Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that one of the most successful organisations in the country in cutting the dole queues is the Prince's Youth Business Trust? Is he also aware that, last year, the PYBT took 3,500 young persons off the dole and launched them into their new businesses? In the light of that success, can my noble friend assure the House that he will use his best endeavours to get the responsible government departments to work with the PYBT in developing the New Deal?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I can certainly give my noble friend that assurance. For many people self-employment is the best route from welfare to work. Indeed, it is something that we have recognised by introducing the self-employment strand into the New Deal for 18 to 24 year-olds. Many organisations, including the Prince's Youth Business Trust, have been most helpful in mentoring and supporting young people who start off on the road to self-employment. We want to give every help that we can in that respect.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, has the Minister studied Clause 11 of the Bank of England Bill that we shall be discussing on Friday, which makes it perfectly clear that the primary concern of the Bank of England and the governor will be to control inflation?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is what I said to my noble friend Lord Peston and, indeed, to my noble friend Lord Barnett. We are all slightly paraphrasing but, as the noble Lord rightly says, it is the primary objective of the Bank of England to maintain price stability.

Lord Parry: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister accept from me that, while we rejoice in the success of the various agencies in Wales--for example, the Welsh Development Agency, the Wales tourist board and the Welsh Development Board for Rural Wales--in overcoming some of the problems of unemployment, nevertheless, throughout my lifetime there has been a serious endemic situation in which far too many people have been unemployed for almost all of their working lives? In recognising that fact, does my noble friend realise that many of the questions being put to him this afternoon have come from those sitting on the Benches behind him?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I note that point. I also note that my noble friends do agree that full employment is quintessentially a Labour Party issue. Indeed, my noble friend has powerfully reinforced the valuable points made by my noble friend Lord Dormand when he spoke about the needs of the northern region.

11 Feb 1998 : Column 1139

Search Warrant Errors

3.2 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any proposals to amend the law in Scotland to allow a search warrant to be accepted in a case where inconsequential errors have been made in the completion of the warrant.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Hardie): No my Lords. The Government have no proposals to amend the law. Inconsequential errors do not render a search warrant invalid.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful for, and slightly surprised by, the Answer. Perhaps I may draw the noble and learned Lord's attention to two recent High Court cases in Scotland where the accused walked away without the proceedings actually being heard. In both cases that was due to problems with the warrant. Indeed, does the noble and learned Lord recall that in one case an alleged heroin dealer walked free because the justice of the peace had signed in the margins of the warrant and not in the appropriate place? Is he also aware that in the other case, someone in whose house had been found £150,000 worth of cannabis, a gun and ammunition walked free because of a minor error in the search warrant? Is the noble and learned Lord really happy about such situations? Alternatively, does he agree with me and Mr. David Macauley of Scotland Against Drugs that this is the law being an ass? Indeed, it has nothing to do with the fight against drugs; it is all to do with officiousness.

Lord Hardie: My Lords, I can confirm that the Government are committed to the war against drugs. Indeed, no one is more committed in that fight than I am. I take issue with the noble Lord in what he said. The second case to which he referred was not a minor issue. As the noble Lord will be aware, after the search warrant had been completed, signed and sworn in front of a justice, it was subsequently altered to change the address. That was quite a significant matter and, quite properly, the court decided, after consideration, that it should not be permitted. As regards the first case, again the irregularity was such that the authorisation of the warrant was not properly authenticated. It must be realised that search warrants are there to permit an intrusion into what would otherwise be private matters.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord consider issuing guidance to the police and also to justices of the peace with a view to avoiding inconsequential errors of this kind?

Lord Hardie: My Lords, I have already taken on board the concerns to which these cases gave rise. I immediately requested information not only from the fiscals concerned but also from fiscals throughout Scotland. I have also issued instructions to regional procurators fiscal to take up the matter. Further, I have expressed my serious concerns about these matters to

11 Feb 1998 : Column 1140

the relevant chief constables. I intend to give further consideration to what guidance is necessary both to the police and to the justices.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am at least pleased that the noble and learned Lord has said that he will issue guidance. However, I really cannot allow him off the hook with the idea that the address was completely wrong. In the case where the warrant had already been signed, a change was made from Leperstone Avenue to Leperstone Road. However, because of that small change, someone in whose house £150,000 worth of cannabis had been found, together with ammunition and a gun, presumably illegally held, walked free. I understand the point that the noble and learned Lord is making. But does he understand that those of us who are not lawyers--namely, the great bulk of the British people--think that that makes the law look an ass?

Lord Hardie: My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's point. However, we cannot permit police officers or anyone else to alter properly authenticated search warrants. There was no urgency in this case. The police were aware of the difficulty and they chose to alter the search warrant. What they ought to have done was go back and obtain a proper warrant. The fact is that the warrant identified an address which existed and the justice authorised the search of that address. The police, without authority, altered that address changing the wording from avenue to road.

Business of the House: Debates this Day

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Marlesford set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of Baroness O'Cathain to two-and-a-half hours.--(Lord Richard.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Housing in Town and Country

3.6 p.m.

Lord Marlesford rose to call attention to the case for combining the protection of the countryside with positive measures for urban regeneration in meeting Britain's future housing needs; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion, I should declare an interest as the chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England. Recent government statements, rumours and targets about the need to sacrifice the countryside for development have sparked a great debate. It echoes that started by Clough Williams-Ellis 70 years ago in his book England and the Octopus. That was a polemic against urban sprawl, ribbon development and the destruction of the countryside. In 1928 that campaign aroused passions

11 Feb 1998 : Column 1141

which led eventually to the post-war planning Acts--one of the two great achievements of the Attlee Government. That heritage has proved safe in the hands of the Conservative government.

Today's debate may make a contribution to dealing with widespread concerns, which certainly cross party boundaries. I hope that today we may be more positive and less divisive than was another place when discussing the same issue recently. I used the neutral word "concerns". In fact many people have reacted with emotional outrage at the prospect of large areas of our countryside disappearing under concrete. The Government should be aware that we are not discussing purely material matters. There is a spiritual dimension to these issues. I am so glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford is to take part in our debate. People really do care enormously. An opinion poll in 1996 showed that, after freedom, the countryside is what English people value most. That is remarkable given that almost 90 per cent. of the population of England and Wales live in urban areas--21 per cent. of them in the five largest urban areas in the south-east.

A main source of pressure on the countryside derives from the condition of our urban areas, particularly the city centres. When the vicious circle of urban decay and urban deprivation is complete, it is no surprise that people want to leave the cities. That is nothing new. I remember the dramatic way in which Michael Heseltine reported to the Tory Party conference on Liverpool, following the 1981 Toxteth riots. Yet for decades we have either neglected our cities or subjected those who live in them to architectural monstrosities in the form of raw concrete tower blocks during that shameful period of British architecture, which thankfully entered its twilight in the 1970s. I believe that the RIBA is now more enlightened.

At the same time we indulged in a programme of massive new development on greenfield sites. I refer to the new towns. I personally believe for several reasons it is arguable that at the strategic level the whole new towns programme was a mistake. First, the resources used could have been better applied to the revitalisation of urban areas, especially inner cities. That could have reduced many of the social problems which we suffer from today. Secondly, they actually sucked the life out of the cities. Thirdly, they encouraged car dependency, an obvious example being Milton Keynes which is really the Los Angeles of England and which is so low density that to live there without a car is almost impossible. Fourthly, the idea that they would be self-contained developments was usually a myth. There are as many people travelling to and from work in Crawley as there are residents working there. Fifthly, the quality of both design and construction of some new towns is quite simply so grotty that they risk becoming ghettos in which few people would aspire to live and others wish to leave. A visit to Peterlee is a depressing experience. Although new towns are history, they are history from which we should learn.

Perhaps a primary objective of government should be to reduce the rate of migration from our urban areas. However, there has for some years been a most

11 Feb 1998 : Column 1142

pernicious policy known as "predict and provide". It was fed by the calculations of demographers and statisticians in the basement of Marsham Street who produced the official household projections for the now notorious target of providing 4.4 million new households between 1991 and 2016--a target which, when attacked, the civil servants promptly increased to 5.5 million. From this has followed the debate on the percentage which is to go on greenfield sites. We used to have a predict and provide policy for road building. That was blown out of the water in 1964 by Colin Buchanan in his famous report Traffic in Towns. But what a long time it takes to steer away from the iceberg! It was only in November 1996 that the then government reviewed and halved the road building programme, and that was largely for budgetary reasons.

I wish to say at once how pleased I was to read the article in The Times of 26th January in which the Deputy Prime Minister signalled the end of the predict and provide policy on housing and undertook that in future there would be more local flexibility in house building targets. The immediate problem, however, is that there are already in the pipeline important decisions on housing allocations under the county structure plans. Some of these pre-empt and run counter to Mr. Prescott's new policy. I have in mind West Sussex in particular where the Secretary of State actually overruled his inspector who had agreed with the objections of the county council.

I turn now to the need for affordable housing or, as I prefer to call it, social housing. The first point is that it is better to subsidise the person rather than the house. That was an important policy change made some four years ago by the Conservatives. I hope that the present Government will retain it. Secondly, such housing should be for rent in perpetuity. Social housing built for rent but then sold loses its primary function. Thirdly, housing associations are better providers of social housing than were local authorities in the days of council housing. Both the design and the materials are better and there is peer pressure to produce nice houses.

The plight of people working in the countryside is all too often overlooked. In rural areas social housing must take priority over executive housing. Let market forces, that is the price mechanism, allocate such land as can be made available in rural areas for executive housing and new second homes. If scarcity means higher prices, so be it. That is a price well worth paying to protect the countryside.

I come now to the green belt where there are particular threats. First let me stress that the green belt is not just to protect the countryside but to protect town dwellers from urban sprawl. No one would say green belt boundaries can never be moved; but there should be a stronger presumption against it. Green belt policy is a means of ensuring that local authorities, who on their own may be tempted to make unsound decisions on development, comply with the national interest. At present by their recent decisions to allow local authorities to release large areas of land round Stevenage and Newcastle, the Government are sending dangerous signals to both developers and local authorities.

11 Feb 1998 : Column 1143

As well as the urban centres much remains to be done to improve the urban fringe. For this the groundwork initiative, launched by the Countryside Commission 20 years ago, has done some inspiring work. We all know that developers prefer to use greenfield sites. They are generally cheaper and thus more profitable to develop. One should not blame the developers but that does not mean the community can afford to accommodate their preference. There are several ways of getting a community dividend from such development. One is by requiring the developer to provide for free something which the community wants, perhaps a new road, perhaps social housing, perhaps a village hall. It is called "planning gain". I am rather suspicious of it for it can all too often lead to planning permission being given where it should not be, especially if the local authority finds itself being offered a pet scheme.

Another method is to tax the development gain. This is again being discussed in government circles, but I remind your Lordships that the previous time a Labour government introduced a development land tax it was a mistake. The right way to tax such profits is through capital gains tax. But to be effective I believe the present rollover provisions on land, which mean that the landowner who re-invests in another asset can delay, and eventually avoid, capital gains tax, should be removed. Rollover has contributed to the rise in price of agricultural land to well above its farming value. For many farmers and rural landowners the temptation to offer their land for development at 100 times its agricultural value is irresistible. There is a particular regional dimension to all this. Much of the demand for development seems to be in the south-east and the home counties. It is on them that the largest housing numbers under structure plans are being proposed and sometimes imposed.

There is another important constraint on what should be allowed in such rural areas; that is, water. So far the new Environment Agency seems to be following its own predict and provide policy. It is abstacting more and more water from the aquifers in the south-east. As a result the water table is falling with catastrophic consequences for our rivers, for the tree population and thus the landscape. The agency should be advising the Government on the sustainability of their housing plans.

As regards modernisation of the planning system, yes we do need to speed it up. But we do not want bold politicians who decide to cut short the normal public inquiry process. We do not want Mussolini type decisions. Nor do we want the arrogance of the French bureaucrat who said, "If you decide to drain the marshes you don't consult the frogs". Nor should big schemes be decided on a three line Whip in the House of Commons. Nor do we want wealthy developers to be able to continue to threaten objectors or local authorities with costs or even damages if an initial planning refusal is overturned on appeal.

We must accept that there is not enough brown land to accommodate all the housing that will be needed. But urban capacity is not static; it is constantly evolving. It is a product of policy, of market demand and public attitudes. There is a great deal which, with imagination,

11 Feb 1998 : Column 1144

could be made available. Much more could be found within the 400,000 acres which comprise the greater London urban area. What about the area of decaying warehouses between King's Cross and the Angel? What about those desolate and under occupied housing estates between Highbury and Camden?

Let us be bold. I have a suggestion. Let us close down RAF Northolt, which extends over 490 acres, costs £26 million a year to run and is used for 14,000 mainly VIP flights. Are those flights all really necessary? A redeveloped Northolt, which is already on the London Underground system, could accommodate some 4,000 new households and probably produce about £200 million for the Treasury. That should be attractive for the defence review! I hope that this and other brown land in the military estate will be considered within the strategic defence review.

The MoD should as early as possible indicate to local authorities that it is considering disposing of land. It would be better that, when the time for disposal comes, the Ministry of Defence should hand over that land to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions which is more likely to take into account the environmental dimension for the alternative use of the sites.

In Britain, in comparison with some of our European neighbours, we can be proud of how we have looked after our countryside over the second half of this century. There is no better example than the 570 miles of our best coast land saved by the National Trust's operation Neptune. It is our urban areas which have been neglected and ill-treated. I only wish that the millennium projects had focused more on beautifying our city centres. By that I am afraid I do not mean the Millennium Dome.

The human body needs decent housing with the comforts which modern technology can provide. The human spirit needs inspiration, relaxation and beauty. I believe that the countryside helps to keep body and spirit together. I beg to move for Papers.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page