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Baroness Seear: My Lords, is the Minister really saying that the best consideration always means the best financial consideration and that no other considerations have to be taken into account when making such a change? Will he pass on to his noble friend Lord Plummer, who made references to Lambeth, the fact that Lambeth is changing very fast, with a sixfold increase in Liberal Democrats on Lambeth Council?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Plummer will have heard her observations on the borough. On the question of the best consideration, it would have been extremely difficult to find a convincing and watertight case which would have justified not selling the County Hall site as it was sold.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, following the shambles of the Shirayama deal, will the Minister now agree at least to set up a committee of inquiry to examine the future, as the noble Lord, Lord Plummer, so rightly said, of one of London's most important buildings? Can an acceptable scheme be commercially viable after two such schemes have now collapsed? Should, instead, the building be used for higher education, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, suggested, or should it instead become a home for the dozen or so London-wide quangos that replaced the GLC together with the many voluntary and charitable bodies which are looking for a home in London? There are very many options which would bring the building back into public use. Will the Minister now agree to a committee of inquiry to consider them?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the important point which I think the noble Baroness has overlooked is that the building does not actually belong to the Government. The building is owned by Shirayama, which is entitled to own the building. It is entitled to occupy and carry on activities in that building in accordance with listed building consent and planning permission; there is no evidence to suppose that there

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have been any problems. In the circumstances, it is rather difficult to see how the kind of proposals being advocated by the noble Baroness could be properly implemented.

Lord Mellish: My Lords, is the Minister aware that this is a particular site? It is not just another site. This is County Hall, which is revered and loved by many Londoners. Is it not a fact that this building ought to be a symbol of local government and all that it represents? It does not matter which party is in power. Surely against that background for the Minister to get up and talk the way he has and waffle the way he has is of no consequence at all.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the planning permission which I understand Shirayama is currently proposing to implement was granted by the London Borough of Lambeth. It was preceded by another planning permission which was granted by the Secretary of State after two inquiries. That was upheld following an action in the High Court. That is the legal position. Any British citizen who owns a building and has planning permission for it—and not only British citizens but anyone within the realm of Britain—is entitled to implement it.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many people believe that the GLC was destroyed because of the audacity of the overwhelming majority of Londoners to remain constantly loyal to the Labour Party and always vote Labour, which I can well understand was not liked by the Conservative Party? The Conservatives could never defeat Labour so they thought that they would get rid of the Greater London Council hall. Is the Minister further aware that many London authorities of all political persuasions believe that there ought to be somewhere where they can meet, if only for a few times a year, to discuss problems which affect them all? Will the Government consider that plea and save perhaps a small part of this famous hall for that very worthwhile purpose?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, we on these Benches understand all the noble Lord's comments about people's feelings. Nonetheless, it was Parliament that ended the GLC—

Noble Lords: It was a government Bill!

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, it was a government Bill but it was Parliament that ended the GLC. Therefore, it is for Parliament to put it back if it wishes to do so.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not think the Minister should rely on Parliament in that way. After all, the same example applies to the poll tax and to the privatisation of the railways. However, is it not the case that the financial consideration to which the Minister referred as being the prime concern of the London Residuary Body has patently not worked and that after all these years we have a building which is still not occupied, and does not seem likely to be occupied, by its legal owners? Under those

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circumstances, is it not proper for the Minister to reconsider not only the rights but the obligations of those who have bought the building?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the noble Lord seems to have a much clearer idea of the intentions and activities of the owners of the building than almost anyone else in the capital city. If he can advise us on that, no doubt we shall be interested to hear from him. However, at the same time—I go back to my earlier point—we are in the position that the building is occupied legally and the activity that is being carried on inside it is being carried on entirely within the law.

Lord Sefton of Garston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in retrospect perhaps it would have been much better not to have sold the building but to have used it to house government offices rather than pay £100 million more for the monstrosity at Vauxhall Cross in order to house MI5?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as far as I know, no suggestion was put to the London Residuary Body that County Hall should be used for office purposes and no offer was made.

International Year of the Family

2.48 p.m.

Lord Northbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to take in response to the Agenda for Action published on Thursday 8th December by the United Kingdom Committee for the International Year of the Family.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health launched a major initiative on 8th December to promote better support for parents in response to the Family Agenda for Action. The initiative covers better co-ordination of government policy, collaboration with the voluntary sector through informal meetings and development projects, a research theme on bringing up children and supporting families, and a survey of parents' concerns.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. I do not think anyone could doubt her commitment and that of her right honourable friend to supporting families in their role as educators and carers. However, will she accept that there are at least six other Departments of State whose decisions impact on the functioning of families? Can she give a commitment that her right honourable friends who are responsible for those departments are also committed to putting the well-being of families at the heart of policy-making, as recommended in the Agenda for Action of the IYF?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is absolutely right. It is fair to say that nearly every government department touches on this issue. That is why the Cabinet and its main committees

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will always need to bear this in mind and supply the necessary perspective from day-to-day. We have now decided that Ministers shall meet periodically to look at the impact of government policies as a whole on the family.

Lord Ennals: My Lords, is the Minister aware that on Friday the committee about which the Question is tabled, together with the United Nations Association, the British Refugee Council and other organisations concerned with the family, presented to the Prime Minister a petition containing a very large number of signatures, and that that petition sought to ensure that those who have permission to remain, through the Home Office, will be able to have family reunification? Has the Minister a comment to make on that proposal which is part of the action plan?

Baroness Cumberlege: No, my Lords, that is left for another colleague in the Government.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that all families are much happier when every child in the family is a wanted child? Therefore, will she help to ensure that family planning services and advice within the National Health Service are available to all parents and potential parents, including teenage girls?

Baroness Cumberlege: Yes, my Lords, I can give that assurance to my noble friend. The prevention of unwanted pregnancies is one of the Health of the Nation targets.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does the noble Baroness really believe that the Government have given a good example to the rest of the world in their policies regarding care for the family? Is she aware, and will she confirm, that the Government have cut the value of the married couple's tax relief by 40 per cent. over the past 18 months? Is she further aware that the Government continually refuse to allow personal tax allowances to be transferred between spouses? Will she also confirm that families in this country have been badly hit, and will continue to be so, by the reduction from 25 per cent. tax relief to 15 per cent. for mortgages? Finally, is she also aware that families have been further hurt by an increase of 1 per cent. in interest rates over the past six months?


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