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Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her helpful reply. Can she confirm that since last April no fewer than three prominent men and one prominent woman have disappeared in that country without trace? The former prime minister and two parliamentarians are currently in prison, while other opposition members face prosecution. Is that not an unacceptable situation in a country that has been a member of the OSCE since 1993?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is, and Her Majesty's Government are aware of the situation detailed by the noble Lord. The European Union issued a declaration on 23rd September calling on the Belarusian authorities to investigate the disappearance of Mr Gonchar, the deputy chairman of the 13th Supreme Soviet, and all other cases in which politically active figures have disappeared. Unfortunately, Her Majesty' Government have no information about the whereabouts of these people, but we are pursuing the

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matter with vigour. We hope that we may have some good news about Mr Chigir later today, but I am unable to say what it may be.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the noble Baroness received any reports from the OSCE delegation which saw leaders of the trade union movement in Belarus recently? I think it was on 24th November. The leaders asked the OSCE to convey to the rest of Europe and to the world outside their dismay at the repression of trade union rights in that country and their hope that the OSCE would do something about it. Was anything said on that in Istanbul? Are there any concrete measures to restore trade union rights in Belarus?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Belarus was discussed at the margins at Istanbul and was included in the communique made in relation to that matter. I cannot directly advise your Lordships about whether the trade union movement featured in particular. However, human rights and political repression in Belarus are serious problems. As your Lordships know, the EU has effectively frozen the relationship. We are pursuing surrounding issues as vigorously as we can to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the EU's abhorrence of the general approach being taken by the Belarusian Administration.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government accept that the referendum of 1996, from which President Lukashenko is currently claiming his mandate, was subject to irregularities? As such, it demonstrates some of the dangers of relying on referendums as a mechanism for testing the will of an electorate. Will Her Majesty's Government make representations to authorities in Belarus about the situation?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have been, and are, concerned about that referendum. Noble Lords know that it took place in 1996 and sought to change the basis on which the presidency could continue. That matter was raised on behalf of the EU and formed the basis of the GAC conclusions in February 1997. So the efficacy of the movement was underlined clearly as being unacceptable in terms of structure. The issue was raised and continues to be raised.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government discussing the issue actively with Poland and the Baltic states, given that if those countries join the EU within the next five years, Belarus will have a direct border with the European Union?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the matter has been discussed generally, particularly within the EU. As noble Lords may recall, the EU framed a demarche to the Belarusian authorities on 14th October 1996 concerning the referendum and other matters. It is obviously of great concern, and the discussions continue.

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South East England: Development

2.58 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they reconcile their intention to build many more residential homes in south east England with the relative absence of brownfield sites and the creation of new national parks in the area.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Government will consider carefully the recommendations of the independent panel into the draft regional planning guidance for the south east, particularly the recommendations on the numbers of additional dwellings needed between 1996 and 2016 and the proportion which should be built on previously developed land. We will consider the recom- mendations and all the representations made on the draft RPG before consulting widely in the new year. The Government are introducing new planning policies and will shortly publish revised planning guidance on planning for housing. The proposed designation of the new national parks will have little effect on the total capacity of the region to accommodate new residential development.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I remind noble Lords of my interest as chairman of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board. I thank the noble Lord for that reply. But is it not a fact that the Government seek to reconcile the irreconcilable? When will they decide that perhaps they should stop encouraging business and people to migrate to south east England? Has the Minister read the recent report of the South-East England Economic Development Agency that wishes to see the south east develop as one of the economic hot spots of the world? That is all very well. However, is not the end result likely to be too many houses, too many cars, even too many jobs, in the south east at the expense and impoverishment of other regions of Britain?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we believe that the total position of the south east needs to be assessed in terms of economic development, housing and transport. That is why this is a very difficult problem. We have to consider different estimates of housing need in the region. Various projections, some of which end up with different numbers, all indicate an increase in both population and inward migration to the south east. Most of the inward migration is not from the north of England, as alleged, but from London itself. The rest of the increased demand for dwellings in the south east arises from internal issues such as population growth and changes in household formation.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, in the light of the acute water shortages suffered in the south east during the long hot summers of the past few years, can the

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Minister say how the Government intend to supply water to an extra 1 million homes, especially as the aquifers are so low?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I understand that the appropriate water companies are taking measures to address that question. Clearly, natural resources as well as housing and road-building are very much part of a holistic approach to the future of the south east region, its position in relation to the rest of the country and the question of where development is most appropriate.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, in view of the fact that the issue is the proportion of brownfield sites to greenfield sites, can the Minister inform the House what success he and his officials have had in persuading councils and planning authorities to be more positive, even militant, in ensuring that a greater proportion of development in their areas takes place on brownfield rather than greenfield sites?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble friend will be familiar with the fact that the Government have a national target of 60 per cent of all new developments taking place on brownfield sites. We believe that within the south east, as in other regions, there is scope for a more substantial concentration of these developments on brownfield sites. It is the case that the south east has the lowest density of housing provision. There are also issues about density of provision, particularly the new provisions required within the urban areas of the south east.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, in view of the large number of houses in serious disrepair, as revealed by the latest house condition survey, does the Minister agree that high priority should be given to the repair of houses to meet future housing need and to make housing conditions better for people who presently inhabit those dwellings? Will the Minister try to persuade his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to alter the VAT rules which at the moment encourage new house building and deter people from improving existing houses?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I note the noble Lord's latter point, and no doubt I can relay it to the Chancellor. As to the state of repair of the housing stock within the south east, the noble Lord is right. We have provided substantial additional resources to local authorities and others in both the public and private social housing sectors to improve the state of household repair where there are existing inhabitants. The number of vacancies within the south east is very limited and will make only a small contribution to meet the total of new housing demand.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, when the Minister looks at the new policy will he also consider a point that I have raised with him in earlier debate; namely, that in the 40 per cent of greenfield sites to be

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used it is perhaps wise to use up small in-fill sites where the services and infrastructure already exist rather than take virgin fields?


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