House of Lords
Thursday, 8 July 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
Introduction: Lord Davies of Stamford
John Quentin Davies, having been created Baron Davies of Stamford, of Stamford in the County of Lincolnshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Temple-Morris and Lord Radice, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Smith of Basildon
Angela Evans Smith, having been created Baroness Smith of Basildon, of Basildon in the County of Essex, was introduced and took the oath, supported Lord Dubs and Baroness Andrews, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Lord Prescott
John Leslie Prescott, having been created Baron Prescott, of Kingston-upon-Hull in the County of East Yorkshire, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Dixon and Lord Grocott, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
My Lords, we recognise the need for new homes and are committed to increasing housing supply. We will take a bottom-up rather than top-down approach so, instead of imposing unwanted developments on local communities and creating opposition to new housing, we intend to provide financial incentives to local authorities that build additional housing. This will allow local communities really to benefit from the proceeds of growth.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her valiant Answer, but it is estimated that over 1.5 million households need affordable homes, yet the Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, is reported to have said that he sees little or no role for public housing. Where are the new affordable homes to come from, including in the countryside, where only 13 per cent of homes are affordable, and why is it fair to cut the grant to the Homes and Communities Agency by £230 million when this will deprive the most needy of an affordable roof over their heads?
My Lords, the HCA, like every other aspect of public authorities, has been affected by the disastrous financial position in which we have been left. Like everyone else, it has to take its reduction. Of course, we are going to try to support affordable housing as much as we can. The House will know that under the last Government only 29,000 affordable houses were built each year, which is well below the figure of 39,000 under the previous Conservative Government. We will do as much as we can to support affordable housing, including when private developers get planning permissions.
My Lords, I declare an interest as I have always let property. Is the Minister aware that there is no encouragement for residential landlords who would perhaps buy and do up some of these very rundown properties and provide necessary accommodation? Does the scheme still work whereby local councils work with private landlords to provide such accommodation? That would be a way in which to make up for the shortfall in what is being built.
My Lords, local authorities work with private landlords in a number of ways. Some help to put people who are homeless into the private sector, and others work on an “empty homes” basis. I do not think there is any thought of changing any of that. Certainly, the private sector provides a valuable service in housing people, although there must be some restrictions on the amount of rent that people pay.
The Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that public expenditure cuts will be deeper in the north-east of England and Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Can the Minister tell the House whether this blatant discrimination against the people of the north-east, and their services, will apply to the social housing sector?
Once again, my Lords, this is a matter for local authorities, particularly with their own housing. I know that some local authorities have not made the maximum use of it, and of course we will encourage them to do that. The private sector will still be encouraged to ensure that empty properties in the private sector are brought back into use. I think we would all agree that empty property is not desirable, by any stretch of the imagination, and it denies homes to people who need them.
My Lords, there will be reductions in housing benefit via a cap, but I am sure everyone will note that the real-terms costs of housing benefit have risen from £14 billion 10 years ago to £21 billion today. I think we would all agree that that is completely unsustainable. The measures announced in the Budget will refocus the welfare system on supporting those who should be working while continuing to provide for those most in need. Housing benefit reform will help to make better use of all our social housing, for example by freeing up larger homes for overcrowded families.
Some noble Lords will have read that up to £2,000 a week is being spent on housing benefit in the private sector. That is well beyond the means of all but a very few of the richest people in this country.
My Lords, as the Minister knows, affordable housing is needed mostly for vulnerable families with children. Will the Government ensure that any new building programme will include appropriate facilities for schools and other community resources?
My Lords, again, it will be for local authorities to make sure that when major developments are being designed and developed and planning issues come up that appropriate infrastructure is included and that there are facilities. It makes absolute sense for them to be included in large developments, because without schools and infrastructure there is no community. There is no disagreement about that. As I have said before, this has all been passed down to local authority level. Local authorities will make their own decisions against their own plans and will know their own needs.
My Lords, will my noble friend take a particular interest in a most deserving group? The whole House knows that many of our servicemen coming back from Afghanistan will sadly not be able to serve again and will be in desperate need of housing.
Freedoms and Civil Liberties
My Lords, the Government are taking urgent action to address the erosion of civil liberties and freedoms. We are committed to protecting our citizens from the big government approach that has created an intrusive, bureaucratic state. We have already introduced a Bill to scrap ID cards and the national identity register. We will also introduce a freedom Bill and repeal a number of unnecessary laws.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s reply. Bearing in mind that even during the darkest days of the war, we allowed the right of conscientious objection against military service, should we not, when passing laws, try to provide for those who might find observance difficult on grounds of conscience? We must surely never again drive out of business organisations such as Catholic adoption societies, which were doing most valuable work in society, when their objections to placing children with gay couples could easily have been accommodated due to the very large number of other societies that support gay adoption.
My Lords, I have great sympathy with the principle enunciated by my noble friend. This is a country that stands for freedom of conscience and the right of individuals to exercise it. We are certainly committed to upholding those principles and to allowing people such freedom to hold religious beliefs. However, we have to strike the right balance and ensure that we do not allow discrimination on any grounds. When it comes to offering public services, the law of the land must be obeyed. We do not have plans to change the current law, the effect of which, when it comes to Catholic adoption agencies, will take effect when the Equality Act is commenced. I see no contradiction, however, between that and the principles enunciated by my noble friend.
My Lords, the noble Baroness declared war on big government. She also said in her previous answer that she saw no conflict with her answer to the preceding question. It rather conflicts with her statement of a war on big government. At the same time, in law and order, we are looking at 5,000 fewer prison officers and a 25 per cent cut in the police budget. Can the noble Baroness explain why that is not a lessening of the war on crime and why, in that area, the Government are doing far less their predecessor?
I think we are straying from the Question. I think everyone would accept that we have an extremely tight financial situation. It is not possible to continue with all departmental budgets at their previous levels, which were not funded, in any case, by the previous Government. It is for the police to decide where the operational effect will take place. We are, however, absolutely committed to effective policing.
My Lords, reverting to my noble friend Lord Waddington’s Question, does the Minister agree that the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, under the convention, strike a perfectly fair balance in deciding, as the court did last week, that gay couples are entitled to the full protection of family life respect? The decision of our own Supreme Court in the United Kingdom yesterday was that gay asylum seekers also need protection on the grounds of their sexuality. Does the Minister agree, therefore, that if we want to protect civil rights and civil liberties, the best protection of the minimum standards lies in the European convention, the Human Rights Act and the devolution statutes?
My Lords, the noble Lord refers to yesterday’s ruling from the Supreme Court. I think that vindicates the position of the coalition Government. We do not intend to remove people from this country and send them home expecting them to hide their sexuality to avoid persecution. We will certainly be looking to protect people’s rights in that respect. I entirely accept that the European convention is part of the framework of human rights in this country, but it is also interpreted by British legislation.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that when your Lordships next consider legislation in this area, it will be important to recalibrate the balance between, on the one hand, enabling the police and security services to work effectively and, on the other, not creating the impression of counterproductive legislation which encourages extremism and martyrdom?
The noble Baroness mentioned identity cards. At Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, I was delighted to have one because I did not have to take a passport, a council tax bill and my driving licence. One needs to be wary about this because we do need to prove our identity. My question relates to the totality of security and defence of the nation. The human rights aspect is part of that. Do we now have a date when the new national security strategy will be in place? Clearly, it is absolutely fundamental to the strategic defence and security review. One is slightly concerned about the timescales, bearing in mind that the review will have to come up with answers for the CSR by October. Do we have a date when that new strategy, which underpins everything, will be in place?
Is the Minister aware that vulnerable and elderly people in towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom feel much safer where there is an effective system of closed circuit television? Will she give an assurance that the coalition Government will maintain all the existing systems and, indeed, expand them?
My Lords, it is clear that CCTV, if properly used, is valued by the general public as a way of increasing their sense of security and providing evidence—provided it is working—should an incident take place. Equally, it is strictly in the interests of proportionality, and to retain public confidence, that it is properly regulated. It is the regulation of CCTV on which we shall focus.
The Government intend to restore the national curriculum to its original purpose: a core national entitlement organised around subject disciplines. We will announce details of our plans in due course. No individual has been asked to play a specific role in the review. However, we plan to consult a wide range of interested parties to ensure that our curriculum is in line with those of the highest performing jurisdictions in the world.
Is the Minister aware that both the individuals have been mentioned in the press as having been consulted by the Government? Are not these appointments a blatant attempt to revive imperialist concepts? Why is it thought by the Government that right-wingers such as Niall Ferguson and Andrew Roberts—however articulate they may be—with their outdated views of empire, can make a useful contribution to the modern history syllabus?
My Lords, given the global nature of our economy and the multicultural nature of our society, would it not be appropriate to allow schools the freedom to use their discretion, if they so wish, to teach children not just about the history of the UK but some of the history of our major trading partners and of the mother countries of many of their pupils, as understanding our customers and our roots is very important for children?
I agree with my noble friend. It seems to me that, in teaching history, one certainly wants to give our children a sense of Britain’s history and the broad sweep and chronological development of our history over time. However, I agree with her very much that we also want our children to have a sense of the wider world, particularly as Britain changes and develops. It is important that that balance is struck.
My Lords, I very much applaud the Minister’s caution in response to this Question, but does he recognise the importance of history in the curriculum? Does he particularly recognise the real dangers of appearing to be ideologically driven with regard to the teaching of history? We have had appalling examples of that in the past. I am sure he will take care to ensure that we do not repeat any such examples.
My Lords, as I have admitted before in the House, I am a sort of historian myself, so I accept the point the noble Lord makes about ideology. It is, of course, always difficult to draw the line between history and politics. Things that I still think of as being current affairs my children are now learning as history. Therefore, I recognise that point. However, in trying to get that balance right, it is important that we try to move away from a sort of gobbet-sized approach to history. For instance, 17th century English history, which is very rarely taught, has many parallels with what is going on in Britain today in terms of the extent of change. If one could get that development, one would do a better job.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that when Niall Ferguson was asked on the “Analysis” programme about two weeks ago whether he would accept the role of history tsar and whether he was being brought into the Government to write a national history curriculum, he replied, “Certainly not, because I think a national history curriculum is an abomination”? Furthermore, all Governments have their favourite historians. In the lifetime of the previous Government, Professor Linda Colley’s work was often on the Downing Street website. The great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm became a Companion of Honour. This Government may have historians that they admire as well. This is all to the good as long as, in the case of all these distinguished historians, their work is of sufficient quality to inspire our young people in sixth forms and universities, whatever the ideological background that might be perceived to exist.
I was not aware of those remarks by Professor Ferguson, but I agree with the noble Lord that if the Government were to be lucky enough that academics of his distinction, or of the distinction of other historians with a different perspective, were able to help to shape thinking, that is something that one ought to welcome.
My Lords, how can it be that the Minister does not know whether these two gentlemen have been consulted or not? Who is running his department? How long has this Question been on the Order Paper? Has he made no inquiries? It is ridiculous for a Minister to say that he does not know whether people have been consulted.
My Lords, the Secretary of State for Education runs the department. I did not say that I did not know: I said that so far as I was aware they have not been invited to take part in a review. That was what I said in my first Answer—and in my second, too.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that we should continue to seek out with vigour the best historians from our universities, with their deep knowledge of their specialist subject, encourage them to go and teach in secondary schools and give them plenty of leeway to teach in a way that they see will best engage their pupils?
I agree with my noble friend. I would not describe myself as remotely fashionable in any respect. So far as concerns history, there are core elements, for example to do with chronology and the sequence of events, that one can divorce from fashion, but I agree that we should resist the blandishments of changing hemlines.
My Lords, we are committed to using all appropriate influence to prevent the execution of any British national, and that is certainly our starting point in this case. In the case of Linda Carty, we are supporting her efforts to get clemency in Texas. We are in close consultation with Miss Carty’s lawyers and with the NGO Reprieve, and we are planning our representations carefully with them. This is a sensitive case, and I hope that the House will understand that it would not be sensible for me to go into further detail while these discussions are taking place. I will add one further thing. Since Linda Carty potentially faces the death penalty, I am sure that the House will wish to know that the Government reaffirm the position taken by our predecessors on the death penalty.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for that reply, and particularly for the last sentence, which I am sure will be welcomed across the House. The opposition to the use of the death penalty in all countries and in all circumstances was something that the previous Government were much attached to, and it is very welcome that the new Government are taking that on board.
Linda Carty, a Briton from the island of St Kitts, has been on death row in Texas for nine years. Her trial has been described as a travesty; the provision of her defence counsel was a joke; and the founder of Reprieve described this as,
“a most desperate, outrageous miscarriage of justice”.
Will all possible efforts be made, including the possibility of the Prime Minister speaking to the Governor of Texas? Can I also have an assurance that Ministers will agree to meet members of Miss Carty’s family if they request such a meeting?
My Lords, this is a very difficult case and I do not want to comment from the government Benches on its conduct so far. It is very clear that Miss Carty is now in a very difficult situation. We are focusing our efforts not at the federal level but at the state level, because that is the right place. I do not exclude our doing anything necessary to help this lady in any way that is proper and effective.
My Lords, I visited the women’s prison in Gatesville in Texas in 2006. I spent some time on death row and met all the women there, including Linda Carty. I remember it as clearly as though it were yesterday, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is a very sad case and that that is a very sad place. Does the Minister agree that this is not just a question of opposing the death penalty, which, quite rightly, we do—I, too, was most grateful to hear her commitment to continuing that stance—but that it is also probably a huge miscarriage of justice? Although I do not wish to ask the noble Baroness to say anything that could jeopardise the negotiations, I ask her to assure the House that this issue will stay very near the top of the agenda for as long as Linda Carty is alive and that everything will be done at every stage to try to secure a reconsideration of her case.
My Lords, I can give the House that assurance. I hope that noble Lords will also accept that, in Linda Carty’s interests, we need to be able to judge the appropriate methodology. Therefore, the fact that we do not necessarily hear a lot all the time does not mean that we are not trying to take the most effective action that we can.
Is the Minister aware that Mexico and Germany took the United States to the International Court of Justice and obtained a ruling that under international law it was illegal to execute a person who had not had the benefit of consular protection? Is the Minister aware that the lawyer who acted for Miss Carty did not obtain such protection? Will this Government take a step similar to that taken by Mexico and Germany in respect of their nationals?
My Lords, my noble friend is right to say that part of the problem in this case was that we were not notified by the Texas authorities, as should have been the case. That is one reason why our ability to help Miss Carty has come rather late in the day. As for the approach to the International Court of Justice, I am aware of that precedent. Our current advice is that it is not necessarily particularly helpful, but I certainly do not rule out pursuing that route if we have grounds to believe that it will help.
Is the Minister also aware that President George W Bush tried to give effect to the Mexican and German cases, where the ICJ gave the rulings, but was unable to do so because of the recalcitrance of the state authorities? Does that not illustrate the great problem that this Government now have in deciding on the methodology?
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones will repeat a Statement on Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 immediately after the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey.
I have already announced that the House will rise for the Summer Recess at the close of business on Wednesday 28 July. I am now able to let the House know that we will return from the Summer Recess on Tuesday 5 October. As ever, recess dates are subject to the progress of business and a note of these dates is now available in the Printed Paper Office.
Africa: Post-conflict Stabilisation
My Lords, this debate on post-conflict stabilisation in Africa is surely timely when, with a change of Government, the United Kingdom’s foreign and international development policies, particularly in Africa, are under scrutiny and reappraisal. The appalling scale of violence and human rights violations that occurred, and in some areas continues, in the Great Lakes region is well documented. The horror of the Rwandan genocide and the long war in the DRC are still claiming lives. More recently, the conflict in Burundi has left some 300,000 people dead.
Developments in post-conflict stabilisation depend on progress in strengthening democracy, the rule of law, transparency and good governance. Monitoring the effectiveness of the United Kingdom’s aid through the objectives set out in international and bilateral aid programmes should be paramount. Accountability to Parliament and mutual accountability between the UK and recipients should be an integral part of aid programmes, and in this context I pay tribute to the work of the all-party group on the Great Lakes region in Africa, of which I have the honour to be vice-chair.
At the Development Cooperation Forum held at the United Nations last week, the new director-general of DfID set out the UK’s international development policies. Mr Michael Anderson told the delegates, drawn from UN diplomatic missions and the international development community, that one of the UK’s top priorities was transparency and accountability in international aid and development. The director-general said, in terms:
“The tide of history is with this initiative. The next generation will not understand why it took us so long to grasp this initiative”.
Mr Anderson continued:
“DfID will now be accountable to all, worldwide. DfID will welcome scrutiny. We will put all our aid programme documentation on the web. We are committed to transparency in contracts. We will set up an independent aid watchdog, reporting directly to Parliament. We will introduce a UK aid transparency guarantee”.
Those are fine-sounding objectives and I acknowledge that Mr Anderson has been in post only since April. But noble Lords may agree that, never mind the next generation, it is this generation that does not understand why it has taken so long for government to grasp the importance of transparency and accountability, particularly for what amounts to a budget, funded by the taxpayer, of some £9 billion a year.
Can the Minister perhaps clarify the extent of this “new” initiative? Does it include developing programmes that build in mutual accountability between the donor and the recipient for aid delivery, disbursement and programme targets? The scale of the task should not be underestimated. For instance, there are over 40 donors operating independently in Uganda alone, and local politicians believe there to be over 200 NGOs present in the country.
What assessment has DfID made of the capacity of Uganda and of other aid recipients in the Great Lakes region to manage country programmes that meet their priorities? Has DfID established audit trails with recipients to track aid flows through to project destination? Is DfID aware that, according to the director-general of CIVICUS, a civil society alliance, speaking at the Development Cooperation Forum, less than 10 per cent of aid is reaching front-line destinations?
Can the Minister comment on the balance between the roles of the FCO and DfID and the pursuit of British interests within the economic restraints that now bind the United Kingdom? Do the Government accept the case for strengthening the diplomacy content of UK aid distribution, for establishing audit trails, transparency and cost-effectiveness, and monitoring whether our objectives are being met? If not, why not?
In this context, can the Minister also advise if the Government are looking at the implications for the Great Lakes region of their emerging foreign and international development policies? Promoting stability and security in the region is clearly in our interests, but what are the Government’s priorities for Africa when compared with the demands in Afghanistan?
It is a depressing fact that in 2010, 50 years after the Congo became independent, people in the eastern DRC and neighbouring countries are still suffering appalling levels of violence. Oxfam states in its report Breaking the Cycle of Violence that Governments in the region have failed to uphold commitments to punish war crimes. They have failed to protect civilians and end the impunity in the militarised exploitation of mineral resources. They have failed to build on what is potentially one of the region’s most important agreements, the pact on security, stability and development.
Mr Philip Alston, a United Nations special rapporteur, observed:
“DRC has long suffered from recommendation fatigue. Hundreds of reports have proposed thousands of reforms”.
“the people of the Great Lakes do not need more recommendations that Governments agree to, and then do little about.
Recent field research in Southern Sudan by a team from Waging Peace brings disturbing findings. Contrary to the belief that the Lord's Resistance Army was close to elimination, it found that the LRA has been attacking civilians with increased frequency and violence. This year, more than 600 people have been abducted, about 360 killed and more than 30,000 displaced. Human Rights Watch recently defined the LRA as the “greatest civilian threat” to the population of the DRC. There are signs that the LRA is regrouping, with the apparent aim of returning to Uganda.
The mutilation and murder of villagers, sometimes at the hands of children abducted on earlier raids, fuels insecurity and instability. It has disrupted the elections in the Western Equatoria State, with people now too frightened to leave their homes to cast their votes, and has prevented the distribution of vital aid to the region.
There are now concerns that the LRA will attempt to disrupt Sudan's forthcoming southern secession referendum, due in January 2011. There has been a dismal lack of co-ordinated, sustained interest and action by the regional government armies, by UN peacekeepers and by the international community, in stopping the LRA. As a result, one of the most vicious rebel groups in history continues, more than 23 years after it first emerged, to target innocent civilians across central Africa.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it is surely incumbent on the United Kingdom to be as effective as possible in securing support for the UN missions working in the LRA-infiltrated areas. The UK, as one of Uganda's largest donors, needs to be more effective in supporting the Ugandan Government in their efforts to eradicate the LRA.
By contrast, in east Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe are not directly in a post-conflict stabilisation process. Nevertheless, violence and unrest around the 2007 elections in Kenya indicated just how fragile an established democratic process can be. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, the flight of millions from the oppressive regime of President Mugabe has generated widespread instability and insecurity in the region. The response from both the African Union and the Southern African Development Community to the Zimbabwe crisis has been disappointing and timid. Despite insisting that this was an African problem requiring an African solution, neither the AU nor SADC has lived up to the trust placed in them by the UN and by the international community.
In the Great Lakes region, the UK is well placed to play a key role in the post-conflict stabilisation of the region. This is a critical time, with presidential elections due in most countries over the next two years. The challenges are severe. The UK must be active in addressing the causes of instability across the region—from the root causes of the conflict in eastern DRC to concerns over opaque contracts, the low level of due diligence performed by companies and their lack of accountability for the proceeds from the lucrative extractive industries in this mineral and oil-rich region.
The region is beset by the woes of weak states. In the 2010 Failed States Index, the DRC ranks fifth and Uganda 21st, followed by Burundi, which is 23rd. Rwanda is only slightly better in 41st place, despite its recent economic progress, which has been recognised by the Commonwealth Business Award for 2010. In Rwanda, there are growing concerns about shrinking political plurality and media space, and the murder last month of Jean-Leonard Rugambage, an editor of Umuvugizi, one of Rwanda's few independent newspapers, signals a further attack on freedom of expression.
Does the Minister agree that the United Kingdom should put greater onus on encouraging respect for the civil and media freedoms in Rwanda? What plans do the Government have for continuing support, via DfID, to the Media High Council following the closure of two of Rwanda’s leading independent newspapers? Does the Minister agree that the erosion of civil and media freedoms is contrary to the agreement to promote good governance and human rights set out in the memorandum of understanding signed by the UK and Rwanda?
Similar concerns are surfacing in Uganda with the controversial Bill before Parliament to amend the Press and Journalists Act 1995. Civil society is fearful that, if passed, draconian publication offences will shackle press freedom. Stability across the region is at best fragile. Stability requires not only a co-ordinated approach from donor governments, but a positive regional engagement by Great Lakes Governments. Here there are still major uncertainties, particularly regarding the ongoing conflicts in the DRC.
The Secretary of State, Mr Andrew Mitchell, said in another place that,
“we will make conflict prevention, resolution and reconstruction central to our approach to development”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/7/10; col. 1029.]
Does the Minister therefore agree that ending the conflict in the DRC is crucial to achieving these aims in the Great Lakes region? Does the Minister recognise that securing this stability specifically before the drawdown of UN peacekeeping forces is complete—which must be done across a firmly objective-driven and not time-bound framework—is crucial to preventing the loss of substantial technical and financial investments made by the UK over the past 10 years? As the Secretary of State states:
“Hard-pressed taxpayers need to know that the expenditure of their money is being scrutinised … and is really delivering results”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/7/10; col. 1025.]
In that regard, can the Minister tell your Lordships what steps the Government are taking to persuade the Government of the DRC and those others in the region, particularly Rwanda, to engage seriously in an effective combined approach to ending the conflict spilling out of the eastern DRC?
In its report, Breaking the Cycle of Violence, Oxfam points out that,
“a long list of regional agreements and institutions has grown up in the Great Lakes. In the East, the EAC … provides some real potential; so, too, in the west does the CEPGL ... But governments have squandered one of the region’s most important agreements: the Pact on Security, Stability and Development”.
There are many regional intergovernmental organisations in the Great Lakes region with overlapping memberships and similar objectives to promote its economic integration. Mostly, they lack material, human and financial resources, and the determined political will necessary from their members. But, according to Oxfam, to varying degrees they represent the hope for the future. In this context, could the Minister tell us what discussions the Government have had recently with Rwandan and Congolese counterparts on their progress on honouring commitments that they made with the UN, the EU and the USA in the Nairobi communiqué which was signed two and a half years ago, in November 2007? Observers agree that despite the promises on addressing threats to security and stability, there has been little progress.
In his 2005 report on reforming the United Nations, Kofi Annan, the then Secretary-General, noted the tendency for fragile states to return to violence within five years of the conclusion of armed conflict. Burundi is a case in point where four years after the peace accords, current presidential elections are being jeopardised by threats of outbreaks of violence. Without effective post-conflict peace-building, through strengthening public institutions, judicial and security sector reforms, and economic initiatives, countries can become trapped in a conflict cycle with no way out.
From its research into security sector management, Cranfield University has demonstrated the importance of aid and development agencies monitoring and evaluating their performance. Its studies show that the ability to measure aid effectiveness is essential for maintaining and improving performance in donor programmes. Without measurement and evaluation, we will never know if our aid and development funds are being dispersed effectively and efficiently in advancing security and stability, to the benefit of recipient states and the UK’s foreign policy objectives. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for securing this debate. The noble Lord is well versed in the complexity of the challenges facing this vast region of Africa. It includes two countries that are close to my heart: Kenya, the place of my birth, and Uganda, the country where I spent my formative years. We need to recognise how the continent of Africa has changed in recent years. As recently as 1989, 29 African countries were governed under a form of single-party constitution or military rule. By 1994, not a single one-party state remained, and by 1995, most countries in the continent had met the initial demand of multi-party democracy and embraced the idea of holding free, fair and competitive elections.
The road has not been easy, and some countries have faced truly significant challenges, but overall there is a recognised trend of improvement in governance and engagement. I support the use of the development aid budget to provide budgetary support for the African Union’s Peace Fund. The Secretary of State for International Development is correct to initiate a bilateral aid review to ensure that we are spending our resources in the most productive ways and ensuring that there is transparency, clear objectives and measurable success. We need to ensure that our international aid is used effectively through aid transparency and security. We need also to ensure that no part of any aid falls into the wrong hands. Can the Minister confirm that this is the position?
We cannot have an effective debate on developments in Africa without recognising the terrible poverty that exists. Twelve out of the 13 countries with the highest mortality ratio are to be found in Africa. Two-thirds of HIV-positive adults and 90 per cent of HIV-positive children live in Africa, and life expectancy levels are terribly low. Population growth in Africa is relatively high, and that poses challenges to tackling post-conflict scenarios. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region was formed by the United Nations and the African Union in 2008. The main objective of this body is to devise and implement a regional approach to conflict resolution and human rights abuses. The 2006 pact on security, stability and development came into force in 2008. The requirements of the pact include protecting displaced persons, punishing the perpetrators of war crimes, and ending impunity for those who exploit natural resources.
I made reference to the important work of the Kimberley process in my recent speech in your Lordships’ House on Zimbabwe. The progress made recently in forming the East African Community is broadly welcome. The EAC is a common market with the aim of promoting the free movement of labour, money and services in the region. This new economic initiative will increase cross-border employment and trade between Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has captured the world’s attention due to the unparalleled suffering of its citizens. Years of political and social unrest have left the DRC ravaged by horrendous levels of poverty. Approximately 5 million people are thought to have lost their lives since the beginning of hostilities in the early 1990s. This figure is truly shocking. The humanitarian crisis in the east of the country shows no signs of abating. In January this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council reported that approximately 2.1 million internally displaced persons are in the eastern DRC alone. I would be grateful if the Minister could inform your Lordships’ House what steps the Government will be taking to ensure that the repatriation of internally displaced persons and refugees is in compliance with international law? The UK is a large donor to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It can be strongly argued that we are not getting a diplomatic return for our funds as there have been limited signs of improvements in the region.
I recently attended a conference on the International Criminal Court in Kampala, Uganda. Uganda has achieved good economic growth and there has been relative peace and stability. Mr Museveni has been the President for more than 20 years and, to a large extent, his presidency has been good for the country. Uganda has made great social and economic progress. Some citizens, however, continue to voice concerns over the lack of transparency in the activities of policy-makers. Oil has now been discovered in Uganda and a production-sharing agreement has been signed between the Ugandan Government and the London Stock Exchange-registered company Tullow Oil. I hope that the oil does not result in practices of corruption and inner conflicts. The revenue can be utilised to deal with poverty, particularly in the north of the country. When I was in Uganda I met our high commissioner. We are a major donor to the country but, as I said previously, our donation should be used effectively.
I welcome the decision to renew the memorandum of understanding between the UK and the Rwandan Government in 2008. It is important for the international community to recognise the progress that has been made in Rwanda since the atrocities of 1994. For example, Rwanda recently earned 67th place in the World Bank Group’s Doing Business report. However, it is also vital to maintain a realistic view of the post-genocide activities of Rwanda, which will hold general elections in August this year.
In 2006, 13 years of civil war in Burundi came to an end. The decision by opposition parties to boycott the presidential election in Burundi on 28 June in protest at corruption and fraud at the local elections held in May is a cause for concern. I would be grateful if the Minister can inform your Lordships’ House as to what recent reports have been received from the Burundian Government. The international community, along with the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes, must place greater efforts on creating successful dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties.
The situation in Kenya offers more promise and we are correct to encourage and support the implementation of the national accord agreed by the Kenyan Government following the 2007-08 post-election violence. The promises of an improvement in the constitution to reduce the incentive for violence following “winner takes all” elections, minimising the opportunities for electoral fraud and deterring political violence, are essential. I recognise the challenges that wider fraud has created, not least that which led to the suspension of education aid funding earlier in the year. I would welcome the Minister’s update on the Government’s current assessment of the situation.
Access to natural resources has always been an important factor in eastern and central Africa because of environmental threats, changing climate and the growing population. Access to water is one of the most pressing issues for the citizens in this region. The growing tensions over which countries should have access to water from the River Nile have caused friction between countries north and south of the river. This has resulted in the creation of the River Nile Basin co-operative agreement which has been signed by Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania. The DRC and Burundi are also expected to sign the agreement in the near future. International politics is littered with examples of how access to natural resources can lead to conflict. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to monitor this situation effectively?
I would not wish to draw my remarks to a close without reflecting on the role of China in providing investment into the region. The perspective of the Chinese Government is not always favourable to the democratic journey and I am concerned that this region, which is already grappling with the challenges of conflict resolution, should not be the victim of international economic exploitation. There is a strong case that China’s contribution to economic development in Africa is a positive cause for growth, as good trade relations are essential for developing countries, especially those that are seeking to come to terms with a post-conflict scenario. In essence, it is the apparent absence of moral politics that causes me much concern. I hope that the Minister can offer a helpful perspective on this issue.
East and central Africa have come a long way, but much still needs to be done. We should seek to facilitate that and support those countries that are coming to terms with the difficulties of recent decades.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, who always makes profound contributions in these debates, but the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, also deserves warm appreciation for having introduced this important debate today. His commitment to Africa is deep and consistent. For my part, I am glad to be a trustee of Saferworld, an NGO that specialises in arms control, security sector reform and conflict resolution. We are very much involved in this part of Africa and my observations will concentrate on what is being learnt from that engagement.
The Horn is home to some of the world’s poorest people and has experienced protracted conflicts. There is a persistent problem of state frailty and, in Somalia’s case, outright state failure. Indeed, all the region’s states can, without exception, be described as fragile or failing. However, there are paradoxes. Strengths and diversity can be obscured. For example, Somalia is simultaneously home to one of Africa’s most promising democratic experiments—the as-yet-unrecognised post-conflict Somaliland—and a zone of multiple, dangerous mini-state entities of militia groups, humanitarian crises and insurgency.
Against that background, sizeable aid programmes and the use of traditional diplomacy have too often yielded poor or at least mixed results. In Kenya, elites have on occasion captured development assistance, which has come through direct budget support or sector-specific support, and used it for their own enrichment. This has played into the dynamic of internal conflicts—of course, underlying conflict tensions and questionable governance led to the 2008 election violence. In Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, elections have been used to shore up regimes rather than to contribute to democratisation.
In Somalia, money and time have been contributed to peace conferences and to supporting power-sharing Governments at the central level, but these have ultimately run into the ground and we have seen valuable resources diverted to wage war on clan enemies or to enrich the powerful and their friends. It is clear that stabilisation, diplomacy and development assistance policies can prove counterproductive—let alone fail—unless they are carefully applied and tailored for each specific situation. Obviously, stabilisation is an integral part of the concept of security for development, but it is essential to avoid simplistic assumptions: for example, that if only we can introduce short-term stability and a modicum of security with, if necessary, the deployment of force, development will certainly begin; or that if only we can provide otherwise hostile communities with small-scale development assistance—perhaps a well or a school—they will immediately abandon their hostilities and give us their hearts and minds. There is little convincing evidence that that will automatically follow.
We need to ask ourselves whether there has been undue focus on state-building, to the exclusion of other vital processes, such as peace-building, reconciliation and early, demonstrable economic recovery. In south Sudan, in the wake of the comprehensive peace agreement, peacekeepers and civilian police have commendably been put on the ground by the UN. This has helped to stabilise the situation and has dampened down, although not totally averted, subsequent internal conflict. By contrast, there has been a disturbing failure to provide sufficient support for early economic recovery, improved governance, laying the foundations for sustainable development or strengthening the societal peace-building efforts that are essential to prevent future outbreaks of internal conflict. We must constantly beware lest questionable Governments use the legitimacy conferred by our dealings with them and divert the resources we provide in the name of stabilisation to further their own manipulative power games.
One of the weaknesses with past approaches to Somalia has surely been the support for the establishment of central government, in partnership with which there was a hope of tackling stabilisation, and a concentration on state-building and the provision of aid without having addressed the first-order issues of peace-building and reconciliation in that fractured society. The upshot has been the misuse of our efforts by newly empowered elites. Just because Governments in the region talk back to us in language that we like to hear and comply, on occasion, with our counterterror objectives, that does not mean that all is well. Not infrequently, the support we provide may conceal actions by Governments that undermine the values we advocate and ultimately come back to bite us. After all, as a recent Human Rights Watch report reminded us, stabilising or securing the periphery and eliminating rebellious or unacceptable groups, sometimes with cruel brutality, has a long tradition in the region.
Interventions must be carefully designed for each specific situation. They have to be the individually tailored right mix of development, reconciliation, peace-building and state-building, with each element carefully phased into the programme. Other stabilisation measures without all this are destined to failure. If I have learnt anything in a lifetime of work with organisations operating in depth in the field, it is that enduring peace and stability can seldom be imposed, especially by corrupt regimes. They simply have to be built from the grass roots upwards. Micropolicies are therefore every bit as important as macropolicies. We have to ask ourselves repeatedly: who, what and why are we stabilising?
What are the lessons for the future? The Horn’s development and sustained emergence from conflict will take a generation. It is therefore imperative to focus on both the short and the long term in complementary ways without giving distorting precedence to either. There must be a readiness to engage in new approaches. The high-level diplomatic peace conferences that have endeavoured to broker central-level power-sharing Governments for Somalia have become part of the problem. The priority now is to concentrate on lower-level work and to support bottom-up peace-building and reconciliation. In Kenya and Sudan, direct budget support and sector support have been badly misused. What is needed is conditional assistance and carefully selected individual projects. Alongside development assistance, non-aid instruments, such as smart sanctions and the International Criminal Court, may well have a part to play.
It is essential to work with more than just Governments. The rush to build states by concentrating on building Governments and state capacity is understandable, but can too easily fuel corruption if not well thought through and monitored. Kenya, Sudan and Somalia all provide evidence of this. It is vital to understand elite incentives and conflict drivers. Accountability emphatically matters. The generation of a strong civil society is therefore indispensable. Analysing and appreciating the root causes of conflict should be an invariable starting point. Absolutely all assistance should always be planned in the light of the outcome of such analysis and research.
The rule of law costs money. There has to be proper provision for legal infrastructure, qualified and well educated lawyers and judges, sound administration and adequate physical facilities. Penal systems, as in the UK, must foster rehabilitation and responsible citizenship. It is madness to foster alienation.
Finally—here I endorse very much what has been said—British influence in the region will be most effective when working with others. Co-ordination with the like-minded is crucial when dealing with such complexity. We should seek all the time to widen the number of the like-minded. Targets and partners for this could well include the EU and its individual members, the Arab League, the United States, the ICC, OECD donors and, one hopes, Brazil, Russia, India and China, all of which have great potential significance in the future of Africa. I look forward to the response of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, to this debate.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on initiating this timely debate on such an extremely significant subject. I shall focus on northern Uganda and Southern Sudan, together with the Nuba mountains, as my small NGO, HART, is privileged to be working with partners in those areas.
Having visited them in recent months, I can convey some of the concerns, fears and hopes of the people there, where the aftermath of conflict has left a legacy of widespread devastation of infrastructure, an acute shortage of essential services including healthcare and education, and many vulnerable people and decimated families, scarred by indescribably traumatic experiences. Security is a prerequisite for the rehabilitation of societies and individuals. Without some degree of stabilisation, developments essential for the restoration of communities and the healing of individuals cannot effectively be implemented.
We began our work in northern Uganda while the LRA was active and we witnessed the horrors that it created, terrorising the area for 20 years, displacing more than 1.6 million people, killing and maiming innocent civilians, and abducting at least 25,000 children, brutalising them and forcing them to become soldiers. I shall focus on the importance of education in this context, for post-conflict stability and personal healing.
Disturbingly, DfID’s 2009 annual report claims that Uganda is off track in relation to achieving millennium development goal 2. It is a matter of special concern that, despite some significant improvements in primary school enrolment and gender parity nationally, northern Uganda is still lagging far behind the rest of the country. For example, there is still a shortage of schools: 76 schools in Pader District were destroyed during the conflict; those that do exist are in poor condition; 47 of the 238 primary schools there are still “under trees”. There is also a significant lack of teachers in the north, especially female teachers. A 2008 government report identified a shortfall of more than 19,000 teachers in the northern region based on a target student-to-teacher ratio of 50:1, with a debilitating student-to-teacher ratio in Pader of 91:1 and a pupil-to-classroom ratio of 126:1. These difficult working conditions, lower salaries than elsewhere, poor facilities, high pupil-to-teacher ratios and lack of teacher accommodation all make recruitment and retention of teachers even more difficult. Despite the Ugandan Government’s assurance of prioritising the northern region, it still receives less funding per capita than the rest of the country.
I wish briefly to give two examples of the ordeals suffered by children abducted by the LRA to highlight the urgent need for good education for these young people who have suffered so much. First, I relate an all-too-typical story of a teenager whom I met. I shall call him John. He was abducted by the LRA when he was in his early teens. He was beaten, force-marched, kept hungry for days, trained to use weapons and had to use other children as target practice. One of his friends who tried to escape was recaptured and staked out on the ground. John and other teenagers had to trample their friend to death. Eventually, John managed to escape and the LRA killed his father as a punishment, so he goes around feeling guilty for the death of his “Dad”. Secondly, a young teenage girl told of how she had been forced to kill another child with a panga knife and drink his blood. She said that she still has nightmares, but asked me, crying, “What else could I do? It was either him or me”.
These young people and so many like them, who have suffered indescribable horrors at the hands of the LRA, desperately yearn for education in order to try to build a future for themselves and put the past behind them. Many cannot afford it and are left in desperation and despair. Such a situation is not only a tragedy for them but prevents the development of the region and may create a situation of potential instability, with young people left unemployed, psychologically traumatised and vulnerable, in desperation, to re-recruitment to militias who could bring renewed violence and instability to the region. Will Her Majesty's Government urge the Ugandan Government to ensure that all such young people have access to education? Also, will they consider other ways in which they could further assist the Ugandan Government to improve teacher training, and particularly train more women teachers?
This time last week I had the privilege of being the keynote speaker in a conference in Abuja on the empowerment of African women. A recurring theme throughout the whole of that conference was the urgent need for more education of girls and for teachers in many African countries. Returning briefly to Uganda, will Her Majesty’s Government also, in accordance with DfID’s 2009-14 country plan, urge the Ugandan Government to manage their resources more effectively and invest more public funding in the north?
Finally, in response to the fact that the LRA and other rebel groups are apparently mushrooming in the DRC and across the region and are a threat to regional stability, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey has already emphasised, will Her Majesty’s Government ask the UN/UPDF to increase military pressure and presence to protect civilians in LRA-affected areas?
I turn now to Sudan, declaring an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan. This is a critical time, with many threats to the comprehensive peace agreement. The National Congress Party is widely believed to be deeply opposed to the referendum as it does not wish the south to secede. There is widespread belief that the south will vote for independence. Serious concerns have been expressed over the lack of progress in post-conflict reconstruction in the south, but it is important to appreciate the extent of destruction and the low baseline from which the Government of Southern Sudan have had to start to rebuild all aspects of infrastructure and civil society. Despite the enduring problems facing the people of Southern Sudan, most of the population continue to put their faith in the Government in Juba rather than in Khartoum. The latter have lost all credibility there.
There are widespread fears that the Government of National Unity may be instigating inter-tribal fighting in parts of Southern Sudan. While skirmishes, with traditional weapons, for scarce resources such as land, water and cattle have been historically commonplace, recent conflicts have been exacerbated by the use of militias with more sophisticated weapons, such as AK47s, which local leaders believe may have been provided from Khartoum in order to create terror and destabilise the south.
There is also concern that the donor community has not fulfilled its 2005 commitments. Only a small fraction of the $4.8 billion assistance that was pledged has reached essential infrastructure projects, as humanitarian aid for Darfur has absorbed most of the money. Consequently, many parts of Southern Sudan and the marginalised areas have been off the radar screen for many major aid organisations and the international media, resulting in largely unreported humanitarian crises of enormous proportions and some of the worst health statistics in the world—one in seven children dies before their fifth birthday and one in seven mothers dies in pregnancy and childbirth. Less than 20 per cent of the population are protected by immunisation leaving 83 per cent vulnerable to preventable diseases such as polio, tetanus, measles and TB. Four years ago, we discovered unidentified leprosy in the eastern Upper Nile.
There has also been a lost generation of children unable to receive schooling because of constant bombardment and other effects of the war. Even now, less than half the children in Southern Sudan receive even a five-year basic primary education and 85 per cent of adults are illiterate, with an even higher figure of 92 per cent for women—an appalling figure. With an infrastructure devastated by war, there is a desperate need for rebuilding roads, without which people cannot move freely, especially in the rainy season, to reach towns for healthcare and education.
Other marginalised peoples continue to suffer from humanitarian crises. For example, the plight of the Beja people in eastern Sudan remains so serious that the southern Sudanese, whose own predicament is dire, undertook an investigation and claimed that the Beja people’s plight was even worse than their own. I ask the Minister whether EU and DfID funding could include an appropriate weighting to provide essential assistance to these all too often forgotten people in the marginalised areas.
The Government of Southern Sudan remain concerned over the erratic transfer of resources due from Khartoum and by the continuing refusal of the Government of National Unity to provide information on oil revenues. Especial concerns have been identified in SPLM-administered areas of southern Kordofan, or the Nuba mountains—I use that phrase because the people prefer it. Here people claim that they have received no peace dividends from the comprehensive peace agreement and say that they are,
“worse off since the CPA than we were during the war”.
Another cause for concern is the lack of any clear interpretation of the content of the consultation provided for the people of the Nuba mountains and other marginalised areas by the CPA instead of a referendum. Many leaders have emphasised that they would never wish for another war, but they may be driven to it, as they are worse off since the CPA and fear that its provisions will not provide them with protection from Khartoum’s perceived agenda to force them into a political and cultural assimilation designed to destroy their African history and identity. Will Her Majesty’s Government, in co-operation with the Joint Donor Team, other donor agencies and NGOs, do more to ensure the provision of essential supplies of water, land and food to these communities to reduce competition and conflict for those scarce resources and to promote more effective distribution of healthcare and education throughout all regions of Sudan?
Finally, I turn to problems of violence and insecurity in Southern Sudan, which claimed 2,500 lives last year and displaced 350,000 people. The notorious LRA has been responsible for many deaths, injuries and abductions; inter-tribal fighting has been responsible for the rest. There is widespread dismay and anger over the role of UNMIS—the United Nations Mission to Sudan. Requests and representations referred by local leaders have not even been acknowledged. Will Her Majesty’s Government support a reconsideration of the role of UNMIS to undertake a more proactive civilian protection role, in accordance with its mandate, and to define more clearly the circumstances under which it will provide protection, with appropriate intervention, rather than mere observation? Another civil war would be devastating for the Sudanese people as well as for neighbouring countries and, indeed, the entire horn of Africa.
The people of Sudan, both north and south, still look to the UK for support as they believe we have a special understanding of their situation and, to some extent, responsibility for their current predicament. I believe that this debate can reassure them and the people in the region that we in this country care and will do all we can to support them in endeavours to promote and maintain the post-conflict stability that is essential for reconstruction, development of civil society and peace between and within these nations in this volatile and vulnerable part of the great continent of Africa.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on getting this debate and on his perseverance over Questions, oral and written, on this region of Africa. It is a privilege to follow those who have spoken. The debate is timely not only because the DRC is celebrating 50 years of independence—celebrating, noting, whatever word may seem appropriate—but because there will be elections there next year, or at least we trust that they will happen. There are elections currently in Burundi, with a variety of difficulties attending them. There will be elections next year in Uganda and Kenya. Both places are much more fragile than is often realised in this country at a time when political space is narrowing right across the region in very worrying ways.
I come to this debate fresh from two recent experiences. On this day last week I had the privilege as an office holder, like the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Great Lakes, of chairing a round table on the DRC 50 years after independence and its prospects for stability, with people from Congo itself, a human rights lawyer from Goma, people from the Foreign Office, DfID and NGOs, and academics. It was not at all an encouraging three hours. After Easter, I had eight days in the DRC in and around Bunia in the east, with Congolese from all over the country.
My contribution to your Lordships’ debate will focus primarily on the DRC but necessarily, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and other speakers have noted, also on the region and the international level. It is important to realise that the breadth of international engagement in the region every year—British, European and other diplomacy—must grow. “International” means not only the region but South Africa, the Middle East, Malaysia, China, South Korea, India and Brazil, as well as the EU and the US. My strong sense, and that of others who work in the region much more than I do, is that there is an urgent need for a much tougher, more front-foot diplomatic effort by Her Majesty’s Government and a range of allies if the major financial commitments of the British Government through DfID are to be fully useful.
Nothing in the Foreign Secretary’s recent tour d’horizons of Foreign Office commitments noted the critical character of this region for peace more widely in Africa and elsewhere, or of British diplomacy. Yes, the 2004 Africa report was the work of the previous Government, but it was significant. They had lost sight of it, and I fear that the present Government have as well. The reality is that if roads, financial investment, education, employment, health, justice, and working financial and commercial systems are ever to appear in the DRC, then security and the confidence of the people must be right at the fore. That is largely a diplomatic question that requires quite fresh levels of diplomatic energy. Security and confidence are of course dependent on regional peace, as well as on the efforts of the Kinshasa Government. Their efforts are barely discernible anywhere in the country outside Kinshasa.
We must also understand that significant areas of the DRC are not yet post-conflict. A survey conducted by Oxfam in April this year showed that 60 per cent of the people in the Kivus in eastern Congo judged their security levels as markedly worse than last year. That figure is much higher among women in that area. Congo is 176th out of 179 on the Humanitarian Development Index. It is not remotely near reaching any of the millennium development goals.
As has been noted, a growing range of military groups are raping, looting, mutilating and killing. People cannot work the land or get to market if it is simply not safe. That is true for all ages and both genders, but it is obviously especially dangerous for women and children. Others have spoken of the LRA in the north. In spite of recent US legislation and US training of the Ugandan army, the situation remains very serious right across northern Congo, Southern Sudan and the Central African Republic.
A recent meeting of church leaders and government representatives from Southern Sudan, northern Congo and Uganda pressed Governments to take the security of their people more seriously. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, mentioned real difficulties in the UN operations, both in northern Congo, where they are barely represented, and in Southern Sudan. There are difficulties co-ordinating their mandates across the borders.
The wars in the east are still extremely serious. All the neighbouring powers still have fingers of one kind or another in the pie in north-eastern Congo. Looming over the region is the Rwandan genocide and what many people in Congo see as the British Government’s still bland sense of approval of Rwanda and extreme difficulty in noting where critical things need to be said of Rwanda. That goes down really very badly in eastern Congo.
The FDLR is still there. For most people, it is not now really a threat to Rwanda, but it is still a source of profound threat to local people. Its leaders, whether in Congo, elsewhere in the region, Europe or North America, are still hard at it exploiting minerals and gaining land. A range of other groups, the failure of the wars of the past years and a chaotic lack of discipline in the national army all make for fearful effects on hundreds of thousands of people.
There are those who say that the decreasing political space in Rwanda is again forcing people across the border back into Congo and with a renewed political commitment to the wars in eastern Congo. Still fuelling Congo’s present want of stability is the almost completely uncontrolled exploitation of Congo’s immeasurably rich mineral, forest and now oil resources. Now, as variously since 1994, these are in the hands of armed groups and are beyond the reach of the Government, fuelling violence and misery. We need a quite fresh regional and diplomatic energy as well as energy on the part of the UK Government in relation to UK-based or part-UK commercial mineral enterprises. There is an urgent requirement for a much greater level of insistence on due diligence regarding provenance, supply chains, and end smelters and end users. “Blood diamonds” gained currency as a term in Sierra Leone, but Congo has blood diamonds, blood tin, blood gold, blood coltan in our phones, blood timber, and now blood oil. All these things largely bypass anything remotely beginning to resemble a tax system in Congo. Some of them are flown straight out, not even going to the Congolese comptoir, to elsewhere in the region, the Middle East, South Africa, Malaysia, Europe or North America.
The question for the British Government is how these questions can be worked at with fresh diplomatic energy in the region and more widely. The Congolese Government and others—understandably, as independent Governments—are resistant to being told what to do. On the other hand, this Government and other European Governments have significant levers. If DfID’s investment is to be safeguarded, front-foot Foreign Office work is essential.
The noble Lords, Lord Chidgey and Lord Sheikh, and others have mentioned the 2006 pact on security, stability and development that was ratified in 2008. It says all the right things; the question is whether those who signed it can be encouraged to take some notice of it, reread it and work at it. Then there is the matter of bringing local and international people—financial and commercial actors as well as Governments—to look to the needs and welfare of the people.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, made a point about both the CSAR and northern Uganda. There is a need for a particular and fresh, cross-cutting emphasis on children at every point in these diplomatic and DfID enterprises, because it is on children that future security, education, health and long-term stability depend. The questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, are of critical urgency for all the reasons mentioned, especially in those parts where it is not yet possible to speak of post-conflict; and because those who know this region well seem to be extremely anxious that, right across from Congo to Kenya, conflict may be reappearing, and may reappear more in the next year or two.
My Lords, I declare my interest as an adviser to the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative in Rwanda and other charitable foundations working in this area. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for initiating and securing this debate. I was aware of his passion for both this subject and these regions in advance of entering the House. I share that passion; I believe strongly that peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction are the greatest, most important and, unfortunately, the most difficult development challenges of our time.
In making my maiden speech today, I am conscious of the history and constitutional importance of the House, and of the emerging debate on its future and further reform. I will respect the former and make a contribution to the latter. I hope that, as former First Minister of Scotland, a Member of the Scottish Parliament for Motherwell and Wishaw, and the first MSP who has not previously served in Westminster to join this House, I can bring a helpful perspective to that debate. Many noble Lords have welcomed me to the House and to Westminster in recent weeks. I am very grateful for the welcome I have received. I have friends on all sides of the House and I look forward to working with them in the years to come.
I am particularly proud to have recorded the name of the farm where I grew up—Glenscorrodale—in the title which I received last Monday. There is a real pride and pleasure for me in recognising Glenscorrodale, the successful sheep farm that my father built, and from where he represented Scotland in international sheepdog trials. But perhaps more significantly for me, as I was never meant to be a farmer, the farm was also where my mother built a successful business—a tea room that was nationally recognised and received awards. This was quite an achievement for a farmer’s wife who had left school with an ambition to be a domestic science teacher, which she never realised because of family illnesses at that time. Indeed, I believe there may even be Members of this House to whom I served tea on the farm. One or two have mentioned that I showed early skills at that time in dealing diplomatically with difficult situations.
I thank the staff of the House for their guidance and assistance over recent weeks. I look forward to relying on their experience and knowledge to help me make an effective contribution. I am particularly looking forward to questioning the other Lord Wallace—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who was my Deputy First Minister in the Scottish devolved Government. I had to defend him as Deputy First Minister on many occasions, as he did for me. It will be interesting, now that he is serving in another coalition, to have the opportunity to ask him questions. There will be many watching that with a smile. Having led a coalition Government for nearly six years—longer than any other person in British politics today—I will use that experience to advise constructively and hold accountable the new coalition Government here. I hope that, in this House, I can also help UK institutions to understand better today’s United Kingdom as a whole—a multinational, multicultural country where our diversity strengthens rather than weakens our communities.
I was interested to learn that the first Scottish life Peer under the 1876 Act, Baron Blackburn, was a mathematics graduate. My earlier career before entering Parliament was as a mathematics teacher. My lifelong passion for education is one of the reasons why I have an interest in post-conflict reconstruction and peace-building. There is no doubt in my mind—and in this I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—that access to education is fundamental to sustainable development and peace.
As the former Prime Minister’s special representative on peace-building from 2008 to 2010, I had the opportunity to visit, among others, the countries of the Great Lakes region last year. I met former combatants in our highly successful demobilisation and reintegration camp in Rwanda. I met some incredible UN peacekeepers from India, a long way from home, deep inside the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. I met an inspiring youth leader who had sheltered more than 20,000 youngsters in his youth club in Bujumbura in Burundi, and ordinary people still living in a camp for internally displaced persons three years after the establishment of peace in northern Uganda. In these countries there is real progress today, as other noble Lords have noted. Many of those working for local and national Governments, NGOs, the UN, the World Bank, the European Union and individual country donors do a terrific job.
However, all—and I mean all—could do so much more. Levels of poverty, sexual violence and ill health are unacceptable for far too many of the people who live in these countries and the other countries of the wider region. We need to learn from success, but also from failure. We need to understand that building a functioning democratic state under the rule of law and with a growing economy takes time. Politicians are good and bad everywhere. Patience and persistence can be essential in peace-building. We need to understand that development is the mortar of peace. I welcome our new Government’s commitment to maintaining progress towards the 0.7 per cent target for international aid. However, as the UN’s summit on progress towards the millennium development goals takes place in September, supporting our Prime Minister to urge other leaders to keep their promises is a responsibility for all.
The previous Government in the UK made considerable progress in leading the debate on UN peace-building missions and their effectiveness. The UN has also supported the development of the African Union, as has the UK in recent years. I know from recent discussions with the current chair of the African Union—Malawi’s President, Bingu wa Mutharika—that, while its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, had a principle of non-interference, the AU has firmly established its principle of non-indifference. For me, the future of conflict prevention, post-conflict stabilisation and peace-building in Africa lies inside Africa itself. I hope that our Government will continue to help to build the capacity of the African Union and the regional organisations to realise that vision.
Finally, it is undoubtedly the case that the post-conflict efforts of the UN, the World Bank, the EU and many others have too often lacked coherence, been too little too late and underestimated the importance of capacity-building and national ownership. This year—in a review of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, a review of the international efforts to build capacity in fragile states, the establishment of the new women’s agency at the UN and the MDG summit in December—there will be real opportunities to improve on this past performance. In Rwanda in particular, but also recently in Uganda, Burundi and the DRC, there have been signs of hope. Let us build on them and help to build a safer and more prosperous world for us all.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, has made a fine, knowledgeable and impressive maiden speech in your Lordships’ House today. When we recently had a conversation, I asked him on which issues he intended to concentrate his efforts. Immediately he mentioned his love of Africa, especially Malawi. As noble Lords would expect from a former teacher, he is passionate, as he said in his maiden speech, about the important role that education plays in the development of countries such as Malawi. The noble Lord brings distinguished service in the Scottish Parliament to your Lordships’ House. He has been MSP for the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency since 1999, becoming both leader of the Scottish Labour Party and the longest-serving First Minister from 2001 to 2007. He has many fine achievements to his credit but I single out his commitment to his promotion of an anti-sectarian agenda in Scotland, thereby tackling an age-old scar in Scottish society and culture. I pay tribute to him for that.
As the coalition Government ponder changes to the voting system, to which the noble Lord referred, and reflect on the required give and take of coalition politics, they could do a lot worse than study how the noble Lord successfully managed a Lib-Lab coalition north of the border. In an article he wrote recently, he gave 10 tips for making coalitions work. Perhaps it should be required reading for all new Ministers. He said in that article:
“The policy detail needs to be underpinned by a shared sense of purpose—and values. The coalition needs to be clear about what kind of country it is trying to build”.
Those are wise words. He went on to talk about the importance of political maturity and setting aside tribalism. Gordon Brown was well aware of the noble Lord’s talents, which is why he appointed him as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Conflict Resolution Mechanisms, in which role he took a keen interest in conflict resolution in Africa. As First Minister, he pioneered the Scottish Government’s efforts to support development initiatives in Malawi, reflecting the historic ties which extend between Scotland and Malawi, going back to the time of David Livingstone. A co-operation agreement between Scotland and Malawi was signed in September 2005. As he has told us, he is an adviser to the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative in Malawi and Rwanda. In bringing this great experience of public affairs, and particularly of conflict resolution, to your Lordships' House, the noble Lord will undoubtedly make many distinguished and thoughtful contributions to our debates. It is with great pleasure that we all welcome the noble Lord among us today.
We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for giving us the opportunity to have this debate. In opening it, he referred to the Lord’s Resistance Army as being the greatest threat to the Democratic Republic of Congo. It could reasonably be argued that it is also the greatest threat to stability throughout the whole of the region. Only yesterday I met a young Ugandan woman who goes under the pseudonym of Juliet and was a member of the LRA. In a letter to the Prime Minister, which she is delivering today to Downing Street, she sets out her story. She says in the letter:
“When I was 12, I was abducted by rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army … I saw many children being killed … At 14, I was forced into a sexual relationship with a man who was above my age”.
She went on to say that, after the death of a baby in childbirth:
“I was lucky and managed to get away. I made it back to my family and got help to rebuild my life … When I was in the bush I missed school for 6 years but I always had the desire to go back to school”.
I promised Juliet that I would tell her story in your Lordships' House today. Her appeal now is for the LRA’s leaders to be brought to justice and for young women like her to be given a fresh chance in life, especially as regards education. I want to say more about the LRA, particularly as regards its role in the Democratic Republic of Congo—which was referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friend Lady Cox—but also about the effect of its role operating out of northern Congo, particularly in Southern Sudan.
Fifty years ago, on 30 June 1960, Congo was granted its independence by Belgium. Within days, a military coup was under way and United Nations peacekeepers were dispatched there. They were the forerunners of today’s MONUC, the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the world, which, from the beginning of this month, has been renamed MONUSCO. In 1960, the peacekeepers were followed by a procession of mercenaries and militias, frequently hired by western interests, especially mining companies. In the ensuing years, 6 million people have lost their lives in the DRC; it is Africa’s World War One.
When I visited the DRC in 2004 and published a report about the scale of the violence there, I talked about our apparent indifference to this haemorrhaging loss of life. I contended that the biggest obstacle to peace has been the control of easily appropriable and highly valuable natural resources by armed groups and national armies from as many as six neighbouring countries. The Congo has more diamonds, gold, cobalt, coltan and uranium—to name only some of its phenomenal assets—than any other country in Africa. In spite of a lamentable catalogue of crimes against humanity, the Congo probably remains Europe’s and America’s biggest supplier of uranium, coltan, cobalt and tin. For rebel groups and militia elites from neighbouring countries, these riches, rather than bringing the populace out of poverty, have become a source of obscene wealth. It serves their interests to encourage the sickeningly chaotic situation. Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda have all been beneficiaries.
The loss of life in these conflicts is incalculable, as is the cost in terms of social and human development. During the 15 years up until 2005, the cost of conflict throughout Africa was around $300 billion—equal to the money provided to Africa in aid during the same period.
Let us think about Sudan for a moment. I visited Southern Sudan during the civil war. Two million people lost their lives there and 400,000 people were displaced, a situation which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has brought to our attention on many occasions. I visited Darfur, where between 200,000 and 300,000 people have died, 2 million people have been displaced and 90 per cent of the villages have been razed to the ground. Next year Southern Sudan will decide in a referendum whether to secede and become an independent nation. On Tuesday last, at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan, of which I am acting chairman, we considered the implications of secession. Again and again, contributors warned that security questions are the most crucial issue facing Sudan and that people were aching for peace and security—a phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, who kindly addressed that meeting. I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will tell us what we are doing to help prepare Sudan for post-referendum challenges, not least the danger of a slide back into conflict. One Sudanese contributor remarked that if border and territorial questions are not resolved, it risks repeating the tragedy of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
In both Sudan and DRC I have been struck by the lack of resources—food, water, medicines—matched by the seemingly inexhaustible supply of small arms and weapons. A thousand people die each day, victims of small arms; 95 per cent of the Kalashnikov rifles used in these conflicts come from outside Africa. Conflicts are estimated to cost African economies an average of $18 billion a year—desperately needed money which could solve the HIV/AIDS crisis, prevent TB and malaria or provide clean water, sanitation and education.
I have introduced a small Private Member’s Bill, the Re-Export Controls Bill, which received its First Reading on 22 May and has the support of the charity Saferworld. One of its trustees is the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who spoke earlier, and, in another place, the right honourable Tom Clarke MP, who has promised that, if it succeeds here, he will take it through its stages there. The UK’s export controls regime is one of the best in the world, but on this particular issue the UK is behind the curve. The US, France, Germany, Sweden, and many other countries, all use some kind of no re-export without permission clause. In other words, arms from the UK are sold to other countries, which then sell them on into these areas of conflict. We are wrong to resist a belt and braces provision, as we have done thus far, when other principal European Governments have felt it necessary to enact such provisions. I hope to rectify this situation and that the Minister will feel able to support this small Bill. Unless we resolve Africa’s conflicts, stop the flow of arms and develop a secure environment, our aid programmes will continue to be ineffectual.
The desperate need for development is self-evident. I could give the House statistics, but it has already heard many. However, I shall mention just two. In eastern DRC more than 31,400 children are said to have been identified as having acute malnutrition and have been treated, and another 100,000 children are in need of treatment. These children have often been left orphaned as a result of the conflict. Indeed, there are said to be 4 million orphaned children in the DRC today. In the east of the country there have been waves of explosive violence, as the right reverend Prelate said. In north and south Kivu, the FDLR—Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda—continue to maraud. As they displace terrified people, the refugees become fodder for the competing militias. Many refugees are reluctant to return to Rwanda, where a journalist was killed just a fortnight ago, where the opposition has not been allowed to register, and where there has recently been more net migration out of the country than into it. I have admired much that Rwanda has achieved, but in praising its achievements we must be careful not to deceive ourselves about the challenges it still faces in creating a stable and inclusive society.
Many of the 100,000 refugees in the east of the Congo are of Rwandan origin. Kinshasa has tried divide and rule. The divide has worked but the rule has not. At the latest count, a mushrooming of local factions has seen the emergence of 22 different factions. One recent survey, as the right reverend Prelate said, found that 60 per cent of people felt less safe than they did a year ago.
I will end by mentioning the LRA. Since 2008, a military offensive has been under way. I find it extraordinary that Joseph Kony, against whom there is an ICC arrest warrant outstanding, has not been brought to justice. I hope that the Minister will tell us what more can be done to bring him to justice and to end the culture of impunity.
I will also mention the recent killing of human rights defender Floribert Chebeya, about whom the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, answered some of my questions earlier in the week. It is not enough simply to have an internal Congolese inquiry into his death. MONUSCO, too, should be invited to put in hand an inquiry. I hope that the noble Lord will raise that question with them.
Throughout this region of Africa, there has been a culture of impunity. What have we done to encourage the Congolese to extradite Bosco Ntaganda, for whom there is also an ICC warrant outstanding, or to persuade the Government of Rwanda to bring to trial Laurent Nkunda, captured in January of last year, as well as Joseph Kony, whom I mentioned?
In conclusion, as the Congo looks back over 50 deadly years since it gained independence, its people need protection and stability. This will require security sector reform, the disarmament of militias and the restoration of authority based on the rule of law. It is said that the world is growing weary of the endless conflict in the Congo. However tired the world may be, for the sake of the Congolese people we need to remain alert to the country's suffering and engaged with its plight—for the sake of young women like Juliet, whom I mentioned earlier. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to say more about what the international community is doing to end the depredations of the LRA.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for initiating this debate, and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on his energising maiden speech.
In March last year, I visited the Mtabila refugee camp in the Kasulu district of north-west Tanzania. The visit was part of a wider visit to Tanzania, to learn about the needs of the Anglican diocese of Western Tanganyika on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, with which my diocese of Gloucester is partnered. I mention this because it is worth remembering that, in the post-colonial era when relations between this country and former colonies can, at an official civil level, sometimes be strained, partnerships that have been developed by the churches often provide a fruitful place of dialogue and relationship-building.
As noble Lords will know, there have been two waves of refugees from Burundi into Tanzania and other east African countries over the past 40 years, and nearly 500,000 have been repatriated in the past eight years. When I visited the Mtabila camp, it was the last remaining camp hosting Burundian refugees in Tanzania. The people we met there—many noble Lords will recognise this as a typically African phenomenon—greeted us with laughter, exuberance, singing and dancing, yet spoke with deep sincerity of their grief and sadness. Their grief was not an uncomplicated sadness at being deprived of their homeland. All the children who rushed to greet us had never known life in Burundi, and the fact that the way was opening for them to return to the homeland they had never known was not necessarily good news. The refugee ends up not knowing where he or she belongs.
I do not have the figures on the Mtabila camp, but in relation to two settlements of Burundian refugees in camps in Rukwa and Tabora in Tanzania, I know that in 2008, faced with the choice of returning home or applying for Tanzanian citizenship, 165,000, which is 75 per cent, decided to stay and apply for Tanzanian citizenship, while 55,000—only 25 per cent—opted to return to Burundi. I share this with noble Lords because it is important to recognise that post-conflict stabilisation does not relate only to countries where there has been conflict and destabilisation. Tanzania has been an extraordinarily stable country through the post-colonial era. That it remains such a poor one, despite peace and stability, is a great sadness. We need to honour countries that have played host to refugees and we need to understand the huge challenge to them of the fact that vast numbers of refugees wish to settle in their adopted homes and to become citizens of their adopted countries. We also need to retain our compassion for those who, after years of exile, have no real sense of who they are and where they belong.
I return to the potential of churches and faith communities for peace-building and reconciliation in countries where there has been conflict. The response of the Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Division, of which I am a vice-chair, to the 2009 White Paper from the Department for International Development, noted that in many situations of armed conflict where the institutions of government have failed or are failing, churches and faith communities often represent the only coherent and effective means of service delivery nationwide. They represent a durable and reliable presence, which illustrates that they are intrinsically part of the community. They remain embedded in areas affected by conflict and crisis long after others have left. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, up to 60 per cent of healthcare is provided by the church, yet the role of the church as a service provider in the DRC hardly warranted a mention in the relevant DfID strategy papers. A greater appreciation by the department of how religious networks operate in conflict situations could see fundamentally different ways of delivering assistance in fragile and conflict-affected countries. At present, this is crucial in the Sudan, where the Anglican and Catholic churches are able to play a key role because of their networks in both north and south.
The difficulty is that there will often be a tendency to marginalise the contribution of churches and other faith communities for the undeniable reason that religion is sometimes the cause of the conflict. In some instances it really is the source: in others, an oversimplistic understanding has portrayed it as the source. Sometimes humility and repentance are required of religious people for their part in creating dreadful conflicts; but it is equally important that government, and all those working for stabilisation and engaged in state-building, do not overlook the role of religion as a force for reconciliation.
More than any other civil society actor, churches and faith communities provide global networks linking north and south, and local to international, that may be mobilised for social justice and advocacy. Churches and faith communities have a visible and living presence among the poor, the marginalised and the most vulnerable in society. Whether it be Zimbabwe with its repression, Sudan with its conflict or Tanzania with its poverty, it is this rootedness in the local community that gives the faith communities the right and the opportunity to challenge injustice and to work for the restoration of human dignity and flourishing where this has been lost.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right to draw attention to the positive role of the churches in many conflict situations in Africa. I had much to do with various church initiatives in South Africa and Namibia during the 1980s, and I am confident that the history of South Africa and Namibia would have been very different without them. Obviously Madiba had a great role, but the underpinning and foundations were laid across the racial barriers by the South African Council of Churches and the council of churches of Namibia, with Protestants and Catholics working together.
I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on his initiative, and my noble friend Lord McConnell on his magnificent maiden speech. He shares a passion for Africa with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, with whom I worked on a number of initiatives. His hands-on experience as a civil engineer in Africa is the foundation of his own commitment.
My first experience of the region that I can recall was reading, as a young diplomat, the dispatch of our ambassador in Ethiopia, Mr Galbraith, at the inaugural meeting of the Organisation of African Unity in about May 1963. He concluded as follows:
“The aged Lion of Judah is sitting on the fence with both ears to the ground as the wind of change is howling around the Horn of Africa”.
Haile Selassie gave way to Mengistu. For many in Africa, the wind of change was an ill wind that brought dictatorship, although often with the very best of intentions. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is in his place. From the work that he has done in Eritrea, we have seen the decline of noble aspirations and the current reality. As I said, the ill wind brought dictatorship, and it brought corruption and civil war. There are some glorious exceptions around Africa today, such as Ghana and South Africa, but on the whole power has corrupted massively and gone unchecked. There is the roll call of disasters and dictators from Rwanda through to Sudan and the Congo. There was a recent debt write-off of $10.8 million in the Congo, but there are still very dubious practices there. In Kenya and Uganda the story is better, but there is still a need in those countries for post-conflict reconciliation.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, made a strong plea for evaluating aid effectiveness. Obviously, for the region money is necessary but insufficient, and institutional reform is important but insufficient. There is a need for a spirit and practice of give and take and togetherness, which often the churches have been able to provide, together with good governance, accountability and transparency, and the rule of law with honest and competent judges—something that we in Europe often take for granted. Alas, fewer lawyers from the region are now trained in the UK. However, the importance of good governance, transparency and accountability is increasingly recognised by international agencies, including DfID, although there is some concern that DfID may be too inflexible in giving some of its grants.
A number of us, led by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Jay, have expressed concern about the reduction in the FCO stabilisation fund, and there is a fear that there will be further cuts in that budget when the autumn cuts come. As we heard in last week’s statement, the government-funded Westminster Foundation for Democracy lost about £400 million. At parliamentary level, there is the work done by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association internationally and by its UK branch. Much has been done in the new Commonwealth country of Rwanda. Immediately after the genocide of 1994, I had the privilege of chairing two reconciliation conferences and saw some of the inheritance of the Government of Rwanda. Yet, given that inheritance and in spite of concerns about press freedom, the direction of travel is pretty good.
Equally, great work has been done by the CPA UK branch in Uganda and Somaliland, although the latter is not part of the Commonwealth. Good work has also been done in Kenya, although it is sad that Kenyan Members of Parliament have this week voted themselves to be the highest-paid Members of Parliament in the world. One fears that, following the general election that will take place there in 2012, there will again be a real danger of post-election conflict. Much needs to be done by their Government to prevent that.
Below the official level of DfID and other EU contributors is the work of British NGOs and others at both the micro and macro levels, which is often ignored. I give two examples from organisations of which I am a patron. At the micro level, the Christian International Peace Service is a small specialist peace-making organisation specialising in, and living and working at, the grass-roots level. Its work in north-east Uganda began in 1991 following the growing conflict between the Iteso and Karimojong tribes. That conflict peaked between 1984 and 2005. The organisation has a small team which lives at the economic level of the people and works in the buffer zone between the two tribes, creating mixed settlements totalling 25,000, and providing stability, enabling people to become self-supporting. By placing team members in difficult areas, it has shown that reconciliation is possible. Already, the support and co-operation of the authorities in both districts has led to real progress. There have been more than 20 intermarriages, which is remarkable, yet the organisation receives no official funds—not even from our high commission in Kampala.
The other, perhaps better known, group is Concordis International, which is working in Sudan and therefore has relevance to the wider east African region. Its work is vital as we now approach the referendum in the south. Concordis has been working on cross-border relations between north and south, which remain a crucial component of peaceful co-existence. The organisation is a British, Cambridge-based peace-building NGO, with offices in Khartoum and Juba, working to support a peaceful and stable transition through the potentially turbulent years ahead. It has a major EU-funded focus on relations between tribes and communities on either side of the north-south Sudanese border, and works on current issues which will continue to be faced after the referendum and which have been exacerbated by years of conflict in the border area.
Concordis has a similar programme in Kenya. It currently has a research project to be completed by August 2010, laying the groundwork for a five-year grant-making programme by the United States Institute of Peace for peace-building in the north-south border areas, and there will be a future development along the same lines. I cite these two bodies, of which I am a patron, as examples of the many NGOs which are doing sterling work in those areas.
Finally, it is easy to be disheartened by the negative features of developments in central and eastern Africa. Sometimes there are two steps forward and one step back. However, there are some encouraging signs of hope, even in the Horn of Africa. Somalia is the classic failed state. I have helped to conduct two seminars in Somaliland, the former British protectorate, where, with all the difficulties that it has of being one of the poorest areas in the world, there is a working democracy. Somaliland has a desire to work more closely with Britain, and the CPA has responded to that. There are also some signs of hope with the work of the CPA in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. I hope that, as a House, we will be prepared to pay a real tribute to the work of the very many British and other non-governmental organisations which are deeply and personally involved in the vital work of reconciliation and peace-building in the area.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be a tail-ender in this debate, and I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, for introducing it. His use of the phrase “post-conflict stabilisation” today must come from two sources: a strong desire to see peace in Africa’s troubled regions and, in contrast, an acceptance of the reality of conflict which is ongoing and which he himself has seen at close hand. Many noble Lords in these debates have wrestled with this paradox in Africa.
My noble friend Lady Cox has again shared her amazing experiences from Sudan in one of the finest speeches I have heard from her. In view of the historic links between Scotland and Africa, it is also a pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, Lord McDonnell, to this debate and to know that the spirit of David Livingstone is among us.
I intend to speak about Sudan which should be a model of post-conflict stabilisation, having benefited from the so-called CPA—the comprehensive peace agreement—on which the entire international community has worked hard for five years and more, including our own Government. This enormous country seems permanently on the brink of a political crisis which could still topple this vital agreement. Since April, its leaders have at last demonstrated a new determination to make it work, at least up to the referendum in January. On the face of it, the conditions for the referendum in Southern Sudan, as laid out in the CPA, are not yet in place. Fighting continues in Darfur. In Abyei even this week there were casualties as well as in other parts of the south. The elections in April did not bring harmonious results and there are urgent concerns about registration and citizenship. Who will belong to the north and the south in the future? Wealth-sharing arrangements and disputed boundaries are all matters that still need to be worked out
The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about grass roots development and good governance are critical, as is the involvement of NGOs. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, also mentioned building capacity. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester mentioned the key role of the churches in Southern Sudan. I pay tribute to the work of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, through his diocesan link. My noble friend Lady Cox also mentioned the poverty of these marginal areas and our failure to bring international aid to people away from the centre such as Juba.
There are always voices of doom, especially from the south of Sudan. The SPLM Secretary-General for the northern sector, Yasir Sa’id Arman, expressed fears last weekend that the CPA was not being taken seriously enough. He said that it was being treated by the north as “any old peace agreement” with dissident southerners, instead of one which demonstrated national reconciliation. He has a fair point. During demonstrations of southerners in Kampala this week the SPLM youth leader Eng Paul Akol blamed the north for leaving the south in poverty. He accused Khartoum of arming militia groups in the south and claimed that a separate south would more easily overcome the threat from the LRA. That is quite a claim.
Meanwhile, the maverick Dr Hasan al-Turabi said that the Government were trying to hold the tension of secession and were already holding a post-mortem without discussing the problem itself. I believe that he is right. No one can confront the issue of secession itself simply because so many problems remain unresolved. The countdown to January continues. The referendum commission has been established and meetings are coming up once again to discuss the vital issues of oil-rich borders such as Abyei, wealth-sharing and citizenship. I ask the Minister to imagine the south voting for secession. What will be the material benefits of independence? Sudan’s national external debt, despite its oil wealth, stood at about US$35 billion in 2009—last year’s figures. According to the IMF, such an economy cannot be sustainable in the absence of debt relief. Southern Sudan on other hand will be among the very poorest countries. It will have a much higher poverty rating in the World Bank charts, which will be reflected in its first poverty reduction strategic plan. Will the south be able to take advantage of the new IMF arrangements, such as the special facility for the least developed countries? Will it qualify for the highly indebted poor countries initiative in its own right? Perhaps it will apply to join the Commonwealth. Once free of Khartoum, it will not be restrained by US and EU sanctions arising from the ICC verdict and will become eligible for international aid from every source.
It would surely not be right to classify the south as an oil state. Who will own the oil in Upper Nile and the other states which will remain in dispute next year as long as its oil revenues are derived from the pipeline to the north and it has no form of export of its own? While a proportion may be accounted for actuarially, it cannot really be treated as southern revenues. Given such ambiguity, does the Minister think that possession of oil reserves will count in favour or against the south?
In conclusion, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, on Uganda and the LRA, and I heard the tragic tales from my noble friends Lord Alton and Lady Cox. I would make only one point about the LRA. The Ugandan army has been seen as a source of great stability and has benefited Southern Sudan’s security. However, I cannot see it making progress without the fullest technical support. What are our Government doing, perhaps alongside the United Nations force, to maintain that technical support and to ensure that Kampala revives its stalled economic programme for the Acholi people who are, after all, the homeland of the LRA northern Uganda? My noble friend Lady Cox has painted another painful image for us of the condition of many children in Uganda. Having visited Uganda on more than one occasion, I can say that while there is universal education for some, many are not included in the north of Uganda. I commend my noble friend’s remarks and hope that the Minister has a reply.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, as everyone else has done, for his continuing commitment to human rights and developments in Africa. I never cease to be impressed by the standard of debates that we have on these matters in your Lordships’ House.
I have known my noble friend Lord McConnell as a friend for many years, and I have every confidence that he will bring to your Lordships’ House enormous expertise. More important is his passion for tackling poverty and inequality wherever and whenever it occurs. He has spent his entire political life fighting injustice and we are pleased and proud to see him on these Benches.
Given the pervasiveness of violent conflict and the ensuing poverty in several African countries, the case for security sector reform and stabilisation is clearly compelling. Many countries that we are discussing today have suffered armed conflict characterised by similar causes, which demand an integrated approach to disarmament, demobilisation and, most importantly in many ways, reintegration. That is the one aspect of DDR which is not functioning as well as it should. Narrowly focused peace enforcement is no longer the right approach to these matters.
In all the countries under review today we can fairly say that it has been in all cases very difficult to advance justice, given the region’s notoriously weak judicial systems. There is also a poor record of accountability for massive and terrible crimes and ongoing insecurity.
Examples abound of failures to prosecute suspects associated with widespread abuses, such as in the DRC. When I was there recently, we saw clearly how many of those abusers had been freely incorporated into the Congolese National Army. There is little consideration of the need for national reparations programmes, or for tackling the fundamental root causes of conflict.
As others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, have said, people want a peace dividend and a marked improvement in the quality of their lives. Yes, they want schools, they want access to health systems and they want land and support for agriculture. Naturally, people are asking for all those things. The continuing conflict in many areas that we have been discussing stands in the way of that progress.
International stabilisation efforts will fail if those matters are not addressed. There is also a failure properly to monitor what is succeeding or failing. The modern mandate is changing. As the International Crisis Group has stated clearly, it is not simply about peace enforcement but must encompass much wider objectives on security sector reform and DDR, as well as on transitional justice, as we move forward from conflict, on gender empowerment, humanitarian assistance, de-mining—the list of things that need to be done is endless. Stabilisation must address the broader security objectives of justice reform and economic recovery. Impunity must be addressed in all conflict and post-conflict situations. Unless people feel that the perpetrators of abuse have been brought to justice, they will never feel that they have the respect that they need and deserve.
The DfID/FCO Stabilisation Unit has promoted such an approach, and I very much hope that the coalition Government will value and promote its work. Will the Minister clarify how the Government view proposals that we heard from the Conservatives before the election for a military-led stabilisation and reconstruction force? Does he agree that such an approach, mixing the military with the humanitarian, is inappropriate and unhelpful?
I have visited the Great Lakes region many times since 1994, just after the Rwandan genocide. Although there has been progress between the neighbours, between Kinshasa and Kigali, it has still not provided the peace and security which it should. Divisions and tensions remain. The mistrust of the people in the Kivus in Congo of the Rwandanese remains very strong. I was in Bukavu in May, and visited the Panzi hospital, where a wonderful, selfless doctor cares for women victims of sexual violence. He wears a badge which says, “Do not stand idly by”, and we should all bear that in mind when we discuss these issues. He acknowledges that much needs to be done for the long-suffering people of the Kivus.
I met three women who, in the three days before I was there, had been brutally raped by FLDR militia. It was so striking to talk to them and feel their emotion, but also their strength and resilience. I sat there listening to them. All that they wanted to ask me was: would we help to find their children? They did not ask for any sympathy. They just said: “We need to find our children”. Clearly, we cannot and should not look away. We must reform the security sector, because that is the way to secure long-term peace.
In Darfur, Chad and Congo, systematic rape is a feature of military campaigns. The UN commander in the DRC said last year that it is more dangerous to be a woman in a modern conflict than to be a soldier. Thousands of women were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocides. Only eight convictions for sexual violence were prosecuted by the international criminal tribunal. Despite UN resolutions, violence, especially sexual violence, continues unabated. The underlying causes must be tackled. Fundamentally, that means addressing the issues covered by millennium development goal 3 —that is, dealing with the widespread low status and low value accorded to women. Violence against women is not a parallel issue; it is an intrinsic security issue. As I have seen, after such brutal attacks have taken place, the stigma suffered by women who have endured sexual violence often leads to a total rejection by their families and communities. Indeed, none of the three women whom I met had had any visits from any members of their families.
Women have to be part of the security force, as they are in Liberia, for instance. We have a very good example of a woman president in Liberia, who understands how we should address the needs of such women after such violence—how they need respect and interest taken in them. If they do not get that, the essential link to the community is lost. If we do not involve women, that community experience will be lost. The engagement of women is a key determinant in the potential success of any peace process. They should be at the table—currently, they rarely are. The leadership of women must be supported and encouraged, as must be the participation of women in the decision-making and peace processes.
Will the Minister clarify whether the Government will appoint a Minister tasked to work on violence-against-women issues across the three departments, DfID, the FCO and the MoD? He may be aware that I had that responsibility under the Labour Government. I hope that a similar initiative will be taken by the coalition Government.
As other noble Lords have said, child protection is essential. I will refer to the demobilisation of children, which others have not raised. They need long-term support so that they can come to terms with the horror and trauma that they have experienced. Proper child protection systems and structures are needed, and families and communities need to be part of the integration process. That is urgently needed in the Congo and in Sudan, where the UN has reported that for many years, as a matter of course, young children, including girls, have been recruited into the ranks. Turning things around for those people will require time and, I fear, endless patience.
Governments in the regions that we are focusing on today need to grow in confidence and earn legitimacy. That is essential for stability. We see that central and east African conflicts are contagious. Refugees move across borders, so do armies and so does economic collapse. In the Horn, in Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Sudan, we see the tensions that reverberate around access to the sea and to ports, about livestock on the borders, about energy, water and land rights. All of those are sources of tension and conflict. A recent Chatham House report described that as the economic driver of those conflicts. In both central and east Africa, the task is to build governance, reconciliation and economic development.
The problems are huge but, given the political will and the assurance of the resources to assist the Governments of those countries in the efforts that they need to make, they are not insurmountable. Working with regional organisations—with the African Union as the way forward, as others have said—the United Kingdom and the European Union can play a strong and important role.
The human tragedy that we see across the region is not a statistic; it is a continuing and terrible tragedy. The resilience of the people of those countries has been spoken of by many noble Lords. That always reminds me that we cannot be full of doom and gloom about what may happen in Africa; we must be optimistic, as the people of Africa have to be in the circumstances in which they find themselves.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Chidgey for opening this fascinating debate in which I have learnt a lot. I have spent my professional career much more on a broader Europe than on a broader Africa. We have certainly spread our debate across Africa, from Zimbabwe to Somalia.
I particularly welcome the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. My namesake and good friend wishes me to say, in particular, that he apologises very much that he is unable to be here today. He had indeed sent me the article from Scotland on Sunday on the virtues of a coalition Government, and I hope that the noble Lord will ensure that it is circulated on all Labour Benches. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote another short section of the article, where the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, asks,
“can a pragmatic deal between two previously warring tribes really work for the benefit of the country?”.
His answer is:
“I would argue that, if managed properly, coalition can produce strong, stable government and deliver transformative public policy”.
I thank him for that constructive remark.
I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Avebury is not able to be with us. I have always regarded him as the one person on the Liberal Democrat Benches who knows even more about Africa than my noble friend Lord Chidgey. I very much hope that he will be back with us soon.
This is an area where there is a huge amount of cross-party consensus. The coalition Government have been in office now for almost two months. We have taken up and hope to build on the contributions and achievements of our predecessors. The United Kingdom is one of the largest donors to all the countries in eastern and central Africa, a record that we are proud to inherit from our predecessors and intend to maintain. This Government have committed themselves to fulfilling our commitments in the millennium goals and to reaching 0.7 per cent of GNP as development assistance in difficult circumstances. I trust that even the most tribalist of Labour’s haters of the new coalition Government will grant us credit for that.
Having said all that, we note that some other Governments have fallen far short and that, sadly, a number of other members of the G8 and beyond do not share Britain’s sense of global responsibility. We also note that British NGOs are among the most active and constructive all the way across this troubled region. There are of course limits to what the United Kingdom can achieve on its own, so we have to work as closely as we can with others both bilaterally and within multilateral groups. We are working in the DRC with two EU missions to train the army and to improve the quality of the police. We are providing finance for the various UN missions in the area. We recognise that co-ordination between those UN missions across frontiers has not always been entirely effective. These are separate missions, which are separately constituted, but we are doing our best to consult our EU partners about how that co-ordination can be improved. We are working as a member of the international contact group on the Great Lakes of Africa, a grouping of donor countries and organisations, which includes, apart from the United Kingdom, the United States, Belgium, France, Netherlands, the UN and the European Union. We are doing our best in this immensely complicated area.
As has been mentioned, we need to co-opt others as well, including the Arab League, the Indians, who are, after all, one of the largest providers of UN peacekeeping forces in the area, and, even as far as we can, the Chinese, who are themselves beginning to discover the difficulties of working in the area, the risks to their citizens and the dangers of corruption to Chinese economic interests in the field.
The emphasis that my noble friend Lord Chidgey made in his speech was very much on stabilisation. We all of us recognise the links between security, good governance—or indeed government as such—human rights and social and economic development. However, we also all recognise the obstacles to effective delivery. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, asked if we could ensure that no aid falls into the wrong hands. I regret to say—I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, would agree—that no British Government can ensure that no aid falls into the wrong hands. We can put in the best monitoring efforts possible in the hope of minimising how much goes astray, and work with Transparency International, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and others to try to prevent leakage out to accounts in offshore financial centres, which we are all well aware goes on. The despoiling of the mineral riches of the region, in particular of the DRC, is something against which we all have to operate. That has to be done on an active multilateral international organisation level.
Whether our priorities are for direct budget support, as we have done in the DRC, or in micropolicies at the local level, we run into some difficulties. Some time ago my son was teaching at a school in south-western Uganda. Money to pay the teachers at the school had simply not come through for several months. One can work at the microlevel but things occasionally break down.
How far does security need to come first? The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, suggested that we need to be very careful about involving the military, although the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester remarked that security is the absolute key to development in the DRC. There are some real tensions here which, again, the new Government are exploring and discussing how one provides security as the basis for economic and political development. Again on a personal level, last year, while one of my nieces was in southern Darfur working with a British charity, my wife and I developed an extremely active interest in local security, kidnapping and all the other problems. If there is no security on the ground, one cannot begin to provide either emergency aid or the other dimensions, such as education and assistance in economic development, which are necessary.
Delivering effective stabilisation across the region is an extremely complex task. The quality of governance across the region is also very mixed. It is a sad reflection on the quality of government across Africa, but the Mo Ibrahim prize for heads of government who have stepped down in Africa has not been awarded this year because too many are managing to fix their elections so that they can stay on.
We all of us recognise, and we have to inform our public, that this is not just a matter of idealism. There is strong British self-interest in the stabilisation of the region. We have a Somali population in this country which is somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000. It has arrived in Britain partly because of the collapse of that country. We have somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000 Congolese refugees. We are conscious that if the security situation in some other countries in the region were to deteriorate further, there would be strong pressure from the educated, from those across the region with links to this country, to come to Britain as well. We therefore have strong interests in providing stability, security and effective government across the region. I share the right reverend Prelate’s fears that, while we have to work hard to improve matters, we risk conflict reappearing across the region as Southern Sudan moves towards independence and as the situation in the eastern DRC appears not yet to be improving.
Perhaps I may say a little about the Lord’s Resistance Army and the about the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we really should have caught Joseph Kony before now. The noble Lord will be aware that it has taken a great deal of time to apprehend a number of war criminals in the western Balkans in rather more open country and a rather smaller space. These things are not entirely easy. The LRA has been operating across the borders of four countries in which the level of security, information and intelligence is very low. While we may work to encourage closer co-operation among the armed forces of Uganda, Congo and Southern Sudan, this is a necessarily difficult task.
Mention has been made of what is happening in Somalia. We recognise that while Somaliland is, relatively speaking, a haven of stability within this very troubled country, southern Somalia is a source of active concern to all of us. Her Majesty’s Government are providing support to the African Union for its force there. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked what will happen if Sudan does vote for independence—and indeed that is the great question of conflict prevention for all of us at the present time. Her Majesty’s Government are providing the region with emergency aid and assistance so far as we can, and I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that the UK is providing about half of its £140 million development assistance for 2010 to Southern Sudan to build governmental capacity and that we are also doing our best to assist in the remote regions of east Sudan and the Abyei area. But she will know better than me that none of this is easy in the troubled circumstances and in some of those extremely remote areas. Sudan is the largest country in Africa, even larger than the DRC. We are working with the Government of Southern Sudan to improve the quality and capability of both the police force and the army, and we are consulting other EU Governments on how we can better work with them to manage to catch up with the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Other noble Lords mentioned the situation in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, while one or two even touched on the question of Kenya. We were troubled about the presidential elections in Burundi, which appear to have been blocked by the withdrawal of the opposition and by fears as to how fair those elections would be. Noble Lords will know that the British Government are represented on the ground more strongly in Rwanda than in Burundi, but we do have a liaison mission in Burundi, along with an aid programme. Again, we are working with partners to see what we can do to help.
The situation in Kenya also raises concerns. As Members of this House will know, for a long period the British High Commission has brought to the attention of the Kenyan Government allegations of corruption, and concerns about the extent to which the elite are living off the country and on occasion promoting intertribal rivalries in order to further their own case. We remain actively concerned and engaged in a constant dialogue with the Government of Kenya. So the British Government’s response is clear. I should say that this is not a collection of new initiatives by the coalition Government rather, that we have inherited from our predecessors a worthwhile set of policies. Naturally we are reviewing them, but we do not intend fundamentally to alter them. We hope that the Government’s new National Security Council will provide for a greater coherence of effort.
The Foreign Secretary, in a speech last week, talked about the closer integration of the international departments, in particular the efforts of the Foreign Office and DfID and, where necessary, the Ministry of Defence. The MoD has only a few personnel in these various countries in training roles. Where we can, we want to work with local forces bilaterally and with the African Union to improve the quality of those local forces, but on occasion the UN and others will have to assist. The Government’s Stabilisation Unit, owned by the three departments, is an invaluable source of expertise and is actively engaged with this area. So Her Majesty’s Government are addressing all these difficult issues.
Somalia remains an enormous concern. Perhaps we should recognise that we wish to involve countries that have not shared responsibilities in Africa. The Chinese Government are taking an active part in anti-piracy operations off Somalia and are now co-operating with the multilateral command, so others are being called in. The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia remain sadly weak. We are doing what we can to assist, both financially and in helping them to build a broader coalition for peace and stability. We will remain a significant bilateral donor in Sudan, and that will continue to require immense resources, particularly in Southern Sudan, for the foreseeable future.
We contribute approximately £207 million a year to the Democratic Republic of Congo both bilaterally and through multilateral UN and EU commitments. DfID is now conducting a careful review of both bilateral and multilateral programmes, including which partners we should prefer to work with, as any new Government should, and we expect to have the outcome of that review later this year. There is a parallel review across departments on how best to ensure that sufficient emphasis is given to violence against women, and we hope that that will come to a review later in the year.
Over the next four years, the United Kingdom will provide £1 billion for regional programming across this area. We are of course concerned that weak governance and corruption in all of these countries hampers development and increases longer-term threats to stability. We recognise that NGOs, British and others, have a useful role to play in all this, but we are also painfully aware from experience on the ground that some NGOs get across each other and that when too many different organisations compete with each other, that can add to the problems, as on occasion they have in Darfur. So far as any Government can, we have to encourage NGOs in the field to work together.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester remarked that religion can be a force for reconciliation, as sadly it has proved so often to be a force for division across the region. We are immensely grateful for the useful role played by the Church of England and other churches in the area. Incidentally, as part of my briefing I was told that Muslim Aid is one of the most effective and positive NGOs in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. Interfaith operations are precisely the sort of thing we need to be encouraging.
My Lords, could I remind the noble Lord of the question I put to him about the re-export of arms Bill sponsored by myself and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and what he has to say about the flow of arms? I would be grateful if he could write to us about that question, as well as about the culture of impunity. I ask this because, unlike Joseph Kony, others have been caught and arrested, but not brought to trial. I mentioned some specific cases, including the recent killing of a human rights activist in the DRC.
I would be happy to write to the noble Lord about those issues. Indeed, I was briefed on some of them but within the period it is not possible to cover all these areas.
On the question of the arms trade, legal and illegal, the AK 47s that he mentioned do not come from Britain. As the noble Lord knows, they are actively traded across the region and are in sufficient surplus to be relatively cheap. So it is not simply a question of arms re-exports and arms controls, but of how we manage to gain some sort of handle on the illegal trade which goes on across the region.
I would like to thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. I recognise the valuable work done by a number of Members of this Chamber in and across the region, and by encouraging others to contribute and NGOs to work together. I look forward to continuing debates in this House, but I hope not with a deteriorating security problem across the region.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I mention briefly the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, who echoed the need for disbursing our aid in the most effective way, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who drew on his wide experience of working with NGOs and expressed his concern about the need for sensitivity in aid programmes. I refer also to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, with her great experience in Sudan and northern Uganda, and thank her for mentioning again the acute shortage of essential services. She mentioned that the DfID annual report for 2009 states that Uganda is off track. I thank her for that, and I shall make a point of looking that up. Perhaps I may also say that the contributions of the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Winchester and of Gloucester, particularly in regard to the Congo round table, the visits to the DRC and the refugee camps in Tanzania, were very helpful to me.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on his maiden speech and thank him for sharing with us his passion on these matters and his perspective from the Scottish dimension, which was an unexpected added benefit to the debate.
I thank all other noble Lords for their contributions and the Minister for his responses. I realise that some of the questions were deep, difficult and complex, but I am sure, if I ask him nicely, my noble friend will write to us in more detail on some of the questions that it was not possible to answer on this occasion. I am pleased to acknowledge that he has agreed to do that. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Terrorism Act 2000
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Statement is as follows.
“Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on stop and search powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. On Wednesday of last week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that its judgment in the case of Gillan and Quinton is final. This judgment found that the stop and search powers granted under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 amount to the violation of the right to a private life.
The court found that the powers are drawn too broadly—at the time of their initial authorisation and when they are used. It also found that the powers contain insufficient safeguards to protect civil liberties. The Government cannot appeal this judgment—although we would not have done so had we been able. We have always made clear our concerns about these powers and they will be included as part of our review of counterterrorism legislation. I can therefore tell the House that I will not allow the continued use of Section 44 in contravention of the European Court's ruling and, more importantly, in contravention of the civil liberties of every one of us.
But neither will I leave the police without the powers they need to protect us. Since last Wednesday, I have sought urgent legal advice and consulted police forces. In order to comply with the judgment—but avoid pre-empting the review of counterterrorism legislation—I have decided to introduce interim guidance for the police. I am therefore changing the test for authorisation for the use of Section 44 powers from requiring a search to be ‘expedient’ for the prevention of terrorism, to the stricter test of it being ‘necessary’ for that purpose.
More importantly, I am introducing a new suspicion threshold. Officers will no longer be able to search individuals using Section 44 powers. Instead, they will have to rely on Section 43 powers, which require officers reasonably to suspect the person to be a terrorist. Officers will be able to use Section 44 only in relation to the searches of vehicles. I will confirm those authorisations only where they are considered to be necessary, and officers will be able to use them only when they have ‘reasonable suspicion’. These interim measures will bring Section 44 stop and search powers fully into line with the European Court's judgment. They will provide operational clarity for the police and they will last until we have completed our review of counterterrorism laws.
The first duty of government is to protect the public, but that duty must never be used as a reason to ride roughshod over our civil liberties. I believe that the interim proposals I have set out today give the police the support they need and protect those ancient rights”.
I commend the Statement to the House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made earlier in the other place by the Home Secretary. An issue was raised in the other place—about which the Home Secretary said she had no knowledge and would investigate—on the mystery of there being two written Oral Statements circulated in advance. One, obviously, was supplied by the Home Secretary immediately prior to her Statement. However, an earlier draft—circulated by whom I know not—came into my possession and the possession of other Members, presumably, of your Lordships’ House and the other place. When compared with the draft, the Oral Statement made contained 23 amendments. All 23 amendments were deletions— significantly so in relation to Northern Ireland—and therefore the Statement is either a masterpiece of editing and brevity or it is truncated. As I said, the right honourable lady the Home Secretary said that she would investigate the situation and report. It would be very useful if that explanation could be provided to Members of this House as well as of the other place.
In a sad way, it has been a memorable week. Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of 7/7 and it reminded us all of the threat that the country faces and the tremendous work of the security services and the police in protecting our citizens from harm. Tributes have been rightly paid to the dedicated work of both the security services and the police. I am sure it is everyone’s intention, including that of the coalition Government, that we should not do anything deliberately that would diminish their ability.
One part of the Statement surprises me—that is the statement that had the Home Secretary been the Home Secretary at the time of the original judgment in the European Court, she would not have sought to appeal it. The court judgment was based on the way in which Section 44 powers were used by the Metropolitan Police some years ago. The Met has now reviewed the situation and there has been a tightening up of the procedures in the intervening period. More significantly, the Home Secretary will be aware that the UK courts, including the House of Lords, had rejected arguments that the Quinton and Gillan case represented a breach of Article 8. In particular, the Law Lords were doubtful whether an ordinary superficial search of a person could be said to show a lack of respect for private life. Even if Article 8 did apply, they said the procedure was used in accordance with the law and that it was impossible to regard a proper exercise of the power as other than proportionate when seeking to counter the great danger of terrorism. The Home Secretary will also be aware of a report from the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2005 which found that there was no substance in the allegation that there was targeting of particular communities.
Against all those judgments of British law—by which some members of the coalition, when in opposition, put greater store than any European judgment—it seems rather surprising that had the Government been the Government at the time they would not have proceeded to appeal. However, it seems sensible in the present circumstances and in the light of the judgment to change the test for authorisations from “expedient” to “necessary” and to use the test of “reasonable suspicion”.
We have concerns about the intention to restrict Section 44 powers to the searching of vehicles. I know that it is an interim proposal and I have heard the Home Secretary explain why she wanted to make a Statement as quickly as possible to the House. She said that since last Wednesday she had consulted, but it was not clear to me who had been consulted and what strength had been given to the advice. I therefore seek clarity on a number of questions.
What is the view of ACPO—the practitioners—in this matter? What is the view of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on this new change? What is the view of the Police Service of Northern Ireland? What is the view of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who has given great service in the role that he has played? Why do the Home Secretary and the Government believe that it is necessary to go this far in responding to the European Court’s judgment? Are we saying that nothing less will suffice? Will she publish for consultation the list of options that will be considered in the review mentioned by the noble Baroness so that we can see what alternatives might be subject to debate? Concerns have been expressed over time about the use of stop and search. We are aware of those, which is why a considerable tightening-up has taken place.
As the Home Secretary rightly said, we are always talking about the balance between security and human and civil rights. However, it seems to this side of the House that there is a prospect of the police and the security services being asked to protect us over the coming years with fewer officers, diminished resources and now potentially restricted powers. The coalition agreement was clear on some of these issues but, in all honesty, it is not the coalition agreement that will keep us safe; it will be the security services and the police. Although I think that it is right that Parliament should be paramount and that politicians should make the judgment, politicians also have a considerable responsibility to listen to those who, day to day, take the risks and deal with the many problems that we have in this area. I have asked these questions so that we have clarity on consultation. I will be interested to hear the noble Baroness’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response. His first point was about what happened with the draft. As I understand it, this was one of those things that happen in government. The earlier draft, which the Home Secretary had not seen and had not approved, somehow escaped into the parliamentary Chamber, but it was not her view of what she needed to say. The Statement that I read is what the Home Secretary thinks is the correct position.
I entirely share the noble Lord’s sentiments about the tribute that we should pay to the police for the work that they do. That was particularly apt yesterday, which marked an occasion in our national life when we saw the effectiveness of the police, the resilience of the emergency services and, indeed, the bravery, courage and common sense of ordinary people. In essence, that is what will, in the end, get us through this period of international threat to us.
The noble Lord picked up the sentence in the Statement relating to our view that we would not have appealed the judgment had we been in office. He rightly said that the domestic court had previously rejected some of the arguments. However, it is fair to say that, in opposition, both parties of the coalition had been extremely critical not only of the excessive use to which the Metropolitan Police had put these powers but also—this is the second point, which the noble Lord did not mention—of the fact that the powers were drafted too widely. In our view, this law is defective. That does not mean to say that there is not legitimate need and that there may not be circumstances in which a power of this type will be needed. That is one of the issues that we will take up in the review.
The Home Secretary made it quite clear that this is interim guidance for an interim situation. The police cannot be left in legal limbo, which is why it is necessary for us to take these measures now. We have done so in consultation with the police. Their main concern was to ensure that they were operating legally, because not to be doing so would clearly leave them in considerable difficulty—indeed, in legal peril. They needed clarity and guidance, which is what they have been given. We will continue our discussions with them about the powers that may be necessary.
As for the views of others, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has told me that he agrees with the measures that have been taken. He takes the view that the position that has been arrived at is in substance desirable. We will look at whether that is the case and at whether there are contingencies in which it will be necessary to have some other reserve power, although we have not come to any judgment on that.
The noble Lord asked whether we will consult during the review process. Consultation will be built in to the review process. We do not intend that it should be only an internal governmental activity.
The final point was about the need to ensure that the security services and the police have the resources to keep us safe. Of course that is right. I hope that there is nothing between the two sides of the House on the question of taking national security seriously. However, we have to recognise that there is a difficult financial and public expenditure situation, from which the police cannot be entirely immune. None the less, I have confidence that the police take their priorities seriously and we in the Government will certainly act with due care in relation to public expenditure choices that directly affect national security.
My Lords, it seems to me that much is placed on this being interim and on the review. Will the noble Baroness indicate the timescale? For how long will these interim measures be in force? When can we expect the consultation to be complete? When can we expect our security forces to have a clear understanding from Ministers of what is required for the future?
I do not think that the police have any doubt about their position. That position will continue for as long as we are not, in parliamentary terms, able or willing to put in place any other legislative provision. As I say, that will be a matter of consideration in government and consultation. There are a number of related issues in the whole area of counterterrorism and it does not make a great deal of sense to take decisions on one in isolation from considering the impact on others. A wider group of powers need to be considered together. Our aim is to ensure that as much of this package as possible is in the freedom Bill. Therefore, we are talking about a timescale in which the legislation will certainly begin its passage this year.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement in so far as it goes, but I deplore the fact that there is yet another interim measure from the Government to meet our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. This has happened too often before and it is time that we met these problems in advance, instead of by having interim measures such as this put before us. The Statement says:
“We have always been clear in our concerns about these powers”.
This is a government Statement, so that presumably refers to the Conservative Opposition as was. Is that the right view? That leads me to ask whether the decision in Gillan and Quinton came as a surprise to what is now the Government or whether they are simply being wise after the event and after they have been forced to take this view. If the Conservative Opposition were always so concerned about these powers, why did they not do more to limit them when they had the chance, instead of being “critical”—I think that that was the word that the noble Baroness used—on the sidelines?
My Lords, I would not say that this situation is tidy; it is not tidy. I entirely accept that it is unfortunate that we get into a situation in which we have to give some interim guidance. The Government take no satisfaction in the present situation. I say to the noble and learned Lord that there are limits to what you can do in opposition. We made our position fairly clear on the desirability of the way in which these powers were drawn and their use at the time. We have always made clear our intention to look at this legislation with a view to amending it in the context of the review that we are undertaking of counterterrorism powers. What happened is that the judgment intercepted the work that we were in any case undertaking.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the Home Office representative on the Metropolitan Police Authority with responsibility for oversight of counterterrorism and security. The Statement which the noble Baroness repeated is probably helpful in the context of the judgments that we have had. I think that there has always been a lack of clarity about whether, in the circumstances, the powers being used in a large number of stops should more properly have been those under Section 43 rather than those under Section 44. I assume that the noble Baroness has described in essence a series of non-statutory guidelines, and that the statute remains in force until such time as Parliament changes it. What is the Government’s view of the use of what were Section 44 powers for target-hardening—that is, the random stop of individuals near a particular location—and is that something that they wish to maintain? In that context, will she comment on the Government’s intentions in respect of the 2012 Olympics? And will the guidelines that she has announced today have an impact on the search regimes around, for example, this building, No. 10 Downing Street and airports?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right in his interpretation. What we have, in effect, are non-statutory guidelines, and the law remains in place. It is not to be ruled out that, should a contingency of an extreme kind arise—and I emphasise “extreme kind”—the Home Secretary would regard it as both right and within her powers to alter the guidelines. It is very important—I come back to this—that we do not put the police in the position of acting illegally.
The noble Lord asked one or two questions about the operation of Section 44 and whether we would regard the use of those powers as appropriate in the case of, for example, hardened targets. That is precisely the kind of issue that we are going to look at—the extent to which, for instance, there may be a very small number of very key sites or very sensitive events, such as the Olympics, where powers of this kind may be appropriate.
The House will forgive me for not wanting to go further than that, because these are the issues that arise out of the situation that we now have. They need careful consideration. We need to consult the police and we need wider consultation. In our discussions with the police, I have had no inkling or suggestion from them that they would regard themselves as impeded in their ability to protect the Houses of Parliament or one or two of the other sensitive sites mentioned. As I say, however, we want to review the powers available for all future contingencies.
My Lords, I very much welcome the Statement that my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones has repeated. I also very much welcome the acceptance of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. The Liberal Democrats have been critical of Section 44 for a long time—pretty nearly since its original creation. Section 44 has been abused in the past, notably, as some of us may remember, by the arrest of the old gentleman who heckled the platform at a Labour Party conference. It has also been totally ineffective in preventing terrorist activities. No exercise of the powers under Section 44 in any case where there were no obvious grounds for suspicion has disclosed any evidence of terrorist activity. So I think that we will lose nothing by narrowing the effect of Section 44.
The proposals in the Statement are not a long-term solution; as the noble Baroness said, they are an interim solution. The Statement contains no specific changes to the Terrorism Act 2000. It simply contains intended changes in the application of the law. That means that those changes, not being part of any legislation, could be revoked without any reference back to Parliament. Does the Minister agree that it is therefore necessary to proceed with the amendments to the 2000 Act as soon as possible? How far has the review of the counterterrorism laws referred to in the Statement already gone? When is that review likely to be finished, so that it will be possible to take the essential step of altering the provisions of the 2000 Act?
My Lords, the counterterrorism review is currently under way. It has not got so far that we have cast in stone our future intentions on Section 44 —indeed, in the light of what has happened, we will accelerate our consideration of it. We hope to bring forward revised legislation on this point in the context of the freedom Bill, and that means the autumn. We do not intend to let interim guidance lie as part of public policy an instant longer than is essential and necessary. I am sure that the House agrees that it is an untidy situation and we need to clear it up as soon as possible.
My Lords, while we always welcome the alertness of the judiciary in interpreting the law and its vigilance in championing civil liberties, is it not also the case that judges are apt to interpret the law without particular regard for the practical consequences of their judgment? Yesterday’s judgment in the Supreme Court will surely make it more likely that there will be a significant increase in the incidence of gay asylum-seekers seeking to come to this country and, while we abhor the persecution of gay people in the countries from which they seek to escape, there will be significant practical and political consequences of that judgement. We now have the judgment on Section 44. I note that the Government are not complaining about it, but it does not make it any easier for them to fulfil their paramount responsibility to protect the lives and safety of our people. Is it not the case that the responsibility of Ministers is more difficult and wide-ranging than the responsibility of judges, notably to balance freedom with security? Should we not be wary of a written constitution that would greatly increase the law-making powers of the judiciary? Does the Government continue to believe that Parliament is properly the sovereign law-making body in this country?
I have no doubt that it is the duty of Ministers to balance security with our freedoms. It is also the duty of the Government, Ministers and government agencies to act proportionately. In this judicial defeat, if I can put it that way, we are in the area of proportionality, and we have to adjust. As for the supremacy of Parliament, yes, of course it is supreme.
My Lords, I note that the Government will introduce interim guidelines and that a review of counterterrorism legislation will be undertaken. I have spoken in your Lordships' House about the use of Section 44 powers and the fact that a very high number of people from ethnic minority communities have been stopped and searched. Can the Minister assure me that under the interim powers, people from ethnic minority backgrounds will not be targeted? Can this point be looked into when the review of counterterrorism legislation is undertaken? Can the Minister also clarify why it is necessary for Section 44 powers to continue to be applied to searches of vehicles?
Let me take my noble friend’s second point first. Section 43 does not contain any powers to stop vehicles. I think that the House will understand that it would not be very sensible not to have any powers at all to stop vehicles. In many respects, the greater danger may lie in someone, or persons, trying to do something in a vehicle. So it is necessary to be able to stop vehicles. Therefore, Section 44, as a matter of law, has to remain available for vehicles. In practice, however, it will be interpreted by using reasonable suspicion, as if it were a Section 43 power. I very much take the noble Lord’s point about the need for there not to be discrimination and disproportionality in the stopping of different groups in society. I think that that is a concern to the whole House, and it is being watched very carefully.
Does the Minister agree that, quite apart from human rights and individual rights, this judgment is very much in the interests of good policing? Policing can be effective only with the maximum support and co-operation of the community. There is a real danger, in this very sensitive area, that policy can become counterproductive at the very time when we need that maximum co-operation.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House endorses that. I think that 7/7 was an example of the extraordinary importance of the community coming together. A noble Lord said earlier that there had been a considerable reduction in the use of Section 44 powers initiated and undertaken by the police. I think that that is in recognition of exactly the point that the noble Lord made; that is, it is important to be seen to be using the powers fairly and proportionately, and it creates resentment if those two characteristics are not present.
My Lords, I was not going to say anything, until I heard the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, speak. Like my noble friend Lord Goodhart, I speak, I suppose, for the Liberal Democrat side of the coalition. Is the Minister aware that those of us in that part of the coalition greatly value the way in which the new Home Secretary and the Minister in this House respond to difficult judgments such as that of the European Court of Human Rights? The contrast, I am sorry to say, with former Home Secretaries and others from the opposition party when they were in power is very real. Again and again, I heard Labour Home Secretaries denounce either the courts of this country or the European Court of Human Rights when they lost cases. I am sure that the Minister is aware of that. What is so remarkable about the new Administration is that, although these cases involve difficult balances between national security and personal freedom, the new Home Secretary has not cavilled or quarrelled with the judgments but has accepted them as part of the rule of law. Does the Minister agree with me that it is the function of the judiciary, in partnership with the Executive and Parliament, to interpret and apply the law, and that the suggestion that our Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights are somehow less in touch with reality than Ministers is a heresy which I had hoped would no longer be expressed by the party opposite?
I shall pass on to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary the compliments of the noble Lord. I think that we would all agree that this constitution functions well when its three parts, the Executive, the courts and Parliament, see eye to eye.
My Lords, I am very pleased to have secured this debate today on affordable housing. Like many noble Lords, I regard the lack of affordable housing to be a stain on our record as a civilised society, a serious drag on our economic competitiveness, but, most important, the scourge of many families and individuals across the country. Who could not have been moved by the Shelter report, The Human Cost, published in March this year?
I am grateful to all those noble Lords who are participating today, especially the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, and my noble friend Lord Touhig, whose maiden speeches we eagerly await. I am grateful also for the support of those noble Lords who could not attend. In particular, my noble friends Lady Dean and Lady Andrews wished me to convey to the House their regret at being unable to contribute today. I should also declare my interests as a director of Grainger plc, the largest listed landlord in the United Kingdom, and chair of the Olympic Park Legacy Company.
I am delighted to see the Minister in her place. I know that she has made strenuous efforts to change her diary to be here today and I thank her for that. She brings much wisdom and great practical experience from her distinguished career in local government, and I know that many Members of your Lordships’ House were delighted to see her appointed to this role. We expect great things of her and hope that today, among other things, she might shed some light on the revolution in housing promised by her colleague Grant Shapps when he addressed the Chartered Institute of Housing last month.
It is almost four years since we had the opportunity to debate this important subject. In that time, much has changed, and the lives of many individuals and families have improved. But intractable problems remain. Housing for many people in this country is their single greatest source of stress. That is perhaps because of homelessness, overcrowding, lack of decent facilities, or the inability to escape dysfunctional or abusive relationships perhaps because of the fear of repossession. It may simply be the dispiriting realisation, even on the part of a young nurse or a young teacher on a decent salary, that home ownership is beyond one’s means.
For many people trapped in such circumstances, affordable housing is the key to independence. By “affordable”, I mean not just social rented housing but also decent private rented housing, intermediate renting, shared-equity housing and low-cost home ownership—in other words, housing that average workers and families could readily access from within their means. That is easier said than done today in the United Kingdom.
It is not as if this is news to us. In your Lordships’ House, many of us can easily recall a time, not that long ago, when we were building 350,000 homes a year, when access to an affordable home was a realistic aspiration and when public policy recognised the need for long-term planning of new communities. If you look at the long-run trend of housing completions, you see that the private sector has, by and large, remained pretty static, delivering around 100,000 to 120,000 homes a year. It is public-sector housing, particularly the housing formerly built by local authorities, which has disappeared over the years. Housing associations have ably stepped into the breach, but have never had the funding nor achieved the scale to equal the output previously achieved by local authorities. Is it not time to acknowledge that councils have the local insight and know-how to commission public housing once again? Might the Government consider giving local authorities both the freedom and the means to build or commission new homes in their own areas? Since the election, the Housing Minister has repeatedly mentioned local housing trusts. Perhaps the Minister could explain to the House a little more about this concept—how these are to be created and how they might be funded.
We certainly did not get everything right in the immediate post-war period when production of housing was at the high that I mentioned previously, but we got quite a few things right. As well as enabling individual councils to build, we had the foresight to identify where new communities were needed, where we pre-invested in infrastructure and where we addressed economic development as much as housing. Fifty or 60 years ago we had a plan, we dedicated resources to it, and we created a lot of really excellent places to live and work. We called them the new towns, and we returned a great deal back to the Treasury. One of the great success stories of the way that the new towns were funded over the long term was the very real return over a long number of years to the taxpayer.
What has happened to that vision and foresight? I do not make this point in any party-political way as we have all struggled with this issue over the past 40 years. When the previous Government suggested creating eco-towns, the opposition was immense. Even with guarantees about infrastructure, roads, education, health and sustainability, the opposition across the country was staggering. At a local level, the noble Baroness probably knows far better than me that housing developments of even a small scale tend to attract enormous opposition in the planning system. But that is cold comfort to those people who desperately need a home now. Grant Shapps has said that we need a revolution. He is dead right; we do. But what sort of revolution do the Government have in mind? Will the noble Baroness reassure the House that the advances made over the past 10 years will be safe under her stewardship?
The advances that I mean include the increased delivery of affordable housing, from around 33,000 in 2000, rising steadily to almost 56,000 in 2009. The previous Government were committed to investing in all categories of affordable housing, and to their credit, kept faith with that commitment throughout the banking and consequently the house-building crisis. It is a remarkable testament to the Homes and Communities Agency that it was nimble enough to keep production going even when the housebuilders were struggling badly to bring any product to the market. Many of us welcomed the creation of the HCA in 2007 and were pleased that it had wide-ranging powers. But I imagine none of us had the foresight to see what an important role it would play and how those wide-ranging powers would be required only 12 months later.
So it was with dismay that we learnt of the intended cuts to be made to the HCA budget. Will the Minister say what reduction in expenditure has been asked of the HCA in the current year? What is her department's estimate of the impact of this in the number of affordable homes due to be completed in the current year and in the next?
For many years now, we have also had the benefit of private-sector contributions to affordable housing in the form of Section 106. Will the Minister say whether the reports of her Government’s intention to scrap this valuable tool in delivering affordability are accurate? Provision of social housing has come to depend on three separate but interconnected things: first, on land being made available through Section 106 contributions; secondly, on grants being made available from the Government; and thirdly, on housing associations being able to raise private finance through the banking or capital markets to make up the difference.
The housing associations have been arguably the best and best value-for-money example of private finance for nearly 40 years. They have raised significant sums over that period to supplement the resources made available by the Government—£60 billion and growing. Why have the banks and other financial institutions continued to lend long at up until recently very low rates of interest? Because the Tenant Services Authority and the Housing Corporation before it were excellent economic regulators. The reassurance that the regulator would step in was, and remains, of paramount importance to the finance industry. A housing association has never defaulted on a loan in almost 40 years of that regime. That is why it was troubling to hear that the Housing Minister was planning to scrap the TSA. Will the noble Baroness confirm reports in last Thursday's Financial Times that the Treasury has now intervened to stop this plan and has made plain the absolute necessity of economic regulation in this sector?
The interplay of housing policy and financial policy has become very close in relation to affordable housing, so I will say a word or two mortgages. They are important, not just because first-time buyers rely on a competitive mortgage market, but because it is the lifeblood of private housebuilders. If there are no mortgages, there is no confidence to build new developments. We have seen that graphically over the past two and a half years. No new development means, among other things, no Section 106 contribution, so no support for affordable housing from that sector. It is vital that the Government do all that they can to keep the mortgage market from seizing up again.
In that respect, I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that the Financial Services Authority is developing—almost finalising—its new capital adequacy regime. Among other things, there will be new definitions of tier 1 capital. I urge the Minister to ensure that in framing its new regime for banks with riskier profiles, the FSA rules do not unintentionally damage the building societies and particularly the mutual building societies. I absolutely agree that banks with higher-risk profiles must set aside enough capital to offset those risks. But it seems perverse that mutuals, for example, which have significantly lower-risk profiles, and are simply not by law permitted to engage in these riskier transactions, must be treated the same. The result would inevitably be a shrinkage of their balance sheets, exactly at the time when we are looking to increase mortgage lending and have every penny available for first-time buyers and other good credit-worthy people who want to take on a mortgage. Will the Minister make sure that her department is consulted and involved in the finalisation of these discussions and that decisions reached do not unintentionally damage mortgage availability?
This is an important debate. I have always believed that along with parenting and education, the type of home that you live in and grow up in fundamentally affects who you are and what you might become. My earnest hope is that in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review, the Minister will strongly resist a scorched earth policy on affordable housing. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Ford on securing this debate. I hope that it is just the first of many occasions on which this House returns to the fundamental issue of housing. I also declare my interest as a patron for the newly formed Foundation for Lifetime Homes and Neighbourhoods.
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of our home in the lives of most people. It is normally the foundation for our personal well-being, and for people with impaired mobility, that is all the more true. It is where we often experience our closest relationships, where we ground ourselves and where we return when tired or hurt.
A house is far more than a collection of bricks and mortar to provide shelter from the weather. It is closely bound to who we are. To me this is fundamental. Yet, as my noble friend has outlined, we face a housing crisis of an unprecedented scale and urgency in the affordable housing sector and other sectors of the housing market. We need to keep reminding ourselves of the devastating impact that poor housing can have on people’s lives. Living in good-quality, affordable housing improves people’s life chances, means that they have better health, it removes the scourge of fuel poverty and it enhances children’s opportunities to learn, among many other benefits.
Surely it is deplorable that debate about the need to build more affordable housing did not feature higher in the general election debate and that the Housing Minister does not have a guaranteed place at the Cabinet Table. I am convinced that unless we put serious political weight behind tackling the housing crisis, which I would rank alongside the need to debate the future of social care with which it must be closely linked, the impact on our society and our development as a nation will be profound and hold us back for a generation. This is my first point: the need to accept that there is an acute shortage of housing compared with current real needs and future projections of demographic change. I will return to that later.
Secondly, there is a need to break the dependency of the supply of affordable housing on private-sector housing provision through Section 106 or other planning gain agreement. The need to ensure a steady supply of affordable housing must be met regardless of housing market fluctuations. Given the severe public financial pressures with which we are only too familiar, that must mean developing ways of attracting investment from long-term investors such as pension funds.
As the Town and Country Planning Association has noted in its recent report, we need to break down the assumption that housing development is automatically an environmental cost. As I understand it, we now have the technical capability to develop places which deliver environmental benefits through the application of zero-carbon standards and offer biodiversity and climate change adaptation benefits through more green space, trees, planting and water features. I am sorry that the debate about new housing provision outside urban areas is so often derailed by loud claims of concreting over the countryside from well housed nimbys. It is a simplistic and beguiling argument, which we need to rise above if we as a society are to ensure that everyone, not just the well off with capital to invest, has a decent home to live in within an attractive and accessible neighbourhood. However, ensuring that housing is developed to a high standard means that it needs to be well planned. Scrapping this year’s housing and planning delivery grant will have an extremely negative impact on planning delivery, a local authority service already under severe strain, which will take many years to restore. Do the Government have any plans to explore ways in which they can minimise the harm to planning which the loss of this grant will have?
I shall further enlarge on the issue which for me is the most compelling—the demographic need for increasing housing provision, particularly in the affordable housing sector. Latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of households in England will grow to 27.8 million by 2031, which is a quarter of a million new households every year. The increase is spread across the country, north and south, with net inward migration and people living longer as the main drivers. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland face similar pressures.
People living longer are not just people living into old age; more people are surviving a traumatic birth, chronic illness or accident which previously would have killed them to live into adulthood. This is to be celebrated as an outstanding achievement of modern society. Yet, in surviving, people are too often faced with ongoing living requirements that are not met by the average house today. Too often, this is a result of poor design and space standards. The link between poor space standards leading to overcrowding with poor health and education outcomes has been well documented by Shelter and others. As a matter of urgency, we need to adopt nationwide the same approach as in London, where all housing needs to be built to Lifetime Home standards with 10 per cent adaptable to the higher wheelchair standard. I welcome the revised and updated set of Lifetime Home standards, which were published this week following a wide consultation with industry, professional bodies, disability organisations and individual people. Housebuilders should no longer be able to dismiss them as unaffordable, as these revised Lifetime Homes criteria are designed to meet their concerns.
In connection to this, I now press the Minister on a few points. Mayor Boris Johnson has recently reiterated his support for Lifetime Home standards, as he wants houses in London suitable for all, including people with mobility impairment. Will the national Government please adopt the same approach? Have the Government conducted a full cost-benefit analysis for adopting Lifetime Home standards? By this I mean looking at the range of social, health, welfare and economic savings, not simply the direct housing build costs. If they have not done so, will they do so? In developing their social care policy, will the Government include the benefits of the universal adoption of the Lifetime Home standards as an efficient way to support care delivery in the home?
The coalition Government are searching for every conceivable cut to unnecessary spending, but what of the cost of keeping people in hospital who no longer need medical care but are forced to remain in hospital because of the shortage in accessible housing? This has been highlighted by individual stories of disabled service personnel struggling to obtain appropriate housing. This shortage creates wholly unnecessary financial pressures on the social care and NHS budgets and adds delays of weeks and months to the discharge of patients from spinal injury and other medical care settings just because there is nowhere suitable to go. Research also tells us that because minimum space standards apply only to affordable housing, people seeking extra space due to their disability and who cannot afford to pay a premium in the private market for a larger house are forced to live in social housing, adding to the already huge pressure on that sector. Ten years ago the old Housing Corporation found that 42 per cent of social housing households contained a person with a disability or long-term illness. I am not aware of more recent research, but I would expect that that figure will have increased.
Applying minimum space standards to affordable housing alone denies disabled people the choice of where they can live and can lead to social marginalisation. It also denies disabled people the ability to move to take advantage of education, employment or other opportunity. Being restricted to one sector means that the low levels of affordable housebuilding in recent years has hit disabled people particularly hard and forced many, particularly younger disabled people, to stay at home with their parents, denying them any hope of independent living.
To conclude, I believe that there needs to be a cross-party consensus not just at a national level but importantly at county and district levels that there is a housing crisis and that all areas, rich and poor alike, need to contribute to a solution to it. Let us please learn from past mistakes and not force future generations to pay for not providing affordable homes large enough for us to live in.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, for initiating this debate. The issue of affordable housing, especially for the young, is of course a nationwide problem, but I see it particularly acutely in the county of Gloucestershire, where I live and work, and more especially in the Cotswolds. If I may, I shall share something of what I see.
The average Gloucestershire house price, at £197,000, is approximately eight times the estimated annual median gross household income of £23,000 and approximately six times the estimated average income for households containing at least one employed person. The affordability gap between local incomes and house prices is such that many households with housing need are unable to purchase a property on the open market without assistance, which has an impact on the demand for affordable, social, rented housing. That is reflected in the housing needs assessment, which estimates that the shortfall in affordable housing supply is 3,699 dwellings per annum across the county of Gloucestershire.
I give one example of how the need is being met in my own county, because it is a good story. Sixteen new affordable homes in the little town of Stonehouse were completed earlier this year, replacing eight old-fashioned hard-to-heat concrete council homes. Much of the building work for these innovative green homes took place offsite, allowing them to be built 60 per cent faster than traditional building techniques allow and incorporating solar hot water heating and rainwater recycling to ensure that they remain affordable for tenants to run. The Stonehouse development has now been shortlisted for the sustainable housing awards.
The lack of affordable housing is a difficulty and a good deal more than a difficulty, as we have heard, for individuals and families, especially for those looking for their own housing for the first time. There are personal and social consequences for those who cannot find a house that they can afford to buy, rent or even to maintain, but my concern is as great for the effect on whole communities, especially village communities, of the level of house prices that is making such communities places where only the affluent may live. On the whole, that excludes young families and forces those young families away from the village, not only to the village’s detriment but to the detriment of the families themselves, removed from the support of the wider family and the community where they have had their own sense of value and worth.
In the setting of the Cotswolds, to the need for affluence is added the problem that many of the affluent arrive in the village only at the weekend from their London homes—there might even be one or two in that category among the membership of your Lordships’ House. We end up dealing with ghost villages and the collapse of natural community to a worrying degree. This imbalance towards the older age range makes these villages potentially unsustainable in the medium and long term.
Rural housing enablers who work through community councils or local authorities have a significant track record of facilitating the provision of affordable housing in rural communities, using community-led planning. However, the funding of rural housing enablers is not always secure in either the short or longer term. There must be a much more creative approach in partnership working to deliver affordable housing.
One such approach is represented by a resource called Faith in Affordable Housing. It explores mechanisms for the release of church land and property for affordable housing, both urban and rural. Published in February this year, it is a fully downloadable resource that provides practical information and technical detail for housing professionals, planners and property specialists. It covers the rules and requirements of almost all the main Christian denominations in England and Wales, and contains case studies on how to maximise the provision of housing and facilities through the creative use of property.
Faith in Affordable Housing has been developed by a partnership including Housing Justice, the University of Gloucestershire—of which I am pro-chancellor—and the Church of England. As part of this project, we were able to obtain confirmation from the Charity Commission that land and property could be released at below full market value because the provision of affordable housing would count as part of “charitable objectives” for a Christian church. It is important for the Government to acknowledge that churches have an important role in the partnerships needed to deliver affordable housing, particularly in rural areas, and to help to facilitate these partnerships by ensuring that funding is sustained, even in these hard-pressed times, for rural housing enablers.
Social cohesion becomes all the more important in times of economic hardship. Affordable housing is crucial for that cohesion and the flourishing of community. I urge the Government not to allow financial stringency to make a critical situation worse.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, for securing this debate. I should perhaps declare an interest as the deputy chief executive of the Countryside Alliance. Affordable housing, and rural affordable housing in particular, is of great interest to me both professionally as a key component of the Countryside Alliance’s rural manifesto and personally as the local farmer who facilitated a rural housing scheme in the village of Kimble.
Your Lordships’ House is a unique place. It has been a bastion of common sense and has done much to promote and protect our liberties. I am very conscious of the great privilege, honour and responsibility of being in this House, and it is not a little daunting.
While pulling ragwort last weekend—for it is that time of year—I reflected on the exceptional kindness and great courtesy that so clearly emanate from all who work in your Lordships’ House. As one of the young entry, I cannot thank everyone enough for their advice, encouragement and welcome. Little did I realise that there were also unforeseen circumstances and consequences. Young friends have already given my wife the nickname “Lady Gaga”. Your Lordships may understand my amusement even more when I say that I saw a photograph of said lady singer with a telephone firmly placed on her head by way of a hat.
The availability of rural housing is vital for all communities. A lack of affordable housing, both to buy and to rent, threatens the future of many rural communities. The resulting loss of young people who have to move to find housing in the towns clearly has a negative impact on rural school rolls, services and shops. This can well lead to the erosion of families and local communities and an increasingly elderly and isolated population. Of course, it also places further demand on housing in urban areas.
It has been estimated that 11,000 new affordable homes per year are needed over the next five years in settlements of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants. Given that across England there are 16,000 small towns, villages and hamlets, this does not seem an intrusive number as we balance the need for more housing with our desire to protect the environment and to enable the countryside to provide food for the nation.
The Taylor review of the rural economy and affordable housing is entitled Living Working Countryside. That is surely what we all seek. Our most precious natural asset must not become a museum or a theme park. We need a living countryside to produce food and fuel as well as providing water capture, carbon sinks and recreation. These are all reasons why the countryside is so important to us all. Yet many people who work in the countryside increasingly cannot afford to live there. This must have a detrimental impact on enterprise, and we must find solutions to enable communities to grow and flourish.
My own involvement in a local project was positive. The parish council undertook a village survey, housing need was identified and a well attended village meeting was held where everyone could air their views. The community at large bought into the subsequent proposals from the housing association. A small-scale development of eight dwellings—four houses for families and four bungalows for the more elderly—was agreed and constructed on part of a field next to the village. This development was agreed because it enabled young families with a local connection to stay in the village, and was in sympathy with, and sensitive to, the local character of the village.
The role of the parish council was highly beneficial and pioneered the way. Officials at Hastoe Housing Association, which now has responsibility for the Kimble houses, inform me that the general need for rural affordable housing is “enormous”. There are continuing challenges. The dilemma, of course, is that rural developments by their very nature are often small and therefore more expensive as they lack critical mass. A rural housing alliance has now been formed of more than 40 housing associations. It is to be hoped that it can find a way forward to create economies of scale. These small developments across the villages of all parts of the kingdom make the difference between the survival or loss of the local school, post office, shop, church or pub—all attributes of a vibrant community.
Co-operation at the local level is the key to ensuring success. Dialogue between parish councils, planning authorities and local communities is essential to the success of any development. We need to be flexible about the designation of exception sites and a mix of private development, community land trusts and rural housing association developments, all of which can contribute to solving the problem. The Housing Minister in the other place has already referred to the decentralisation and localism Bill coming before Parliament in the autumn. The role and contribution that communities must play in resolving local housing issues should not be underestimated. The provision of affordable housing gains much stronger support if it meets local need and is attractive, well designed and affordable for local people in perpetuity. The more proactive and flexible local planning authorities engage with local communities, the more likely we are to achieve the objectives that we all share.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, for her much appreciated and particularly kind message before the debate, and your Lordships for your patience as I speak to your House for the first time.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, on his first speech. One of the great things about maiden speeches is that we old lags or people who have perhaps been here too long—not me, of course—can learn some of the important principles. We should talk about something of which we have authoritative knowledge; we should show that we practise what we preach; we should be concise and clear; and we should not tempt the Front Bench to stand up and remind us of the time. It was a very clear and excellent speech. It also shows why it is important that the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, is here. His experience from being deputy chief executive of the Countryside Alliance will mean that rural affairs are strongly advocated here, which is extremely important.
I come from Cornwall myself and, too often, such areas are forgotten. The Teverson family comes from Suffolk, so we know that area as well. I know the noble Lord also has great political experience, maybe not from the green or red Benches, but from having been adviser to, or worked closely with, several Members of this House, including the noble Lords, Lord Fowler, Lord Baker and Lord Patten of Barnes. He has great experience and we very much look forward to his future speeches and contributions.
I was also pleased that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester mentioned Stonehouse in Gloucestershire. I once lived there. Stonehouse was the first ward in which I ever stood for public election. I was well and duly truly defeated. It put me off so much that it was another 25 years before I was elected to a local authority, although I served in the European Parliament on the way. Gloucestershire is a great county and, like so much of the south-west, faces a big issue in rural housing. That is why this debate that the noble Baroness has brought forward today is so important.
If the House will indulge me, I will deal with a very small area of this subject. I declare an interest as a member of a housing authority, namely Cornwall unitary authority. I will not talk about Cornwall in particular, although it has problems as great as those of any other rural area. The area that I want to talk about is one that I have not had a problem with. I am very lucky. I have a beautiful house in a rural area of Cornwall. More importantly, perhaps, I have a mortgage on it. This is the burden of the middle classes but it is something that it is very difficult for many people to get hold of these days. That is true of young people and the general population who are trying to buy ordinary houses, but purchasing affordable houses is almost impossible at present.
There are two factors. One is the credit crunch, which makes the availability of finance difficult. One of the outcomes of that in a market system—a good system, generally—is that mortgages are given to the people and properties that it is easiest to give them to. Those properties definitely do not have Section 106 agreements or other restrictions. Mortgages are given to families who can prove that they have good incomes and can put down a large deposit on the relevant property. However, the same does not apply to affordable housing. Very few building societies or banks are keen to lend money to people to buy affordable houses. Certainly in Cornwall there is often a protracted negotiation about the detail of the Section 106 agreement attached to an affordable home. That means more time is required and someone has to pay for changing the Section 106 agreement. It acts as a great barrier. But even if people have the necessary deposit, if a house has a covenant which restricts its resale if the worst should happen and the mortgage is defaulted on, they will pay a higher interest rate and a larger deposit. The people who are asked to pay that are the less well off and those least able to pay.
I first encountered the chains of a mortgage back in 1975, when we bought our first house for about £11,300, if I remember correctly. However, at that time a range of sources of finance were available. One of them was local authority mortgages. I looked up this species of loan on Google—I am sure that other noble Lords never do their research on Google, but I am afraid that I do—to see what had happened to it. Following its demise in the 1980s, I was pleased to see that it had had a slight revival. I pay tribute to the previous Government for starting to ease some of the interest rates that could be charged on these instruments, thus making them a little more affordable and commercial within the market if local authorities could afford to offer them.
I am certainly not advocating that we should go back to the old local authority mortgages which could be used for any type of housing. However, I would be very interested to hear about the coalition Government’s policy in this area, if there is one. There is no reason why there should be one yet, but surely there is a strong case for local authorities again to provide finance for affordable housing—not ordinary housing—whether that is through loan guarantees or the provision of the money itself off-balance sheet. They could provide administration and guarantees or allow standard financial institutions to do that. That would be a tremendous step forward. At the end of the day, the finance is at the end of the supply chain. Even ordinary private developers building affordable housing as part of a broader scheme will not build it if they cannot move the bricks and the mortar of the affordable housing area. They will be put off the whole scheme if that is the outcome. Noble Lords have raised other important issues but I think that there is a role for local authorities in enabling finance to happen so that families—particularly those in rural areas—who need housing and cannot afford it, as the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, mentioned, can move forward, cross that barrier and obtain a house for their families, as most of us have done throughout our lives.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, for securing this important debate. As she said, this is an issue to which we shall no doubt be required to return on more than one occasion during this Parliament. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, on his maiden speech. I am sure that we shall hear much more from him as he becomes accustomed to our ways and means.
The thing that has galvanised my attention in the debate was the opening bars of the contribution of my noble friend Lady Wilkins, in which she referred to the public and political will that is needed to do something about housing. We can have all the policies and remedies in the world for solving the problem but if we do not have the will to implement them we will not solve it. Despite all the problems surrounding housing—there are many, of which we shall hear more—the most important thing is for the Government to stand back and encourage all of us, irrespective of the nature of our involvement in housing, to think with a fresh mind about how we might provide different solutions to the problem of affordable housing. Any incoming Government have a golden moment to have a fresh look at how to resolve this problem. The goal of affordable homes for people has proved elusive to successive Governments over 100 years and probably more. It has never been achieved. We all travel around the same paradigms, with the same people making the same arguments, offering similar or related solutions to the problem, yet the need for more decent, affordable homes continues to grow as we try to find solutions.
The main four things that people want are jobs, health, education and homes. Governments, particularly in general elections, put forward manifesto plans for jobs, education and health, but homes always fall off the agenda and become the political Cinderella. This is partly because we act together on the other things: we come together to work, we provide education collectively in our schools and colleges, and in our National Health Service we act together to provide health; but when it comes to homes we tend to build our own nests and pass by on the other side. That mindset has to change. We have to think about homes like we think about education. It involves all of us. I may have a nice flat in a nice place, but I cannot continue to walk by on the other side from those who are less fortunate.
William Morris, who was a great favourite of mine—not the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, who is also a great favourite of mine, but the older and if I may say so more famous William Morris, who would never have been a noble Lord—wrote a pamphlet called How We Live and How We Might Live. That made me think that I would like a debate in this country about how we build homes and how we might build homes. I would like the Government to initiate the debate. I do not want the Government to do it, but I would like them to stand up and say, “Let's have a big think about this and engage people in a way that we only have a once-in-a-Parliament opportunity to do”.
My Government made a brave attempt to tackle this problem. The noble Baroness, Lady Ford, made a small defence of that policy in the time allowed her. However, even people who were involved would probably agree that it was not enough. Part of the problem was that we kept changing our Housing Ministers, with different persons coming along all the time. We did not get continuity, and because of that we did not get continuity of policy. One thing that the Government might think about, as they are in favour of fixed-term things, is a fixed-term Housing Minister—the noble Baroness would be fine—who would follow ideas through, get the initiatives going and see them through to conclusion, rather than being overtaken by a new Minister with a new set of ideas. That would be really helpful and a great service.
I will move on from my passion for the opportunity to think afresh. No matter what people think or who is involved in the thinking, we will always come back to the issue of land availability: it is impossible not to. The Home Builders Federation says that the main constraint on the building of homes is the undersupply of building land. I know others will contest that, but 0.3 per cent of the population own 60 per cent of the land, so we know where to make a start. We should have a chat with the 0.3 per cent of the population, many of whom are probably in your Lordships' House. We can start the dialogue here. However, it is more complicated than that. We need to keep our green belt and increase our open spaces. Thinking about how we might be housed in this small island will require consideration of the kind of urban development, including high-rise living, that my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside has often argued for in this House. That should be emphasised and recognised.
There is also the issue of public land. The Government should have a good look at this. At a time of shortage of public funds, we should look a lot more carefully at the management of the assets that we have. If we carry out mergers or downsize departments, let us use the land from those estates to meet not commercial needs but housing needs, and particularly public housing needs. There is land in public ownership from all the departments of state, including the Ministry of Defence, as well as transport bodies and even local authorities. I am sure that people know more about that than I do, but we could certainly require those public bodies to bring forward public land for the development of affordable homes. If the land were used for that purpose, it could be a kind of shared-equity product to help first-time buyers, which would take account of other points that have been made in the debate. The public purse could then benefit from the value of the sites once the first-time buyers had sold up and moved on.
One initiative that fits well with the question of how we might be housed is the eco-town approach. I do not know what the Government are going to do about eco-towns, but I know that some Conservative-controlled councils like the idea of continuing with them. I hope that that initiative will not be sidelined but will continue to be properly considered.
In the minute left to me, I should like to talk about people creating their own housing. In this country we have never talked much about self-build homes. It is a very popular concept in other European countries, particularly in Scandinavia, and I think that the Government would get some credit for helping us to think about that idea. It would sit nicely in a society where localism is thought to be important, and it would fit naturally with people’s engagement with the television housing programme “Grand Designs”. Why do we not have grand designs not just for the few people who take part in the television programme but for all people? Why do we not initiate a big movement to help people to build their own homes?
Those are just a few thoughts that I have had. This is a massively important issue, which ranks alongside jobs, health and education. Although we can be partisan and divisive at times, if there is one single issue on which I wish we could find a consensus and pull together, it is the provision of homes, because they are fundamental to our lives. Sitting on these Benches, I would be expected to argue with the Government and take them on, but I wish them success with housing for the people who really need it.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, for initiating this debate. Practically no one in the country is better equipped to lead the charge on this subject than her. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, on his excellent maiden speech. It is absolutely delightful to find another champion for rural housing in our midst, and I am delighted to have him with us.
I declare the interests that are set out in the register of interests. There are quite a lot relating to the field of housing, but what is not included is the fact that I currently chair a joint Department for Communities and Local Government and Local Government Association housing commission, looking at the role of local authorities in producing the new homes that are needed in every area of the country. We will be reporting to the Minister for Housing, Grant Shapps, and to the chair of the Local Government Association, the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, in September. I cannot yet reveal the conclusions of that study. Suffice it to say that we will be underlining the fact that localism is vital when it comes to housing—doing things differently in every part of the country is essential. Local authorities already play a very entrepreneurial role in bringing together the private and public sectors and housing associations in ways that will be badly needed at this time of shortages in public money.
I shall confine my remarks this afternoon to the issues surrounding housing benefit and local housing allowances. This is an area of housing that few people understand and it may not get the attention that it deserves. However, we need to notice that in the Budget on 22 June there was a series of cutbacks to the arrangements for the personal subsidies that allow people to occupy housing on an affordable basis—both council housing and housing association homes, for which they receive housing benefit, and in the private rented sector, for which they get the local housing allowance.
It is worrying that the bill for housing benefits has increased. It is now somewhere around £20 billion a year, and it is not surprising that the Government want that figure reduced. The increases are because rents and unemployment have increased and the private rented sector has grown. Certainly the housing benefit system demands overhaul. It is much too complicated and savings are possible, but one has to consider whether the measures that were set out in the Budget will help or hinder the reform to the benefits system. Will they have an impact on the availability of rented homes for poorer households? Will they have an impact on the incomes of poorer households? Will they lead to more or less homelessness and overcrowding? My answers to these questions are all in the negative, I fear, and I am anxious about the way in which these cuts will impact on the whole housing sector.
We need the private rented sector to provide homes not just for better-off households, but for poorer households as well. The PRS accommodates some 50 per cent of the people whose homelessness is prevented by good advice from councils. It houses more than 1 million people who receive local housing allowances and it is an essential ingredient now that the amount of social housing we can build is severely restricted and so few people can buy their own homes because of the mortgage situation and the price of property.
We definitely need a strong private rented sector but I see dangers, which I will describe, that the new benefit and local housing allowance arrangements will deter landlords from letting to poorer households. They will confine their properties to those who do not require, or are unlikely in the future to require, any help with housing costs. I also fear that the outcome may be an increase in the number of people who have to move out of their existing accommodation because they get into rent arrears and difficulties with their rent, which leads to increased homelessness. That is very expensive for other services. Those who remain and struggle on with lower housing benefit and local housing allowances will find that the income they are left with to live on will leave them extremely poor, having taken out from their income support or other benefits an ingredient to cover the shortfall in their rents.
What are these cuts? The first is a cap on the highest rents, which will mean that in parts of inner London several thousand households will find themselves with local housing allowance that is substantially less than the rents that they are currently paying. They will have to move away from those areas because it is highly unlikely that landlords will reduce rents sufficiently to allow them to stay where they are. Eighty-five per cent of privately rented properties in Westminster will be above the cap and will be no-go properties for those on the local housing allowance. What kind of help will people get in relocating to other neighbourhoods? What help will they get with fares to discover what properties are available within their price range? Have we really thought through how this exodus from inner London will be carried out? It will be a large movement of population from the no-go areas where rents are above the level of benefits.
The second kind of cap will affect the whole country. Currently the maximum rent covered by the local housing allowance is that charged for a property in the middle of the price range—the fiftieth percentile. In future the limit will be the rent of the property at the thirtieth percentile in the bottom 30 per cent of the price range. Maybe it is good to keep rents down, but again there are many thousands out of the 1 million households that receive local housing allowance whose current rent is higher than the new cap. If landlords do not reduce rents as soon as these measures take effect, those tenants will be in serious trouble.
The effects will come in on the anniversary of the local housing allowance, which was set the year before. That will happen the day after the new measures take effect. People will suddenly find that their rents are a good deal higher than the local housing allowance that they receive. Will they sit tight and wait to be evicted—which is a very expensive process, costly for the landlord and local authorities—or will they try to find somewhere where they can overcrowd with another family; or will they move elsewhere?
The third cut is very significant, but more of a slow burn. Again, it has the worthy aim of keeping rents down. It results from the local housing allowance increases being limited to the rise in the consumer price index, rather than, as now, to the rise in actual rents in the market place. As for about 150 years, rents have gone up roughly in line with earnings, and the consumer price index lags behind earnings, gradually, local housing allowances will fall behind rents. Those shortfalls will once again hit the pockets of the poorest.
Other cuts increase the deduction from the local housing allowance if there are any non-dependants, usually grown-up children living at home. Rather than encouraging young people not to move out and put more strains on the housing market, that deduction, which will rise from about £45 per week to about £69 per week, which is knocked off your local housing allowance, may push people out or encourage parents to ask their offspring to leave home. Further cuts face those who receive housing benefit or local housing allowance and are in receipt of jobseeker's allowance.
Believe it or not, there are two more cuts to the local housing allowance, which I do not have time to rehearse today. I ask the Minister to prevail on her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to make the case on the side of the Department for Communities and Local Government, and even the Department of Health, that considerable expense can be expected if the cuts go ahead. We need a longer transition period and more help for people in the interim as we try to bring down rents in this way.
My Lords, little did I think when I rose to speak for the first time in the other place—it was the annual St David's Day debate—that I would have to go through a second parliamentary initiation and make another maiden speech, this time in your Lordships' House. I have much appreciated the warmth of the welcome and the help and advice that I have received from noble Lords on all sides of the House—not least from my supporters, my noble friends Lady Ramsay and Lord Jones. More than that, the advice, courtesy, assistance and above all patience shown to me by all the staff I have encountered since I took my seat here a week ago have been exemplary.
I have come here from the other place having spent 15 years representing the people of Islwyn, and I owe the people of my former constituency a great debt for placing their confidence in me to represent them in Parliament over that period. Like many noble Lords, I owe a great debt to my family for their support and encouragement over 35 years of public life—not least to my long-suffering wife. It is often said that behind every successful man is a good woman. I lay no claim to any success of any kind, but if the term were to be applied to me I am sure that it would be, “Behind this successful man was a very surprised mother-in-law”.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Ford for securing this debate; we are considering an important matter. The Conservative-Lib Dem Government will face many challenges in the coming months, especially over the level of public spending. Many people will, rightly, make special cases to protect their various budget heads from cuts. I hope that when the Government work out the fine detail, they will not lose sight of the fact that a very basic need of every citizen is a home—a roof over their head, and an affordable one at that.
When I was asked about the territorial title I wished to take, I of course chose Islwyn, my former parliamentary constituency, but I also chose Glansychan, which is a dozen houses in the village of Abersychan. Abersychan has produced five Members of Parliament and is where I was born. If your Lordships will indulge me in giving this potted history of the place of my birth, I will show that it has relevance to this debate. My parents rented No. 7 Glansychan in the 1930s for seven shillings and sixpence a week. That was an affordable rent even for a couple living on a collier’s wage in the south Wales mining valleys. But while my parents’ affordable home was quite common in the 1930s, affordable homes are far less common today.
A recent survey by Shelter Cymru showed that 50 per cent of adults in Wales struggle to pay their mortgage or rent at some time. In Wales, 91,000 people are looking for a home, yet we have 26,000 empty properties. Why? Almost one in four of the 1,100 people surveyed said that the cost of housing was a severe source of family anxiety. More than half those surveyed said that their adult children could not afford a decent home of their own. I note that the Halifax building society has said that the average age of a first-time buyer today is 34. When my wife and I bought our first house, we were both 20. I am not suggesting that this is the only factor causing people to make their decisions in that way. There are many reasons why people are not setting up their homes until they are perhaps in their mid-30s, but affordability is a major factor.
The Shelter Cymru survey shows that about one in four have had to reduce what they spend on food in order to keep a roof over the heads of themselves and their family. Shelter England commissioned a YouGov survey, which revealed that 2.8 million people aged between 18 and 44 admitted that they are delaying starting a family because of the lack of affordable housing. Some 2.9 million people aged between 18 and 34 live with their parents. Of this cohort, almost 60 per cent say that that situation makes it difficult to develop and maintain other relationships.
In these difficult times when people are looking for work and have perhaps been urged to move elsewhere to look for work, the Shelter survey tells us that 5.6 million people say that housing costs affect their ability to move to find alternative work. Of those renting a property, 50 per cent did not believe that they would ever be able to afford to buy a property in their local area. If we look closely at the private rented sector, we see some of the worst housing conditions of all, and that needs to change.
I am always wary of calling for more regulation, but I believe that a case has been made for greater regulation of the private rented sector. We also perhaps need regulation of the private lettings sector. At the weekend, I came across a case of a young student who had paid £240 to a lettings agency that had not introduced him to any landlords or told him about any rented property. He now does not know what he will get for his £240.
The incident causes me some reflection. Some years ago I was involved in a campaign that supported miners in getting compensation for illnesses that they had as a result of working underground, and I pay tribute to the former Labour Government for all that they did in that respect. However, the scheme was blighted by claims farmers who persuaded often elderly and vulnerable miners or their widows to sign up, hand over a non-refundable registration fee and agree to pay the claims farmers a part of any compensation that they received to offset medical and legal costs. The Government met all legal and medical costs in those cases. The claims farmers were operating a scam. Frankly, they were parasites feeding on the most vulnerable in our society. I am not suggesting that a similar situation exists in the letting agency sector, but will the Minister indicate in her response the Government’s view on regulation? If she cannot do that, perhaps she will write to me and put a copy in the Library.
I have said enough about the problem, so I turn to the solution. We have to build more homes, of course, especially more homes for rent. The Town and Country Planning Association says that we need perhaps 280,000 new homes a year, but such a building programme will need to be funded, and in these difficult financial times we need to think outside the box and look for new and innovative solutions. I therefore commend to the Government the new foundation model proposed by the Co-operative Party—and here I declare an interest as a member of that party. The new foundation model provides an ethical, low-risk investment for investors; it gives access to and control of housing to the citizen; and for our society it offers easy to build, environmentally friendly housing that remains affordable. This model separates the cost of land from the purchase price by placing the land in a community land trust. Unlike individual home owners, residents accumulate equity shares in a mutual home ownership scheme. If they move on, they can sell their shares, and that money may then help them to put down the deposit on a house in the open market. I commend the idea to the Minister. I am sure that she is not the sort of Minister who will dismiss it simply because the Government did not think of it first.
The great socialist James Maxton once said that poverty is manmade and therefore open to change. The lack of affordable housing is a manmade problem and is open to change if we have the will to do something about it.
My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I am an old lag, and it is my privilege to welcome my noble friend Lord Touhig and to congratulate him on his maiden speech. He certainly knows a lot about housing, and probably he learnt it as a conscientious constituency MP. After a career in journalism, he was in local government. In 1995, he replaced Neil Kinnock as the MP for Islwyn. Two years later, he joined the Government. Contrary to what he said, from then on he actually had a very distinguished record of appointments, including at the Ministry of Defence where he gained the admiration of Members on all sides of the House. He was also deeply involved in Welsh devolution. In his book, Paul Flynn describes him as the,
“seamstress-in-chief of stitch-ups”.
That is the kind of politician I rather like, so I am sure that we all look forward to hearing from him in the future.
I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, who obviously knows an awful lot about rural housing. Someone else who knows a lot about housing is my noble friend Lady Ford, and I congratulate her on her authoritative review of the housing market and her pertinent points. My noble friend Lady Wilkins spoke movingly of why we need affordable housing. Let me say why I think we need it. Let me start at the Secretary of State’s—and my—favourite source of social research: the longitudinal cohort studies carried out by the Institute of Education since 1946. The ability to track the situation of individual people from birth and through the different stages of their lives is a much more powerful resource for social research than is possible with snapshot surveys. Sure enough, in 2007 a group of researchers published a paper using these longitudinal data, analysing the relationship between housing and life chances. It is called The Public Value of Social Housing. I think I can remember seeing the Secretary of State at its launch.
The researchers used four cohort studies, starting from 1946. They concluded that living in the social housing sector has become increasingly associated with poorer life chances—not that social housing was the cause of this; it is because of poorer households being increasingly concentrated in social housing, and social housing becoming more concentrated in deprived areas. They point out that if you want to eliminate poverty and enhance life chances, housing policy should not be distinct from other elements of government policy. My noble friend Lord Sawyer made this point. Indeed, he mentioned some of them; education, health, social services, tax and benefits are all elements of deprivation experienced by social housing tenants.
The longitudinal study so clearly demonstrates that affordable housing is a part of the investment and support needed to break the intergenerational relationship between social exclusion, child poverty and inequality of health and education. It is like Sure Start; the earlier you break the intergenerational link, the more you improve people’s life chances.
As other noble Lords have said, convinced of this need, successive Governments have strongly encouraged housing associations to develop affordable housing. A key element in this development has been mixed public and private finance. My noble friend Lady Ford spoke of this. This mixed funding rests on three vital pillars. The first is the existence of housing benefit, to which the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred and which underpins the cash flow of housing associations. Housing benefit makes up 65 per cent of housing association rental income. Cutting housing benefit will affect the very people identified in the longitudinal study who need assisted housing to improve their life chances. This particularly affects London, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, explained. The second is the assumption that house prices will continue to rise. The third is the existence of a properly resourced regulator.
By ensuring that the risks of poor governance and financial failure are minimised, private finance has been introduced at levels that would otherwise have been impossible and at rates well below those available to many commercial developers. Indeed, recent figures indicate that private finance has overhauled public money as the primary source of accumulated finance. However, two recent events have occurred to upset this mixed financing arrangement. First, the banking crisis has led to large falls in lending. The second event is political. Before 2007, the regulation and management of the funds was in the hands of the Housing Corporation. In 2007 it was decided, quite rightly, that the private sector would have more confidence in the regulation if the two were split. An effective regulatory regime has been a key element in enabling the housing associations to lever-in private finance at rates well below those prevailing for the private sector.
The Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 established the new regulatory authority, the Tenant Services Authority. While in opposition, the Conservatives announced that in their view the TSA should be abolished. Indeed, shortly after he was appointed, the Housing Minister told the press that the TSA was “toast”. Obviously the coalition has not yet got the hang of joined-up government because, two days earlier, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that such a decision would be “precipitate”. Without arm’s length independent and thorough regulation it will be the funding from the private sector that will be toast, especially in these difficult times.
Obviously the coalition Government are not a listening Government. If they were, the Housing Minister would have heard the policy director of the Chartered Institute of Housing say that lenders, landlords and tenants all believe that the TSA is doing a good job. Perhaps in contrast to my noble friend Lord Sawyer and the noble Lord, Lord Best, I think that continuity is important for the private sector. The need for regulation does not necessarily change from one Government to another. Will the Minister take this opportunity to clarify the future of the TSA? I ask him please not to say, “You’ll have to wait for the autumn spending review”, because business does not stop and wait for Ministers. The funding will either go elsewhere or the uncertainty will serve to increase lending rates and reduce the willingness to support present rates of leverage.
The coalition agreement says that the Government,
“will maintain the goal of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020”.
The longitudinal studies show that child poverty and poor life chances are passed on from generation to generation. An essential part in breaking that link is affordable housing. Ministers say that they recognise that, but these are fine words; it is actions that matter. What exactly will the Government do to ensure that there is sufficient affordable housing to achieve their objective of eradicating child poverty by 2020?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Gardiner and Lord Touhig, and congratulate them on two excellent maiden speeches. I have known the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, for many years and I was delighted when he was introduced into the House. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, for calling this debate at such an opportune time. Housing is a major problem but, as was said earlier in the debate, it was not given the prominence that it should have been at the last general election. Before I come to my speech, I draw attention to my interests in the register, including my personal interests and the fact that my law firm acts for a number of building companies and developers.
Increasingly, the country is aware of the massive debts owed by the state. The headline figure of the accrued national debt is about £800 billion, which, according to the previous Government’s Budget, should rise to about £1.4 trillion in three years’ time. Private finance initiative debt is estimated at about £200 billion. Two years ago, the figure for unfunded state pensions was estimated to be £700 billion, although according to a recent report it is now rather more than that. Therefore, there will be little government cash for new work on infrastructure and little government cash for affordable housing.
However, the need has never been greater. Local authority housing waiting lists are high. The number of new houses needed is now 250,000 a year, which accounts for the critical problems of homelessness and lack of housing. The number of housing starts in the past two or three years has been about 120,000. That includes private sector housing, housing provided by registered social landlords and a small amount of council housing. Two or three years ago, before the recession, there was a compound shortfall, but that has been greatly exacerbated. The lack of housing—in particular, the lack of affordable housing—has led to a crisis for many people. Young people cannot find residential property at reasonable rents. Couples are living with their parents for years. Many families and individuals are living in unsuitable accommodation and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, said, many people are trapped in abusive relationships.
The sooner local authorities and others in the housing sector are told which infrastructure projects will qualify for state grants in their areas, the sooner they can plan and adjust their planning policies. The Government should give urgent consideration to this. Local authorities are not yet aware of exactly how much money will be spent on new roads and other infrastructure. I hope that local authorities will be flexible enough to renegotiate existing planning consents, and I hope that they will be flexible in their approach to the planning system.
However, it will be the private sector that funds affordable housing in the future, and I hope that local authorities will be realistic in their demands of it. Anything that the Government can do to simplify and expedite the planning system will be welcome. The existing planning system, which demands a plethora of reports, surveys, studies and experts, is hugely expensive, bureaucratic and time-consuming and immensely unpredictable. Unrealistic targets for the percentage of affordable housing required as part of any housing scheme have contributed to problems of viability and delay in the delivery of many housing schemes. It is notable that councils that have a high percentage requirement for affordable housing are those with the lowest rates of delivery of both affordable and private housing, which in turn drives up prices.
Why has the planning system failed to deliver? Mainly because it is glacially slow. It takes five to 10 years to prepare, draft, consult, examine and adopt a local plan. It takes at least two years to get detailed planning consents and then a year or two to start delivering the finished houses. We must find ways of speeding the process up. The recent announcement of the revocation of the regional strategies will unfortunately lead to delay—I hope only in the short term—and confusion. The process must not be allowed to stagnate or continue. We cannot afford delay. We must guard against local authorities doing nothing, divesting themselves of any responsibility and therefore continuing with the current planning-by-appeal system, which is the inevitable consequence of the protracted delays and the absence of adopted local development plans. We cannot spend a further year or more tackling and tinkering with the system. Radical change is needed to speed up the planning system. Decentralisation of decisions on the location and number of homes and so forth is fine, but strict timeframes for the production of development plans are required urgently.
We need the jobs. The construction sector should be a major employer. Construction should be about 8 per cent of our GDP. Banks should be more flexible and lend on sensible criteria, but they should be free to lend fast and sensibly. These factors are holding up the production of housing and employment and ruining people’s lives in the process. The Government must act on housing and they must act now.
My Lords, during Oral Questions today I asked the Minister a question and omitted to declare my interest as chair of the Midland Heart Housing Association. By my omission, I meant no discourtesy to the House or the Minister. I record here my unreserved apology.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, for securing this timely and important debate. Social housing has now become a growing concern. I pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Gardiner and Lord Touhig, who made authoritative and knowledgeable maiden speeches today. They made a significant contribution to this debate.
As I said earlier, I chair the Midland Heart Housing Association. It is one of the largest social housing providers in the country and has responsibility for some 32,000 properties in east and West Midlands. Housing associations such as Midland Heart are now the country’s main provider of affordable housing, providing some 2.5 million houses for some 5 million people.
It is my long held view that building and maintaining good-quality homes is crucial to creating vibrant and stable communities, which define people’s life chances. At Midland Heart, we say that we are not merely providing or building houses but seeking to offer and deliver housing solutions. We seek to ensure that independent living can be accommodated in a community support environment. Homes and skills are provided for our young customers, on the basis that with the accommodation goes training. That is an acceptable criterion.
Sadly, this debate about affordable housing comes against a backdrop of economic recession, budget cuts, house repossessions and decreasing availability. Policies announced so far have sent the housing sector into something of a tailspin. Social housing is caught in the double bind of demand going up and supply coming down. It is safe to say, on the basis of what is known about the Government’s attitude to social housing so far, that the sector is heading for a crisis.
Official figures show that, during the past 10 years, social housing has delivered some 200,000 affordable homes, but the sector is now set to experience a dramatic decline, driven by severe government cuts—across benefits as well as building. There is now a growing problem of capital funding. The Department for Communities and Local Government recently announced that, as part of its bid to make savings of more than £790 million, it would cut £100 million from the Homes and Communities Agency’s national affordable housing programme. That means that the target of some 59,000 new homes for 2010-11 will not now be met. In addition, some £50 million was removed from the Government’s Kickstart scheme, which was intended to get stalled building schemes up and running again. Approximately 150 social housing projects are under threat.
The National Housing Federation has predicted that the number of social homes to be built this year could be as little as 20,000. The consequence is not just loss of homes for those who need them; it is also loss of employment opportunities. The national federation has warned that up to 200,000 jobs could be lost in the building and construction sector. The Government’s housing policy is seen as one of slash and retreat, the results of which can already be seen in the collapse of the market and an approximate 30 per cent drop in sales. A growing waiting list for social housing is untenable in any circumstances, but exacerbating it by scrapping planning structures and regional houseuilding targets creates even greater uncertainty.
As we speak, the Tenant Services Agency, which is supposed to give protection and support to tenants, is under threat. The hammer blow to the sector is the recently announced possible increase in VAT. That will do absolutely nothing for the shortage of housing that many are experiencing. Everyone is aware that the deficit must be addressed and tough choices have to be made, but we must ensure that what is needed to build recovery is protected.
It is not only vandals who can wreck people’s hopes: governments can too. Governments can wreck homes, lives and dreams but none so fast as this coalition Government have achieved.
My Lords, I rise like every other speaker to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, on the opportunity that she has given those of us with a common interest and experience in housing. I am sure that the Minister noted carefully that the noble Baroness’s speech was not a political one where political points were sought to be made. It was a pleading speech to the Minister and her colleague, Mr Grant Shapps. That is the attitude that I wish to take. The past is the past. There is a problem. There is a deficit that has to be tackled.
My claim to speak in this debate is that I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in a place called Scotswood Road. My memory of housing from the 1920s and 1930s when I was a boy is that in the main it was slum clearance and the building of council housing estates around the edge of Newcastle upon Tyne. That is how it was. Then I remember when Harold Macmillan electrified the Tory party conference in the early 1950s by accepting or making a pledge to build 300,000 houses, which he did. That was a great inspiration.
I also rest my case on the fact that when I was leader of Enfield Council in the early 1960s we had a visit from Bob Mellish. He was the Housing Minister for London at the time and he came to Enfield with Evelyn Dennington from the GLC—a lady well known in this place. They galvanised Enfield Council, which had a good record. It had a direct labour organisation. We accepted a challenge that we would build 1,000 homes in a year. We achieved that in 1970. The only problem was that we lost control in 1968. That should teach us a lesson, but that is local politics for you.
What I want to say about those three instances is that they all gave me inspiration. They showed dedication and passion. What is missing now is something that I accepted when I became a councillor in 1960. Because of what was going on around me with social deprivation, housing was the single most important element of my interest. Yes, I was interested in education, the environment and other things, but housing was the most important.
I recall twice in my time as a Member of Parliament leaving my surgery having listened to some depressing tales and sitting in my car crying, because I could not do anything to help the people. That is just my experience, but it is shared by every other person with a heart who has been a councillor. You are moved by the fact that the enormity of the problem is so great and the resources that you can command as an individual are so small that you need a breakthrough. I hope that the Minister in her reply can recognise that. We all accept the fact that economically and financially, the Government have inherited a very difficult situation. I am not making a plea for priorities, but I believe we need inspiration.
I hesitate when I hear that the drive of the Government is to make sure that the people at the bottom can do things that I believe ought to be done at the top. What is required is Leadership with a capital L. I want to see this Minister make a name for herself in this field as she has in many others, not just as a champion, but as someone who has the guts to speak out, not against her party or the common situation, but to take the opportunity of the role that she has to be ultra sharp in putting forward the need for social housing.
I want to spend much of my speech on an aspect of housing of which I have some experience—that is, mobile homes. I am the secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Welfare of Park Home Owners. Mobile homes are attractive; they are an alternative to bricks and mortar, but they have a number of problems. I thought that the House would be interested if I read from a letter sent to the assistant head of housing, strategy and policy in Cornwall Council by Tony Turner, Allan Hampshire, Justine Wadge and Mark Luxton. I have confirmed that they are happy that I should quote from the letter, which says:
“The park home sector is a growing one. It has been deliberately driven by the industry to attract the bricks and mortar property owning retirement market and for this reason has the potential to provide much needed housing for an aging but often financially independent population who have released equity and can usefully contribute to local economies. It can also offer relief to Statutory housing pressures for the elderly. In this context the sector is worth encouragement but only under effective supervision which will drive out those whose only objectives are financial exploitation and who deliberately operate without any consideration of social responsibility. This particular operator simply regards the payment of fines and damages as an operational overhead. He does not appear in Court and often will not even seek to defend his position. Evidence across other Counties within which he operates establishes that he simply pays fines and costs and carries on as before in the knowledge that these will be easily covered by the next dubious transaction. He has persistently proven that he simply regards laws as a minor inconvenience and if these circumstances are not addressed in this County, any proliferation of his activities here will not only carry heavy social costs, but also represent increasing financial costs to yourselves as a Unitary Authority”.
If people are driven out of their home by harassment and other means and need housing, where are they going to get it from? It will be the local authority. So there is not much sense in the Government or anybody else providing more affordable housing if it has been siphoned off in that way. The letter goes on to say:
“Ideally, of course, the operating licence of this owner should, subject to available delegated powers, be removed. There already exists more than significant evidence that he is unfit to control a business that incurs social responsibilities and since setting up this Association I am now frequently contacted by residents on other of his parks in this and other counties to learn, in the light of such evidence, there to be rising anger born from frustration that this appears not to have previously been given serious consideration”.
The case that I am making is that there is more than one affordable housing market. I know that this Minister is well experienced. I am not competent to go into the technical details of finance and planning; I have listened with great interest to what has been said. But I plead with the Minister and her colleague, Mr Grant Shapps, who I know takes a deep interest in these matters, and whom the all-party group has invited to come along and speak to us about the problems, to look on the mobile homes industry as something that can contribute to the overall solution. There are some villains in control, but there are very many good landlords and owners as well. We are all waiting with a clean sheet to hear from the Minister what he is prepared to do. As for us, we are prepared to go out of our way to be helpful.
My Lords, this afternoon’s debate has been about housing. Many television programmes, which millions of people enjoy, talk about property. However, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Ford and Lady Wilkins, reminded us, we are talking about people’s homes—the places that should form the secure base from which we all lead our lives, and most of us are lucky enough to do that. In many cases, however, that fails. It is not just that we do not have enough houses; too many houses are in the wrong place at the wrong price and in the wrong condition, and the results are stark. Shelter estimates that more than 1.5 million children live in overcrowded, temporary or run-down accommodation. The effects on their health and educational attainment are profound. We know that their life chances are adversely affected through no fault of their own. Any Government who want to create a genuinely fair society must address that.
There is no doubt that the move to a property-owning society has had profound consequences on all of us. It is interesting how falling house prices are greeted with wailing and gnashing of teeth by the three-quarters of us who currently own our own properties. It ought perhaps to be a glimmer of hope for those who aspire to own property. Recently, however, house price falls have been accompanied by a lending squeeze; so the reality of home ownership is now as far away for many as it ever has been, a point which was well made by my noble friend Lord Teverson. Recent RICS figures show that loan approvals for house purchases are continuing to fall. My first question, therefore, is whether the Government will continue to press the banks over which they have control to free up mortgage lending where that is appropriate.
Over the years that I have been in your Lordships’ House, I do not think that I have ever heard any Government put a figure on how far they think property ownership can extend—or, indeed, any kind of recognition that home ownership is simply not the right option for a proportion of people. That has resulted in a lack of genuine planning in terms of the variety and quantities of housing tenure that ought to be available in this country. The lack of viable alternatives has forced some people into home ownership even when that is not the best option for them. The result, particularly now, is that many live in constant fear of default.
The private rented sector has to an extent stepped into that breach and is on the rise. However, it is in urgent need of reform. Most of our private rented sector is in the hands of individual private landlords who own just a few properties and 45 per cent of those properties fail to meet the decent home standards. Do the Government have any plans to boost the provision of rented accommodation through the formation of larger companies which could provide not only a useful investment vehicle but—the point which the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, made in his excellent maiden speech—a more professional and more easily regulated private sector?
Rents in the private sector are very high, and in some places this is being driven by the housing benefit system. It is therefore time that we had a review. However, I urge the Government to consider the fact that this review should be driven not solely by the need to cut costs. There is a question of value to the taxpayer. Apart from the human misery concerned, simply driving people into homelessness or creating other problems which actually cost more to put right would be extremely short-sighted. We must be very careful about an arbitrary cap on housing benefit that does not take into account the local costs of housing, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Best. Whatever happens in government, the one piece of legislation that never changes is the law of unintended consequences. The Government must think carefully before they leap into this. Other noble Lords have asked about the levels of funding for housing associations and local authorities. I look forward to the Minister’s answer.
On other forms of housing, can the Minister tell us anything about the future of low-cost home ownership schemes such as HomeBuy Direct? Do the Government intend to simplify some of these options, or even to continue them?
The affordability of housing is no doubt governed largely by housing availability. That is driven in turn by the planning system. I welcome the abolition of regional spatial strategies and all that comes with them. I am pleased that local councils will have more control over housing in their areas. However, there are caveats and things that must be watched.
I am worried by the extent to which housing that is driven from the bottom up, welcome as that may be, will not fully take into account other strategic issues such as transport, hospital provision and education. I come from a rural area. Until three years ago, we had an effective sub-regional planning tier known as a county council. It was extremely good. I wonder whether the Government have any plans to give some of the planning powers back to county councils so that they can play a strategic role alongside the districts.
I turn to the question of empty properties. I am very grateful to the Empty Homes Agency for its useful briefing. There are, it tells me, currently 652,000 empty homes in England alone. These are clearly an affront to any society. The coalition agreement said:
“We will explore a range of measures to bring empty homes into use”.
Those words are welcome but not as welcome as action would be. When I raised the matter this morning at Question Time, the noble Baroness said that the use of empty homes is a “matter for local authorities”. That is true to an extent, but I would be interested to know whether the Government plan to incentivise local authorities to get empty houses back into use. Can the Government encourage the Homes and Communities Agency to change the grant rules for housing associations so that local authorities have a real incentive to buy and refurbish empty homes? Picking up a point made by the right reverend Prelate, could the HCA work up a scheme which would allow homelessness charities, churches and local community groups to buy empty properties in their areas, refurbish them and provide affordable housing? Finally, would the local housing trusts proposed by the Government also be allowed to refurbish empty properties? All of these things could make a very useful contribution to the provision of housing and are very much in line with the themes of big society and localism.
I finish by thanking the noble Baroness for securing this important debate today. I had not appreciated that it had been four years since the last; it does not seem like it. It has also given us the opportunity to hear two extremely good maiden speeches from two noble Lords from whom we look forward to hearing more.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Ford on securing this important and timely debate. She has brought a wealth of experience but, most of all, an abundance of passion to this subject. Several noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Sawyer and Lady Wilkins, have said that this agenda does not have the prominence that it should. I hope we can put that right in the future. My noble friend has prompted a knowledgeable debate, typical of your Lordships’ House. I add my congratulations on the excellent maiden speeches of my noble friend Lord Touhig and the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble. They have brought perhaps a differing knowledge but a shared passion to our deliberations—a passion which my noble friend Lord Graham presses on the Minister.
My noble friend Lady Ford set out the vision for housing and why it—or the lack of it—plays such a prominent part in the lives of our fellow citizens; why the provision of decent housing is central to tackling disadvantage in our country; and an acknowledgement that areas of deprivation are inevitably characterised by a perverse collection of worklessness, educational underachievement, poor housing, health inequalities and being victims of crime. The availability of housing, especially affordable housing, is not just about having somewhere decent to live. It is integral to tackling poverty and promoting well-being, in the words of my noble friend Lady Wilkins, or life chances in the words of my noble friend Lord Haskel. Where and how it is provided influences the shape, cohesion and sustainability of our communities—a point we heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, particularly in relation to rural areas, and my noble friend Lord Morris.
As my noble friend Lady Wilkins pointed out, the projections show that, largely because of population growth, increasing longevity and the development of more single households, there will be an additional 6 million households in the UK by 2030. This implies the need for some 250,000 affordable and market-based new homes to be built per year. This represents a considerable challenge in funding, land availability, infrastructure and the capacity of the construction sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, reminded us that this is not just about new housing, but the state of the existing stock. Before being hit by the global recession, housebuilding in 2007 reached 207,500 new homes—a 30-year high.
During the recession we did keep faith. We increased public investment in housing by an extra £1.5 billion to help offset some of the contraction in private housebuilding. Planned investment of £7.5 billion over the two years would have built 112,000 affordable homes for low-cost rent or first-time buyers. As private housebuilding was declining by a half, public sector activity was to increase by about 20 per cent. This was intended not only to provide more affordable homes but to safeguard some 160,000 jobs in the housebuilding industry. This underlines the importance of the public sector and the fragility of the mortgage market, to which a number of noble Lords referred, including the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. For the first of these years, we now know that the Homes and Communities Agency exceeded its targets for both completions and starts for houses for social rent and for low-cost ownership. However, the HCA is now faced with cuts in the current year, with who knows what to follow. In addition to the £230 million cut already announced, we learnt on Monday that a further £220 million is to be cut this year from the HCA’s funding. Like my noble friend, I ask the Minister to tell us what this half a billion pounds cut means in terms of reduced provision of affordable housing.
As my noble friend Lady Ford made clear, affordable housing for rent is not only about RSLs and local authorities. There are 8 million private renters in the UK, so the challenge is also about providing decent private rented housing. This is a growing phenomenon exacerbated by the affordability gap—an issue raised by a number of noble Lords. However, measures announced by the coalition Government in the past few weeks will significantly roll back the steps that we were taking to protect private tenants. The national register of landlords would have allowed tenants to make basic checks on landlords and would have made enforcement of letting rules simpler. Regulation of letting and managing agents was designed to tackle rogue landlords. The requirement for compulsory written tenancy agreements was intended to ensure that tenants and landlords were clear about their rights and responsibilities. However, each of these is to be swept away, together—so we understand—with the Tenant Services Authority, thus rebalancing the scene in favour of landlords and away from tenants; not the direction advised by my noble friend Lord Touhig.
As several noble Lords have commented, the issue of affordable housing cannot be divorced from the nature and levels of financial support given to tenants. Like others, I find it difficult to conjure words strong enough to express how much we deplore the proposed changes to housing benefit. I very much support the contribution of the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Haskel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, on this issue. The proposals amount to a planned cut of some £1.7 billion a year by 2014-15—a cut to be borne, by definition, by some of the least well off in our society. As Shelter pointed out, the vast majority are pensioners, those with disabilities, people with caring responsibilities and hard-working people on low incomes. These cuts will mean that the majority of tenants will get less in support than they pay in rent, forcing many to move or even end up homeless. They will create ghettos of the poor in swathes of our towns and cities. It is wholly wrong to justify these awful measures by portraying a small minority of cases as typical of the vast majority of housing benefit claimants. What is the rationale for restricting local housing allowance rates to the 30th percentile rather than the median? What will this mean in terms of increased demand for social rented accommodation? Why on earth should anyone lose 10 per cent of their benefit just because they are unemployed for a year?
Alongside new social rented homes provided by RSLs and new affordable homes for first-time buyers, local councils are key providers of affordable homes. Thankfully, when we were in government, we saw the re-emergence of a programme when we launched the largest council housebuilding programme for almost two decades—I know that that gratified my noble friend Lord Graham—and announced plans in our manifesto for a new generation of council housebuilding alongside reforming council house finance to replace the housing revenue account; and this at a time when considerable investment of billions of pounds was being put into the decent homes programmes, transforming hundreds of thousands of council properties. Will the Minister tell us about the proposed review of the housing revenue account? What is its remit? Given the Government's determination to devolve powers and freedoms to local government, will these include the freedom to operate a robust programme of council house building? So far as concerns rents, the Minister will be aware of the convergence between council and RSL rents. Do the coalition Government have in mind any changes to this? Are they giving any consideration to convergence between social rents and private sector market rents?
Much of our discussion has been not only about the quantum of housing, but about its quality and sustainability. We do not need just more homes, but more quality homes that are built to a high standard and respond to the challenge of an ageing population, built to Lifetime Homes standards to facilitate, as my noble friend Lord Morris said, independent living.
We would welcome hearing more from the Government about how their changes to the planning system will improve opportunities for affordable housing. True to form, the Secretary of State has blundered into changes by originally announcing the scrapping of regional spatial strategies without any explanation of the consequences and without legal authority for the decision. A subsequent letter has thrown some light on the residual situation, but not before a good deal of confusion was created among planning authorities, with decisions being held in abeyance and schemes being deferred. This has done great damage, as well as a disservice, to the construction sector as it begins its recovery. The noble Lord, Lord Burnett, made a point about the confusion out there. I say to him that it is his Government who are scrapping the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which is all about expediting approvals for major investment.
We are told that the regional spatial strategies will be replaced by local spatial plans. There will be no central targets, but supposedly powerful incentives so that people will see the benefits of building. We have to await the details in the consultation later this year and reserve judgment, but our concern must be to ensure that the sum total of local planning reflects national as well as local needs, that affordable housing and mixed communities are not marginalised and that the system is fair to disadvantaged groups such as the Traveller community. With no national targets, it is difficult to see how the system would work without a penalty component, as some local authorities will just opt out. There are already signs that some councils, left to their own devices, simply will not support affordable housing in their area.
Section 106 agreements have provided a vital source of funding for affordable housing and infrastructure, and have helped ensure the growth of mixed rather than segregated communities. However, arrangements have not always worked well or consistently, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, particularly in times when land values are not increasing. We proposed some scaling down of Section 106, but alongside the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy, which the Government are now to scrap. What can the Minister tell us about the future of Section 106 and local incentives, and how this component of funding for affordable housing is to be secured for the future? Will the noble Baroness confirm that Section 106 arrangements are to endure; or, as my noble friend Lady Ford intimated, are they to be scrapped? Can we know more precisely what tax incentives are proposed for local authorities?
Despite the progress made in recent years, the prospect of a decent home is still a dream for too many people. In these difficult economic times, when judgments have to be made and priorities set, we need to protect and promote affordable housing. As my noble friend Lord Sawyer said, it is a matter of political will. This debate has been a valuable contribution to this endeavour, but we will have much to scrutinise in the coming months.
My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in what I knew would be a challenging debate. This House has a great deal of experience in housing that has been well demonstrated today. It is also clear that we have two new recruits to the housing field. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and my noble friend Lord Gardiner on their excellent maiden speeches. It is always good when new people who are interested in local government and housing join the troops, and we all look forward to hearing more contributions from them both as time goes by.
I am simply not going to be able to deal with every single point that has been raised today. As expected, the debate has covered a wide range of subjects, well beyond the issue of affordable housing, and has touched on the whole housing area. I do not think that one of us here—either those who have been in or those who have just come into government—will be satisfied that we have licked, or are licking, the housing problem. It is a vast issue, and trying to ensure that houses are built in considerable number will not be helped by the current significant economic crisis.
I want to confirm immediately—this was made clear in the coalition agreement—that the Government support affordable housing and intend to make sure that there is housing for those in need. However, we have heard the figures quoted today. Indeed, I remember a housing debate that took place some six, seven or eight years ago when we bemoaned the same issues. We said how many affordable, low-cost houses needed to be built for people to buy and rent. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, is in his seat and I remember having some difficulty with his Minister over the fact that he was going to build 2 million houses within a fairly short space of time. They were grand plans. We debated them at the time but they were not realistic. The number of houses was realistic but actually getting them built was not. We are still faced with the problem of there not being enough housing, and the Government are committed to continuing the programme of affordable housing as the economy allows.
I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, about demography as well as disability. We cannot just provide homes with two or three bedrooms for the normal family; we have to take into account the fact that people have, at different times of their lives, different needs and requirements. Therefore, the Lifetime Homes standard remains an aspiration that should be met, even if not for every single home.
A lot of figures relating to the number of properties that are being built have been bandied around, and I have mentioned some of them. I think that one can trip over numbers wherever one goes, but there is no dispute that the number of affordable houses built over the past few years by the previous Government was very much lower than I expect they anticipated or wanted. It certainly did not increase during their watch. However, we must carry on and do what we can to improve the situation—albeit, as I said, in a difficult financial climate.
I was asked many, many questions. I shall touch on some of them briefly, and I assure noble Lords that those that I do not answer will receive full and proper replies, because these are important issues.
I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, for the very measured way in which she opened the debate. I also thank her for welcoming me to these Benches as a Minister. As noble Lords will know, I have dealt with housing over a great number of years, and I bear many scars, even at a local authority level. I am sure that those scars will be added to now at a government level.
The noble Baroness touched on many aspects of housing, such as overcrowding and homelessness, which we know exist, the reasons why people have to leave and the issue of children not having access to housing. We can all diagnose the problems but we have to try to resolve them. Within the policies that have already been discussed there are some straws in the wind. The Government have been in power for only 60 days, as I keep being reminded, and have done quite a lot of work in that time. But we must look towards things such as local housing trusts which I hope will become part of housing in future. I confirm that we still support co-operative housing which is an extremely useful way of providing housing.
Rural housing has an appalling record. I recognise that second homes in villages have often taken up housing that might have been available for younger people who live there. If villages are decimated and people leave, the heart goes out of the community. I can see that. There are proposals on the development and release of land to try to encourage small developments and the local housing trusts will affect that. A small development where we can restrict who the houses go to is probably a good way of going ahead.
Much has been said about localism but one aspect of the Government’s policies that will help is to have decision-making at the lowest level and as rational as it should be. I referred to this earlier. In rural housing this is one area where it should work because local people know much more than even those in government about where housing is needed and where small plots of land can perhaps be released for housing, with a bit of encouragement. They know where small developments can take place and be made available for young people who live in the community. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester made a stirring speech about rural housing, as did my noble friend Lord Gardiner. This is a very important aspect and I can assure noble Lords that we will be taking it up.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, made a clear speech on Lifetime Homes standards. Local authorities which consent to and support the construction of new homes will receive direct and substantial benefits from their actions. That is the incentive but we would not want to lose sight of Lifetime Homes even if not every home is built to a lifetime standard. Lifetime and decent home standards are extremely important and we recognise that.
I shall return briefly to my noble friend Lord Gardiner as I am trying to pick up some of the questions that were asked. The home on the farm policy to bring disused farm buildings back is another aspect of rural housing. There was a question on eco towns. We will not impose them on anybody but if planning permission is given I do not think anyone will stand in their way. Clearly, they are a new and interesting development in times of climate change and the impact that can be made from doing things in other ways. I do not think that there will be any difficulty unless such eco towns are opposed by local people and do not get planning permission.
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, talked about the Co-operative society developing affordable homes. I think I made it clear that we support the Co-operative, which has done a very good job. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and others, asked about the Tenant Services Authority. Yes, it is under review, but, having said that, we recognise the importance of the regulation of that sector. Whatever the review reveals, we will not jeopardise that vital function. There will be further information about that in due course. Once the review has been undertaken, I will be able to report back to the House.
My Lords, I think that it is understood that, as with all of these reviews, it is much better done in the short-term rather than the long-term. I will take that view back to my honourable friend, Grant Shapps, and ensure that it is understood.
One of my first debates from the Front Bench was on mobile homes. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, may remember it. I knew nothing about mobile homes before that, and I was impressed at the provision they made and the enormous loyalty and affection that there was for them. The noble Lord has been a sterling supporter of mobile homes through all those years. I take the point that they are an aspect of affordable housing which we do not want to overlook. I will certainly make sure that that important aspect is understood. I know that there have been terrible problems in places.
I never quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Best, because he knows more about housing than practically anyone here; I say that advisedly and I do not think that anyone would disagree with it. He took up the point about housing benefit. The review of housing benefit has been based on the economic situation—like all the other issues, such as the HCA. All those highly resourced funds have had to be looked at. Housing benefit has played an enormous part in ensuring that people can go into the private sector, if they cannot get a home in the public sector, and that people in social housing have access to money.
However, as the noble Lord said, the costs have gone up from about £14 billion to £21 billion. That is an enormous sum of money. Although it may not be the largest part of it, there have been and are well publicised examples of people who are receiving housing benefit at an enormous rate a week. I see the noble Lord shutting his eyes and shaking his head, but I said quite clearly that there may not be many, but there have been examples. There have been examples of high housing benefit, perhaps having had to be paid to get people into social housing, but that cannot go on. That is why the decision has been made to cap the level at which it can be paid.
Yes, there will be casualties from that; there is no doubt about that. It will be up to local authorities to deal with that as sensitively and carefully as they can if—it is not always necessary—people have to leave their home. It is inevitable that that the housing benefit package had to be looked at, but I again hear what has been said about its importance. Although housing benefit has been held, the private rented sector is an extraordinarily valuable part of the housing sector. One has to recognise, and we do, the contribution that low-level and high-level private-sector housing makes to affordable housing as well as to everything else. The co-operatives, the private rented sector and affordable housing from housing associations should all be recognised.
These days, most affordable housing is provided by housing associations and we could not have managed without it. I started in housing at a time when people were beginning to say that there should be a better way than for councils to provide housing. Housing associations became a real aspect of housing and they have delivered housing probably more sensitively and more carefully than that being delivered even by local authorities.
I am not aware of any sense of providing or giving authority to local authorities to provide a huge amount of money to support council houses and mortgages or for building council houses. There is always a role for authorities to play. Certainly, their job will be to ensure that their plans and the amount of housing required are recognised and come in under their development plans.
Finally, I know that I have not done justice to all the questions that have been asked, but I should like to touch on regional spatial strategies, which have been raised, as has Section 106. The regional spatial strategies were top-down targets, which again we are trying to reduce. Of necessity, local authorities, or probably a combination of local authorities, will need to set up their own strategies to make sure that they get what they need. The development plan regime, which was introduced by the previous Government, has been a disaster. It has taken so long to get through. I think that about four authorities have had a development plan accepted. Most are still struggling to get it through after five or six years. Down at a local level one would expect this to happen much more quickly and that, based on local needs and local requirements, decisions could be made much more quickly.
Section 106 and CIL are under discussion, but I am not aware that there is any intention, where Section 106 has been negotiated, not to allow part of that to go to affordable housing. If I am wrong on that, I will make that clear. But I am fairly certain that there is no expectation of change in what Section 106 can do at the moment, part of which is to deliver affordable housing.
I hope that I have touched on at least some of the things raised by noble Lords. I will make sure that questions are answered in writing if I have not managed to do that. I thank everyone for their contributions today.
My Lords, in finishing, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate today, and the Minister for her response. A lot of detailed questions have been asked and we look forward to her responses in writing in due course. It was an absolute delight to hear the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, say in his maiden speech that he was the deputy chair of the Countryside Alliance. I was not sure that we would have a huge amount in common, but then I found that I agreed with 95 per cent of what he said. I look forward to him joining in these debates. I thank also my noble friend Lord Touhig for his tour de force. Now that I realise that he is the,
“seamstress-in-chief of stitch-ups”,
in the future I shall be sitting alongside him rather than in front him in case I fall foul of that.
I was delighted and honoured to secure this debate, and I was surprised because it is the first time that I have been successful in securing a balloted debate. When I put the topic down some three weeks ago today, I was astounded to be told on the following Monday that I had a date for this debate, and I was delighted. This is a really important topic, and all noble Lords who have spoken have shown a great appreciation of the complexity of the subject, as well as how tough this particular nut is to crack.
The coalition Government should be aware that if they come forward with pragmatic and sensible solutions that build on the very decent record of the last Government—an increase in affordable housing between 2000 and 2009 from 33,000 to 56,000 is a good achievement; it shows the steady progress made year on year—they will have unreserved support and encouragement across the House. If they cannot, the noble Baroness knows that we will harry her and hold her to account for it.
It simply remains for me to thank all noble Lords once again for contributing to the debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
City of Westminster Bill [HL]
First and Second Reading and Committed to Committee
The Chairman of Committees informed the House that, in accordance with Private Business Standing Order 150B (Revival of Bills), the Bill had been deposited in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments together with the declaration of the agent. The Bill was presented and read a first time. It was then deemed to have been read a second time and committed to a Select Committee. The Chairman of Committees informed the House that he had appointed the following Lords to form the Select Committee on the Bill:
L Brougham and Vaux, V Craigavon, L Methuen, E Onslow, B Prosser (Chairman).
House adjourned at 5 pm.