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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, perhaps I may draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the fact that the 20 minutes is supposed to be for Back-Benchers to ask questions and make brief comments.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am certainly not aware that anyone on this Bench can be prevented from speaking in a debate such as this. Unless I am prevented by the whole House or by the Clerk, I should like to finish my point.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, page 17 of the White Paper refers to Blackburn and Ipswich as being "smaller towns". Do the Government understand that some of us are a little alarmed that large towns such as Blackburn and Ipswich can be described as "smaller towns". Throughout the north of England--in the North-East, Yorkshire and East Lancashire where I live--there are many towns with populations as low as 10,000 people which have real inner urban area-type problems and deprivation. Will the Government guarantee that, for the first time, small towns with such problems will get a fair share of resources?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am happy to acknowledge the noble Lord's point. Compared with many of the towns which will benefit from the approach in the White Paper, Ipswich and Blackburn will look like very large towns indeed. I am happy to tell him that we recognise the significance of all towns in this context. Every town and city is different. The LGA statement today said that it was delighted that the Government have ruled out the "one size fits all" solution. This approach will meet the problems and ambitions of the towns in the part of the country to which the noble Lord referred. I should also mention that within the rural policy White Paper we will deal specifically with the issue of market towns.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister about the challenge of leadership in urban areas, particularly in metropolitan areas. I warmly welcome what has been said about the role of local authorities and I acknowledge the importance of the contributions of regional development agencies. But
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that many of these problems will need to be addressed at levels higher than the individual local authority and lower, at ward level and below. Having a comprehensive approach and flexibility over funding ensures that we are able to encourage co-operation between local authorities and across local authority boundaries. Again I emphasise--particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith--the importance of the role of the RDAs in helping to engender this kind of sub-regional co-operation.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I welcome the general thrust of the White Paper. Perhaps I may press the Minister to return to the issue of housing. First, I should like to ask him about the use of the compulsory purchase powers, to which he alluded earlier, and whether they will be used particularly in the context of empty houses, which can be such a blight on so many areas. The Minister will be aware that in many urban areas they become a breeding ground for vermin; they are tinder boxes and sometimes become places from which drugs are sold. Often they stand empty for many years on end, much to the frustration of the people living in those areas. The cancer then spreads through the whole of the terrace and then through the whole of the estate. It is probably one of the most pressing needs. Will the compulsory purchase powers be used particularly to tackle that problem?
Perhaps the Minister will also say a word about ownership of property. Does he agree that one of the great success stories of the past 30 years has been the dismantling of the municipal empires and the giving of power to tenants? Does he further agree that that revolution needs to be continued with a radical handing-over of power to the tenants by giving them control through housing co-operatives or through personal home ownership? That is the best way of giving people a real stake in their community.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as to the noble Lord's first point, I recognise precisely the kind of situation he referred to in some of our inner cities. It is important that local authorities and developers can put together packages which are not inhibited by a failure to
So far as concerns compulsory purchase, we are engaging in a review and, as I indicated, because of the slightly archaic nature of the legislation in this area, that review may require us to bring before your Lordships legislation to improve the powers to the extent that the noble Lord wishes.
As to ownership of housing, I partly agree with him. I certainly believe that giving power and responsibility to all forms of tenure--whether it be to owners, tenants in the social housing sector or tenants in the private sector--is very important. If we take responsibility, we take pride. Taking responsibility for the future of where we live makes a great difference. I believe that that can be achieved under all forms of housing tenure--local authorities, housing associations, the private sector and owner occupiers. Some of the decisions on the exact mix of housing ownership and housing tenure are best kept to a local level.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, last weekend, when I was dusting my books, I came upon the national plan of Lord George-Brown. It was full of aspirations, part of which concerned urban renewal. But that did not happen. As the Minister quite rightly praises local government, perhaps I may ask him, first, whether he thinks that local government will welcome the prospect of elected local regional councils--or is that particular aspect now put on the back burner? Secondly, if he is to look at compulsory purchase powers, will he look at the French model, which is considerably more generous to those who are being compulsory purchased and therefore tends to encourage them to co-operate a lot quicker? Finally, in relation to regional transport, is the Minister able to tell the House the exact proposals for the privatisation of London Underground, for which we have waited for three and a half years? Have they now been agreed by the Government, so that they no longer have White Paper status but have some finality to them?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston has frequently explained the situation in regard to the PPP for London Underground, with which we are proceeding. Contractual arrangements will be announced when appropriate.
As regards the noble Lord's earlier questions, regional assemblies have by and large been welcomed on the voluntary basis on which they are established at the moment by local government. In some parts of the country there is a clear desire for an elected regional assembly. We have indicated that we shall establish such regional assemblies as and when there is a clear demand in the regions for them. As I say, the view differs in different parts of the country. There is substantial demand in the North East and to some extent in the North West, but less so elsewhere.
In relation to the French system of compulsory purchase, and indeed planning in total, we are taking into account a number of aspects of European models in the planning and compulsory purchase area of our review. So watch this space!
Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I am delighted to see the White Paper, although, as mentioned, there has not been time to study it closely. Will the Minister commend the relentless and long-standing efforts of Tower Hamlets and other councils to regenerate their areas in extremely difficult circumstances over the past 20 years? Will he do so, however, with one reservation; namely, that the ethnic minority communities were not able to take a strong lead in any of the quangos set up as a result of some of those initiatives? Will the Minister assure the House that he intends to take seriously and redress that issue? Will he give a further assurance that, wherever urban renewal takes place in a new manner, the ethnic minority communities will not just be pandered to in terms of taking part, but that steps will be taken to ensure leadership from those communities, so that they, as well as the rest of the country, will be able to experience the sought-for urban renaissance?
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