Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Ezra: My Lords, as the noble Baroness is aware, fuel poverty, which affects some 4.5 million households in Britain, is an important and unfortunate aspect of poverty in this country. Can she confirm that it is the Government's objective to eliminate fuel poverty within the next 10 years?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, so far as we possibly can we intend so to do. The noble Lord is right, we have seen winter death figures for the elderly going back up after a temporary drop, which is unacceptable. That is why I am sure he, like us, welcomes the #200 winter fuel allowance and the increased money being spent by my colleagues in the DETR on warm home insulation projects both here and in Scotland.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the report mentioned on the Order Paper there is a finding that at any time during 1999,


Can the Minister say what material support was open to those people and on which forms of support they actually relied?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I believe I can help the noble Earl. Of those young people aged 16

21 Dec 2000 : Column 823

to 18 who were not in work, in education or training and not claiming benefit, 50 per cent were living with their families; 27 per cent were living with their families and claiming benefit; 15 per cent were living independently and claiming benefit; and 8 per cent were living independently and not claiming benefit. It is the 8 per cent figure of that 150,000 that the noble Earl and I would both be concerned about. We are seeking to work with them.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, will the Minister agree that the Rowntree Foundation should be congratulated on the major contribution it has made in this area since the original study in York at the beginning of the last century? The Prime Minister has said that the Government's aim is to eliminate child poverty within 20 years. According to the report there has so far been no improvement. Does this precisely mean absolute poverty or relative poverty? Against what criteria do the Government propose to measure their performance? The Minister mentioned that the figures are somewhat out of date. The report stresses that reporting of those figures needs to be speeded up. What are the Government doing to eliminate or reduce the gap between the period when the figures are collected and when they are published?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, there were about six questions there. We would all welcome having more up-to-date statistics. These income figures are based on figures in the autumn of 1998. Therefore, the below average incomes for households are already two years out of date. The Government also have to rely on similar statistics for their report.

Since April 1997 our budget measures have taken 1 million children out of poverty. We are on target to take one quarter of all children in poverty out of poverty in the next five years; half, we hope, in 10 years; and all in 20 years. As the noble Lord knows, the ways in which we are so doing are not only raising benefit levels but encouraging their parents--they are predominantly the children of lone parents--into the labour market. If we can do that, both the lone child and the parent will benefit. Those are our tests.

The noble Lord asked what was our definition of poverty. Poverty is multi-faceted. It is not just about poverty of income but also poverty of poor life chances. On the poverty definition of income, we are looking at either 50 per cent mean or 60 per cent median, as the mean is tweaked by high average incomes. Otherwise one could get a situation whereby, if the national wealth increases by 20 per cent but the wealth of low income families increases by only 10 per cent, they become poorer, and if the country's wealth falls by 20 per cent but the wealth of poorer families falls by only 10 per cent, they become richer. That is the problem of relative definition. It is about equality as much as it is about poverty. But our hope--and our

21 Dec 2000 : Column 824

expectation and strategy--is to lift those children out of poverty in the next 20 years. We are already on target to do so.

Road Schemes: Environmental Considerations

11.20 a.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How their decision to approve 39 road schemes in the local transport settlement accords with the statement in the Ten Year Transport Plan that,


    Xthere will be a strong presumption against schemes that would significantly affect environmentally sensitive sites, or important species, habitats or landscapes".

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government have not changed their policy towards roads and the environment. We retain a strong presumption against accepting road schemes which would adversely affect environmentally sensitive sites. All road schemes accepted in the local transport plans have been examined against the Government's transport criteria of safety, environment, economy, accessibility and integration, using the new approach to appraisal. That ensures that all relevant factors are taken into account when making decisions to give schemes the go-ahead, including any potential impact on sensitive sites.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that very full Answer. The presumption against road schemes in environmentally sensitive sites was reinforced by my noble friend Lord Macdonald in a letter to the Guardian of 31st July. Given that presumption, is it not a little odd that, of the 39 schemes, none was rejected on environmental grounds but nine of them go through SSSIs or AONBs?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the approach to appraisal has to take strong account of all relevant factors, but the presumption is there. However, where there is no alternative to a road scheme, other factors may outweigh marginal damage to SSSIs. My noble friend will find that of the nine schemes to which he referred the majority involve slight damage and that in other cases we are talking about, for example, crossing a waterway, which does not damage or affect the whole of that site. I appreciate that in a number of those locations there has been anxiety. But the majority of the schemes which were put forward and appraised by local authorities have not been accepted. My noble friend must also recognise that in the local transport plan as a whole less than 15 per cent of the total funding allocation went to major road schemes. The bulk of it was used for local schemes, public transport improvements and safety and environmental improvements.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on this albeit rather modest

21 Dec 2000 : Column 825

resumption, after nearly four years of famine, of the road improvement schemes. I hope that many more schemes will be approved in the near future.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am happy to accept the congratulations of the Opposition. I have a feeling that there was an underlying theme to the noble Lord's intervention of which perhaps I would not entirely approve. The Government have been consistent. We have never said that we would not have new road schemes. We have said that roads have to be put into an integrated transport context and that the environmental dimension has to be taken fully into account. That has been done in relation to these local transport schemes and it is being done in relation to a number of potential improvements to the highways network. But that needs to be looked at in a multimodal context so that we take some traffic off the roads as well as improve, in appropriate circumstances, the road network.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister remember that the biggest cut in the road programme was made on 30th November 1996 by the previous government? On that occasion a large number of very much desired bypasses were eliminated from the programme. Do the Government agree that when people's quality of life in small towns and villages suffers as much as it often has from the huge increase in traffic, it is most important that they should eventually receive bypasses? Does he further agree that there is a problem with the Government's programme for detrunking roads? It will mean that responsibility for bypasses will be with local authorities, which, first, are likely to have much less money with which to provide them and, secondly, are in some cases much less sensitive to the environment than has been the Highways Agency in recent years.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not think that the process of detrunking roads will have the adverse effects to which the noble Lord refers. It will allow the local transport authority to take account of the role of those roads within its overall transport strategy. The roads are not necessarily strategic roads. They just happen historically to be part of the Highways Agency's network. It is better to look at them as local and regional roads rather than as strategic roads. Resources will follow the transfer of responsibility. I believe that local authorities will be sensitive to the environment and will go through the same appraisal system as should Highways Agency roads. As far as concerns the general point on bypasses, what the noble Lord said underlines the fact that there are environmental aspects to consider on both sides. Quality of life, noise, safety and traffic congestion within villages need to be tackled for environmental reasons. In some cases, those matters are outweighed by the fact that the bypass might destroy beautiful

21 Dec 2000 : Column 826

land. In other cases, the balance of the argument goes the other way. However, in both cases, environmental aspects are important.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page