions is too low. Will the Minister tell us whether the recommendations brought forward by the new committee will be binding on Government, or will they just be purely advisory?
As I said, 2007 has been a difficult year, but for livestock farmers it has been a disaster. Defra's competence has been called to account and on many occasions the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has come to the Dispatch Box to apologise for its shortcomings. The legacy of failure from the Rural Payments Agency is still with us, as are the consequences of the lack of any decision on the way forward in the control of bovine TB. The return of the dreaded foot and mouth following biosecurity lapses at Defra's own regulated establishment at Pirbright completes an all-round appalling year. Only two days ago, we had the return of avian flu. No wonder livestock farmers' confidence is at an all time low.
Last week, the Chief Veterinary Officer announced that she will take early retirement. This is yet another gap to fill, at a time when Defra—which is a wider department than MAFF was—has only a part-time permanent secretary. I know that Defra is under a lot of pressure and I accept that the outbreak of blue-tongue was not caused by departmental failure. Clearly, however, leadership is a key component to success. With climate change and disease more likely to come to these shores than ever before, the need to have competent vets able to advise farmers locally on the ground and the Government at regional and national level has never been higher.
The Government are full of targets and aspirations in their plans for us. I hope that in this new Session they will get round not only to talking about aspirations but to telling us of their delivery successes, too.
My Lords, I am saddened by how low a priority transport issues seem to hold in government policy-making. Of course, health, education, the fight against terrorism and environmental issues are very important but so, too, is transport.
To the average citizen health becomes an issue only when you or one of your family are ill; education becomes an issue when you are a student or when you are putting your children through school; and to most of us terrorism is just something we read about in the papers, although I suspect that the Government, for their own reasons, would like to give it an even higher priority. But transport—the getting from A to B—is something that directly affects most of us nearly every day of our lives, and congestion and overcrowding appear to be getting worse, not better.
The only reference to transport in the Queen's Speech is a vague assurance that the Government propose legislation to tackle congestion and improve public transport. That is good to know. Ruth Kelly, the new Secretary of State for Transport, though, quite rightly acknowledges that,
"transport influences our communities, our environment and ultimately our quality of life".
It seems very important, therefore, that we should come to grips with the growing problems of transport congestion and that the Government should present us with a coherent, integrated, long-term transport policy rather than papers that deal with each mode of transport individually and separately. The fact that Ruth Kelly is the ninth Secretary of State for Transport since new Labour came to power suggests either that the department is regarded as of little political significance or that nobody particularly likes the job—perhaps both of those are true.
However, the recent spate of government reports and papers on the subject—which include the Eddington Transport Study, the White Paper entitled Delivering a Sustainable Railway and the expected Crossrail Bill and Local Transport Bill, set for this Parliament—suggest that transport issues are just beginning to get a marginally higher priority. But the Government improvement plans, although welcome in themselves, are nothing like bold or far-reaching enough and their continual support for air travel runs contrary to their policy of seeking to contain global warming.
For most of us, travelling by any form of transport has long ceased to be a pleasure. By car it is one traffic jam, tailback or frustration after another; by air it is queuing and waiting and having to take your shoes off and put them back on again; and by rail it is the worry of whether you are going to get a seat at all and, if you have booked one, whether you will end up sitting next to someone speaking loudly on his mobile phone throughout the whole journey. It is estimated that 67 per cent of the trains in and out of London in the rush hours are overcrowded. How much longer will commuters remain so long suffering?
And all this is only going to get worse. Going by government predictions, every year will see more cars and lorries on the road. The population of Britain is rising and as the country becomes more prosperous, more people will have more cars. In spite of the Government's lip service to global warming, there will be more aircraft taking off from more runways and from more airports. To give the Government credit, they say that they are committed to spending money to improve all these various transport services in order to accommodate this anticipated extra traffic—an improved and more frequent bus service, for instance, more rolling stock for the railways, longer trains, longer platforms, better signalling, safer and more customer-friendly rural stations. But as soon as these improvements happen, the weight of traffic increases and we will still be struggling to keep up with demand. The promised extra carriages will attract extra passengers and very soon we will be faced with the same overcrowding problems again.
The only solution to the problem lies in building more railways. There will never be sufficient capacity within the present network system to meet the growing demand, however better integrated and computerised it becomes. More and longer trains are necessary and welcome but there is nothing like enough. You see, it is not just a question of making provision for the extra passengers we expect in future years—as the Government claim to have done in their White Paper—it is also a question of enticing some of those existing travellers who presently prefer to fly or take their car to use the railways instead. Apart from the bicycle, train travel is the only form of transport that has relatively little effect on global warming. And in order to cut down on pollution and relieve congestion on the roads and in the air, we must make the railways a more attractive alternative than the car or plane. We should be starting to plan these new railway routes now, not wait until 2014 when the Government say that the situation will again be reviewed. This is where I agree with my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie.
In particular, we should start budgeting for the new, high-speed north-south rail service—so often mooted but, so far as I know, not yet off the starting blocks—of London to Glasgow in under three hours, perhaps avoiding city centres but linking up with many of Britain's airports. We should be aiming for the day, some time before 2020, when air travel within the British Isles will be unnecessary and unwanted. Of course, the main objection to a new high-speed rail service is its cost. The cost may have to be borne, partly anyway, by the road user and the air traveller, and that will not be popular. No Government like to upset the powerful car lobby. Too many of us have become accustomed to the convenience of our own cars and greatly resent further costs to the price of motoring, added to the frustration of increasing road and parking restrictions.
One advantage of being a member of a party that does not expect to be in government in the immediate future is that we can be less inhibited in pointing out the inconvenient truth. The fact is that we must reduce traffic on the roads—there are too many cars, lorries and white vans—and that means we must divert more people and freight on to the railways. We want to keep air travel to a level no greater than it is at present. One of the ways of doing that is by making life more expensive for the road user and the air traveller. That money—a tax if you like to call it that—needs to be ring-fenced to go to helping finance these new railways.
Besides the fact that massive investment in the railways is the only possible solution to future transport deadlock, it is also the only civilised method of travel—at least it should be if properly managed. Now we are also talking about the quality of life. On a train you can do your work, you can read, you can sleep, you can stretch your legs, you can—or should be able to—go to eat in the dining car or drink in the bar. These and other facilities should all be part of a long-distance train journey and considerations that will encourage you to travel by train and leave your car at home or in the station car park. However, the Government's view is that,
"it would not be prudent to commit itself to an all-or-nothing high-speed line at the present time".
So my plea to the Government is to recognise that more railways, as well as better trains with more carriages, are the only answer to our impending transport deadlock. Railways take a long time to build. Look how long it took to build our one high-speed line to the Channel Tunnel and how long it took even to make a decision on Crossrail. A review in 2014 is already too late.
My Lords, in contributing to this evening's debate on the gracious Speech, I would like to draw attention to one very strong theme running through this important new legislative programme. It is something that, as the retiring chairman of English Partnerships—I declare an interest—I am very glad to be able to pick out, since it has also been the theme of the six years that I have spent at the head of that body. The theme that I refer to is improving our quality of life, particularly creating high-quality places where people not only want to live but, critically, can afford to live.
Strengthening community life, improving housing conditions and meeting the current severe shortage of new homes for sale and rent are central to solving many of the other issues that we face as a society. I firmly believe that it is the key to achieving better social cohesion, rising educational standards and reduced crime. Healthy communities also provide a solid basis for a thriving, growing economy.
Many of the Bills in this new legislative programme aim to improve quality of life. It is the central logic behind the Local Transport Bill, the Energy Bill, the Climate Change Bill; in fact, we find its echo in most of the 30 Bills before us in the new programme. But I wonder whether it is not most clearly expressed in the forthcoming Housing and Regeneration Bill, to which I now turn.
The housing Green Paper sets very clear targets for the creation of 2 million new homes by 2016 and 3 million by 2020. This means in practice increasing new homes built from the current level of about 170,000 a year to 240,000 a year by 2016. The target includes at least 70,000 more affordable homes constructed per year by 2010. These are challenging targets; but there is no ducking them. I do not underestimate the difficulty of reaching them, and reaching them will require some fundamental change. Because of that, we need first-class delivery arrangements and a clear separation of roles and responsibilities between local and central government.
When CLG concluded its review of housing and regeneration this January, it reported what many practitioners already knew. The landscape was too crowded, the supply chain for new developments was needlessly complex, and important skills in land assembly, regeneration and development finance were in very short supply. It was also clear that the legislative base for addressing the pressing problems—so ably articulated by the Minister—was becoming out of date. The Housing Corporation is working with legislation that is over 40 years old. English Partnerships relies on legislation first introduced in 1948 to create the first New Towns. Although our two organisations have been creative and flexible with existing powers, eventually they creak beyond endurance and need to be updated. Nowadays the interplay of land, planning and investment needs the Government to be able to work flexibly to properly create and, critically, to extract value for the public purse—and certainly for local communities.
When I visited a Pathfinder area in Sefton last week I was again struck by how cluttered funding regimes have become, with several different regimes and investment programmes coming not just into the same project or into the same street but into the same house. That situation does not come about because we are deliberately or accidentally inefficient; it comes about because different organisations have genuinely evolved over different timescales, with different remits and working on different statutory bases.
The time is over-ripe to provide focus and coherence with the proposed new Homes and Communities Agency. We must hope that the agency will be established with the right set of powers, the ability to concentrate scarce skills and expertise, and a posture that enables it to be an expert partner, supporting able and ambitious local authorities which must rightly take the lead in developing new communities and regenerating existing ones.
I had the privilege of meeting over 1,000 stakeholders across England this summer: local authorities, registered social landlords, regional bodies and private developers, which were all broadly supportive of the concept of establishing a new agency. The caveat was clear: they were supportive so long as the agency was supporting local government and not dictating to it. We will examine the Bill with interest to make sure that the relationships proposed are likely to be benign and functional.
I hope also that the Bill will explicitly meet the needs of communities; that would be new and it would be very welcome. Up to this point, English Partnerships has been able to do a great deal to support communities in areas of deprivation and in areas suffering problems of affordability, but we have had to do so through legislation focused on land, on buildings and on bricks and mortar. Up to this point, the Housing Corporation has brought forward major increases in the cost-effective supply of social housing, but it has had to do this through a limited set of powers focused around the provision of grant to housing associations and to other developers. All of us involved in the creation of sustainable communities know that this is a complex task that is about people, not simply bricks and mortar. I hope that the new legislation will recognise that and directly address the real needs of communities. I hope that it will have new powers to work with local authorities to engage and empower local people in the improvement of their areas, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said. I hope that it will have a strong presence in every region.
As important will be the ability for the agency to pre-invest in infrastructure and services. We are all acutely aware—a number of noble Lords have made this point during today's debate—of the need to match the growth in house building with the right level and quality of infrastructure, not after the event, but in a timely way, either through its own resources or by levering in additional finance from other sources. If the Bill does not provide for that, the job will be only half done, for it is the infrastructure investment that will make it possible to plan and deliver major new settlements such as the "eco towns" recently announced by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.
Finally, I hope that the Bill will pave the way for an independent regulator of social housing, breaking the link between investment and regulation and providing many new opportunities for RSLs to continue to develop and flourish. I am very proud of all that has been achieved by the Government over the past 10 years, but my first-hand experience absolutely convinces me that we need to bring investment in land, planning, housing and regeneration together. There are no shortcuts when it comes to quality and sustainable development. That is why we need a substantial piece of legislation to produce a single set of modernised powers in place of the ageing statutory frameworks of the existing regimes.
I sincerely hope that the forthcoming legislation does all of those things; for, fundamentally, we cannot fail individuals and families who are in desperate need of homes in communities where they want to live and can afford to live.
My Lords, it could be that the world is on the verge of a profound change in its food markets. During the past 12 months, the global price of cereals and dairy products has doubled, for reasons, I believe, which have long-term consequences. Demand worldwide is running ahead of supply and some stocks are dangerously low. Global population continues to rise and, thanks to increasing prosperity, especially in China, people are eating more meat. The supply of food has been reduced in recent years by a series of bad harvests in various parts of the world. Meanwhile, many Governments have been encouraging their farmers to switch from food to energy crops.
The livestock industry worldwide has been devastated by disease, Asian flu, blue ear disease in China, bluetongue in Europe, foot and mouth disease in Britain. With prices soaring, the CAP's bedrock principles—farm subsidies and protection from cheap imports—have become obsolete and irrelevant. These momentous events require Governments nationally and collectively to carry out a radical review of policies affecting the agricultural environment, renewable energy crops, agriscience and technology and international trade.
Let me start with the environment. Is climate change already restricting agricultural outputs? Droughts in various parts of the world and floods in others would suggest so. It is likely that climate change will create a drastic upheaval in patterns of global agricultural production, with an even greater reliance on farmers in northern hemisphere temperate zones. Ironically, agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. Some 22 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions in this country come from farming, and farming produces 57 per cent of methane emissions. On its own, climate change will probably cause a global reduction in food production.
On renewable energy crops, Governments are incentivising farmers worldwide to grow more energy crops by the use of tax breaks and regulation. They offer three reasons for switching from fossil to biofuels. First, the environmental impact of energy crops is supposed to be beneficial compared with oil. Secondly, domestically produced energy crops reduce the dependence on imports of oil from politically unstable parts of the world. Finally, for some countries it is a convenient way of subsidising farmers. I remain to be convinced on all three counts.
The carbon footprint of many energy crops is not significantly better than oil when you take into account the energy needed to grow, process and transport the products. There will be an insignificant improvement in security, because energy crops are at any rate planned to supply only 10 per cent of the fuel market. We need to be phasing out farm subsidies, for the reasons that I gave earlier, rather than introducing new ones. Unless there is a radical technical breakthrough that gives energy crops an incontestable advantage over oil, I believe that we should move cautiously in promoting energy crops. Especially if food supplies are going to remain tight, it would be irresponsible to switch more land from food to energy production.
In my lifetime the world's population has trebled, but Malthus's grim prophesies have not been realised because food production has risen even more than that 300 per cent. While there are famine disaster areas, mainly due to political and logistical failures, the world is better fed than ever before. That remarkable situation is due to spectacular scientific innovations in plant and animal breeding and disease and pest control, which have probably trebled outputs per hectare across the world. Equally remarkable technological advances in machinery that has helped farmers to beat the elements have made it possible to bring large amounts of new land into cultivation and to drastically reduce the cost of food, thereby making it more affordable to poor people across the world. We will need innovative science and technology as much in the future as we did in the past if we are to raise global food production by a further 100 per cent—probably the best estimate—in the next 40 years to meet the needs of 9 billion people.
Why the dependency on science? Unless we start cutting down tropical forests, probably less than 10 per cent of land on the planet is spare and could be brought into cultivation, compared with 60 years ago when 40 per cent of the land might have been spare. Climate change on its own will reduce agricultural production, and yet in many parts of the developed world governments, in response to pressure-group concerns, are restricting scientific innovation. The GM controversy is the obvious example. Some previous scientific innovation has been reckless because of its damaging impact on the environment, animal welfare and even human health, but those failures have largely been dealt with by extensive regulation of the food chains. However, there could be a temptation for farmers to start cutting corners again if the prize is great.
It is quite irresponsible for Governments to turn their backs on agricultural science. We must manage and invest in the science, not deny it. There is a real danger that over-intensive livestock production could lead to a major worldwide breakdown in animal health. Once again, the scientists, who are partly responsible for the problem, must find ways of solving it.
Finally, few would disagree that the world has benefited enormously from more free trade and fewer barriers to trade. For various reasons, America and the EU have restricted the expansion of free trade in food. There have been modest indications of changes in these policies in recent years, but the danger is that trade in food will be restricted, not to protect farmers but to protect consumers from food inflation. It is already happening in Russia and Argentina. In fact the need for more fair and free trade in food will become even more important in the event that global food production polarises towards the northern hemisphere because of climate change. Given that situation, it will be essential to ensure a fair and constant supply of food from areas in surplus to those in deficit.
The CAP comes up for radical review in 2013, which is not far away when you consider the long and tortuous negotiations ahead. The WTO talks on freer trade are in danger of collapse. The British Government should take a lead in highlighting these dramatic changes in global agricultural production and propose radical new policies to alleviate the Malthusian problem caused by the existence of between 2 billion and 3 billion more human beings on the planet and the consequences of climate change.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, who has given us a broad and detailed view of the world and the issues that we face. I will concentrate more on matters that concern us in this country. In voicing my concerns on animal diseases, I declare my interest as a livestock farmer who is still affected by current movement restrictions.
In practical terms, one might think that as a Scottish farmer I would not have an interest to declare, because animal health policy is devolved to the Scottish Executive, but, because the basic rules come from Brussels and, stemming from that, because budgetary control remains largely with Defra, I do. Policies evolved for England and Wales are the major influence in setting the policy north of the border in these matters.
As my noble friend Lady Byford mentioned, the farming industry is having a tough year. Perhaps, as always, farmers can say that they think they can spot a light at the end of the tunnel, but, too often recently, it has merely been the headlights of oncoming trains—foot and mouth or bluetongue for the livestock industry, or floods and nitrate-vulnerable zones for the arable areas.
The Government are to be congratulated on managing to gain acceptance from the EU for a policy of regionalisation from foot and mouth susceptibility to allow the export of meat and meat products for a large number of UK farmers. Two questions remain unanswered, however. In justification of most legislation, the Government are liable to quote public opinion and poll statistics. In animal health and farming, they like to say that policy is based on science. Where is the scientific justification that requires those farms in the new 150-kilometre foot and mouth protection zone to be subject to greater restrictions than they were before? Secondly, why has it taken all this time to get the EU standing committee to agree to this regional approach? Will it now be possible to use this ruling to press for earlier implementation in any future outbreak?
Noble Lords will know that we have an industry that is tied quite heavily to seasonal production. When the marketing season comes around, it is considerably reliant on exports. The nationwide restrictions that have had to be put in place have been devastating to a large proportion of this season's crop. Some of this has been recognised in the Government's rescue package for England and Wales, but the bluetongue restrictions have thrown up more problems, which need to be addressed.
It was only back in June that the Government suggested that the farming industry should share the costs of the control of animal diseases. In the light of that, I echo the question put by my noble friend Lord Taylor, who asked what figures the Government have on the costs of controlling the current outbreak of foot and mouth. How does that compare with the loss of revenue in the livestock industry? This is one major contribution that farmers already make in the implementation of disease control.
The Minister has never dodged the fact that this foot and mouth outbreak was due to a fault at a Government-licensed laboratory. In the Statement issued earlier today, the Secretary of State mentions the further inspections that have taken place at Pirbright and says that there is an improvement plan. Can the Minister tell the House when this essential work will be completed? What is the anticipated cost? It is reassuring to know that an assessment of all other similarly licensed premises was initiated in the summer. How many premises were included under this programme and has there been any assessment of the costs that will be incurred in answering the deficiencies that have been found?
On the problems of the outbreak of bluetongue and the Government's decision to order between 10 million and 20 million doses of vaccine, how much funding have the Government allocated to this policy? Is this part of a programme that is currently planned for the coming year or will the identification of further infection in the spring be required before they expect this treatment to be used? To what extent do the Government expect to recover any costs incurred?
Today we have a further outbreak of bird flu. The Government's contingency plan for exotic animal diseases is being continually put to the test. One thing that has been shown up is the need for an adequate distribution of slaughter and disposal facilities, let alone the outstanding need for better distribution of slaughter facilities more generally. In the first derogation of restrictions in the current foot and mouth outbreak, the sole outlet available for lambs from Scotland was in Wales. Lorries capable of carrying 600 lambs were restricted to picking up from a single holding and the whole expense had to be financed from a load of 150 lambs.
This morning I heard that the Minister was making a strenuous effort to encourage government procurement of home-produced food. I probably do not need to remind him that British lamb has been unusually cheap this season and I hope that his purchasing departments have been taking full advantage of that.
My Lords, I wish to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, and talk about food security—not UK self-sufficiency, which is another debate altogether, but world food security. I must first declare an interest as a farmer, landowner and trustee of the Lawes Agricultural Trust.
The world population is growing at the rate of 90 million people a year—that is one and a half times the population of Great Britain in extra mouths to feed every year. Meanwhile, the world consumption of meat is growing fast, particularly in China and India. I need not remind your Lordships that it takes as much as 7 kilogrammes of grain to produce 1 kilogramme of beef. Eating meat can be wasteful. It has been calculated that the world will need to produce as much food over the next 50 years as it has done in the past 10,000, but can it? Grain production per person in the world peaked in 1985 and has been declining ever since. Soil structures have been degraded and some countries are losing as much as 15 tonnes of soil per hectare per year.
However, it is water that is most worrying. The use of irrigation has more than doubled over the past two decades. Virtually all major production areas in the world, including southern England, are using more water from their rivers and aquifers than their rate of replenishment. The Yellow River in China now fails to reach the sea for a large part of the year. The Murray-Darling River in Australia is similarly degraded by excess irrigation. It is said that it takes 11,000 litres of water to grow enough feed to produce one hamburger and 140 litres of water to grow enough coffee for one cup of coffee, and so on. Therefore, food-importing countries, including England, and more especially the dry countries in the Middle East, are importing water when they import food.
I do not believe that it is idle talk to say that future wars will be fought over water rather than oil. Many Governments are concerned about fuel security, but food security should worry them just as much. No society is ever more than nine meals away from total anarchy. Think about it. At the end of the first day, you probably start pilfering food to feed your crying children. The second day you probably travel a very long way because you have heard about a food source, but by the time you get there, of course, you have to fight the thousands of others who have also heard about it. On the third day there will be rats, mayhem and maybe even murder. As I said, no civilisation is more than nine meals away from total anarchy.
Meanwhile climate change is also bad news. Over the next 60 years, the equatorial belt will start to burn up and some of our fertile plains will be flooded by rising sea levels. So where will the dispossessed population head for? The latest IPCC report indicates that it is only in northern Europe—not southern Europe—and parts of North America that food production will not decline owing to drought, storms and so on, so we could become extremely important for world food supplies in the future.
Where does that leave us in terms of policy? First, I am not talking about UK food self-sufficiency—not yet, anyway. Nor do my worries lead me to suggest more government support for food production. Frankly, the industry has to be really fit for purpose, so it does not need molly-coddling. However, certain areas merit examination.
The first is planning. There is much competition for land in this very crowded island—housing, habitats, landscapes, commerce, food, fuel and forestry. I suggest that it may be time to revert to the post-war policy that stood us in good stead for over 40 years, whereby MAFF—now Defra—could exercise a veto on developments that destroyed top-quality food production land. Perhaps once again such a check should be part of the planning process.
The second area is research and development. As the noble Lord, Lord Haskins said, we must not take our foot off the pedal of scientific research into UK crop production, genetic improvement particularly, and our ecosystems. Never again must Defra take the easy option of slashing its R&D budget because it cannot think of anywhere else to make cuts.
The third area is food waste. Biffa reckons that there is half a tonne of food waste per head per annum. Maybe the Government can do something about that. I am not sure what, but I felt that it was worth bringing up.
My fourth area involves the long-term planning of our own water supplies. I feel certain that the Environment Agency has it in hand, but my point is that it will not be good enough to merely share out our existing water between the growing housing stock, industry and agriculture. Our agriculture is going to need, and must have, the extra water to produce the extra crops that will be needed for the future. We must ensure somehow that it does.
Lastly, on the question of CAP reform and next year's health check, which is the start of a long discussion, as the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, mentioned, the short-term art of the possible political compromises between various vested interests must not be allowed to dominate the crucial questions: what will the people of Europe need from their farmers in 10 or 15 years' time and how do we ensure that we get the most efficient agricultural industry to deliver on those needs?
My Lords, the gracious Speech was a practical and necessary programme for administrative and legislative action. There was enough vision there for a utilitarian. It affirms that the Government will protect the environment and deal with climate change. I declare an interest as I am involved in environmental, non-governmental bodies, am chairman of an environmental company and a professor at University College.
Government policy is difficult because the Government have to maintain their commitment to a strong and growing economy and to secure and expanding energy supplies. They also try to help and work with developing countries that are affected even more by climate change than those in northern latitudes. Indeed, last week the High Commissioner of Ghana, when commenting in connection with air miles, said that in areas of Africa that are suffering from climate change, agricultural development is very important both for our food and to help with poverty in those areas. Therefore, the Government need to co-ordinate environment, economics and development policies.
It is interesting to see how words change in government policy. Sustainability was a great thing 10 or 15 years ago and affected our legislation. The new word in Government responses is "holistic". It is an important word that is also used by international agencies such as the OECD and the World Bank. Holism is a way of looking at the world and how it all connects. As I discovered this year, the author of this concept wrote brilliantly in his book Holism and Evolution in 1926. He was a Prime Minister of South Africa and his statue is in Parliament Square.
This approach on holism will require a considerable sea change in Whitehall. I use that metaphor because the Government's policy on marine issues came under some criticism in the committee in the other place. Marine issues will become more and more important, as the American Government are also finding, because it is the meat-eating Chinese who are being supplied by the Americans, who put nitrates in the ground which are being washed down the Mississippi and are leading to the ecological death of many parts of the Gulf of Mexico. They are the complex issues that we have to deal with.
In pushing forward their environmental and climate change policies the Government need to take people with them. Despite opinion polls that indicate a general belief in climate change, this may not be as deeply or widely understood as some people believe. I was surprised to find that at a large meeting of civil engineers in London two weeks ago, most questioners were highly sceptical. Environmental NGOs are probably not as representative of public opinion as they claim.
There are two main ways of helping and leading communities as they grapple with threats to the environment and climate change. The first is to combine adaptation and mitigation—these are not alternatives—dealing with today's problems, particularly in the UK with flooding and the threat of high temperatures in cities. This affects people's health and is also worsened by the effects of local air pollution. I very much welcome the change in the Long Title of the Climate Change Bill, which was implicitly alluded to in the Minister's speech this afternoon. That was mentioned last week in the White Paper.
I believe that if the Government show commitment to today's population they are more likely to agree to investments to improve tomorrow's environment, especially if they adopt these holistic measures, which do both, such as putting windmills on dykes, as our Dutch colleagues are doing, or perhaps building the Severn barrage, despite the criticisms we heard this afternoon. Combined heat and power, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and local resilient power systems are also ways of dealing with today's and tomorrow's problems.
The second way of involving people effectively in climate change and environmental development is through local government. The draft Bill and the White Paper replies last week were emphatic that there is no plan at the moment for involving local government in climate change education. There was powerful lobbying from the local government associations and the City of London but still the Government said that that would not be in the Bill. However, I hear various whispers from Labour politicians and others who are hoping that amendments will be passed in this House to rectify that omission, as we have often seen before.
Local government played a central role in reducing air pollution in cities from the 1950s through to the 1980s and 1990s. Air pollution is important because it causes significant health problems and it will be much worse in the high temperatures that we are expecting. One has to note that some local authorities are already seriously engaged but others are sceptical and are even resisting action. Clearly, we cannot introduce thought police in relation to climate change in the UK but, at the same time, councils need to commit to considering climate change as well as sustainability.
Local authorities, with government agencies, will have a critical role in dealing with future flooding. Environment Agency policy has now changed to flood risk management from flood defence, and architects and engineers are considering designing houses that can survive floods. These are very large changes, and it is an enormous responsibility for government to make such huge conceptual and living-style changes acceptable.
On mitigation policy, the Government are following Stern, the French Government and the United States in planning for a wide range of energy technology, including nuclear power, as the Leader of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, mentioned in his remarks on the Queen's Speech. However, I noticed earlier that, in saying that the Liberal Democrats endorsed a wide range of technologies, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, deliberately did not mention nuclear. Has there been a policy change? I am always hopeful.
Finally, there are people who believe that Germany may change before long. I hope that, in winding up, the Minister will clarify progress on nuclear power, which is clearly critical to the mitigation policy.
My Lords, we have heard a great deal about agriculture and the land but perhaps I may move us from the subject of the land to the people of the land. There is a need to safeguard those communities and to promote a community spirit in the larger towns and cities of the United Kingdom so that we become a country of neighbourhoods, where people know and respect each other. We should become a country of neighbourliness and interdependence instead of, as is often the case nowadays, faceless, postcode areas with no link between the people in the neighbourhood.
We all welcome the work that has already been done to promote the idea of communities—neighbourhood councils, community facilities and localised policing—in an attempt to set up an integrated and involved local society. I should like to see a structure emerge in which the leaders or those with responsibility in the community—teachers, social workers, policemen, ministers, priests and members of other faiths—belong to the community and walk along the streets and greet people. If we can encourage that, we will take a great step forwards towards restoring neighbourliness and the neighbourhood project that is so important. People still greet each other in local shops and markets and on the streets. They know each other, and that could overcome many of the problems in our communities today. Also, we should not let the accountants have the last word. We shall pay much more dearly in the long term because communities break down and there is division and hostility. Not only would the promotion of communities be a great step forward in the cities but it would also protect our endangered smaller communities, halting the decline of villages and smaller towns. The local shop and the post office would be measured not just by their profitability but by their community value.
There has to be a reasonable approach to the question of village schools. A week or so ago, at long last we unveiled the statue of David Lloyd George in Parliament Square, but, on the same day, Gwynedd education authority was talking of closing the very school in which he was educated. We need to realise that these schools have a great part to play in our local communities. Once the school, the church, the pub, the chapel, the post office and the shop have gone, a village loses its identity and becomes merely part of a travel-to-work area.
The gracious Speech proposed the building of 3 million houses over the next 10 years. Will these form new towns or will they help our existing communities? Often, 20 new houses in a village housing 20 families with, it is hoped, local links could transform the life of that village. The shop would become sustainable, the post office could again pay its way and the school would have more children. I appeal to the Minister to try to organise these 3 million new houses in a way that will promote and protect our present communities. It would be strange indeed if we allowed villages and neighbourhoods to disappear while stressing the vision of restoring the community spirit to our cities.
This may be controversial in many ways but perhaps we could also avoid anything that divides, or was perceived to divide, communities. I had hoped that in the gracious Speech the Government would propose looking again at the subject of identity cards. However, my dreams were shattered: the proposal for identity cards stays in place. We should look back at what has happened when people have been required to present an identity card in order to go to places or do things. I think of the pass laws in South Africa. Will it be that sort of card and will it divide people? Who will be asked to produce the card? Often, it will be the most vulnerable in our society, and this sort of proposal could well harm society instead of healing it. Noble Lords will have read that my noble friend Lady Williams has said that she will be ready to go to prison in opposing such a move. I think that if compulsory identity cards are introduced, with a requirement that they be produced on demand, many others will be ready to join her there.
We must build good will and not injury in our communities. Therefore, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will share my vision to build communities and a country of neighbourhoods in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales. My hope is that in one or two generations people will grow into a better relationship with each other.
My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the increase in new house-building proposed in the Housing and Regeneration Bill. We hope and believe that this proposed new housing will begin to address the shortage that has been allowed to build up—some believe deliberately—over the past 20 years, resulting in average house price inflation in excess of 20 per cent a year over that 20-year period. The result is that housing today is unaffordable for many people. Many in your Lordships' House will have children and grandchildren who simply cannot afford to buy a new house in the place that they want to live. The average first-time buyer's house in England costs £154,693, according to the Nationwide Building Society. In London, the average is £260,244, and in the south-west of England it is £163,773. These are all more than five times the average gross income of first-time buyers, and it means that only those with high incomes or substantial deposits are able to consider buying their own house.
Therefore, we very much welcome the projected increase in what has been called social house-building to 45,000 new homes a year by 2010. This will begin to address the enormous shortage of supply for families who are unable to afford the market price for houses and it will at least begin to offer hope to the 1.6 million families who are currently on council house waiting lists. It is vital that new houses are constructed to meet identified need, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all policy. Of course we need homes for single people and young couples but, in particular, we must consider the needs of families. As many as 500,000 families, including a million children, live in overcrowded housing, which has a major impact on children's ability to prosper at school. All of this can and does seriously affect their performance in later life.
As the Bishop of a largely rural diocese, I think it is particularly important that rural areas are not overlooked in any new house-building programme. All this is profoundly true in the south-west, where housing has been shown to be the least affordable across the whole country. The area is made up of people on comparatively low incomes, often attached to seasonal employment. In Cornwall, this is made more difficult by the fact that, county wide, 10 per cent of houses are second homes—the highest proportion in the United Kingdom. In certain parts of the county, particularly on the north coast, the percentage is much higher; some parishes have 50 to 60 per cent second homes.
This means that local people simply cannot afford to live in the area in which they were born and brought up. It is not for nothing that the area around Polzeath is known as "Fulham and Chelsea-on-Sea". The Rural Housing Commission does not realise, even yet, the seriousness of the situation. The problem will not come in the future, it is with us now. It is breaking up rural communities as well as families, as younger families are simply being forced to leave, causing bitterness and division. Ultimately, this may lead to the death—as we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Roberts—of rural communities. This is already particularly noticeable where there are small village schools threatened with closure. Often, too, people with essential jobs—police officers, firefighters, nurses and teachers—simply cannot afford to live in these rural areas. They are all ultimately needed if we are to sustain an organic community in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts.
A solution to the lack of affordable housing in rural areas might be the widespread adoption of community land trusts, which have been developed so that housing can be kept for the benefit of the community rather than sold for a profit. The Church of England, like other landowners, has an essential role—a duty—to bring forward land for development. The organisation Housing Justice is currently working with the Arthur Rank Centre and others to develop ways in which church land can be more easily used for the provision of affordable housing.
We all know that there are profound divisions of opinion over the green belt and its place in planning. However, it is clear that there must be vigorous debate in which all the issues and priorities are understood and appreciated by as many people as possible. We welcome plans to make new housing more environmentally friendly, because we have a duty to be good stewards and care for the environment. Because of this, we must improve the existing housing stock and ensure that everything is done to make it more environmentally friendly. We hope that people already living in this housing stock can be given incentives to improve their own homes in ways that make them more eco-friendly.
On their own, however, good new houses are not enough. The necessary infrastructure must be thought about and developed at the same time as the housing, as we have already heard. We must understand that, if we are going to help to create sustainable, organic communities, there need to be facilities such as schools, medical centres, shops, pubs, halls and churches; all of them are an essential part of the whole enterprise and cannot be added later as a kind of afterthought.
As we are thinking about sustainable communities and new housing, we must simultaneously consider—as we have heard once this evening—the needs of Gypsies and Travellers, who are on the edge of all sorts of communities and are often misunderstood and even hated. Perhaps there needs to be a real effort to address their needs, and the Government could take a lead in encouraging local authorities to carry out their duties to assess need and find appropriate sites. In other words, this is a good curate's egg.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the government programme outlined in the Queen's Speech, but there are missed opportunities which might usefully fill the two weeks for which we are laid off yet again like seasonal workers—pear-pickers or pea-podders—and cannot do the proper job of scrutinising the Government.
I will suggest some legislation on local authorities' responsibilities on transport and the Fire Service, but I begin with regulating street trading in our city centres. Too often now, it is abused by those who take out pedlars' licences. I make this point because I chaired the ninth local government private Bill which has tried to rectify matters. Would it not save an awful lot of time if the Government brought forward a Bill to help local authorities get into a regulated system to deny these pedlars who are abusing their licences?
I move on to commercial advertising billboards, which so besmirch our motorway sides. They are unsightly, are undoubtedly breaking planning permission and are a danger to traffic. This was debated in June 2005; the then Minister, Yvette Cooper, asked local authorities to do something about it, and some have. I understand that a database of motorway ad prosecutions announced in 2007 is coming into effect soon, although it is only voluntary. Can the Minister tell us whether that database is up and running? Is it helpful and effective in coming down on those who transgress the law?
Since that debate two years ago, research from Brunel University by Dr Young demonstrates the detrimental effect of billboards on the performance and attention of drivers on motorways, making it more likely that they will crash as they try to understand or write down a telephone number displayed on the side of the motorway. Will the Government accept an amendment to the Local Transport Bill, for instance, to increase local authorities' powers to interview, prosecute or fine those who transgress? Or should it be—as I believe is a better way of dealing with this—a duty to be placed on the Highways Agency? Local authorities are overburdened as it is.
The Fire Service must clean up the motorways when such accidents happen, and I want to talk about the recent tragic warehouse fire in Warwickshire, where four firefighters died. They were found by comrades from Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service, who had gone down to Warwickshire to help. Indeed, we in Cheshire have suffered from warehouses which do not have sprinklers attached to them to douse fires when they start. We should legislate for sprinklers being part of our public buildings and important warehouses, such as the one that went up in flames yesterday in London. When we are talking about the effect on the environment, I wonder in passing whether we could work harder at reducing the way in which we pollute the sky with the smoke from these incidents by introducing sprinklers more widely, thereby reducing the pollution and the environmental footprint that we currently leave.
Next Wednesday, I shall ask a Question about the self-extinguishing fire-safe cigarette. We recently discovered through the EU consumer protection commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, that some 2,000 deaths a year in 14 of the 27 member states of European Union occur when people fall asleep smoking a cigarette or are too drunk to notice. Self-extinguishing cigarettes would save those deaths, the thousands more who are injured and the millions of euros and pounds that literally go up in smoke as a result of people starting fires in that way.
Finally, I cannot resist the opportunity to say that the fire service in Cheshire, Warrington and Halton is run by one authority, and long may it remain so. Just look at the difficulties involved in the Secretary of State's decision to split Cheshire into two separate unitary authorities. We are going in the reverse direction to bringing local authorities closer to the people when west Cheshire will be moved to become part of Merseyside and east Cheshire will become part of a large area called Manshire. Can we resist this? Can we come back to some common sense and keep Cheshire for the people of Cheshire?
My Lords, I declare my interests as a partner with my husband in our small mixed family farm in Worcestershire, a member of the ethics committee of Micropathology Ltd and an honorary associate of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and of the British Veterinary Association.
In her gracious Speech, Her Majesty confirmed Her Government's commitment,
"to protecting the environment and to tackling climate change, both at home and abroad".
As my noble friend Lord Haskins made clear, we are beginning to see some of the knock-on effects of measures that have already been taken in an attempt to secure sustainable green energy supplies in the form of biofuels. World prices for grain and oilseeds have soared in the past year, partly because of drought in grain-producing areas, partly because increased wealth has stimulated grain consumption by China and other developing countries, but also because grain for human and animal consumption has been diverted to production of biofuels. This has had effects so dire that we are in danger of losing most of our pig producers very soon, and the poultry industry will not be far behind them.
This is a problem that is arising on our own territory. Disquiet is being expressed by those who are directly concerned with indigenous populations in South America, Africa and Indonesia, where land dedicated to food production is in danger of being bought by industrialists able to take advantage of the new market. The displaced natives in rural areas will inevitably starve, as will many of the urban population to whom they supply food. In our consideration of the proposed legislation, we must never lose sight of its wider implications. I am sure the Minister has taken note of the speeches of my noble friends Lord Haskins and Lord Cameron.
Her Majesty's Government's commitment to pursue a stable and strong economy does not seem to extend to the agricultural industry. They have presided over the decimation of what was once the most efficient and respected agricultural sector in the world and have totally failed to grasp the importance of the continuity and stability that hold the rural community together and provide food and amenities for our urban counterparts. Agriculture has sunk so low in this Government's estimation that it no longer warrants so much as a word in the departmental title. Is it true, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said, that this multi-faceted department requires only a part-time Permanent Secretary? The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has had many of the core activities of government concerned with agriculture hived off to agencies or other arm's-length organisations that appear to be answerable to nobody. I am reminded of the mythical Hydra which had numerous heads but none that stood above the others as their leader. The department is crying out for strong leadership.
In my preparation for this speech, I have reread parts of the report Foot and Mouth Disease 2001: Lessons to be Learned Inquiry. That inquiry was chaired by Dr Iain Anderson. I hasten to say that I do not intend to pre-empt his follow-up on the 2007 foot and mouth disease outbreak, though I will have something to say about the science that was or was not used. In the foreword to the report of the 2001 inquiry, Anderson wrote:
"Within MAFF, and now DEFRA, I detected a culture predisposed to decision taking by committee with an associated fear of personal risk taking. Such a climate does not encourage creative initiative. It inhibits adaptive behaviour, and organisational learning which, over time, lowers the quality of decisions taken. It seems to me that a reappraisal of prevailing attitudes and behaviours within the Department would be beneficial".
May I ask the Minister what has changed? Decisions are still made by committee, although they are now called stakeholder groups. What frequently emerges from their deliberations is neither well defined nor constructive but is imprecise and, on occasion, positively unhelpful. The flurry of instructions that emerged from the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, closely followed by those for the control of bluetongue and now those for the prevention of the spread of avian influenza contained some sensible and practical advice, but there were also some extraordinarily impractical and scientifically baseless exhortations, such as that to bring semi-wild animals from extensive hill farms under cover every night to stop bluetongue-virus-carrying midges biting them.
Throughout the recent foot and mouth disease outbreak Ministers have assured us that they are relying upon the best scientific advice. To an outsider, it seems that the science has been made to fit the policies rather than the policies made to fit the science. Why has there been no overall review by Defra of the scientific advances and publications relating to foot and mouth disease since 2001? I suggest that the second eruption of the disease in Surrey would not have occurred and the slaughter of hundreds of uninfected stock could have been prevented had those who advise Government been aware of current scientific knowledge.
The psycho-social effects of slaughter as a means of disease control must never be underestimated; no one could fail to be moved by the stoicism of the couple who featured in the BBC programme "On your Farm" recently. They had lost their much loved livestock under one of the many categories that allow slaughter without accurate confirmation of disease—"slaughter on suspicion", in this case. Their underlying distress was palpable, and rightly so, as all their animals proved to be uninfected.
It seems extraordinary that what some in authority might regard as a little local difficulty in Surrey can bring farming throughout the UK to its knees. Surely it is time to introduce more humane control policies. Sir David King, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, has set out a universal ethical code for scientists. One of the seven principles is to,
"minimise impacts on people, animals and environment".
If that means anything, it must surely include other, kinder options, such as vaccination to kill off the virus, instead of the current obsession with killing the host.
The Government seem to have forgotten the disgust that was provoked by the destruction of thousands of healthy animals on welfare grounds during the 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic. The same problems have arisen again this time—made worse by the fact that the Surrey outbreak occurred at a time when stock are traditionally moved from the uplands and marshes to their winter keep in the lowlands, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, reminded us. The loss of the export market also led to thousands of light lambs that would normally have gone to the Continent being incinerated. What a waste, when a little enterprise and planning between Government, producers and the trade earlier on could well have created an outlet for the meat from those animals.
This year has proved to be pretty disastrous for many in the rural community. They have not been helped by an apparent lack of comprehension of how the countryside works; by a lack of accountability and scientific integrity; and, above all, by a lack of informed and strong leadership. With the departure of the Chief Veterinary Officer, the imminent retirement of her deputy and the appointment of a new scientific adviser to Defra, animal health is currently in a state of renewal—I was going to say "upheaval". I wonder whether the Minister would consider this an appropriate time for the composition, management and policies of Defra to be reviewed and reformulated. In particular, with climate change high on its agenda, the scientific base of the department needs to be strengthened. The risk of an increasing number of exotic animal diseases coming to the UK is high and we really need to be prepared—and that includes utilising the veterinary expertise that is available beyond our shores.
Finally, I make a plea: can we have a few fewer visions and much more practical progress?
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to return to this important subject, on which I gave my maiden speech in your Lordships' House at about the same time last year. Our stewardship of the environment is one of the most pressing concerns of the present time and we must ensure that we take great care not to make mistakes that will prove damaging and dangerous.
The global concern about climate change is embodied in the Kyoto Protocol, yet, as a mechanism for achieving emissions reduction, it can only be judged a failure. There has been no real reduction in emissions and it does not adequately deal with the need of societies to adapt to climate change.
"is not just about ticking a few boxes—it is about changing our political system and changing our lifestyles".
It has been David Cameron who has led the charge for a Climate Change Bill; the Government have responded and the Bill will be introduced.
Scientists may argue about the underlying causes of climate change, but it is widely acknowledged that the temperature of the earth is rising and most agree that we should focus our policy debate on what action we can take to address the issues that those changes raise for us. In regard to problems relating to climate change, we have not seen the emergence of a global price for carbon and it is unlikely that one will develop in the next five to 10 years. Even if it were to be established, we are unlikely to see it deliver much more than an incentive towards efficiency gains.
We must take action to ensure that man-made carbon emissions peak by 2015 and reduce steadily thereafter. Without such action, it is likely that we will be unable to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. I welcome the introduction of a Climate Change Bill and hope to see it crafted into a thoroughly effective piece of legislation. This country must be at the forefront of the global conversion to a decarbonised economy.
On that basis, it is important that the Bill contains a legal framework to underpin our national contribution to tackling climate change. I welcome the creation of an independent committee on climate change, but I want the Government to consider whether advice from the committee could be provided on five-year carbon budgets and whether the national target should be strengthened as progress occurs. I want an annual report from the Government to Parliament on progress and a statutory target reduction in carbon dioxide emissions monitored on a five-year basis. There should be a new carbon trading scheme for large and medium-sized funds to cut more than 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2020. We should also consider whether we can introduce the concept of carbon trading in other sectors of the economy.
The suggestion that the Government will include powers for local authorities to introduce financial incentives to promote recycling merits further examination. I would welcome more from the Minister on how the Bill will ensure that the renewable transport fuel obligation will be enhanced. The European solution offers some promise. One of the most advanced examples of harnessing market power to address the problem is the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme. It is essential, however, if we are to make this work, that we ensure that it becomes more open, transparent and accountable, issuing permits by auction rather than through the present approach.
There is much more work to be done. Even if the Climate Change Bill proves to be effective, it will still be only the start of a very long journey and we need to be ready to commit to the task that will present itself during that exercise. The sensible stewardship of the earth is a duty that we need adequately to answer. As an insurance broker, I would like to say that some insurance companies are considering introducing schemes whereby premium reductions can be granted to companies that manage waste better and take measures to reduce pollution and emissions. The insurance industry is therefore taking the environment seriously and will play a positive role in improving the position.
Finally, as chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, I shall quote the holy Prophet Mohammed—peace be upon him. He said that the earth is green and beautiful and that God has appointed us his stewards over it. We must therefore be responsible for the safe and sensible management of our planet.
My Lords, I have retired from farming but my family are deeply involved in farming in Scotland and elsewhere, so I have a definite interest in farming to declare. The world population has, as has been said many times in this debate, expanded enormously, much of it due to people living a long time. I am now 88, and one might say that I should have been shot some time ago, but at the moment I am hanging on. Given the present way of farming, the population all over the world is now really beyond feeding itself and we must seriously consider how this will be coped with.
The question of land is very important. In this country and all over Europe, people—rich people, farmers and anyone who can grab a small piece of land—are buying land because they think that it will rise in price, which it has been doing. I have some shares in a company that dealt in precious metal. It has now been liquidated, with a good profit, and is going into buying land. It is a pretty serious business when land goes to £5,000 an acre; at 5 per cent, the rent is £250. Not many farmers can afford to pay that, so we are left with a situation in which people own the land but do not farm it; they simply hold it for its capital appreciation.
The farmers who buy most of the land for sale are in the main big farmers who want to reduce their overheads. They are farming extensively. They are growing good crops of grain. But if this country is to feed itself, which I think it can, it will need land to be properly managed and a lot of small farmers on the land to take up new and intensive forms of producing food. To do that, a method will need to be found of discouraging the buying of land or of seeing that that does not make a profit. This is an impossible problem, but it has to be tackled.
The production of food in the world depends largely on artificial fertilisers, which produce the necessary nitrogen, phosphates and potash. Artificial manure comes largely from oil, so oil is again vital for the production of the artificial manures that are needed to grow big crops. Organic farming often produces very good and tasty food, but it does not produce a lot of food per acre. We will depend largely on commercial farming for growing the wheat, oats and other straightforward crops that we need. I do not suggest that this cannot be done. This country could feed itself, but land has to be taken care of. For example, the green belt must be preserved for farming as well as for a certain amount of show. It is very important that we use all the land in this country.
Many interesting things are going on in the production of power. It is said that the way to produce enormous amounts of power is to cover deserts with solar panels. All these things need to be investigated on an international scale, but our Government need to look at agriculture at home and ensure that it is efficient, properly managed and properly protected from the eagles that surround the business.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
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, the prospect of 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 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 notmegov.com. 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.
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 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—who was 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 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.
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.
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.
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 Lord's honourable friends when in government that the use of the railways went down. Congestion has obviously played its part in that process.
However, in the red corner we have the Government, and what do we have from them? I am afraid that what we do not have is any new rolling stock. This is the fourth document to announce that we shall have 1,300 new carriages. I wonder whether the Minister can say when the orders will be placed. The situation is desperate. No rolling stock is available to carry the increased numbers of passengers whom the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, claims are there because of privatisation. However, as I say, I do not accept that.
I welcome the inclusion in the Queen's Speech of the long overdue Crossrail Bill. We shall support the Bill; there is no doubt about that. However, the peripheral areas of the scheme—that is, the bits outside central London—need a lot of attention. I take simply the case of Milton Keynes, where a lot of the new houses that we have been talking about will be built. Those people will come into Euston where they will be disgorged on to the Underground system, which is incapable of carrying them. If a link into Crossrail went out from Paddington towards Milton Keynes, they would be transported direct to the City and the West End, where they want to go. It would link up where they live with where many of them will work—whether we like it or not. There are many other peripheral issues such as a proper service to the airports and extensions to Reading. Those are all matters that need addressing.
We have to be careful that we preserve freight coming into London, which is very difficult. I am not talking about using Crossrail to take freight across London but about freight that uses the lines that Crossrail uses. The position of the Mayor is slightly odd. If he were to specify the services on the line, they would all be slow trains serving London; but the lines serve lots of other people who live further away. We are concerned that the regulator's powers are set aside in the Bill, and we would like to preserve the independent regulation that is necessary for the whole railway.
The Local Transport Bill is a very good Bill. It strengthens the powers of the traffic commissioners, and it gives highway powers to PTEs—passenger transport executives—so that for once we are going to manage the buses and the roads together. The authorities, which have not had that power in the past, will be able to put in bus lanes, phase traffic lights and do all sorts of things that are necessary to run a good bus service. The biggest enemy of a good bus service is congested streets. If you get rid of congested streets, you will have a good bus service, you will save money and you will make buses more attractive.
Two issues in the Bill concern me a bit. First, there is the modification of competition law to allow agreements between local authorities and transport operators. It should be taken a bit further, because the ingress of the Competition Commission to bus travel has been wholly disruptive. It has taken up lots of the time of the Office of Fair Trading and of the Competition Commission, and we have had more inquiries about the bus industry than all the other things put together. It has produced very little, and the law needs altering.
I will now address community transport, because there have been several speeches about rural communities. Although the matter is dealt with in the Bill, it is not yet clear whether the Bill will somehow prevent parishes and rural areas that have a bus—which they will be permitted to have—from charging people separate fares. You can have a bus in a village to carry people from the youth club or from the church, but you cannot run it as a bus service with people paying separate fares. It is a fault in the Bill that needs to be corrected.
We were told by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, that his Benches would oppose any extension of road pricing. The freight industry desperately wants foreign lorries to pay to use the roads. A lorry road-pricing system could be introduced very quickly. It would not offend most people; it would not even offend the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. It is unfair that British hauliers compete with people who not only have the advantage of cheap fuel but who use our roads for free. The number of foreign hauliers is increasing month by month. The fact that the Government have backed away from this, when the system works absolutely satisfactorily in Germany, is an indictment of the Government. I hope the noble Lord will take that away.
I was given the briefing from the Countryside Alliance, for which I have no particular brief. I will read out one sentence, because that is about all it is worth:
"Given the evidence showing the negative impacts road pricing schemes can have for those living in rural communities, such schemes should not be introduced".
I do not know anyone who thinks that road pricing should be extended to rural communities. It should be in very congested areas at busy times. The general propaganda put out by the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph says that one should send them an e-mail saying that you are against road pricing. But they have fed the people an entirely fallacious story, with, I am sure, the aim of stirring up trouble for the Government.
I hope that the Minister will pay particular attention in his summing up to what the noble Lord, Lord Best, said. There was more concern in other speeches, too, about the activities of the private rented sector.
Road pricing is a real case of hyperbolic discounting, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, mentioned. The question is always put off to the next moment. The time to do it is now. Do it in the sectors in which you can do it, and once it works in those it will be easier to extend its influence.
My Lords, I return to the local government brief with a mixture of pleasure, déjà vu and terror after an absence of six years. The Government live in Whitehall and they believe in politics and legislation. Local authority members live in communities and have to make difficult decisions that directly affect their communities. The Government think that new management structures are more efficient. Most local authority members whom I know feel disassociated from the decisions taken in their authorities. The Government think that structural reform is the way to progress. We must be the only country in the world that has spent 40 years arguing about the structure of its local administration. Local authorities see that as unsettling and as an intellectual distraction from their proper function, which is the provision of services. The Government nowadays pay the majority of local government costs and think that the funding that they provide is generous. Local authorities have to make difficult budgetary reductions, year in and year out. These are two different worlds or, perhaps, the obverse and the reverse of the same coin.
My noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach could be said to have recorded a similar situation with regard to the rural community, particularly in relation to agriculture. Defra lives in one world, while the countryside and rural communities live in a different world. I acknowledge that the two are interdependent, but sometimes it seems that ne'er the twain shall meet. One of the most remarkable things is that local authority members and their employees, and farmers and rural industries, all deserve our praise, because they work to make a success of their communities, despite government, not because of government.
Four major Bills announced in the gracious Speech have formed the theme for our debate today. If a common theme runs through the debate and the Bills, it is how we should carry our communities forward, improve them and, most important, keep them secure for the foreseeable future—that is a long time nowadays, when we begin to consider the issue of global warming. That is the first and vital point that we all need to keep in the back of our minds, whatever our differences of perception about particular approaches.
I shall try to pick up the Bills, so to speak, one by one. Housing was the first. The debate was begun in a concentrated way by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who has enormous expertise in dealing with the problems of the private rented sector and how to improve it. The issue of housing is insoluble without the provision of houses. The Government have rightly focused on the need to build a large number of houses in the coming decades.
The Government are taking some credit—and I give them some credit—for raising the annual housing construction rate, but we should remind ourselves that it is only about five years ago when it sunk to a level that was seen only in the 1920s, apart from the war years. I remember that, when I first went into local government, the annual building rate was 360,000 per annum, which is more than double the present annual rate. These things can be done; it is a question first of the determination to do it and then of the provision of resources, finance, land and so on. There are many obstacles to all these things.
The quality of housing is also significant. We need to take note of what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, particularly when she referred to the excellent and somewhat historical development, which we forget too often, of the garden cities. We are in an age of land hunger. We have heard in some important speeches the theme that we are moving from an era of food surplus to an era of food shortage. In that transfer, there are serious implications for our communities, but it means that we have to make much better use of our land for housing. The sort of densities in Letchworth, which I agree is a wonderful place, are not justifiable in the age in which we now live.
Housing design was mentioned. We must find a way of designing high-density housing that is still attractive and in which people still want to live. That is not an easy conundrum. When you are building a lot of houses, you are also building communities. When building communities, you need recreation space, circulation space, retail space and space to work. Although you may target 30 or 40 houses per hectare, or 50 or 70 houses per hectare on residential land, a community needs much more than that; you cannot begin to approach such densities except perhaps in very tightly developed city centres.
The key issue, which we need to recognise, is that there is no solution to housing without houses. We have to build them and we have to find a way of doing so. This, of course, has an impact on the Planning Reform Bill, which will be looked at closely, in part because some changes will be brought in that will tend to remove the influence of local communities over what is happening in planning. We will have to ensure that we maintain local interest in development when the pressures for development move away. That applies in particular to the major infrastructure projects, which will be dealt with, first, by a government policy statement so that they have that approval, and then by a commission, which will have to decide whether what the government policy says is appropriate. It will probably be very difficult for the national planning commission to resist the blandishments of the Government who created it. However, that remains to be seen; I do not doubt that this issue will be a fruitful source of debate when we come to consider these matters.
The biggest Bill of all is the Climate Change Bill, which has a number of aspects that we need to keep in the back of our minds. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, got it pretty well right when he talked about hyperbolic discounting. I always thought that "hyperbolic" was something that you used to disinfect the loo but obviously I am not correctly informed. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, talked about food security, and the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, also spoke strongly on that theme. These are fundamental issues not just for our immediate future but for the future of mankind and they will unquestionably come back to this House time and again. However, if we do not take the essential actions that will be required to get our appetite for fossil fuels under control, we shall find ourselves in very deep trouble, because we know that the world is changing. All the signs that I see in the infinite number of reports on what is happening to the global climate are that the situation is getting worse. In four years, I have not seen any good news on the climate front.
I am becoming concerned about the way in which the climate change debate is going. Everyone insists on looking at the problem from where we are now. I entirely agree that that is logical but we need to think very seriously about where we are going. The Government have a target of a 60 per cent reduction in the 1990 figure for carbon dioxide by 2050. My own party and a number of other commentators talk about an 80 per cent reduction by 2050. I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, speak along those lines and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, may well have said the same thing. We need to think very seriously about what sort of community we will be when we have reduced our emissions by 80 per cent. Therefore, I start my consideration of the problem from there.
There are three issues that we need to think about. The first is that any solution has to work with the grain of the community and its development. If we try to force people to do things that they do not want to do, it will be very difficult. The second factor to bear in mind is that this is an international problem. It looks as though the global population will rise by 50 per cent by 2050 and all those people have to be served and have to be able to live a useful life. The third factor is that there are one or two industries for which there is no apparent alternative to fossil fuels. Aviation is obvious; shipping is possibly another. One that is not often talked about but is fundamental is the smelting industry—the basis of all society's raw materials. Those three industries are essential for the growth of transport of people and goods and, when one considers the construction necessary to house them, to provide industry, employment and all these other things, one sees that it is likely that these industries alone will use up virtually all the carbon allocation available by 2050. We must consider whether we can contemplate a society where everything else is done without using fossil fuels. I suggest that they can be done in that way, and we should take heart from this.
Four major energy sources are available that do not produce carbon dioxide. What I call the hydroelectric sector includes waves, ocean currents and tidal barrages; I am glad that my noble friend Lord Crickhowell mentioned the tidal stream system being brought forward. Then, of course, there is hydroelectric itself. Solar power, including photoelectricity, is possibly the greatest of all four potential sources of energy; after all, all our energy, even fossil fuels, is the product of solar power. Then there is wind and, finally, nuclear. A combination will be required. All those sources of energy produce electricity. We must consider a society entirely based on electricity. We should remember that the all-electric household and office are already at zero emissions; you do not need to do anything to reduce their carbon footprint because they do not produce any carbon, provided—and this is the key—that their energy source does not produce carbon. We have the sources, and we could do it.
One problem that we face is that huge sums of money are spent annually on research and development by existing industrial systems that are dependent on fossil fuels when we must stop using them. That money could be devoted to research and development on the already existing industries and technologies that would enable us to have entirely electric railways and road transport either on batteries or on fuel cells running on hydrogen. Hydrogen can be produced using green energy through hydrolysis and so on. There is plenty of energy. We can get wind turbines. Actually, I do not like wind farms, but wind turbines need to be widely dispersed across the country, feeding local communities. We can go to small combined heat and power plants and have biofuel plants on the edges of communities. Our major power stations—even our nuclear power stations, in an ideal world—will also be sited on the edge of communities, so that all the waste heat that they produce can be used. One appalling thing about how we do things today is that our electricity generation is grossly inefficient in its energy performance. It produces huge quantities of waste heat that are not picked up and used at all.
My noble friend Lord Crickhowell produced a considerable blast on behalf of the Severn estuary. I remind him that if we fail, and mankind fails, the Severn estuary as we know it will be destroyed anyway. A barrage may be preferable if it makes an adequate contribution to getting our appetite for energy under control.
I do not believe that we will succeed if we simply try to restrict everybody's energy use. Of course all reasonable economies must come forward, and they will, because there will always be an incentive, as there has been for the past 30 years, for people to be more energy efficient. We have to find out how we develop—and it can be done—so that people can continue to lead the lives that they wish to lead, not the lives that we might wish to dictate because of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I hope that that is a message of hope for the future. I believe in technology and I believe that we can find solutions to these things, but we will not do so if we try to force people in directions that they do not want to go.
My Lords, we have had a fascinating debate. I have listened to 38 speeches, although I missed a couple of minutes of the speech by my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton. There is no way I am even going to attempt to give detailed responses, but I am going to make a comment on each of them. The beauty of this is that by and large we are supposed to have been debating Bills that are in the Queen's Speech so all the detailed answers to the questions that have been asked tonight will be answered in due course by one of my many ministerial colleagues who will turn up at the Dispatch Box when they are dealing with their Bill. I shall be one of the early ones as I am doing the Climate Change Bill, which will come to this House for Second Reading before the end of this month, assuming it is introduced here as planned, and I will do it justice. Where issues have been raised that are not relevant to Bills for which I have copious notes, I will arrange a letter. I try to avoid doing that because it puts an extra workload on staff, but a lot of substantive issues have been raised tonight, and it is important to respond to them. I shall also try to stick to the strictures of the Chief Whip, as it is important to set an example.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, kicked off on the marine Bill. There will be a draft Bill in due course, but I cannot say when, after the scrutiny, it will be introduced. He also raised the green belt, as did one or two other noble Lords. I know it sounds churlish and almost party political to say that there are 26,000 more hectares of green belt today than there were 10 years ago, but nobody seems to remind the House that there is more green belt than there used to be. The noble Lord made a point about local authority cash. Recent press reports about cuts have been slightly skewed. Everybody knew what the budget was: it was £8.5 million for animal welfare. They knew beforehand and when the bills came in after the year started, because local authorities had not got their act together, there was still £8.5 million not £9.7 million. That was the reality. I regret that, but it is a consequence of overbudgeting in the past, and we will get it corrected. I have no evidence that massive redundancies are being made, as people have claimed.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson—I welcome him and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to their Front-Bench responsibilities—raised the Climate Change Bill and the 60 per cent target, which I imagine will figure heavily in our debates. He also raised the marine Bill, the thorny issue of aviation—I suspect that the question will be whether aviation is in or out, which will be an issue of contentious debate in the House—and the common agricultural policy health check, which will be before us next year and will be a chance to have a look at what has been happening with the CAP.
I do not want pander to the noble Lord, Lord Best, but I have never known him have a bad idea, and that is going back many years. He is more than qualified to speak on the issues he raised. I understand that cross-domain regulation will be in within a couple of years, but I do not think that the private sector can be covered by the Bill and I suspect that the Long Title will prevent any amendments, although it will not stop any speeches being made that are necessary to wind the Government up and show that there is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London raised the important issue of the role of the committee on climate change. It has been strengthened during the consultation on the Climate Change Bill, and we will have more about that during the consultation on the Bill. He rightly made the point that, by and large, it is the poorest people of the world who are at risk from climate change. We must take account of that. Key issues of public health and security figure very high.
My noble friend Lord Whitty raised several issues and made it clear that he does not think that the target of 60 per cent is good enough. As he knows, the Government do not run this place. Labour does not have a majority and I have no doubt that there will be good, active debates on the issue from Members all around the House. He also warned us that we should limit the credits on the third world; we do not want the third world paying for what we should be doing. That is a fair point that will be raised during the passage of the Bill.
My noble friend also raised the issue of energy. I do not have a full answer for him, because it would be too complicated, but on fuel poverty and the Warm Front scheme, we are still working on the budget of £850 million for 2005-08 and are still settling budgets relating to the Comprehensive Spending Review that we have just gone through. He was also one of the first to make the point that nuclear power has a role in a mixed energy policy. That is fairly obvious and in due course the Government will pronounce on the recent consultation.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, raised the issue of immigration numbers. The figures that he raised are projections, whether 71 million or 81 million. All that I can say to him is that the Department for Communities and Local Government will be updating household projections based on those figures and that will be an important area for debate. There is an issue here. We want the figures to be transparent to show why we need the extra houses. As I said, we will publish new, up-to-date household projections, so that we can have a debate based on the figures.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the issue of regional assemblies, the planning Bill, the housing Bill, the supplementary business rate and a whole host of other issues. All that I can say is that we must have effective consultation on all those matters; they are not something that central Government can ram through. Someone also raised the issue of accountability at the level of regional assemblies. Huge amounts of public money are being spent and it is important that we have effective consultation. That will be built into the legislative framework.
The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, gave us a good run around. I almost sent for an A-Z of Hertfordshire, because I am not so familiar with the area. He gave us some really practical examples of issues that I have no doubt will be raised when we discuss the transport Bill: crowding and network problems.
My noble friend Lady Whitaker rightly raised housing. We have always tried to say that it is not a numbers game; we are talking about people's homes and quality of life. That depends on environmentally friendly buildings, as well as good design. Under much pressure from my noble friends Lord Rogers and Lady Blackstone, we put the word "design" into the housing Bill and want to give it strength. The recent planning policy statements 1 and 3 have good design at their heart and local authorities will now be asked to report on better design standards. It is really important to take on board the criticism made by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. That body comes under the DCMS but is well funded by Communities and Local Government. It has good points to make and we ignore them at our peril, because otherwise, people's lives will suffer.
I must say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate, that I have had no notes or briefing on the matter he raised, but one of my only claims to fame is that I was the first non-lawyer ever to go to the Law Officers Department as the PPS to the Solicitor-General, my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell, in 1974. I did the job for three years. I was given the book, Role of the Law Officers, by the private secretary, who told me to read it to find out about the department. I agree with what the noble and learned Lord said. There is a fantastic misunderstanding by non-lawyers in both Houses of the role of the law officers. His points were well made and I have no doubt that at some time, someone more qualified than me will respond to them, but he also made it clear that his speech was for yesterday's debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, like many others, raised the issue of community engagement on housing and planning. I understand that opinions will be tested on public panels when the regional spatial strategies are drawn up. This is a proactive issue of community engagement. We want a different system that is effective and does not cut corners on consultation but does not leave us with a situation like that of Terminal 5, when it took five or six years to get a decision. We must get decisions. We are losing out as a nation because of the slowness of the system.
We welcome the return of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth to the House. Were it not for his return to health, he would not be here. I had no idea that 25 per cent of the population of the Isle of Wight were on benefits, as he said. He also made a point about thinking positively. Indeed, making the Isle of Wight the first eco-island in Europe is really positive. I can tell him that there has been much discussion with the local authorities and the directors of social services on the social issues that he raised.
My noble friend Lord Giddens mentioned climate change and gave the example of Finland, which is important. We are asking people to change behaviour, and the health issues that were highlighted many years ago in Finland were dealt with quite successfully. I had some figures earlier in the notes that I was given. I do not have a source for them but I can always get it. Eighty-eight per cent of people agree that they should be more responsible for the environment, but four out of five do not relate their own actions to climate change. We have that contrast. Perhaps Parliament could help. We must explain the connection between actions and the outcome so that people do not think, "Oh, I can't do anything. It's too big; it's only me and my household". We must get them to understand that the individual actions of people can make a difference. That is very important if we are to change behaviour.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, talked about planning and the Planning Reform Bill, and contrasted the speeding-up of planning versus consultation, which is an issue. I understand that there will be a three-stage process; it is all set out. Quality and quantity must go hand in hand in the provision of housing. The noble Baroness also talked about the need for lifetime housing. This could not be more obvious. We have people in the wrong houses because those houses were not built as lifetime housing. Those people do not want to leave because it may be their family home and they have their memories and everything else there. Moreover, there is nowhere for them to go that is local and where they keep the same doctor, the same newsagent and everyone else. We have not planned as well as we might and we must ensure that we have learnt those lessons for the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, gave a very robust response to the Sustainable Development Commission, which he thought had responded quite inadequately to the Severn barrage. The caveat was that the commission agreed to it but with a series of qualifications, one of which related to replacing the habitat. If that could not be done, the commission's answer was no. That was the implication. The Severn barrage would provide something like 5 per cent of our power. I understand that last New Year's Eve we closed down two old nuclear power stations that provided about 1.5 per cent of the power for this country, so one can see the benefit of what you could get from the Severn barrage. The noble Lord also gave an example of something else that might be happening in south Wales which could be quicker and more effective but was not on the scale of the Severn barrage. Nevertheless, it involved renewable energy, which is an important aspect.
The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, talked about the very narrow issue of railways, as did one of his colleagues. I am all in favour of the railway lobby. He also touched on the constitution at the end of his remarks, but stopped short of calling for independence. He is certainly not happy with the present constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom.
My noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth raised many issues and declared his interest as chairman of Midland Heart. I remember when it started in part of my old constituency. He is quite right that there is an awful lot still to be done. People deserve good housing. We are probably the second most densely populated country in the European Union; the Netherlands is probably the first. However, only 10 per cent of the land in this country is urbanised; perhaps 12 per cent if you count the road infrastructure. Other areas are used for national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and the green belt. All that, together with the urban, adds up to about 46 per cent of the land. The rest of it is open and not built on. There is no real shortage of land. It is what we do with it, how we value it and how we build economic and sustainable communities on it. My noble friend is right. People deserve decent housing. The numbers issue does not come into it because we have got the asset if we use it properly and efficiently.
The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, referred to the regeneration around the Olympic site and planning gain. She is right. With the vast expenditure being made on the Olympics, the country will be watching for what the legacy will be. It will be looking at the legacy for the communities in that part of London and not at the legacy for the hotshot or those who will make a fortune. That will be fundamental. I understand some of the issues that she raised. The money involved in Crossrail is subject to external scrutiny. Road pricing was raised also by others, and it will be only in the context of highly congested urban areas. No one is saying that it should be anywhere else. I have never heard that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised the Marine Bill, which will be in draft form. She moved on to farming issues, on which I do not want to go into in too much detail because it would be wrong. However, single farm payments were a disaster this year, although I do not think that the issue warranted an item on "Farming Today" for 10 months. I fully accept that the first year was really bad. Commitments were made and not kept. We hope to do better in the year about to start and to pay more farmers more money more quickly. I hope that we will be able to deliver on that soon.
The noble Baroness also raised an issue, which I thought was quite insulting. We do not have a part-time Permanent Secretary at Defra. We have a Permanent Secretary on call 168 hours a week, like all permanent secretaries, and leading an incredible team. I have seen the resilience of Defra in the past few months. It has had to deal with flooding, foot and mouth, bluetongue, and avian flu earlier in the year, which is now back again. The animal health side of Defra is really being tested. Having stood down in some areas when success was achieved, it has had to set up again because of other issues out of the control of the vets and officials who have to react. It is certainly not fair or accurate for the noble Baroness to say that. Defra has done an excellent job.
It is true that Debby Reynolds has just taken early retirement. There is a very good veterinary team in Defra, including the deputy who is due to retire. I think that the appointment has already been made for a successor early next year. But there is a good team in the animal health agency, the former state veterinary service, and the policy officials in Page Street. There is capital expenditure of £121 million at Pirbright, which is part of the foot and mouth issue to be dealt with in the courts in due course, which is why I cannot say much more about it. Because that capital expenditure was being spent, digging was taking place and lorries were moving on and off the site, although they were not always counted in and out, as every one knows because the reports have been published. The fact is that it was highlighted because of the investment going into that laboratory. I fully agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that the rate of TB is far too high. I hope that we will come to a conclusion soon. We are waiting for the Select Committee in another place to finish its inquiries.
The noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, referred to transport and the railways. We accept that a more integrated transport system would be beneficial to the whole country. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Ford who is the retiring chair of English Partnerships. I was in ODPM when she started and the great deal of effort that she has put into welding English Partnerships into a first-class organisation has been recognised. She is right. We want local authority support for the new agency, which has to be joined-up in terms of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships. As my noble friend said, they were both working with inadequate old-fashioned legislation and were still using the powers of the new towns commission and the old Urban Regeneration Corporation to do things. To go into development and housing with lots of income streams coming in for community rebuilding is barmy. It is so inefficient, it is unbelievable that in 2007 we have allowed that to happen. I hope that the legislation can correct it.
My noble friend Lord Haskins talked about food supply and the need for science. That is absolutely crucial. We have an anti-science culture in this country, but we have to be bold. While we do not have to believe everything and do everything the scientists say, we need to use the science. Scientific opinions sometimes conflict with each other. Along with other Ministers in the past who have been looking for a solution to a problem, I have had two groups of scientists giving me different views on an issue. My noble friend also talked about biofuels, saying that they are not exactly the panacea people may think. We are well warned by the experience of my noble friend in that respect. Biofuels have a contribution to make, but my noble friend pointed out that during his lifetime the population has increased threefold, but food production has gone up by more than a factor of three. Land has not increased; the rise is largely due to the good use of science.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, referred to foot and mouth, Pirbright and the bluetongue outbreak. On the tender for the bluetongue vaccine, I have to say that we did not put a vaccine in storage because there are 24 strains of bluetongue and we could not be certain what strain we would get. Portugal and Spain have strains 2 and 4, while northern Europe has 8. We have ended up with the same strain. We have tendered for 10 million to 20 million doses. I do not know what the cost will be, but the Government have done this to achieve economies of scale. However, the fact is that this is not a free-for-all. The vaccine will be sold to users, so it is not a public subsidy in that respect. We will get the vaccine cheaper and it will be properly organised, which is important. We cannot be certain at the moment what will happen with bluetongue over the winter, but we know what happened last year in Europe. While we have had only 62 cases, I freely admit that in some ways the controls on bluetongue are more damaging to the industry than the disease itself. But because this is the first time we have had the disease, it makes a lot of sense to find out as much as possible about its movement rather than simply declare the whole country a bluetongue area. That is seductive, but by doing what we are now, we are learning about it. If bluetongue comes back with a vengeance next year as it did in Belgium and Germany this year, we will be much better prepared to deal with its consequences, because stamping it out will be difficult. Vaccination, we hope, will be a possibility.
The noble Duke also talked about slaughter facilities. Slaughterhouses are in the private sector. One has to be amazed when one looks at where the slaughter facilities are sited around the country. Sometimes they are historical accidents of location related to family interests. They are not always in the right place when disease outbreaks mean that there are controls on the movement of animals. I appreciate that that has caused major problems for farmers this year.
The noble Duke and several noble Lords asked about the dates. Everything we have done has had to be agreed with the European Union in Brussels. But the fact is that what we could and could not do was not as clear-cut as some people think. We have moved as quickly as we could on these issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, talked about the use of water supplies and scientific R&D. He is absolutely right. I have no authority to do so, but I have made a public commitment that there will be no more R&D cuts in Defra. I did so when we were saying goodbye to our Chief Scientific Adviser and welcoming Bob Watson, with his world reputation on climate change. He was part of the Nobel prize-winning team, so Defra has a really strong science base. Ministers are always being asked to make R&D cuts when the budget has gone over a bit. At Defra we have gone so far and no further. The Secretary of State has taken the decision: we are not touching the R&D budget. We have also launched the "Love Food Hate Waste" campaign with tips for using leftovers. I personally have not seen it, but I am reliably informed about it. There is no question that Defra is under additional pressure at the present time, so these things are not unimportant.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton raised the issue of climate change, as I expected. No doubt I will hear from him and other colleagues around the House every day that we consider the Bill. My noble friend asked specifically about the involvement of local authorities. I understand that the local government performance framework has recently issued new indicators, as set out, I believe, in the Bill. Indeed, the Bill is now much stronger on mitigation and adaptation—obviously it has not been published yet, but noble Lords must take my word for it—since it was originally considered in draft form. There will be local authority involvement, which is very important, and there will be a requirement on them in respect of climate change. There will also be requirements about consultation. My noble friend also raised the nuclear issue and chastised the Liberal Democrats for never mentioning the matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, spent most of his speech talking about identity cards. I do not feel qualified to comment on that issue, particularly with the threat, or promise, of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, going to prison for not having an ID card. Our prisons are very good these days—people are well fed and warm—but they are not the place for Members of this House. I go no further than that.
The noble Lord raised the issues of new communities and the housing stock. Of the 3 million houses that are being talked about, more than 1.5 million are already programmed in the spatial strategies. This has not come out of the blue on a blank sheet of paper; more than half the houses are already allocated in the spatial strategies.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro touched on the green belt and the urgent needs of people in his part of the world, where so many houses are second homes and the cost of housing has gone up. We are committed to updating our standards on overcrowding of housing, but not in isolation from other housing needs; it has to be done in the context of the totality of housing needs.
My noble friend Lord Harrison raised a cacophony. He was quite good in a way because he said, "I am going to talk about all the issues that should have been in the Queen's Speech but which were not there". I cannot really answer that because the motorway signs on the fields, I suspect, cry out for an amendment to one of the transport Bills. It is not for me to put ideas into a Back-Bencher's head but, nevertheless, it is an issue that he has raised several times in the House.
I do not have any figures on the direct causes of accidents but, like my noble friend Lady Andrews, I have been responsible for answering some of my noble friend's questions. Like the whole House, I share his concerns about the death of the fire service personnel in the recent tragedy, and we send our sympathies to the families. It is quite unacceptable for large buildings that have large numbers of people working in them and where valuable goods are stored to have inadequate facilities for fire prevention, such as sprinklers. He also referred to a cigarette that puts itself out. Believe it or not, the Government are involved in a debate on this in Europe and with the manufacturers, so at some time there may be more to report on that.
Local government restructuring is being carried out only to improve delivery of services to our fellow citizens and it will be done differently in different parts of the country. I was not sure whether my noble friend was joking when he referred to Manshire, because I do not know the details of what is happening. However, I understand that it is a contentious issue in many areas where there are plans for unitary councils.
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, made an interesting speech, but it contained many inaccuracies. She does not like Defra—she made that quite clear in her speech. However, during the foot and mouth crisis in August, I was in my room in your Lordships' House and I read a summary of all the lessons learnt from the 2001 report. There was not one of those lessons that I had not seen being put into action during the time I had been back from my broken holiday, like other Ministers. So we were trying to learn the lessons.
I have to correct the noble Countess, because there was not a second outbreak in Surrey. We cured, we thought, the first two, and the fifth one turned out to be the third—it was the same outbreak; the lesions were four weeks' old. It was not reported but it was the same outbreak. How the movements took place, of course, is a matter for the epidemiology reports. We thought that it was clear, but there was another area where it was the same outbreak, same strain and the same source, Pirbright.
We slaughter on suspicion, which I realise is very stressful. I met the first three farmers, two of whose cattle had foot and mouth; the other lost his cattle through slaughter on suspicion. I realise the distress that that causes, but the view was taken after the last outbreak that we should be able to slaughter close contacts and slaughter on suspicion as quickly as possible to try to contain the outbreak. We did not know this came from Pirbright to start with; it could have been another 2001. That is why on both occasions 100 vets were put into quarantine for a week, at massive cost to the department, so that the vaccination teams were ready. The vaccine was already available and we were ready to go to vaccination, following what was said in 2001: "Don't wait till you decide to vaccinate; get the teams ready, because it takes five days to get them quarantined". We did that on day one so that if the decision to vaccinate had been taken we could have physically started the next day and not had to wait.
Both times we put the teams in place, but because it looked as if the outbreak was from a single source we stood them down. The industry shared our view. All the decisions that we have taken on this have been in conjunction with stakeholders. That is not an excuse, and "stakeholders" is not a derogatory term; we have worked with representatives of the entire livestock industry, including auctioneers. We are listening to them and not taking decisions behind closed doors.
We have not decimated agriculture and we have not weakened our science base. Anyone who wants to read the CV of Defra's new chief scientist can do so. He worked with, not for, Al Gore. He chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change until Bush got rid of him, so that makes him a good guy. He is part of a Nobel prize-winning team. This is a quality person.
I am grateful for that acceptance. We are not weakening our science base, and we will not weaken our veterinary base. Careers change and people come and go. That is quite normal.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, made it clear that lifestyles have to change and we need new carbon trading schemes. At actonco2.direct.gov.uk/index.html you can type in the number of rooms in your house or your car details and calculate your carbon emissions. I do not mean this in any personal way but if you tend to drive big cars, you have a massive carbon footprint, although I know the noble Lord probably drives a Mini. With all the talk about everyone changing their lifestyle, the Defra website allows you to check the impact of your own lifestyle.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, also raised the issues of food depending on fertilisers and of chemicals. He talked about the green belt. I hope that I have made the point that the green belt is a small part of the land. It is not national parkland or areas of outstanding natural beauty. It is quite separate. It is basically collars around urban areas. Mostly it is rubbish land. It is there to stop sprawl, but it is not sacrosanct. The urban side is only about 10 per cent. We are not short of land; it is what we do with it that matters.
My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch talked about quality of design. She said that she has visited BedZED, which I and my noble friend Lord Whitty have also done. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and the RIBA are involved with the eco-standards design competition. We want to raise standards, as I think she said. She also made a point of supporting the noble Lord, Lord Best, on the private rented sector.
The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, raised the issue of household recycling, among other things. Household recycling has quadrupled in the past 10 years. There is sometimes confusion between our targets and the Kyoto targets, but we are committed to the UK renewables target of 2020. At the civic amenity site that I visited at the weekend at Wigmore, north of Cheltenham, 72 per cent of what goes in gets recycled or reused. It does not matter how it is reused; the point is that it has not gone into landfill.
The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, raised issues relating to the crisis in the agriculture industry and food security. He would not expect me to say much more about foot and mouth because I think that I will be answering a Question from him at Question Time tomorrow and I do not want to prejudge it.
My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton spoke from his own experience about the housing needs of the people of this country, including those who live in mobile homes, whom he has championed for a long time.
I would do the two Front Benches a disservice if I commented on their contributions, because they were winding up the debate from their own perspectives. Therefore, I am about to sit down—as a note that I have just been given tells me to do—so that I can conform with the Chief Whip's wish that we finish before 10 o'clock. It has been a useful debate. What is said is important because it is noted down by the various departments to be used in evidence later, so that we know where your Lordships are coming from when issues are raised, and Ministers can have a half-decent answer. Sometimes, as we all know, in this place, Bills get changed, don't they?