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House of Lords

Tuesday, 18th July 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Derby

Lord Scott of Foscote

The Right Honourable Sir Richard Rashleigh Folliott Scott, Knight, Vice-Chancellor, having been appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and created Baron Scott of Foscote, of Foscote in the County of Buckinghamshire, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Browne-Wilkinson and the Lord Woolf.

UK Population Growth Pressures

2.42 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    By approximately how many people the population of the United Kingdom has increased since 1st January 1960; and how many square miles of countryside have been used for (a) housing and (b) industrial development since that date.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty):

My Lords, between 1960 and 1998, the latest years for which estimates are available, the population of the United Kingdom increased by approximately 6.9 million people, or 13 per cent. Over a similar period the number of households in the UK increased by 47 per cent. Figures on land changing to residential and industrial uses are available for England only from 1985 to 1994. On average over that period, about 3,000 hectares per annum changed from rural to residential use and 550 hectares per annum to industrial use.

Lord Renton:

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that information, within its limitation. Why cannot he give, even approximately, the area of land developed for housing and industrial uses in the past 40 years? Those figures are available. Why cannot he give them? Is not the very large increase in population in the past 40 years--the Minister said 6.9 million but I believe it is more--due not so much to the high birth rate but, to a great extent, immigration? Are not the Government fully entitled to the maximum support in controlling asylum seekers who are not genuine?

Lord Whitty:

My Lords, I do not really believe that the relatively small figures for asylum seekers have much effect on the figures. It is true that net immigration to this country has been on the positive side since the early eighties. However, the figures for growth of households reflect internal, domestic and

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demographic trends rather than international ones. The pressure of international immigration has been almost entirely on London rather than the rural areas to which I thought the noble Lord referred.

Earl Russell:

My Lords, is the Minister aware that according to the current Social Trends, the increase in population by net inward migration since 1991 is 93,000 per annum; less than enough to fill Wembley stadium in the days of its glory? Does he agree that the increase in population is primarily a result of people living longer, among whom I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Renton, on being a distinguished example?

Lord Whitty:

My Lords, I join the noble Earl in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and many others who help contribute to the population increase by surviving, and congratulate others who have contributed in other ways. The noble Earl is correct. The contribution of net immigration has been relatively small. I believe that the figure about which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, inquires is the differential between the growth of households and the growth of population. It is certainly true that with smaller households the pressure on housing and therefore, to some extent land, has changed due to internal demographic factors.

Earl Ferrers:

My Lords, perhaps I may declare a minor interest before asking this question. Does the Minister agree that what used to be described as "the march of bricks and mortar over the fair plains of England" is more responsible for the destruction of the environment than agriculture has ever been?

Lord Whitty:

My Lords, there has been an increase in urbanisation but it is not as great as is sometimes alleged. Both residential and agricultural developments contribute to environmental problems in different ways. We need to ensure that environmental standards and the impact of all developments are taken into account in our planning decisions.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes:

My Lords, can the Minister tell us the proportion or quantity of brownfield sites and redevelopment? The Question refers to the countryside. Presumably his Answer relates to brand new greenfield sites. Is that correct?

Lord Whitty:

My Lords, not necessarily. On balance, the take of rural land will have been on greenfield sites. There has been a net increase in the green belt over the past few years. The take of rural land for development has been a relatively small part of the increase in new housing. Perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Elton:

My Lords, is there now in place a complete register of brownfield sites available for development in urban areas made by local authorities? If so, what proportion of development takes place on those sites?

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Lord Whitty:

My Lords, local authorities are being asked to draw up a comprehensive register. The present level of development is approximately 50 per cent on strictly brownfield sites, although there may be other urban developments. It is the intention of the Government that that figure should be raised to 60 per cent by 2008.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the CPRE map of silence in the countryside, or rather the lack of it, which shows where one can be without hearing loud noise, mostly from motor cars? Does he agree that in south-east England the growth of road traffic has probably had one of the worst effects on the environment?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is certainly true that stress from development in the South East has been greater than in other areas of the country and traffic levels have been higher. Nevertheless, there are still quiet and beautiful places in the South East well away from traffic and other noise.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I too should declare an interest in this subject before asking the noble Lord whether he feels that the present VAT regime on greenfield development sites, contrasted with the treatment of urban sites and existing buildings, will encourage greenfield development as opposed to brownfield development or indeed redevelopment of existing urban areas. Do the Government feel that the time has come to readjust that position?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am sure my right honourable friend the Chancellor is keeping that matter under review, along with other aspects of VAT.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the factors that has made necessary the increase in housing is not the fortunate one already mentioned but the unfortunate one of the break-up of households? Sadly, that is having an equally potent effect. Can the Minister say whether the Government have in mind any steps which might arrest that unfortunate modern tendency?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is certainly the case that the number of single person households, for various reasons, has increased. Those reasons include the break-up of marriages and the split of relationships into two. But that is not the total explanation. The Government have indicated a number of measures in their social and employment policies which support families staying together. There is a secular trend--if I can use that word in the statistical sense in this regard--which suggests both here and in other countries that there will be an increase in single person households irrespective of the degree of break-up of stable relationships.

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European Air Traffic Services

2.52 p.m.

Lord Lea of Crondall asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the scope of the European Union High Level Group on a Single European Sky, which is to present its final report in the first half of 2001.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, the scope of the High Level Group of civil and military officials from EU states is to study the main causes for the growing delays in skies over Europe and how they might be overcome. Its interim findings point towards the need for air traffic services to be more responsive to the needs of customers, less constrained by governments and to work within the framework of strong, independent planning and regulation to make the best use of the air space. The high level group is expected to present its proposals by the end of 2000.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords--

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Air traffic delays are a growing problem which can only be resolved on a European basis. But two questions arise. First, we in this country are clearly now forcing the pace on a commercial basis. How does that tie in with the intergovernmental and regulatory agenda of the high level group? Secondly, rationalising the number of air traffic control centres in Europe down to single figures will sound like job losses to a number of people. If that is so, does my noble friend agree that social dialogue is very important in looking at that matter both at national and European level?

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